“They say love is the best investment; the more you give, the more you get in return.” – Audrey Hepburn.
The joining of two people to build a life together is woven deeply into the human spirit. The rituals that bring these unions into being have evolved over time, and across cultures.
The way couples pair up is a reflection of the values of a society, its beliefs, and its customs. When seen from this perspective, there is no right or wrong way for two people to court each other. The code of ethics we choose to follow is based on our interpretation, and if it works for us.
At its core, love is an active choice to commit to another person, to form a unit to meet the pair’s basic needs—food, shelter, safety, belonging—and possibly, having children. On a higher level, it is about two people coming together to serve the evolution and growth of their souls. The ancient Greeks made this distinction when they defined different kinds of love; “pragma” (a long-lasting, practical love), and “agape” (a spiritual and unconditional love).
To form soul-based “agape” connections, we need courtship rituals that allow us to dig deeply into a person’s character. With the rise of online dating websites and apps, and a more open-minded culture, it’s become harder to do this. Whilst having these tools has advantages, the downside is that it’s made a lot of us feel lost and unworthy when it comes to finding love.
Texting and social media have enabled shallow communication. The marketplace mentality of the dating world has made people feel more like commodities than people. As a culture, we’re guided by the instant gratification of getting the pick of a glut of love options available at our fingertips.
In his book, “The Road to Character,” author David Brooks writes, “The consumer marketplace encourages us to live by utilitarian calculus, to satisfy our desires and lose sight of the moral stakes involved in everyday decisions. The noise of fast and shallow communications makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from the depths.”
We can bring morality back to the dating process by looking to the times when people took dating seriously—when there was decency and reverence for the process and courtship was seen as a privilege, not a game. There used to be a blueprint that favored deeper love over “hook-ups” and “situationships” defined by gray zones. It was a time when people felt valued by their person of interest and not left guessing about where they stand in a relationship.
What made traditional courtship different from modern-day dating is that it had its own set of rules and rituals. Today we might see these rules as restrictive and antiquated, but at that time, it was a fundamental part of a well-functioning society guided by strong virtues. It disciplined behavior and created harmony.
That’s not to say that everything was fine and dandy back in the day. To glorify every historical era is misleading. Relationships were anything but equal, with men having all the power and women treated as property. Women’s economic dependency gave them minimal choice when it came to who they married. Arranged marriages to forge economic and political alliances were the norm. In some tribes, marriages happened through capture when men raided villages for wives.
The old-fashioned courtship rituals on which people look back fondly are the ones from Medieval and Victorian times, when romantic ideas of greater morality and higher virtues flourished. In Medieval times, suitors wooed their potential loves with poetry, and serenaded them with songs. Courting became an art form that people took delight in.
Medieval chivalry was laced with romance, honor, and quaint gestures that expressed affection to their intended. The expression “knight in shining armor” found in romantic tales and stories, is inspired by the knights who embodied a chivalrous spirit towards women.
Courting in the Victorian era became formal, and required that certain prerequisites be met before marriage amongst the upper class. Once formally introduced, the gentleman who wished to escort a lady to her home would present his card to her. The lady would look over the options of potential suitors and choose her escort by giving him her own card. Most of the courting process happened at the girl’s home under the vigilant eyes of her family and the presence of a chaperone.
Not all these formal courtship rituals are a good fit for our contemporary times. A lot of us will find the Victorian approach long-winded, stuffy, and prudish, and Medieval chivalry too dramatic and over the top, and that’s okay. Instead, focus on the basic values that they represent.
Adapt these meaningful gestures to your personality and sensibility. What you want is to find authentic ways to demonstrate and profess your affections. This adds tenderness to the dating process.
Here are four old-fashioned courtship rituals we all could consider bringing back:
1. Transparent and straightforward intentions: Modern dating has been reduced to mind games and strategy. We’re told to play hard-to-get and avoid being too direct. While subtlety is important in the initial stages, it erodes trust in the long run. Back in the day, social rules made it essential for men to be honest about their intentions when courting a lady and be clear about whether or not they see a future with them. Now, it’s an option for both sides. It’s become a challenge to be open and transparent because you worry about looking too eager and needy when, in fact, it’s a sign of confidence and good character.
2. Deep and intimate conversations: Dating apps and instant messaging have perpetuated rushed and shallow communication. The early stages of courtship are like a budding flower that takes its own time to bloom. Using this time to engage in deep conversation to understand the other person’s character, ambitions, and vulnerabilities nourish the growth of something beautiful. Back in the day, the getting-to-know-you phase of a relationship wasn’t rushed. It was savored by both sides because it was romantic and became the basis of physical intimacy.
3. Thoughtful and courteous gestures: Dating was once regarded as a special occasion. Both sides made an effort to put their best foot forward because they saw it as an honor. They knew that the most memorable gestures didn’t have to be grandiose and over the top, instead it was the little things that carried meaning and significance. Buying a bouquet of fresh flowers, sending romantic notes and poems, and hand-kissing are still sweet and appreciated. Thoughtful compliments, opening doors, and texting to see if someone has made it home safe after a date are simple acts that express kindness and connection.
4. Respect and good manners: An integral part of old-fashioned romance was having good manners. Saying “please,” “thank you,” “sorry,” and “excuse me” wasn’t seen as a fussy formality. Interactions were made warm and personal by using names and smiling. Showing respect for boundaries and going at a pace both parties were comfortable with was important. Bad boy and bad girl tactics like being late, missing texts, a condescending tone and attitude, and making a person feel like they were only one option among many were no-nos in old-school courtship.
The courtship process is like a dance. It might be clumsy in the initial stages, but if you’re the right fit, you’ll find that you gradually begin to synchronize. A graceful rhythm is established, and soon, you’ll find yourself reveling in the alchemy of your growing connection.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What is your favorite romantic, old-fashioned gesture? What do you like about it?
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