I wouldn't be surprised in the least if when the word "courting" comes to your mind, the word that immediately follows is "old-fashioned". I mean, for better or for worse (pun intended and you'll see why in just a bit), it was the word that our grandparents used more than our parents; it was probably something we heard in church much more than in college too (shoot, people barely date in college but…I digress).
When I personally think of courting, the first thing that comes to mind is fine Michael Landon playing Charles Ingalls in The Little House on the Prairie. Whenever a young man wanted to spend time with one of his daughters beyond an annual church dance or something, he couldn't do it unless he was interested in courting Mary or Laura. That meant he had to be interested in the girl to the point of not only considering marriage but preparing for it as well.
Although that frame of mind might seem over the top and even a little antiquated, if you go to Google and put "dating vs. courting" in the search engine, everything from religious sites to online dating sites to (get this!) even sugar daddy sites are basically gonna cosign on where the show—and grandma and church—were coming from.
As I revisited all of this a few days ago, not only did it get me to thinking that it's probably a good idea to break down what dating looks like vs. what courting looks like, it also crossed my mind that perhaps a part of the reason why some of us get so frustrated with the dating scene is because we think that dating and courting are synonymous and/or we're dating when actually what we wish we were doing was courting.
Here's what I mean when I say that.
I'll never forget meeting up with a particular guy for dinner. There was a mutual attraction and playful banter—which is usually a cryptic form of mental foreplay, no doubt—between us. I'd be lying if I said that there weren't certain parts of him that I liked. BUT I also knew that he was a chronic commitment-phobe; to a certain degree, even a self-professed one. Yet it wasn't until we got into a conversation about how the word on the street was that he took "gettin' around" to new highs and lows, that he said something that also revealed he's a closet narcissist too.
Me: "What is it with you and so many women?"
Him: "When I'm in a relationship, I'm in it. But right now, I'm dating."
Me: "Oh? You're dating someone? You should've told me that."
Him (and this is where it gets good): "Why? I'm dating you too."
Me, as I waited for him to crack a smile to show that he's playing: "Ohh…I didn't know we were dating."
Him: "I'm dating all of y'all." He was dead serious.
Maybe it's just me, but I always thought that actual dating was like healthy sex in the sense that it had to be something both people agreed upon.
I mean, if a random person walked up and asked me if he and I were dating, the answer would be "no". To me, just because there was an attraction, there still had to be some sort of intention and motivation behind spending time together. Honestly, for me, we were mad cool, my birthday had just past and he asked if I wanted to go to dinner. I knew how he got down around town, so it was more like buddies with a mutual attraction hanging out than an actual date. So, what do I consider a date to be? Although it's nowhere near as serious as courting (nor should it be), in my opinion, dating should be about two people who have an interest in each other deciding to spend time quality time together to see if things can grow into something more—like possibly courting—someday.
Two friends catching a movie are not dating; the motive is to not see a movie alone, not to bond (a movie is a pretty crappy first, second or third date, by the way. How much talking can you do in there without coming off as being straight-up rude?). Two folks who hook up solely to hook up aren't dating either; usually all they want to do is "get theirs" and then get on to something else (which is why "Netflix and Chill" always was and always will be highly suspect on the dating tip).
Come to think of it, this is why I'm not big on the term "casual dating" (and I really dislike the term "casual sex"). When you do something casually, it has no aim or purpose. Dating is supposed to have a goal in mind—again, getting to know someone so that you can see if there is a potential relationship brewing. Anything short of that deserves a different term like "hanging out" or something along those lines.
In short, dating is like a precursor to courting. And if all goes well, then courting (which is a precursor to engagement) transpires.
One of my favorite quotes by Bob Marley is one that will preach about a billion sermons—"The biggest coward of a man is to awaken the love of a woman without the intention of loving her." A coward is someone who lacks courage and is easily intimidated. And yes, if a man is dating a woman for a long period of time, it requires quite a bit of courage to initiate taking things to the next level.
Any man who does this? I applaud him. He gets a standing ovation, actually. It can be tempting to just hover in the space of dating for years on end. You must be non-intimidated by the thought of being in a long-term commitment in order to partake in one.
That said, I personally find courting to be a word that is a much sweeter and mature word than dating. It sounds like it has more intent, that it's more of an agreement that two people are spending time together with sharing the futures together in mind.
When courting is taking place, going on dates isn't just about doing something together but participating in things that will help both individuals to get to know one another better. Friends and families are brought into the picture so that both people can gain an "outside perspective". Relationship plans are made and relationship goals are discussed. Holidays and other special days are spent together. Emotionally and spiritual bonding become top priorities. Sometimes, even counseling transpires. (Sidenote: I think it's wiser to go to couples counseling before getting engaged so you can see if it's wise to get engaged in the first place. If you wait until after the ring is on your finger, you might treat therapy as nothing more than a mere formality. You know, something to check off of your wedding planning to-do list.)
To me, courting really is about both people seeing if the love they have for each other is able to evolve into an engagement.
The reason why this is important to keep in mind is a lot of people confuse courtship with chivalry. A man coming to your door rather than honking the horn, a man calling instead of texting you, a man planning a date ahead of time instead of just winging it whenever he sees you—he's not courting you. He's being a gentleman. You should expect this even when you're "just dating" someone.
If he's courting you, you don't have to wonder where you stand. He has plans for you—long-term plans. Wanting a wife is on his radar.
This really could be—and probably needs to be—a seminar. Again, old-fashioned dating is chivalrous, it's not exactly courtship. Date then court. Court then get engaged. The good news is now that the differences have been shared, you can know if what you're doing with someone is A) hanging out; B) dating with a purpose or C) expiration dating. And with this knowledge, you can act accordingly.
If you want to date-to-court, is that what's transpiring? If not, you know what to do…now. No apologies needed.
Bottom line, if you want to date, date. But if you truly want to be court, be courted. You deserve it. You really do.
Featured image by Getty Images