Courting is an excellent way to improve the chance of finding a highly suitable romantic match, but there are many points of view about what constitutes effecting courting and some of those ideas usually fall short. In my book, Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, I go into detail on how different people have over time learned to deal with this issue.
1. Forget traditional gender roles. Be the one to both pursue and be pursued in your romantic relationships. Finding a balance in romantic love is essential–if only one member is doing the pursuing this is a signal that you are not being your true selves.
2. Directly communicate. Instead of anxiously confiding in a friend or family member when upset or confused about a relationship, talk with your love interest directly. It is when you work things through inside a relationship that you truly learn to know one another.
3. Forgo dating rules. Instead of “Playing the Game”, be your authentic self. If you want to call then call–if you want a date then ask. If he likes broccoli and you don’t, tell him. For more on this see my blog, “Six Dating Rules You Should Stop Following.”
4. Keep up the rest of your life. Notice if you are overly working a relationship–many who do so are unhappy with other areas of their life and harbor a fantasy that if they find ‘the one’ all will be well for them.
5. Engage the getting-to-know-you process. Be patient, forming a strong relationship foundation does take time. There are no shortcuts, you have to go through the process to truly know and be known.
There are many approaches to courting. Nature has variations, but usually the male strives to make a notable presentation to the female. He may dance, vocalize in a distinctive way, or maybe express a show of aggression. The female will decide whether any particular suitor compares favorably to the other possibilities. It is not so different for some humans. Courting is a period of time in which judgments are made on whether to go forward into a committed romantic relationship. In fact, social science research suggests that, just as is the case for animals, human courting is more controlled by the female member of the prospective union, while the male works for her approval through solicitous behaviors.
Early 19th century courting
A kind of antiseptic style of courting was strongly encouraged in the early 19th century as a way for young adults to find the right marital partner—but this was most definitely not for dating. In fact at that time, ‘dating’ carried a strong social stigma because it was associated with prostitution.
Historically courting meant no physical contact and oftentimes meant not even being in the presence of the other without being under the watchful eyes of family members. Emotional and physical intimacy would not begin until marriage. Instead of turning to one another during the courting period, couples would turn to family members for counsel in vetting the potential match. In many cultures, courtship is a component of matchmaking and arranged marriages. In some practices a prospective couples’ families court, but the couple may not meet face-to-face until their wedding day. One advantage to an arranged marriage can be that the couple may fully grasp that it will take real effort to establish an emotionally intimate relationship with a stranger, handpicked or not.
The danger in all of these approaches comes when people feel forced to put up a false front for the suitor and for their own families. The result of this is that the more complicated inner self, personal issues and needs are not revealed. When that is the case, disillusionment is around the corner.
What courting means today
Today, some differentiate dating as ‘fun and casual’ while courting is ‘serious’ with an eye toward marriage. For others courting is entirely old school and not at all to be taken seriously. In fact, the word courting is used in some contemporary settings as a sarcastic commentary to avoid pressure around dating.
The Urban Dictionary uses the follow dialogue to explain this use:
“Dude, I saw you with that girl last weekend. What’s up with that?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Are you dating?”
“Nah, we’re just courting.”
Social media and the widespread use of Internet dating have compressed the amount of time devoted to the getting-to-know-you process. This may produce a pseudo-courtship in which the participants develop the illusion that they are getting to know one another, but there is no nuanced, deep level of mutual appreciation in this approach. Oddly enough this kind of courting is similar to the early 19th Century chaperoned relationships where the incentive is to create a suitable persona for the occasion. In both cases, the ‘real’ self may be omitted. This is akin to building a home on a sinkhole.
The compression of the getting-to-know-you window is not just a western cultural development. Consider China where “flash marriages” are described as those that take place less than seven months after the couple meets. The thinking behind this seems to say, “Move quickly, because the more we know about each other the less likely we will ever get married.” What better way to avoid the dreaded sheng nu, or in translation the “leftover woman,” label.
East or West, men and women who depend on putting up a contrived personality face various levels of disappointment once the deal has been finalized—whether through consummating the relationship or marriage. Women may feel duped, men disillusioned.
This can be avoided with effective courting.