Courtship is the period in a couple's relationship which precedes their engagement and marriage, or establishment of an agreed relationship of a more enduring kind. In courtship, a couple get to know each other and decide if there will be an engagement or other such agreement. A courtship may be an informal and private matter between two people or may be a public affair, or a formal arrangement with family approval. Traditionally, in the case of a formal engagement, it has been perceived that it is the role of a male to actively "court" or "woo" a female, thus encouraging her to understand him and her receptiveness to a proposal of marriage. Within many western societies, these distinct gender roles have lost some of their importance and rigidity.
Courtship may include the couple going out together in public, (often known as dating), for a meal, movie, dance, sports or other social activity. Courtship may also involve private activities which usually include much talking together, perhaps by telephone or by electronic means such as text messages or e-mail. There is often exchange of letters, gifts, flowers and songs.
The average duration of courtship varies considerably throughout the world. Furthermore, there is vast individual variation between couples. Courtship may be completely left out, as in cases of arranged marriages where the couple do not meet before the wedding.
In the United Kingdom, a poll of 3,000 engaged or married couples resulted in an average duration between first meeting and accepted proposal of marriage of 2 years and 11 months, with the women feeling ready to accept at an average of 2 years and 7 months. Regarding duration between proposal and wedding, the UK poll above gave an average of 2 years and 3 months.
While the date is fairly casual in most European-influenced cultures, in some traditional societies, courtship is a highly structured activity, with very specific formal rules.
In some societies, the parents or community propose potential partners, and then allow limited dating to determine whether the parties are suited. In Japan, there is a such type of courtship called Omiai, with similar practices called "Xiangqin" (相親) in the Greater China Area.
Parents will hire a matchmaker to provide pictures and résumés of potential mates, and if the couple agrees, there will be a formal meeting with the matchmaker and often parents in attendance. The matchmaker and parents will often exert pressure on the couple to decide whether they want to marry or not after a few dates.
Courtship in the Philippines is one known complex form of courtship. Unlike what is regularly seen in other societies, it takes a far more subdued and indirect approach. It is complex in that it involves stages, and it is considered normal for courtship to last a year or longer. It is common to see the male showing off by sending love letters and love poems, singing romantic songs and buying gifts for the female. The parents are also seen as part of the courtship practice, as their approval is commonly needed before courtship may begin, or before the female gives the male an answer to his advances.
In more closed societies, courtship is virtually eliminated altogether by the practice of arranged marriages, where partners are chosen for young people, typically by their parents. Forbidding experimental and serial courtship and sanctioning only arranged matches is partly a means of guarding the chastity of young people and partly a matter of furthering family interests, which in such cultures may be considered more important than individual romantic preferences.
Over recent decades though, the concept of arranged marriage has changed or simply been mixed with other forms of dating, including Eastern and Indian ones; potential couples have the opportunity to meet and date each other before one decides on whether to continue the relationship or not.
Modern courtshipMain article: Dating
In earlier 1800s, young adults were expected to court with the intention of finding a marriage partner, rather than for social reasons. In America, in the 1820s, the phrase 'date' was most closely associated with prostitution. However, by the Jazz Age of the 1920s, dating for fun was becoming a cultural expectation, and by the 1930s, it was assumed that any popular young person would have lots of dates. This form of dating, though, was usually chaster than is seen today, since pre-marital sex was not considered the norm.
After the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, this "old-fashioned" form of dating waned in popularity. Couples became more likely to "hook up" or "hang out" with large groups than to go on an old-fashioned date, and frequently went from "hanging out" to an exclusive relationship without engaging in what their parents or grandparents might have called dating.
With the decriminalization and social mainstreaming of homo- and bisexuality in many western societies, same-sex couples often also date openly in ways which may or may not resemble the courtship of opposite-sex couples.
In recent years, a number of college newspapers have featured editorials where students decry the lack of "dating" on their campuses. This may be a result of a highly publicized 2001 study and campaign sponsored by the conservative American women's group Independent Women's Forum, which promotes "traditional" dating.
Also, in recent years traditional dating has evolved and taken on the metamorphic properties necessary to sustain itself in today's world. This can be seen in the rise in internet dating, speed dating or gradual exclusivity dating (a.k.a. slow dating). Some theorize that courtship as it was known to prior generations has seen its last days and the next closest thing is gradual exclusivity, where the partners respect and value each other's individual lives but still maintain the ultimate goal of being together even if time or space does not permit it now. Indeed, a recent phenomenon in British relationships has seen a growing number of couples express a desire for a courting stage. This has coincided with a growth in external influences on nascent relationships caused primarily by new social media. Thus, couples feel liberated to develop their bond without the pressure of outer agents. Studies of such relationships have shown this approach to be very successful in the medium to long term, with almost all couples flourishing and looking forward to many more years together.
