Courting as opposed to dating

Alan Bloom mentions in passing that “Dating is the dessicated shell of courting”. Though I think I get what he means, the formulation obscures more than it reveals.

First of all, we still use the word “courting”: google the word a bit and you get all sorts of interesting hits that show the word gets used all the time outside of romantic relationships. For example, it gets used all the time in business and marketing: we easily speak of  “courting sales for your small business” or “courting Heinz for the mustard account” or “courting customers for Windows 8”.  What we mean is that our primary goal in what we are doing is to persuade someone into making a commitment that they wouldn’t make of themselves unless we put in some serious work. Courting has no value apart from inking the deal, so much so that no one would want the process to be longer than necessary. Ceteris paribus, we’re better at courting to the extent that we can minimize the amount of time we spend before inking the big deal, though we know that a big deal is only a big one if it’s going to take a good deal of time to close.

But this is not how we tend to look at dating. The end goal is vague and even seen as repugnant, and we don’t see the point as getting it over as getting to a permanent deal as quickly as possible. Most teenagers or twentysomethings do not see dating as the sort of thing you should get over as quickly as possible, and they are offended by the thought that you should have to talk someone into a permanent deal. Shouldn’t they just like you more or less from the get-go? We know what romantic courting would be but we don’t want to do it because we don’t view the relation of men and women as needing it. Courting persons is for salesmen or businessmen – not for lovers.

Right or wrong, dating sees non-marital romantic relationships as ends in themselves and not as preludes to anything. Such relationships are not pre-marital, except accidentally. Dating also comes from a more irenic view of the relation between men and women – men don’t have to go out and “win women” or work to convince them to be brides, and they even see it as degrading or unjust to have to do so. Women are perhaps less convinced of the value of dating over courtship (it’s hard to see how dating is more in their interest, as it deprives them of a great deal of leverage and makes women have to move faster in romantic matters than they naturally want to go) but many of them have to play along and pretend to like guys from the beginning.



  1. Bruce Meyer said,

    October 29, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    I’m in the middle of outlining Thomas’s arguments on the meaning of life, or, God as the Greatest End or Happiness. He explains that in any movement by an intelligent agent, that if there is no determinate final goal, there is no first step either. No destination, then no ride.

  2. Jy said,

    October 31, 2012 at 8:48 am

    Am I the only 20 something year old who thinks romantic relationships don’t even make sense without being directed towards marriage?

    • October 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      Yes and no: on the one hand, everyone recognizes that dating cannot be an end in itself – we seem to agree that dating ends with cohabitation (whether between the married or not). No one – whether pagans, Christians, traditionalists or progressives – thinks that we should just date some person for our whole lives. It would be ridiculous and/or offensive to hear some couple say that they had been going steady for sixty years.

      On the other hand, we’re supposed to see dating as an end in itself, since it seems too severe to insist that no one should date until he’s ready to marry (or cohabitate).

      So there is a tension (or, less charitably, a contradiction) in our ideas of what dating is supposed to be.

  3. courting said,

    November 7, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Yes! Finally someone writes about courting.

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