Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Lost Art of Courtship

It is ironic that as we approach the “season of love” I am also working on the chapter on courtship for the book version of School Marms and Cowboys. The story is set in the Flint Hills of Kansas at the turn of the last century and focuses on the classic relationship between the cowboy and the school marm at a time in history when the old ways were dying out and the country was on the verge of depression.  While the cowboy represents the past, he must now adapt to a world where his skills are no longer of any great value.  To do this, he needs the education and insight of the school marm.  The question is how these two unlikely people come together and endure through the changes they must face to survive.

The answer is as old as time… courtship!  Whereas dating takes the young girl away from the watchful eyes of her parents, courtship usually occurs under the watchful eyes of the parents or chaperones. It was fun, flirtatious, and sly. Courtship was more like a dance. It included much posturing and maneuvering between the man and the woman to catch the attention of the other and then telegraph one’s interest in continuing the pursuit. Because the dance demanded a certain amount of time spent in the company of others, the relationship could be tested under different circumstances to see how either partner would respond. The outcome of the “test” was clearly evident by the immediate feedback one received from those in attendance. The length of the dance depended entirely on the couple.  Sometimes the pursuit was short and progressed quickly to the heat of passion. Other times, depending on the couple’s readiness to make a commitment to the relationship, the pursuit far outlasted the passion.

 While it’s true that this arrangement did not result in significantly fewer instances of premarital sex, it did give the parents an opportunity to get acquainted with the prospective suitor. In today’s more mobile society, the parents may not ever meet the boyfriend until they come home and find him sprawled on the couch as if he owned it. Dating, and hence, courtship takes place away from the prying eyes of those who might censor or test the relationship, and the period of courtship is often eliminated altogether.

I must admit that I am totally mystified by the concept of online dating.  In this instance, “dating” is little more than an online conversation leading to phone sex. While dating may eliminate the fun of courtship, this arrangement seems to totally take all the fun and enjoyment out of discovering a relationship.  It’s a fantasy arrangement that takes place in the minds of the participants and that is why it is so easy for one or the other of the parties involved to take advantage of the other by feeding on the fantasy. It is not surprising that someone involved in this type of relationship eventually reaches a point where they throw all caution to the wind in order to bring the fantasy to life.  Unfortunately, fantasies are often unrealistic and impossible to live up to.

We all seek relationships with significant others whether it be through physical attraction, or emotional need. In my book I am exploring not only what chemistry sparks this interest in another, but how these relationships change over time.  I am particularly interested in how relationships endure through pain, hardship and loss.

 Does the dance continue even though the music changes?

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