Is Courtship Really Dead?

In last weekend’s Style section, The New York Times ran a piece titled “The End of Courtship?” focusing on how the “hook-up culture” and electronic media have changed the ways young people meet and become acquainted.

From what I’ve heard, there is some truth to the piece. But I found it profoundly depressing — who’d want to be told that she can “hang” with some guy who’s only willing to “hang” with her if she’s willing to join in on what he’s already doing?  Judging from the depressing “Girls,” modern romance is a pretty dismal proposition – that is, if women settle for this kind of man-child-dominated “hanging out” described in the piece.

If there was a moral to the Times story, it came at the end: 

Even in an era of ingrained ambivalence about gender roles, however, some women keep the old dating traditions alive by refusing to accept anything less.

Cheryl Yeoh, a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco, said that she has been on many formal dates of late — plays, fancy restaurants. One suitor even presented her with red roses. For her, the old traditions are alive simply because she refuses to put up with anything less. She generally refuses to go on any date that is not set up a week in advance, involving a degree of forethought.

“If he really wants you,” Ms. Yeoh, 29, said, “he has to put in some effort.”

Despite The Times‘ subtle efforts to influence readers against this approach by (wrongly) suggesting that “formal dating” must require substantial expenditure (plays, fancy restaurants, red roses), I suspect that many women found this version of dating far more appealing than the “hook-up, hang out” version popularized (and often celebrated) by mass media. Frankly, Cheryl Yeoh is obviously a smart, insightful woman — not because she demands expensive, fancy dates (if, indeed, she does), but because she obviously has standards for herself and for men.

After all, if the purpose of courtship is to find someone with character that’s conducive to a long-term, happy marriage, it’s intelligent to hold out for a man who is, actually, willing to put in some effort.  And I firmly believe that there are at least some young men out there who are not only willing — but eager — to (as Mr. Darcy put it) “please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

The juxtaposition of the “modern” Lena-Dunham-type women in the article with Cheryl Yeoh at the end made me wonder: Rather than there being an “end to courtship” (as the Times posits), could there now simply be an increasing separation of more- and less-traditional young people (analogous to Charles Murray’s argument about the increasing separation of the residents of Belmont and Fishtown)?

Isn’t it obvious that the traditional/Yeoh model is more likely to yield strong, happy lifetime partnerships (with all their attendant personal and social benefits)?  And given that fact, why would anyone (a girl, especially) go along with the new, “courtship free” regime described in the Times piece?

  1. Lamont Cranston

    The teen girls who buy this? They’re called “baby mamas.”

    The twenty-somethings who buy this? (Cough…Sandra Fluck…Cough) They’re called–well, it’s not really polite to say.

    And the thirty-somethings who still haven’t figured this out? Does anybody remember that dodgy exercise in comparative statistics that concluded that a 35-year-old woman had a better chance of being murdered by a terrorist than of ever marrying?

    The girls who don’t buy this? They’re married.

  2. katievs

    And given that fact, why would anyone (a girl, especially) go along with the new, “courtship free” regime described in the Times piece?

    Seems to me a combination of two things:

    1) not knowing there’s another possibility

    2) despair

    It’s one more ghastly outcome of the sexual revolution and the “dictatorship of relativism”.  

    Did anyone else catch the NY Post article Jonah commented on in the Corner this morning?  More and more college girls are arranging to have sugar daddies pay their tuition.

    The good news is that the uglier things get in the “dating scene” of the world, the more luminously attractive the alternative becomes.  

  3. Mollie Hemingway
    C
    Carol Platt Liebau:

    After all, if the purpose of courtship is to find someone with character that’s conducive to a long-term, happy marriage, it’s intelligent to hold out for a man whois, actually, willing to put in some effort.  And I firmly believe that there are at least some young men out there who are not only willing — but eager — to (as Mr. Darcy put it) “please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

    I had a ton of fun dating — most of it formal but some of it informal. I was never, ever one for anything too expensive. It made me feel uncomfortable. But I found that a small bit of forethought was great for both my date and me.

    Dating can be confusing and there are all these questions about expectations. Even just a little bit of structure goes a long way to making both parties feel more comfortable (and I’m speaking, here, of something as simple as asking a bit in advance if you want to go see a particular movie or hit a particular dive bar, and at what time that would happen).

  4. Michael Lukehart

    Looking at it from your (our?) perspective, it appears pretty dismal for a young lady.  However, let us also remember that a lot of the young women out there are not ladies, and they seem to like it as it is. And, truth be told, that is just what a lot of young men want.

  5. Pseudodionysius

    At Ricochet we pay to play because if it were free the comments section would be a cesspool. The dating scene obeys the same laws of nature: if you give it away for free, there’s no telling what you’ll pick up.

  6. Lamont Cranston
    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Even just a little bit of structure goes a long way to making both parties feel more comfortable….

    Ours was an illicit romance, so every “date” wasn’t just planned–it had to include maskirovka worthy of Vladimir Putin. (She was a campus ministry staff worker–I a young, impressionable, entranced student.) We didn’t so much date as conspire–which had the practical effect of moving us through that awkward “well, is this serious?” phase fairly quickly.

  7. Nathaniel Wright

    Each working year, I encounter a non-random sample of approximately 1,500 high school age students.  Among these populations, “courting” and “dating” are very much alive and Good Luck Charlie is viewed far more often than Girls.

  8. kidCoder

    Disclaimer: As a teenager, I only have looked at all this, not actually been in the middle.

