From Cinderella to casual sex

COURTSHIP: How it used to be done

COURTSHIP: How it used to be done

Love is a battlefield. And these days, it's a war that's being waged with the most technologically advanced weaponry.

The modern single's arsenal includes electronic devices: smartphones and computer screens. Standard combat involves swiping right, swiping left, and hooking up.

Put simply, we're technosexual. We're logging on to get off.

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Of course, it wasn't always like this.

In the olden days, dating in New Zealand used to mean bachelors' and spinsters' balls out in the wop-wops. Going to the movies and brushing hands in the popcorn bucket, or sharing an ice cream sundae at the local milk bar.


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It's obvious that our idea of love and romance in New Zealand has changed over time – but just how much?

First of all, let's take a look at today's dating landscape.

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Anyone who has ever experienced a breakup will know how hard it is to suppress an eye-roll when told, "There are plenty of fish in the sea".

But there is actually some truth to the cliche. Because in this day and age, singles have the ability to cast their nets much wider, says Wellington social researcher Paul Callister.

"In the past, your dating circle was much more restricted.

"Now, either through the internet or through extensive travel, you're much more likely to find a partner from another country."   

Once upon a time people would get married at a young age and stay together quite literally until death did them part.

But around the 1970s, an attitude shift occurred.

The introduction of the contraceptive pill gave young lovers the freedom to experiment without fear of pregnancy. The domestic purposes benefit, introduced in 1973, and the "no-fault" divorce, which came through in 1980, made separations a whole lot easier.

The other barriers that have broken down, Callister says, is partnering between different religious or ethnic groups, which may have been taboo in the past, as well as the public and legal acceptance of same-sex relationships.

"I think people generally are much more open. There are far more options of how you live your life now."


Choices are all very well and good. But how do you go about catching your fish?

Journalist Greer Berry, 31, knows a thing or two about the dating game.

As a blogger for Stuff, over the past seven years she has documented her journey from single lady, to bride, to new mum.

Greer Berry (Picture: Manawatu Standard)

Berry's love life, clearly, has worked out OK.

But her dating blog Greer 2.0, started in 2008, came about at a time when knickers were getting into knots over the so-called "man drought" in New Zealand.

"In Wellington, there were an abundance of single, educated females who would be frequenting Courtenay Place on a Friday night on the prowl for men," says Berry.

"The blog was giving a voice to these women in their late 20s and early 30s who were looking to settle down but not finding the right people."  

As New Zealand's own version of Carrie Bradshaw, she embarked on a crash course in the world of online dating, speed dates and blind dates – all in the name of journalism, of course.

Her findings?

"More than anything, it emphasised there's no real 'dating scene' in New Zealand. There's not really that in-between time that's depicted in Hollywood movies.

"Overseas, it's quite acceptable to have a 'taste test' – you can go out for dinner with someone and can quite easily part ways that night and never see each other again.

"In New Zealand, you kiss someone in the pub at 3am, and the next thing you're getting married."


 When American travel blogger Liz Carlson, 26, moved to New Zealand from Washington DC in 2013, she was baffled by this country's lack of a dating scene.

"Back home, people ask you out officially on a date – you know what you're getting," she explains.

"While here, I think I have been on dates without even realising it, because the guy never said anything.

"I thought American guys were bad about talking about their feelings, but man, it's 100 times more difficult for me here."   

A similar dilemma inspired University of Otago masters candidate Molly McCormick, of the department of anthropology, to research the sex and dating experiences of American exchange students in Dunedin.

American-born McCormick, 33, was bemused when a Kiwi guy she was seeing started "freaking out" about how he should introduce her to his parents.

"I said, just tell them that we're dating. But he said, 'oh, we don't date here'."

The American idea of dating, McCormick says, is that you go and do an activity or have a meal with someone, get to know them, and figure out if you're compatible.

But in New Zealand, things tend to escalate rather quickly, as the participants in her study recounted.

"One girl said she had sex with a guy a couple of times and suddenly he started introducing her as his 'girlfriend'.

"She was completely confused because they hadn't gone on any dates or had any conversations."

SLOW DOWN MAN: There's not much of an 'in-between' dating culture in New Zealand

Much has been written about the growing prevalence of this "hook up culture" among university students, both overseas and in New Zealand.

