Is Courtship Just an Old-Fashioned Word?
The British author Vernon Lee was actually a woman named Violet Paget. Using her pen name, she wrote dozens of books in the late 1800’s and until her death in 1935. Never married, she was nonetheless fascinated by courtship, the delicate dance which brings two people closer towards romance. And she bemoaned the loss of it over her lifetime.
In the age of our grandparents, “courting” was what we call dating, albeit with unrecognizable features of how we get acquainted romantically today.
Back then, the elements of courting included:
- Introductions brokered exclusively arranged by family and friends.
- Males having sole responsibility to ask and pay.
- Visits conducted in the presence of supervising adults.
- Feelings and emotions not frequently part of the courtship process.
- Relationships (and marriages) of convenience, based on societal stature and wealth.
- No intimacy until the couple were married.
Once the word “dating” entered the lexicon in the 1920’s, elements of traditional courtship slowly dropped. The tradition of brokered introductions; the custom of men asking and paying; and, foregoing intimacy were all still common, at least until the 1950’s. But over the last 50 years, much, if not all of the social norms of old-fashioned courtship have disappeared.
Today, we are accustomed to hearing about the “hook up” culture, which is defined as intimacy without dating. Many of us older than 40 struggle with accepting that hook ups for sex are the prevalent way young people, particularly in high school, college and early 20’s, get together. We have real nostalgia for restoring at least some of the features of courtship and dating.
What About Courtship Could Be Appealing Today?
In an article in the New York Times on October 2, 2022, author Michal Leibowitz wrote an intriguing piece called “Should We Bring Back Courtship?”. Herself in her 20’s, Michal decries the trend towards impersonal dating and coupling.
“While dating is more convenient than it’s ever been, it’s clearly falling short.
In today’s largely online world, burnout, opacity and callousness define dating.
Dating is broken. Going retro might well be a way to fix it.”
Michal goes on to outline what she believes are three practices that could restore sanity to dating:
- Meeting people through family, friends or legitimate matchmakers
- Early upfront conversations about goals and values
- Delaying sexual intimacy
In her view, swinging the casual “hook-up” pendulum back to more traditional ways of “courting” may be the solution for what is often missing in dating today.
What Can You Do to Encourage Courtship In Your Dating Life?
In my own experience of dating after a long marriage and divorce, I had to get very clear with myself on what I was looking for. And for me, it wasn’t a relationship. But I did want courtship. In other words, I wanted the excitement and thrill of going out with a person who wanted to go out with me…and showed it!
The men I most enjoyed were mannered, gracious, respectful, flirtatious, and planned great dates. To me, that’s courtship at its finest!
Last year, I wrote the book Mom…You Just Need to Get Laid: The Adventure of Dating After Divorce. It casts a humorous, but very honest spotlight on fifteen men I dated. Some of them I met online; others I encountered for the first time in person.
Some of the men were GREAT at courting me, others not so much.
Here’s what I do to encourage courtship:
- Flirt back!
- Praise the creativity of the men who design fun and interesting dates.
- Practice gratitude.
- Communicate what I like and what I don’t.
- Set boundaries for anything that is uncomfortable.
I am with Michal in believing that dating won’t ever go back to the highly formalized ways of the turn of the century. And that’s just fine!
But our society is longing for a more personal and humane way to connect through dating. We are each responsible for making that happen.
I am going to do my part. Tell me what you will do at firstname.lastname@example.org