what is the point of "dating" anyway? ...Which of the church fathers or biblical personalities do you picture sampling women for the fun of it?
I used to be of a similar opinion as you. Dating seemed like test-driving cars, and you sometimes even had the nerve to leave mud all over the floor and oil on the steering wheel. However, considering that most parents aren't going to engage in arranging marriages these days, the options are limited. The practice of courting is really not all that different than dating, the main difference (from an outside perspective) is how open our culture is to people "exploring" each other during that dating/courting process. But it's not just since dating started that people have been playing footsies (to send signals about sexual intentions), french kissing, necking, and having sex. Many of the old penitentials (both Catholic and
Orthodox) instruct priests to ask about this kind of stuff in confession.
Now, from an inside perspective, dating can indeed be very different than similar relationships have been in the past. That has more to do with convenience, automobiles, the amount of free time people have, the amount of independence that people have, etc. For better or worse, dating is really just the logical end of how our society has developed. Dating is not a perversion cooked up by Satan or Sam Sexfiend, but a fairly natural manifestation of the societal changes which have taken place in the last hundred years. Dating is as natural and moral today as courting was 300 years ago, and arranged marriages were 1300 years ago. Yes, people will abuse the system; maybe even most people will abuse the system.
But was it any different with previous patterns of hooking up? If anything, I think it's much better with dating, because at least now each person has much more freedom in making the choice that they want to make. If they choose wrong, it is because they
made a mistake, and they can now back out of it (with the stigma of divorce fading). If you consider dating to be so casual as to be immoral, then either don't date, or only go out with someone who you really, really think you might marry. I did that, and I wouldn't knock it. But it isn't the only way, and to be quite honest I think that half the people who do that will regret it later in life. I know I have.
However, this is not to say that I think everyone should flippantly marry the first person to come along, and think of divorce as an easy out. And I don't think things work that way anyway--the stigma of divorce has been removed, but divorce hasn't really exploded in the way that people think
it has. According to this page
(which just confirms what I had read previously), the divorce rate in 1972 was the same as in 2001: 4.0 divorces for every 1000 people. So people who were raised by baby boomers and grew up in the 70's through 90's were no more likely to divorce than people who were raised by the WW2/Great Depression generation who grew up in the 40's through 60's. Also, with the population explosion, it might seem
like there are more divorces, but when you are talking about an increase of 80 million people between 1970 and 1990, even if the divorce rate stays the same there can still be a significant difference in the size of the total number of divorces.