Courtship Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Taking A Nap

According this recent New York Times Style section article, the end of courtship is nigh. It’s dead. Gone. Buried. Mourned. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We are now living in a post-courtship dating world where  instead of the traditional dinner-and-a-movie, you get a “last-minute text to tag along.” The article posits that these “texts, Facebook posts, instant messages and other ‘non-dates’ [are] leaving a generation confused about how to land a boyfriend or girlfriend.”

Writer Alex Williams interviews an assortment daters and experts and cobbles together various hypothesis as to why “traditional courtship” is biting the dust, especially for millennials: “Asynchronous communication” (classified as text, e-mail, IM and Twitter) absolving one of the need to be charming; hookup culture and the confusion about intimacy which it has spurned; online dating and the accompanying FOMO (fear of missing out); Facebook as a replacement for all the things one would normally learn about a person on a first date; the “mancession” and “the end of men”; confusion about gender roles. Etcetera.

All of the reasons listed above have their own validity. Anyone who has been on a date in recent years will confirm that this extensive list of conditions is alive and kicking. They can make dating difficult and incredibly confusing. But my outlook on the future of courtship is not so bleak. Courtship isn’t dead, it’s just taking a nap. It’s overwhelmed, in shock. You see, it’s weathered a lot of changes over the last, say, 60 years and it hasn’t figured out how to adapt yet. So, it did what we all do when we feel that way — it went the fuck to sleep.

Confusion about courtship is not a condition unique to our time. It has always been a part of love. If you’ve watched “Downton Abbey,” you know that the courters of yore were confused about a whole crap load of things; they were just different things: Should I sleep with a Turkish diplomat, knowing that it could ruin my reputation? Should I marry my cousin and save my inheritance? Should I run off with the chauffeur even if my family disowns me? 

For us, it’s more like: How long should I wait to text after our date? Are we exclusive or is this just a hookup? What did he mean when he said he IM’d me and asked if I wanted to “meet up sometime”? 

Every time and place has its conditions. These are ours. I have faith that we will be able to stop using our conditions as excuses and start looking for ways to wake this thing up.  That means accepting and getting comfortable with the current condition of courtship. It also means having to outright reject the parts of it that feel upsetting or demeaning to you. We do not have to consider going back to a guy’s  apartment, with crew in tow, and eating mac n’ cheese to be a date, or even a non-date. I’m sorry to break it to you, 25-year-old Lindsay. That is an impromptu house party. Not a non-date. I like 29-year-old Cherly Yeoh’s approach: she holds out for a person (or the kinds of persons) who are on the same page as she is in terms of her expectations. “If he really wants you, he has to put in some effort,” she says.

I agree.  It’s important to make the distinction between accepting the conditions of modern courtship and accepting something you don’t want. One of the upsides of being a dater in this day and age is that we have more agency than we ever did before. We are no longer obligated to get married and have kids. What was once mandatory is optional now. So, we are no longer obliged to do anything we don’t want to. Let that thought free you the next time you are considering going on a group mac n’ cheese non-date. You have options.

Call me naive, but I truly believe that when two people really care for each other, all the conditions fall away and courtship happens. It may not happen in a “traditional way,” but it still happens. Texting or Facebook or the recession or confusion about normative gender roles don’t become an obstacle to love, they become a bridge. When we really want something, we set excuses aside and take the risk. So, we must not read articles like this and give up or cop out or get intimidated or mistake that sleeping beast for dead. We must find a way to awaken it. First, within ourselves. [NY Times]