Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy

Merging sense and sensibility in modern relationships

Finding Love, the Old-Fashioned Way

Casual only gets you so far. For a real relationship, you may need to court.

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Courting is an excellent way to improve your chance of finding a suitable romantic match, but there are many points of view about what constitutes effective courting—and some of those ideas usually fall short. In my book, Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy, I detail how people have learned to deal with this challenge over time.

Here are 5 points that foster effective courting:

  1. Forget traditional gender roles. Men and women both should be open to pursuing and being pursued in romantic relationships. Finding a balance in romantic love is essential—if only one member is doing the pursuing, it can be a signal that you are not being your true selves.
  2. Communicate directly. 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. Forego dating rules. Instead of “playing the game," be your authentic self. If you want to call, call. If you want a date, ask. If he likes broccoli and you don't, say so. (For more, see 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 takes time. There are no shortcuts; you have to go through the process to truly know and be known.

Many Approaches

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Nature has variations on courting, but usually it begins with the male striving 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: Courtship 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, as with many animals, human courtship is more controlled by the female member of the prospective union, while the male works for her approval through solicitous behaviors.

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 martial 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, courtship meant no physical contact and oftentimes not even being in the presence of the other without the watchful eyes of family members. Emotional and physical intimacy would not begin until marriage. Instead of turning to one another during the courtship 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 couple's 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 this 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—or for their own families. The result is that their more complicated inner selves, personal issues, and needs are not revealed. When that is the case, disillusionment is around the corner.

Today, some differentiate between dating, which is "fun and casual," and courting, which is "serious," with an eye toward marriage. For others, courting is an entirely outdated concept not 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 sites have compressed the amount of time devoted to the getting-to-know-you process. This may produce a pseudo-courtship in which participants develop the illusion that they are getting to know one another, but there is no nuanced, deep level of mutual appreciation. Oddly enough, this kind of courtship is similar to the early 19th-century chaperoned relationships in which the incentive was 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 the concept of “flash marriages" describes those that take place less than seven months after a couple meets. The thinking behind this seems to be: 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 “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, and men disillusioned.

This can all be avoided—with effective courting.

 

Click here to follow Jill on Facebook or here to follow Jill on Twitter @DrJillWeber. Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Washington, DC and author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided Relationships.

Jill P. Weber, Ph.D. is the author of Having Sex, Wanting Intimacy—Why Women Settle for One-Sided relationships.

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