The forgotten art of courtship – putting the purpose back into dating

In these heady times of innumerable dating apps and high divorce rates, it is easy to come away with the impression that finding that special someone is largely a question of luck, probability or chance. Given the dizzying array of options open to us in our search for a partner, it is notable that the ultimate aim of meeting people is often overlooked, and that the qualities we would expect in our spouse and parent of our children take a back-seat to other more immediate considerations. With our growing expertise in deciding who we don’t like, by finger-swiping or speed-dating, we run the risk of getting caught up in perpetual spiral of dating and think less and less in terms of a long term partner, which is where the art of courtship comes into play.

Turning the clock back and giving a cursory spin of the globe, it is evident that there is endless variety in how two people establish if they wish to spend their lives together and the decision itself is influenced by a considerable amount of factors and circumstances. It would seem though that the length of time people generally spend together before committing, as well as the amount of ingenuity, imagination and effort involved has decreased steadily over the centuries and significantly so in the last one. In many ways we are more liberated and empowered to assert our choices and able to meet people from a far greater number of backgrounds and social settings than ever before.

Which brings us to an important distinction between courtship and dating. The former conjures associations of tradition, ritual, and formality as opposed to the latter’s modern, social and liberal vibe. Courtship has always had as its aim the proper selection of one’s partner for life and sufficient time and occasion was given to ensuring a potential spouse’s suitability. There was also the lingering presence of authority and the sense of someone overseeing and approving the union as societal and cultural factors meant that a family’s reputation was of prime importance and that there was more at stake than the fulfilment of romantic aspirations. Dating, conversely, has the approach of meeting multiple people over time and determining who would be best for a relationship, with the focus on  finding the right person than deciding if someone is right for you or not.

Inevitably there has always been a genetic element to courtship which is typified by the abundance of examples derived from the animal kingdom, where demonstrations of physical prowess, displays of colour and beauty as well as highly ritualised performances are the norm. From colourful displays by tropical birds to equestrian fistfights to elaborate dance routines, the amount of effort, creativity and exhibition involved is staggering and is a good indication of what may be lacking in the modern approach – not just in terms of seeing if a partner is suitable, but in proactively showing a potential partner that we are attracted to them, that they are important to us and that we are someone they would want to be with.

It is important then, to think not just about who we are looking for but what we are looking for too and build our approach to and evaluation of our encounters with suitors or dates around our relationship goals as well as our romantic aspirations. By being proactive about making our wishes reality and putting our best foot forward, showing off a little and demonstrating our beauty and qualities we can ensure we are more attractive to potential partners and show that they are important to us and worth the effort. Having the advice and support of established matchmakers as well as enlisting the help and opinions of friends and family can help shape a well-rounded and more informed perception of a possible life partner and our journey towards relationship fulfilment.