    However, as it seems from down here, Courtship is something done either in the 18th century or by people who want responsibility for their own actions.

    Am I entirely off my rocker with this?

  9. Michael Lukehart

    A distinction has to be made.  There is a huge difference between courtship and dating.  Courtship is goal oriented towards marriage.  Dating is recreation.  Hooking up is just a debased form of dating.

  10. Blitter

    Yeoh has spent her prime years pursuing an intensive career that (if I may read between the lines here) likely leaves little time for finding and building a serious relationship. But she feels entitled to expensive dates (on the man’s tab, no doubt). I’ve run into such women. They tend to be less attractive than they imagine. I’m not convinced from the article that she is that smart or insightful. Perhaps, but I’m unconvinced.

    Recently I’ve been motivated to make first dates a “come along and join me for something I was doing anyway” because if she flakes out at the last minute I don’t have to care. And flaking out comes with the territory when dealing with 20-something career minded women with overpacked schedules, at least in DC. Besides, there’s something to be said for group activities and watching her in that environment. If she’s not a flake then she’s worth my time to “put in some effort.”

    Screwed up?  Yeah, but this is what a lot of us men are facing out there.

  11. Miffed White Male

    Ms Yeoh sounds like a real pain.  There has to be a happy medium between the hook-up culture and “You have to set it up a week in advance and spend lots of money”.  What’s wrong with calling someone up and saying “let’s go to a movie tomorrow night”?

  12. Ed G.
    katievs:And given that fact, why would anyone (a girl, especially) go along with the new, “courtship free” regime described in the Times piece?

    Seems to me a combination of two things:

    1) not knowing there’s another possibility

    2) despair

    …..

    Katie, don’t forget the genuine allure of decadence, self-centeredness, and the pursuit of immediate pleasure that are possible (even if illusory or temporary) as a childless free agent. If sin and ruin were unpleasant then there wouldn’t be much need for the confessional.

  13. Ed G.
    Michael Lukehart: A distinction has to be made.  There is a huge difference between courtship and dating.  Courtship is goal oriented towards marriage.  Dating is recreation.  Hooking up is just a debased form of dating. · 2 hours ago

    Edited 2 hours ago

    I don’t know that I’d distinguish between dating and courtship this way. In the absence of arranged marriage or more formal ways of meeting and interacting with people, I view dating as goal oriented towards courtship rather than strictly recreational. If it’s only recreational then it’s either not dating (eg friendship) or hooking up.

  14. katievs
    Ed G.

    Katie, don’t forget the genuine allure of decadence, self-centeredness, and the pursuit of immediate pleasure that are possible (even if illusory or temporary) as a childless free agent. If sin and ruin were unpleasant then there wouldn’t be much need for the confessional. 

    Perfectly right, Ed.  Only, I’d qualify that I think, on the whole, girls and young women really want love and romance-leading-to-marriage more than they want “immediate pleasure”.

    And I can’t count the number of stories I hear of young girls especially doing stuff and acting ways they don’t like but see as the only way to get attention from guys.

  15. Darin Johnson

    It wasn’t men who wanted the dating culture to change.  It was women.  Specifically feminist women who wanted their sister so pursue a career and postpone thoughts of marriage and family.  They got what they asked for — good and hard.  The sense of entitlement practically drips from Ms Yeoh’s words — just as it does from the typical profile of a 35-year-old never married woman on Match.com.

  16. katievs
    Darin Johnson: It wasn’t men who wanted the dating culture to change.  It was women.  Specifically feminist women who wanted their sister so pursue a career and postpone thoughts of marriage and family.  They got what they asked for — good and hard.  The sense of entitlement practically drips from Ms Yeoh’s words — just as it does from the typical profile of a 35-year-old never married woman on Match.com. · 39 minutes ago

    This is too simplistic, surely.  Or do you want to deny that radical feminism and the sexual revolution have victimized women as well as men?  

  17. Rightfromthestart

    If women would not put up with it, it wouldn’t be.  They have the control hand. If it was made clear to men that a three day growth of beard, wrinkled shirt, a baseball cap and jeans isn’t going to fly, men would shape up. Like everything else that’s wrong, it started in the left’s favorite decade ,the rotten 60′s, with college people (I refuse to call them KIDS, I was a serviceMAN at 17) dressing like bums during class and not being admonished, now they dress like that all the time. Someone has to say, ‘smarten up, you look like a bum!’    

  18. katievs

    Another point: Even many women who, having grown up “breathing the air of feminism,” once endorsed it wholesale, end up regretting the harm it’s done to them and/or their daughters, and wishing things were different.

    Lori Gottlieb, who is 40-something and still single, wrote a highly engaging book called, Marry Him, about her regrets about her approach to dating during her 20s and 30s.  She has a chapter called “Feminism [code of conduct]ed up my love life."

    She would do things very differently, knowing what she knows now. 

  19. Darin Johnson

    Who said women haven’t been victimized?  Certainly not me.  It’s much worse for women, who benefit less from hook-ups and want stable families more.  But those most at fault for the current situation are women.

  20. EThompson
    Courting aside; what about the good old-fashioned custom of dating? Chalk it up to having a southern mother, but I wasn’t allowed to :

    1) Accept a date for Saturday night if plans hadn’t been made by Wednesday.

    2) Run out to the car if my date hadn’t come to the front door to meet me.

    3) Call boys first.

    This turned out to be excellent advice that was later documented in The Rules | The Rules is a way of dating that really works!

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