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?