♦ LAST UPDATED ON January 7, 2021 ♦
Modern Romance for All?
No way. In these days of ‘modern romance,’ of swiping and promiscuous dating and breakups, we need an alternative as the general idea of courtship has fallen out of vogue. Sure, modern romance can be a kind of courtship ending in a lasting relationship, but for too many, uncommitted romance is a continuum, with issues that most daters come to know about — sooner than later. In the end, ‘most people do get tired of one-night-stands,’ laments Aziz Ansari, American actor, writer, producer, director, and comedian, in his short 2015 book Modern Romance.
One of the main concepts in Ansari’s book concerns the paradox of choice in relationships: having more options may seem better at first glance, though so many options can ultimately make “settling” for anyone a lot more difficult.
But first, a short intro to the history of the terms courtly and romantic love, so as to dispel a few old-fashioned and sentimental ideas.
Courtly and Romantic Love of Old
Courtly love and chivalry were the prominent themes that French medieval troubadours sang about in Provençal in the 11th to 13th centuries.
Medieval literature is filled with examples of knights setting out on adventures and performing various deeds or services for ladies of nobility because of their “courtly love”. Theirs was an experience between erotic desire and spiritual attainment, a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent, and rarely ever consummated.
The chivalric social code of the medieval Christian institution of knighthood governed a knight’s and gentlemen’s behavior. A combination of qualities was expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak.
For the common people in medieval times, all this publicity was probably just their kind of entertainment and in stark contrast to their day-to-day lives.
However, “ladies first,” a chivalric code encouraging polite gentlemanliness, as in allowing the ladies to go before the men, still remains a custom in Western modernity (certainly not in the East).
The Renaissance brought about a shift in attitudes, with Romanticism as its characterization and Shakespeare its chief promoter. Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, That it was part of the Counter-Enlightenment, a reaction against the Age of Enlightenment, Romanticism was seen by Isaiah Berlin as disrupting for over a century the classic Western traditions of rationality and the idea of moral absolutes and agreed values, leading “to something like the melting away of the very notion of objective truth”
The idea of romantic love initially stems from the Platonic tradition that love is a desire for beauty — a value that transcends the particularities of the physical body.
Aristotle’s version of romantic love emphasizes two people find in each other’s virtues — one soul and two bodies, as he poetically puts it. It is deemed to be of a higher status, ethically, aesthetically, and even metaphysically than the love that behaviorists or physicalists describe nowadays.
Here’s an interesting article about arranged marriages found in the New World Encyclopedia, a public-service project once supported by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon who also revived the practice of cross-cultural arranged marriages as a way to promote world peace.
My view of arranged marriages is a bit jaded. I am not a believer in parents who match their children after having demanded abstinence from them — especially from the female child. This still happens even in Christendom. Unrestraining their offspring at an opportune time and consenting to them now having sex with the hope that they thus come to feel some sympathy for each other really is a form of subtle, calculated cruelty.
Patriarchy runs deep
The romantic love of old is what it is: unsafe. Is going back to old-old-fashioned courtship, that patriarchal, family-oriented matching of a child — no matter how grown-up, a viable alternative for youthful, but autonomous singles in this modern age? Perhaps not. We acknowledge that old-fashioned courtship is an outmoded convention belonging to a different age.
Now, one can ask ‘what is wrong with a huge social positioning system?’ Does God not support social ranking by preferring ‘His’ chosen people? Does Mother Nature not support it. We see caste expressing itself as status within the animal kingdoms of some primates.
Well, these are good questions worthy of additional inquiries, to which I must defer for now. But allow me to still explain why I am skeptical of patriarchy by admitting that I am getting tired of simulating strength when there is none.
The following inserts on Gender and Sexuality as well as Family and Marriage are really of benefit for the extremely curious, the to-be-learned.
Modern Courtship to the Rescue
In the developed West, more people have moved on from arranged marriages, from looking for a companionate marriage to a soulmate marriage. And yes, relationship mores still differ considerably across cultures.
In our envisage, “modern courtship” simply allows for the two singles to encounter and thus get to know each other without early physical intimacy and thus possibly avoiding runaway emotions that would cloud their views, and without pressure exerted by motivated or even despotic members of the family.
Modern courtship is understood as the dating period in a pair’s budding relationship which precedes, traditionally, their marriage. More to the point though, courtship then comes to fruition in engagement, that is when the couple acknowledges and endorses their newly found interdependency.
Modern courtship is great default behavior to resort to for singles who have ‘fallen gently in love’ — yes, they still must be able to muster some discipline, as well as for those who want to test if they can ‘come to love’ some other.
Hermann and Dorothea is an epic poem written by the German writer Goethe about a son who comes to love a refugee girl — against his father’s wishes to choose a wife from a respected local family with a generous dowry.
It is a love story of a young couple free from wild romance, indeed their love makes them look to the future not with any anticipation of pleasure or extravagance, but with the instinctive conviction that the true blessings of life flow from the performance of necessary tasks.
Be reminded that humans cannot tell themselves whom to ‘fall in love’ with, or ‘fall out of love with,’ only whom ‘to love’ in terms of acts of benevolence. A question then is:
Passionate love is a love that springs from the heart as an innate, unpredictable phenomenon and sometimes even frivolously — uncontrollable by norms of morality, ethics, and religion. It is akin to, but not the same as ‘loving passionately.’