In 2007, a minor moral panic was sparked when condom-maker Durex published the results of a survey suggesting Kiwi women were the most promiscuous in the world, with an average of 20.4 sexual partners compared to the global average of 7.3 (Kiwi men were also well up there, with an average of 16.8).

Pearl-clutching ensued. But others realised casual sex was not necessarily the root of all evil.

"One participant found it to be really empowering," says McCormick.

"She felt in the States there was more pressure put on her to act a certain way, but when she was here it was for a short amount of time, no one really knew her, so she felt like she could experiment.

"It kind of boosted her confidence in the quality of person she could attract, is how she put it."


For hopeless romantics, today's dating culture may seem worlds apart from the traditional courtship enjoyed by previous generations.

But the books of Auckland dating agency Two's Company paint a different picture.

Owner Sasha Madarasz says at any one time she has around 600 clients looking for love, the majority between the ages 30 and 45. In this age group, there has been a renewed demand for old-fashioned matchmaking.

YE OLDE ROMANCE: It's making a comeback

"I think dating is only recently just coming back into fashion," Madarasz says.

"And it's only through dating agencies and online that people are actually doing it.

"Otherwise it's just so hard ... in the big cities, people just aren't getting the opportunity to meet other single people. People's lives are so busy now."   

Madarasz, 40, believes the problem is that we simply take dating too seriously. Kiwi women are particularly guilty, quick to make snap judgments after just one date.

"Maybe that's why we don't 'date' – because we don't actually get to the second, third or fourth dates," she says.

"At Two's Company, we have a rule where people have to have at least two dates with everyone we introduce them to.

"At the end of the day, they haven't asked you to marry them. They haven't asked you to move in. You're just getting to know someone."   

Love may be a battlefield. But as Madarasz sees it, finding a potential partner is more like going to the gym.

"If you want to lose weight, you have to put in effort," she says.

"It's the same with dating. It's not just about going through a different guy every day of the week until you find your Prince Charming."  


- Make time for dinner on your first date – "not an after-work drink, and not a coffee. You don't want to be rushed."

- Activities are also a good way of getting to know your date. "You're put into a situation of bonding quite closely with someone."

- Arrive early. "Sit down, have a few sips of your glass of wine, and your heart rate will go down. It will help you relax."

- Always go on a second date. "I always tell people to have at least two dates, unless the person is an utter moron. But if the worst you can say is, 'it was OK', why not have another date?"   –  Sasha Madarasz of Two's Company


On April 4, around 700 singles will converge on the rural Otago town of Middlemarch for its infamous Singles Ball.

Since it was first held in 2001, the biennial highlight on the Middlemarch social calendar has managed to sell out every time, attracting modern day bachelors and spinsters from all over the country – as well as international attention.

IT'S POPULAR: More than 700 people attended the Middlemarch Singles Ball in 2011, including about 300 who caught the "love train" from Dunedin.

It even captured the imagination of romance novelist Shelley Munro, who wrote a series, Middlemarch Mates, inspired by the event.

The idea for the ball came out of the need to attract a nurse to the small town, which has a population of around 300.

"We're a community that looks at how we can solve our problems the fun way," says Middlemarch local and Dunedin city councillor Kate Wilson, who is involved in organising the ball.

"Instead of worrying about finding a nurse, we decided to have a singles dance.

"We've got a whole lot of men that are very eligible, depending on your taste. So we thought one of them might be clever enough to nab a nurse."

The town has two nurses now – "but we're always looking for another one".

Part of the novelty of the event, Wilson explains, is the "love train" that transports attendees from Dunedin to Middlemarch and back.

"All the clever blokes go on the train to get the first bite of the cherry, so to speak.

"You get the midnight train home, it's very Cinderella-like.

"Then there's always the 'train of shame', which leaves around Sunday lunchtime." 

It's all about having some harmless, old-fashioned fun, says Senior Constable Helen Fincham-Putter, another ball organiser.

STEADY ON: Things can get a bit rowdy

These days, the ball tends to attract mainly under-30s looking for a good time.

"I don't think people come here expecting to find their lifelong partner," Fincham-Putter says.

"In saying that, we have had a lot of matches. We are aware of about six or seven weddings."

 - Stuff

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