To Date or not to Date: Understanding cultural influences on dating and human relations
Summary: In attempts to better understand dating rituals, and, in turn, better support my best friend as she continues to date this incredibly nice gentleman (and he is a gentleman), who, I [reluctantly] admit is slowly but surely growing on me, I researched dating and courtship practices over the ages. As such, I have, since, come to better appreciate our innate human need for companionships formed through dating and sustained by marriage.
The truth is, my best friend, my pseudo-sister, has never experienced difficulty with finding a date. The men are, quite literally, lined up at her door. And rightfully so! She is, quite simply, the sweetest, smartest, most talented, and genuinely good person that exists. Unfortunately, nearly all of the men that my best friend dates are, in my opinion unworthy of her time, attention, affection, and therefore unworthy of her. To this, my best friend’s young (real-life, blood) sister has oft accused me of being “over protective.” Let’s face it, Danielle; no one will ever be good enough for your precious best friend! Because your best friend is perfect [but] there’s no such thing as a perfect man! That is, up until recently. Arrived is a man who epitomizes chivalry, class, courtesy. He is intelligent, considerate, thoughtful, a great conversationalist, respectful, kind, humorous, and fairly good looking. Dare I say it? Am I beginning to warm up to this gentleman? How can this be, when he consumes all of my best friend’s free-time, steals from me the opportunity to do nice things for her, and will, if all goes well, virtually make me completely obsolete by becoming her ultimate best friend? After all, that is the initial intent behind dating; to find a husband; an eternal companion. Needless to say, with my best friend gone so much of the time these days dating, I have a considerable amount of time to think, ponder, and reflect. So, why do we date? What makes a woman want to accept an invitation to “go out on a date” with a man? And why do we pursue dating in the manner we do; where did our concepts of dating and courtship stem from and thus shape our current cultural concepts? (Oh, and, by the way, when is my current dating drought going to dissipate?)
In attempts to better understand dating rituals, and, in turn, better support my best friend as she continues to date this incredibly nice gentleman (and he is a gentleman), who, I [reluctantly] admit is slowly but surely growing on me, I researched dating and courtship practices over the ages. As such, I have, since, come to better appreciate our innate human need for companionships formed through dating and sustained by marriage.
Dating and Courtship through the AgesMedieval Chivalry: According to Kimberly Powell, a writer for Genealogy, many of our society’s modern courting rituals are rooted in medieval chivalry. From taking a woman to dinner to opening the door for her, during medieval times, “suitors wooed their intended with serenades and flowery poetry,” Powell says. The concept of romantic love became increasingly important, and more highly regarded as a pre-requisite to marriage as were chastity and honor, which were highly regarded virtues. It is also interesting to note that, according to Powell, women in Scotland first gained the right to court and even propose marriage to the man of her choice in 1228; a legal right that then slowly spread through Europe. Victorian Formality: During the Victorian Era in Europe (1837-1901), romantic love became viewed as the primary requirement for marriage and courting “became almost an art form among the upper classes,” Powell says. An interested gentleman could not simply walk up to a young lady and begin a conversation. It was not until both the man and woman had been formally introduced, and considerable time has passed, that the gentleman could begin to pursue an interest in the lady. If interested, the gentleman would present his card to the lady asking if he may escort her home. “At the end of the evening the lady would look over her options and chose who would be her escort. She would then notify the lucky gentleman by giving him her own card requesting that he escort her home,” says Powell. Yet, instead of calling upon the lady and taking her all courting took place in the girl's home, always under the eye of watchful parents. If the courting progressed, the couple might advance to the front porch. Smitten couples rarely saw each other without the presence of a chaperone, and marriage proposals were frequently written.