Passionate love, as unpredictable and therefore labeled ‘unsafe,’ is perhaps all we have to save the world from being a huge caste system run by fallible patriarchs, and some matriarchs supporting patriarchalism, jockeying against each other for historical supremacy.
Love, in this respect, is but one of two antagonistic themes. The other is the importance of order, society, honor, feudal duty, religious orthodoxy.
In any case, for those who have ‘fallen madly in love,’ and for those who ‘throw themselves into love,’ I am afraid, there is no easy advice.
Modern courtship might not be exactly a new ‘thing,’ but it seems to have fallen out of vogue a bit while being challenged by the lure of promiscuous dating.
We believe that when a dating couple comes to recognize, during modern courtship, that there is a passionate attraction between them and behavioral maturity in each, they may actually have a good chance at real love.
The goal of spending time in modern courtship is to find out if both actually resonate with each other, perhaps in terms inclusive of character and personality , and/or expectations and goals for the future.
Disclosing Oneself is like Negotiating
In other words, modern courtship is the proper time for discrete self-disclosure, that is when singles begin to reveal in earnest ‘confidential, private things’ about themself to the other. I mean, who actually does not want to reveal him or herself to the other? The point of getting together in the first place is so that we can do that, that we do not have to hold back and develop or strengthen neurosis, and experience still being loved. This sharing typically includes thoughts, feelings, aspirations, goals, failures, successes, fears, and dreams, as well as one’s likes, dislikes, and favorites.
We all acquire emotional baggage during our lives, of which the skin-deep kind is not too difficult to reveal and resolve over shorter timespans. However, there is a kind of emotional baggage that has cut to the bone if not even the bonemarrow. This is what people call the ‘skeletons in the closet.’
What are ‘skeletons’ in this case? Being emotionally and/or sexually abused in youth, coming up with homosexual inclinations, suffering from bouts with depression, things that are not just skin-deep but cut to the bone — that sort of thing. These are difficult issues to talk about for sure, but keeping these in the closet is no good as they eventually will come out and then interfere with a bonded relationship. It is not fair to a life partner to pretend that all is fine. Not disclosing any ‘skeletons in the closet’ during modern courtship is not recommended.
Social psychology tells us that there are two dimensions to self-disclosure: breadth and depth. Both are crucial in developing a fully intimate relationship. The range of topics discussed by two individuals is the breadth of the disclosure. The degree to which the information revealed is private or personal is the depth of that disclosure. It is easier for breadth to be expanded first in a relationship because of its more accessible features; it consists of outer layers of personality and everyday lives, such as occupations and preferences. Depth is more difficult to reach and includes painful memories and more unusual traits that we might hesitate to share with others.
In addition, libido and related issues will need to be revealed as well. Avoiding this rather tricky topic is not helpful as it otherwise comes to eventually nip couples in the behind!
Reciprocal and appropriate self-disclosure is an important building block for intimacy which cannot be achieved without it. Needless to say, the process of self-disclosure is a gradual one as it is an ongoing negotiation — really. If one of the singles holds back, or if one of the singles ‘just throws it all up,’ the other may feel rather uncomfortable and, understandably, will step away from the relationship.
Resonate rather than Yin & Yang
We say “resonate” on purpose, not wanting to conjure up the ill-fated concept of compatibility. As you know, opposites attract. But do not even try to just harmonize like Yin and Yang. It would be such an idealistic approach that it will stress you out more than anything. It isn’t uniformity that you seek.
Believe me, a man and a woman are way too different in biological and psychological makeup so as to be reduced to a Yin and Yang. Just resonate with each other, that notion will do better than seeking harmony. And if you cannot resonate with each other, after all, just walk away from the attempted relationship. It isn’t worth it.
“Does our love have a future?” While all people think about that, couples may find it tricky to talk about. We know what marriage is. But what is love, what is eternity? Do I want a marriage without much love? Is a marriage based on friendship good enough? What is more important: passions or principles?
Modern courtship is the proper time during which singles may gradually disclose their weaknesses, shortcomings, hangups, blind spots, and whatever else is known by them to each other. That includes a necessary talk about human sexuality. “Do you have any issues with sexuality?” This is a complex, if not difficult, topic to raise. Since modern courtship tries to avoid some of the pitfalls of modern romance by advising singles to hold off on sex – perhaps until after engagement – it affords singles a rather graceful entry into the intimate relationship.
Its Enchantment & Surrender
On the other hand, modern courtship is still the right time to be as enchanting as you can be and then some. But surrender to the other’s enchantment, if possible, only after engagement. There is no pressing need to compromise the pretense of dignity early on. Mind you, if you cannot or will not be enchanting, the other has not much to surrender to. All that goes for both, the man and the woman.
Well, modern courtship might make a comeback as soon as the hollow promises of modern romance and promiscuity have run their course. Technology has not resolved, but only put new angles on the challenges that have always existed in love, such as cheating, spying, and breakups. We love to work with discerning singles who believe in the meaning of true love and will give modern courtship a chance.