Nicolas and Élizabeth* knew very quickly that they liked each other. They were both hanging out on a dating app, Tinder, when their profiles matched. After a few exchanges on the platform, here they are hand in hand at the restaurant for their first meeting. Beyond the shy smiles, the conversation took a serious turn by imposing a principle: “Do not fall into the classic pattern of the man who approaches and the girl who lets herself be seduced”, says Elisabeth, 25, communications officer in Lille (Nord).
This kind of pact is becoming more and more important among the new generation. The myth of the heartbreaker in a leather jacket, on his motorbike and with a cigarette at the end of his lips, seems to be disappearing. Contrary to the image conveyed by Hollywood and advertising since the 1950s, many young men choose to deviate from it.
This is the case of Paul, from Rouen since his earliest childhood. Not feeling comfortable in the mimicry of John Wayne or Tom Cruise, this 22-year-old school teacher defends the idea of ”breaking with the image of the virile man”, an approach he does not hesitate not to be put into practice. Two years ago, during an evening with friends in the Normandy city, he fell in love with a young woman. Seized by his shyness, he prefers to wait: “I sent her a message on social networks, the next day, she had plenty of time to answer it or not. The return was quick and his story with Clara has been going on ever since. The young man still confides today that he had willingly left to his girlfriend, during the first weeks of the flirting phase, the choice of restaurant and the start of conversations. “It’s quite characteristic of a fringe of new boys who let the girls be the focal point of seduction. It’s new and it results in relationships that are more equal, less hazy, more clearly established, “says Robert Muchembled, historian of the modern era.
Long associated with the unspeakable, the unspoken and pretense, seduction seems to be less of a treasure hunt than in the past. No more staring games or the phase of questioning the intentions of the other. “I didn’t hesitate to use precise and unambiguous words to tell Nicolas what I wanted with him,” confides Élisabeth. This is what the university professor of sociology at Paris-Descartes and specialist in love behavior, Christophe Giraud, calls “realistic love”. From now on, during romantic dates, everyone tries to verbalize what they feel to avoid misunderstandings and respect the speed at which their partner wants to go.
The web has changed dating
This different relationship to seduction is linked to several phenomena. The most striking is undoubtedly the appearance of dating sites. In 2021, they were the first place of contact for single people, and one in five couples had formed on a site (Source: statista.com). “In twenty years, they have redesigned the love and sexual geography, in France as elsewhere. They have changed the practice of dating and also challenge imaginary love,” writes sociologist Marie Bergström (The new laws of love, Ed. Discovery, 228p. ; €21). The #MeToo campaign, a social movement born in 2017 in the United States freeing the voices of victims of sexual assault, has also led young men to rethink their behavior. “I no longer approach women on public transport. They are already going through a lot of things during the day, I don’t want to bother them even more,” says Romain, 32, who prefers to connect to a dating site, despite the aridity of the interactions.
This phenomenon of distancing from the first step has itself been amplified by the Covid. Sanitary rules have reduced physical contact. A kiss or a hand placed carefully on the shoulder are all gestures that have become anachronistic… Yet they took part in the first exchanges during a budding romance. “Since the pandemic, contacts have been colder, more distanced”, regrets Romain, who also underlines another phenomenon: the gradual abandonment of places that once made the salt of flirtation. Telework disperses the presence in the office and the discotheques, no longer having the coast, are gradually deserted.
However, these mutations are not necessarily observed in other age groups. Philippe, a divorced man in his fifties from Perpignan (Pyrénées-Orientales), assures, with a mischievous air, that he has not abandoned the old techniques used when he was younger: “I do not believe that everything has changed, very far from there, he smiles, his fetish suede jacket over his shoulders.
In my generation, the man is still driving the first developments in the relationship. He admits it himself, when he talks with his children, he feels a little distant from these new ways of doing things.
*Names have been changed.
Three questions to Robert Muchembled, historian
Do the new codes break with the history of French seduction?
Totally. They are even an attempt to respond to an overall crisis of seduction. The balances hitherto established are upset. These changes are above all linked to the entry of women into seduction from the 1970s. Until then, they were reduced to the role of being seduced. The whole system of marriage and access to conjugal life was thought out according to this principle of the absence of autonomy of women’s desire. Gradually, they took full part in the seduction, which led to another crisis: that of masculinity.
What form does this crisis of masculinity take?
A form of psychological disaster has appeared in some men who refuse this new role for women. They see themselves as devalued, devirilized. Many, even though they know it is necessary, do not want to give up their power. This gradually excludes them from romantic relationships.
Do the majority of men really oppose this shift in roles?
No. Men are changing, your testimonies reflect this, but these new behaviors are reserved for a population of active, urban young people, who are more sensitive to issues of sexual violence. Others, on the other hand, feel lost. They turn to training courses to learn how to seduce which are aimed at young single men. But they often go hand in hand with an appreciation of machismo. There is no denying this ticking time bomb.