Dating in early 21st America: By 1920, the centerpiece of courtship in America was in place—Dating. During this time, courting or “dating” as it was more commonly referred to as, was relatively informal. Dating became a series of unchaperoned male- female interactions took place with no specific commitment for the purpose of seeking relationships with members of the opposite sex through discovering whether or not compatibility existed and therefore could develop into romance and eventual love and marriage. The rules of dating, at this time, were not established by the community, but, rather, the peer-group. According to Powell, the rise of the dating culture was seen as an outgrowth of both the creation of an adolescence stage of the human life cycle (which, up to this point, had not yet been created as a distinct stage) and the emergence of the “city culture”. Sociologists have attributed to the emancipation of women, increased ownership of cars, and the emergence of motion pictures, all of which decreased the kind community control on the young couple as evident in colonial America, when marriage stemmed more out of an economic need as opposed to a desire to find love through a lawfully wedded companion. Regardless, of the causations, dating in America in the early 21st century was a particularly defining aspect of American culture. Whereas dating was seen as an opportunity to form and maintain equal partnerships between men and women, through shared interests and affections, the dating system brought with it an unexpected element to the idea of courtship— the need for money. Instead of spending time together in the home of the woman, as it was done in the late 1700s and early 1800s, dating meant "going out”—going out together, and going outside of the home pursuing various form of recreation such as frequenting restaurants, or the ever-increasingly popular movie theater and dances. Doing this, required money. Although courtship was always involved an element of financial commitment or investment (evidence of whether or not the young man could support a wife and family), this new method of courtship made access to money directly contingent on access to women. Furthermore, dating also changed the balance of power in the courting relationship. When courtship was centralized in the home, women essential had the power. Now that dating took the relationship outside the sphere of the home, the balance of power shifted to the man and thus created was a system often dubbed as “rating and dating”. Dating, according to a recent study conducted by Penn State University, was based more on a sense of competition—The men who could afford to take a woman out to dinner and show a far better shot; an increased likeliness of winning a date with a woman, than those who could not afford to do so.
Dating in Modern America: Dating and marriage has changed considerably in our country over the past sixty years, largely due to the ever changing community roles and popular views of women and their place in modernity. The feminist reexamination of marriage and gender, in the 1960s, had a pronounced effect on courtship and dating, urging women to postpone marriage in favor of pursuing a college education and career fulfillment. Dating was viewed as a tool for men to exercise influence and control over the destinies of women, and marriage was considered as non-conducive for the pursuit of excellence, advancement, and achievement both personally and professionally for women. Thusly, more women were said to seriously entertain the idea of marriage only after having obtained their degree and after a level of professional fulfillment led to a desire for personal fulfillment through a committed relationship with the opposite sex. While in the 1900s, the average age for a woman to marry was 20, the mean age of a woman getting married for the first time today is approximately 27. It was not until the late 1980s, however, that ideals surrounding dating began to shift toward a traditional tide. Particularly, in the last decade, there have been amplified hints of our society gradually returning to a more conservative system of dating courtship.
Summarily, dating today, is, once again, viewed as an avenue for seeking and cultivating mature love and mutual respect, as well as emotional, spiritual, and physical compatibility, in marriage, as opposed to a sense of duty, propriety, or even procreation. And intimacy is seen more as a sense of closeness; a deep sense of connection psychologically, as opposed to merely a sense of sexual satisfaction. A vast, distinct change from the “Flower Power” of the 1960s, when our society sought to obtain sexual freedom through unrestrained sexual expression, which led to a surge of pre-martial sexual encounters and unwed pregnancies, unprecedented ever before in American culture. Evidence of this cultural shift is apparent in public school educational curriculums, clinical and health-related literature, and even popular media which have disseminated information geared toward women “finding and keeping a man” and that women could achieve both a marriage as well as a higher education. Such messages have been attributed, by and large, to increased awareness about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the increasing popularity of online dating facilities which have added an additional dimension to the entire culture of dating altogether. As such, resulting is a renewed interest in monogamous sexual relationships through marriage, which lends itself to the notion that dating in American ought to and needs to return to a more conservative approach toward finding a mate.
Personally, the idea of pursuing a monogamous relationship not only is preferable by makes sense. Our very nature; our genetic make-up, physically, mentally, and emotionally, lends itself toward pursuing, securing, and sustaining monogamous relationships with members of the opposite sex for a myriad reasons. Dating is the method by which we find our husband (or for you, gentleman readers—your wife) and marriage is the format by which the relationship with our husband is perpetuated and nurtured. (Though, I must admit, that while I do want to get married and, indeed, my husband will be my favorite companion, I am not willing to forgo my best girl friend. I want both a husband, in addition to keeping my pseudo-sister-friend. By the way, this gentleman who is currently dating my aforementioned best friend, ought to take note of this…)
Author Bio: Danielle White is a client account specialist for 10x Marketing, which represents HeavenlyMatched.com – the leading provider of safe online dating services for singles seeking a serious relationship and mature love.
Related Tags: online dating, singles, serious relationship
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