In our complex world today, how does one meet and marry one’s “true love”? The two main methods of meandering or marching towards matrimony today are “dating” and “courtship”. Courtship has been around, well, forever. Dating is rather recent. What happened in history to cause the change?
Let’s look at what some writers have written in answer to this question. “As cultural historians Alan Carlson and Beth Bailey put it in the ‘Mars Hill Audio Report, Wandering Toward the Altar: The Decline of American Courtship’, prior to the early 20th century, courtship involved one man and one woman spending intentional time together in order to get to know each other with the expressed purpose of evaluating the other as a potential husband or wife. The man and the woman usually were members of the same community, and the courting usually was done in the woman’s home in the presence (and under the watchful eye) of her family, most often Mom and brothers.
However, between the late 1800s and the first few decades of the 1900s the new system of ‘dating’ added new stages to courtship. One of the most obvious changes was that it multiplied the number of partners (from serious to casual) an individual was likely to have before marriage.” Quoting from “A Brief History of Courtship and Dating in America, Part 1” by the Rev’d Skip Burzumato (http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001456.cfm)
Men and women began seeing each other in public places, rather than in the girl’s parlor. The fact that the process men and women undertook in finding a mate changed is undeniable. Where courtship had been customary, now dating became the norm. But, was the object the same for both? “Beth Bailey in her book, ‘From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth Century America’ observes that by the 1930s and 40s, with the advent of the ‘date’ courtship increasingly took place in public spaces such as movie theaters and dance halls, removed by distance and by anonymity from the sheltering and controlling contexts of the home and local community. Keeping company in the family parlor was replaced by dining and dancing, movies, and ‘parking'”. Changes in the outside world also played a part in the advent of “dating” as we know it.
Sexual values changed, birth control became possible, Christianity became lax, psychology and “experts” became popular, WWI took place, dramatic changes took place in what was acceptable dress (hemlines rose, corsets were gone for the most part, more skin was exposed), the term “flapper” was invented, transportation was rapidly changing (resulting in men and women travelling for work and pleasure, thus having a new “anonymity” away from the watchful eye and protection of family, especially fathers and brothers, and friends), feminism… the world was changing, and with it “Love and Marriage.”
Through the 1800’s and then into the 1900’s, following the Colonial Period, romance came to play a part in courtship. “As families and neighbors lost influence over couples, genteel standards of propriety came to guide courting behavior. Particularly after the Civil War, an elaborate system of rules governing courting emerged. On a woman’s invitation, men conducted formal ‘calls’ to her home, during which couples might converse, read aloud, play parlor games, or give a piano recital. Parents gave their children privacy to court alone, often removing themselves from the parlor, trusting that decorum would prevent improper behavior. As the century progressed, however, new opportunities for interacting outside the home emerged. College enrollments rose, and students developed their own rules governing relationships. More women entered the workforce, particulary as schoolteachers. And especially in urban areas, new public diversions like dance halls, amusement parks, theaters, and parks enticed courting couples away from the safety of their parlors.
World War I accelerated the disintegration of etiquette based on the separate-spheres ideology, (ed.: the idea that men have their sphere outside the home and women’s sphere was in the home) but popular magazines and advice columns quickly outlined new rules to replace the old. By 1925, traditional courtship had fallen out of fashion. Instead, young couples began to go on “dates,” which differed significantly from courting: They cost money, focused less on long-term commitment, took place in public, and were initiated and paid for by men. Standards of sexual morality also changed, and the terms “necking” and “petting”–the former referring to kisses and caresses above the neck, the latter to the same below it–entered public discussion, giving names to previously unspoken private activities. In some circles, young people dated widely, rather than with one exclusive partner, since status hinged on being seen regularly with different desirable dates. During this period, for example, people considered dancing all evening with one partner a social failure: the ‘belle of the ball’ was the young woman who danced with more partners than anyone else.” Quoting from “Courtship and Dating” (The Oxford Companion to United States History 2001 by Paul S. Boyer http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/10119-CourtshipandDating.html)
As we can clearly see, there were many factors influencing the change from courtship to dating. We can also clearly see that the change was not all good. We’ve touched on a few of the differences between dating and courtship. But, what really are “dating” and “courtship”? It is necessary, but difficult, that we define our terms. It’s easier to describe, than define, them. What are some of the characteristics of each?
As we read above,
Focuses less on long-term commitment
Takes place in public
Is initiated and paid for by men
Standards of sexual morality also changed (when switched from courtship)
Has no one exclusive partner
No parents present
Boy asks girl
Purpose: fun (surface relationship–“me” focused)
Often physical involvement
(In modern times) Young, sometimes very young, participate
One or both persons in the couple are unprepared to marry
Artificial: only see the person “trying to show their best”
Lust, not love
Preparation for divorce: Go on to another partner if this doesn’t work out
Boy asks Dad’s permission
Chaperoned and directed by girl’s father
Intention/focus is on marriage
Serious-minded, getting to know character, “other-focused”
More Real (seeing the person in the home interacting with their siblings and parents,
doing routine things, joining with brothers and sisters in family work and activities)
Often thoroughly prepared to marry before entering courtship
Often no physical contact (saving first kiss until at the altar)
One partner (except in rare cases)
Preparation for lifetime commitment within a covenantal relationship
Love, not lust, with characteristics of 1 Corinthians 13
Most of us are familiar with what Dating looks like, but may be saying, “What on earth do you do in courting nowadays? Is it like an arranged marriage?” I know you have many questions. In upcoming posts I’ll be offering a quite-lengthy list of resources.
Also, who doesn’t like hearing how a couple met and fell in love?! So, I thought it would be fun and informative to hear some “Courtship Stories”! So, beginning next week we’ll have the first of what I hope will be a few, at least, fun interviews with Couples Who Courted and How They Did It! I also hope to hear from some parents and get their take on it!