Maybe it’s time we go back to the basics…
I must admit I get sentimental just thinking about the “good ole days” of dating and courtship. I remember when I was growing up a guy would ask a woman out on a date without any other expectation other than enjoying her company for the evening. Women, on the other hand, wouldn’t dare invite a man in her house on the first date, especially if she lived alone, not even for a cup of coffee. Nowadays, it seems those dating rituals have changed but unfortunately haven’t made dating any better or easier for innocent young lovers.
So why has dating changed so much over the years? Well, it’s complicated! But let’s start with a little history lesson. In the book by Stephanie Coontz, “Marriage, A History”, the author surmises that in ancient civilizations upper class families were much more involved in the “dating” lives (I’m using the term dating loosely here) of their children because family resources were at stake and could jeopardize the wealth and inheritance the family had accumulated. “Commoners” or lower class families as they were known at the time “dated” and married for practical reasons. Raising a family and running a household placed serious demands on men and women. For instance, men were involved in farming and field work while women had to bear children who would eventually be responsible for performing certain duties taking some of the burden off of their parents. So, as you can see, men and women needed each other to ensure their own survival.
Fast forward to a time when I believe the term “dating” actually began, Coontz states that “for a period of time, it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love…it was a serious threat to social order”. But by the late 17th and 18th century, there was a shift that occurred introducing this new concept of looking for love or finding your soulmate as opposed to earlier generations when the practical demands and societal pressures were the basis for your search. The author asserts that critics of this new age idea warned that society could be opening “Pandora’s box” with such “free choice and egalitarianism”. For example, how then would young people, particularly women, choose the right type of mate without help from parents or wise elders in the community? And as time went on, the “free love” movement began to produce many “out of wedlock” births from young men and women as accurately predicted by critics of this movement.
But if we’re to be honest with ourselves, we all want to date and eventually marry for love, right? Besides, who wants to be with someone who makes them unhappy? We wouldn’t want to have it any other way! However, as you can see from our history, there are many other factors to consider besides love. You’re also evaluating this person to determine if they would be a good fit for you long term. For example, if you’re a woman dating someone who can’t even pay for a simple date night out, you may want to re-evaluate your options as that person may not be financially stable or fit for you at this time. If you’re a man and you desire to have kids but the woman you’re dating isn’t even caring or nurturing to the kids in her own family, you may have a problem.
With the rise of feminism and the Women’s Liberation Movement, dating became even more complicated because although women gained more rights outside of the home, women still wanted the same preferential treatment by men as they did in the previous generations, particularly in the courting process. Men, on the other hand, no longer saw the need to be as chivalrous since women could now pay for their own meal and essentially take care of themselves. The 1960’s and 1970’s created a time of great social change and unrest that we are still trying to figure out in the world today.
In the book, “Manning Up”, Hymowitz writes that social groups have always been involved in providing scripts for young people to follow in dating for marriage. She states “there was always a good deal of adult supervision in the form of chaperones, church dances, community socials and curfews”. As opposed to the dating rituals of today which are virtually non-existent. The question we have to ask ourselves is how this has helped us as a society have better relationships. Maybe having a few dating rules and rituals in our personal repertoire isn’t such a bad idea after all.
But were society’s rules and rituals for dating really worth it? Listen, I know dating is complicated and I don’t profess to have all the answers but I do think there were some dating scripts that were worth their weight in gold. As a woman, you need to evaluate a man not based solely on your feelings for him (which can result from lust and changing hormones in the beginning) but how he respects you as a person and can ultimately can provide for a household. That’s why rules were formed. They knew when young lover’s hearts and emotions are involved, they’re not thinking too clearly and miss the key things about a person that ordinarily would raise “red flags” that the person they’re dating may not have their best interests at heart.
You see, in the beginning of the courtship, dating should be fun and frivolous but you’re also in the process of choosing the right person. You’re allowed to date as many people as possible to determine the right fit. And contrary to popular belief, there is really no such thing as “exclusivity” when you’re not married to someone, particularly in the courtship. I believe this dating trend came about as a result of couples wanting to be sexually active with their partner and consequently wanting to control their partner’s sexual activities outside of the relationship. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee your partner is going to be “sexually exclusive” to you even when they’ve made that promise. At least when you’re at the point of engagement, you and your mate have made an official commitment to each other as evidenced by a ring and probably won’t want to screw it up.
Engagement then, was really meant for exclusivity as viewed by earlier generations and was thought to culminate in marriage. Once a couple decided upon engagement, all previous lovers would be eliminated from their search. The couple could now focus on each other without distraction. Oppositely, in modern times, engagement is thought to be solely for the purposes of wedding planning. In fact, most of the engagement process is riddled with wedding planning rather than focusing on the deeper aspects of the person to be clear if this is the person you can see yourself with for the rest of your life. Maybe it’s time we revisit these dating rituals rather than throwing out the “baby with the bath water”.
To sum this up, dating has changed tremendously over the years. From the practical demands of finding someone to run a household to today’s ideals of finding someone in which to cherish and love. But with these changing times, we’ll need to change how we date as well. The courtship process can still be a fun and exciting way to find the one you love but we’ll need to use some of those dating rules and rituals our elders taught us to ensure we meet and mate with the right person. Sadly, there are no more wise elders in our community watching over us, but you do have a wide resource of books and literature written directly to help you in this process. And with a few of these techniques and our own moral compass, we’ll be able to make long lasting changes to the dating process for generations to come!
Thanks for reading
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