Those who find their dating skills lacking may hire dating coaches. While traditional dating advice was given from ancient times on, the Internet made it possible for individuals (mostly men, as their social role in Western cultures requires more proactivity) to share their experience worldwide and form the seduction community.
Courtship is used by a number of theorists to explain gendering processes and sexual identity. Scientific research into courtship began in the 1980s after which time academic researchers started to generate theories about modern dating practices and norms. Both Moore and Perper found that, contrary to popular beliefs, courtship is normally triggered and controlled by women, driven mainly by non-verbal behaviours to which men respond.
This is generally supported by other theorists who specialise in the study of body language. There are some feminist scholars, however, who regard courtship as a socially constructed (and male-led) process organised to subjugate women. The main weakness in this argument, however, lies in the empirical evidence that the institutions of courtship are more strongly supported by women than men. Farrell reports, for example, that magazines about marriage and romantic fiction continue to attract a 98% female readership. Systematic research into courtship processes inside the workplace as well two 10-year studies examining norms in different international settings continue to support a view that courtship is a social process that socialises both sexes into accepting forms of relationship that maximise the chances of successfully raising children. Whilst this may negatively impact women, particularly those seeking independence and equality at work, it is argued that the majority of negative impacts accrue to men in the form of shorter life-expectancy, higher rates of suicide, alcoholism, homelessness and imprisonment.
Commercial dating services
Though most people meet their dates at social organizations, in their daily life, or are introduced through friends or relatives, commercial dating agencies emerged strongly, but discreetly, in the Western world after World War II, mostly catering for the 25–44 age group. Newspaper and magazine personal ads also became common.
Since the mid 2000s, mate-finding and courtship have seen changes due to online dating services. Telecommunications and computer technologies have developed rapidly since around 1995, allowing daters the use of home telephones with answering machines, mobile phones, and web-based systems to find prospective partners.
"Pre-dates" can take place by telephone or online via instant messaging, e-mail, or even video communication. A disadvantage is that, with no initial personal interview by a traditional dating agency head, Internet daters are free to exaggerate or lie about their characteristics.
While the growing popularity of the Internet took some time, now one in five singles is said to look for love on the Web, which has led to a dramatic shift in dating patterns. Research in the United Kingdom suggests that as of 2004[update] there were around 150 agencies there, and the market was growing at around 20 percent a year due to, first, the very low entry barriers to setting up a dating site, and secondly, the rising number of single people.
However, even academic researchers find it impossible to find precise figures about crucial statistics, such as the ratio of active daters to the large number of inactive members whom the agency will often wrongly claim as potential partners, and the overall ratio of men to women in an agency's membership. Academic research on traditional pre-Internet agencies suggests that most agencies have far more men than women in their membership.
Traditionally, in many societies (including Western societies), men are expected to fill the role of the pursuer. However, the anonymity of the Internet (as well as other factors) has allowed women to take on that role online. A recent study indicated that "women pay to contact men as often as the reverse, which is quite different from behavior in telephone-based dating system[s]" (from Wired magazine).
Dating companies teaching men how to pursue women has increased over the years. Based on a foundation of pickup artist skills, companies such as Love Systems, Double Your Dating, and Pickup 101 have become popular due to increasing demand for men on knowing how to get a girl. The companies teach skills on going from scratch to starting a courtship with a woman.
The trend of singles making a Web connection continues to increase, as the percentage of North American singles who have tried Internet dating has grown from two percent in 1999 to over ten percent today (from Canadian Business, February 2002). More than half of online consumers (53%) know someone who has started a friendship or relationship online, and three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-old online consumers (74%) say they do.
There is also some academic evidence that the 18–25 age group has significantly taken up online dating. This growing trend is reflected in the surging popularity of online communities such as Faceparty, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Nexopia sites which are not directly geared toward dating, but many users nonetheless use to find potential dates or research a new acquaintance to check for availability and compatibility.
Mobile dating websites, too, are gaining popularity.
Courtship in the animal kingdomMain articles: Mating, Mating system, and Courtship display
Many non-human animal species have mate-selection rituals also referred to as "courtship", anthropomorphically. Animal courtship may involve complicated dances or touching, vocalizations, or displays of beauty or fighting prowess. Most animal courtship occurs out of sight of humans, so it is often the least documented of animal behaviors. One animal whose courtship rituals are well studied is the bower bird, whose male builds a "bower" of collected objects.
From the scientific point of view, courtship in the animal kingdom is the process in which the different species select their partners for reproduction purposes. Generally speaking, the male initiates the courtship and the female chooses to either mate or reject the male based on his "performance".
One sociobiological model is The Selfish Gene, proposed by Richard Dawkins: That an individual of a species will mate with individuals from the same species displaying "good genes". Courtship, then, is a display of "genes" carried by an organism looking forward to mix with the genes of another organism to preserve themselves and their genes onto the next generation.
Specific terms from various cultures
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- Interpersonal relationships
- Philosophy of love
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