Dating? That's so dated.

Once upon a time, a young man had to make himself presentable, ring a doorbell, get cooed over by Mom and smile politely at Dad's veiled threats before he could squire his girl out the door and into the night. Today's formula for youthful romance is "Hang out in a big group, repeat, repeat again, possibly pair off and go someplace else to be alone, or not."

It all seems so, as they say, random. But it's actually social evolution being egged on by technology, according to those in the know.

"Oh, no, you do not introduce a guy to your parents until it's FBO," said University of Minnesota senior Nicole Donnelly, on her way home from a weekend outing at Lake Calhoun's north beach.


"Facebook Official," she said. "If it's posted on Facebook that you're 'in a relationship,' you know it's the real deal."

For many people under 30, the idea of going on a traditional one-on-one date seems as quaint and clunky as the land-line phone. That kind of thing is for the "single seniors" category on, not them.

Over the past several years, the date, which has survived in one form or another for centuries, has been virtually eclipsed by "hanging out" -- teen code for everything from actually hanging out to perhaps a little making out -- or "hooking up," which can also mean many things, but is generally interpreted as having casual sex with no plans to get serious, and no shame about it.

"It's like I heard someone say: For our generation, it's not premarital sex if you don't plan on getting married," said Paul Sterling, 26, of Minneapolis.

That philosophy is borne out by the results of a Stanford University study that found 72 percent of college students reported having had at least one "hook-up" by the time they were seniors. The men surveyed averaged nearly 10 hook-ups, the women about seven.

"The millennium generation is much more knowledgeable about sex and more comfortable talking about it," said Dr. Eli Coleman, director of the University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality.

But that doesn't mean all of them are having sex. A National Center for Health Statistics study has found that virginity is actually on the rise. In 2008, about 25 percent of 18- and 19-year-old respondents said they had not had sexual contact with another person, up from 17 percent of women and 22 percent of men in 2002. Among slightly older young adults, 12 percent of women and 13 percent of men said they were virgins, up from 8 percent for both sexes in 2002.

The U's Coleman suggested that the study findings may be tempered by the fact that people have different ideas about what being a virgin means: "They may be having forms of sex, just not intercourse, so they get around it that way."

24/7 connection

Nothing has had more influence on this trend than the cellphone -- and not just because it gave rise to the booty call.

Sterling's friend Mike Moeller, 27, said he grew up straddling the wave of change between old-style dating and current relationship mores, but he recently overheard a conversation between teen girls on a bus that gave him pause.

"They were saying that if a guy called them without having texted a few times first, they would think he was creepy," he said.

"Yeah, you have to establish a text relationship first," Sterling said. "You find yourself wondering if you should text one more time before you actually call her."

In addition to the instant connectivity of cellphones, social media are affecting courtship habits. The way Sterling and his friends identify potential romantic partners emulates online social networking.

"You always have a friend who says, 'Hey, you should meet my friend, you'd like her,'" he said. "Then you get together in groups and see if you do like each other, and it goes from there."

Pack mentality

Young adults in their 20s may have experienced both styles of getting together as norms, but if you ask kids in high school whether they are "dating" anyone, they'll look as puzzled as if you had said "pitching woo."

Teens tend to rove in mixed-gender packs between each other's houses, said Keri Brenden, a guidance counselor at Minnetonka High School. While teens socializing in big groups is nothing new, the "group date" is much more common now, she said. "They go to movies or over to someone's house, and that's where the relationships start, first being friends, then blossoming into something more."

The group date is also more practical for a lot of kids, because many of them are getting their driver's license later than did previous generations. And a teen may not get a good old-fashioned interrogation by the object of his affection's parents because "the parents are often already familiar with all the kids in a group."

There is one type of occasion for which traditional dating still rears its rusty head, she said -- school dances.

"It really comes out then -- the guy going to pick up the girl -- because these are bigger events, and they want the night to feel special," Brenden said.

Much ado about not so much

Heather Corinna thinks that the so-called "hook-up culture" trend is overblown, perpetuated by sensationalizing media and adults assuming the worst. A Minneapolis resident for several years before moving to Seattle, Corinna founded and runs Scarleteen, a sexuality advice website for people ages 15 to 25.

She advises older people to take a page from history.

"This happened before, in the late '60s," she said. "Even though only a small percent of the population engaged in free love, the media was all over it like everybody was doing it."

But having casual sex with no intention of building emotional ties is certainly more common among college students today than it used to be, say students themselves.

U of M senior Emily Rutten said that it can be like following a recipe: "For some people it's a regular thing -- do this, do that, go out for a beer, go hook up."

Still different for girls

Young women say they feel more sexually confident and less guilty about casual sex than previous generations, yet the old double standard -- that a girl who does it is cheap and easy, while a guy who does it is just being a guy -- has not entirely disappeared.

"Unfortunately, that attitude does still exist among teens, and it hits girls harder," Brenden said.

Another vestige of old ways of thinking is that young women, more than young men, continue to seek meaningful monogamy.

"I've had girlfriends who want to have a boyfriend so much that they just keep moving from guy to guy, looking for it," said Melissa Pavek, 23. "The guys seem to resent that."

Maybe they should try something really retro -- like going out on a date.

Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046