Saturday, November 29, 2014

In Search of Love

Courtship Scene by Rudolf Alfred Hoeger
Given my age and current state in life, the topic of marriage, dating, etc. comes up quite often.  It's discussed at my place of work, with my family, with my friends, with strangers, and with new acquaintances.  Then, of course, there are all those blog posts, news articles, and e-mails about spouse-seeking young adults. There is so much being said about this topic that I am likely to repeat someone else's sentiments, but it's been coming up so often lately that I'd like to express my reflections on the subject.

I like to read old novels like "An Old Fashioned Girl," "Anne of Green Gables," "Pride and Prejudice."  My girl friends and I often share our delights over the sweet romantic scenes, the grand gestures, the noble heroes, etc. contained in such books as these.  We also occasionally find ourselves lamenting that we don't find such heroes and love stories in the modern era.

The reality is that the old model of courtship had plenty of it's own problems.  The pressure to marry was so great in the past the many people rushed into marriages with spouses who were hardly known to them, leaving them stuck in loveless marriages with the potential to be abusive, dysfunctional, and deeply broken. The mode of courtship often facilitated these types of marriages as it limited the types of topics that were permitted to be discussed and it ensured that there was always a third party present.  Still, one must admit that there was a certain clarity in the old mode of courtship.

While the notion of courtship was established and taught in society, there was a clear protocol of how to act.  If someone abused that protocol, there were societal sanctions enforced.

This is not a case to return to courtship of old.  Such a proposal is not feasible, nor beneficial, in my opinion.

Still the absence of a formal structure has caused some obvious problems that we as a society must find a way to overcome.

The societal pressure to marry has not gone away, it's only shifted or delayed.  This for numerous reasons, not necessarily all together or at the same time.  The three most common reasons, in my experience, are education, work, and age.  In the case of age, many people simply have no wish to marry as young.  They have the idea that if they wait, it will somehow better prepare them for marriage.  There is also the desire of people to "live while they're young." In the case of career and education, there is a sense that these things take precedence over marriage and starting a family.

These delays aside, the pressure remains.  Some might say that it is a biological urge to mate a procreate. Others might point to the spiritual and emotional need to love and be loved, for life.  Whether for these reasons or others, the pressure is real.

This pressure is compounded with a newer problem: the high divorce rate of our era.  This results in a great fear of making a commitment or, more specifically, making the wrong commitment.  No one wants to be tethered to the wrong partner for life, but a failed marriage is also less than ideal.  The desire to avoid either of these often breeds a fear of commitment.

In addition to these potential problems there is the the lack of structure in the modern souse-seeking process.

Some people prefer the "pick-up" method, wherein they approach a stranger at a bar, grocery store, church group, club, party, etc. and try to start up a conversation and arrange a first date or at the very least an exchange of contact information.

Others prefer an introduction through mutual friends or family.

Some prefer online dating.

Some prefer making friends with the intention of moving towards a romantic relationship.

Even after the initial meeting, the mode of pursuing a relationship varies greatly.

Some engage it was is commonly referred to as "talking," a concept loaded with so much more meaning than simply communicating.  Roughly speaking, it means talking, texting, and hanging out as a prelude to formally dating.  It is similar to a simple friendship, expect that it is pregnant with implications of being something more.

Other prefer the casual dating approach. In this approach they go on dates with the understanding these dates may or may not be repeated and that each person might be dating other people in the same manner.  Each date is treated as a more or less isolated event.

Others skip these methods and skip directly to an exclusive dating relationship.  This is a more formal way to date and its purpose is test the strength of the relationship and determine whether or not it will culminate in a marriage.

These are, of course, an oversimplification of the ways and methods one might use to seek out their future spouse, but that is precisely my point.  There is a broad spectrum of ways to get to know someone and pursue a romantic future with him or her.  The more possibilities that exist the more opportunity there is for confusion and miscommunication.

Add the aforementioned pressure to find a spouse and settle down, plus the fear of divorce and regretted commitment and this quickly becomes a fiasco.

I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to a friend troubling over uncertainty of where they stand in a relationship. "Are we just friends or does he/she like me?"  "Is he/she busy or am I getting the brush off?" "Are we exclusive or are we only together because he/she doesn't have any options?" "Can I ask where I stand or will that make him/her feel pressured?" "If I tell him/her how I feel, will it scare him/her away?" "Am I allowing myself to be used by talking to him/her so often without any indication of a relationship on the horizon?"  "Am I using him/her to fill an emotional void while waiting for something better to come along?"

Over and over again we find ourselves troubled by uncertainty, hurt by a lack of clarity, and/or wracked with anxiety about how to proceed.

My question is, can we do better?

Many smart people have given a great deal of thought to this matter. A lot of them present a number of very good or at least appealing ideas as solutions.  But what good are these ideas if they are only adopted by a handful of individuals?

If I agree that I must demand certain behaviors and behave in a certain way, will that really be effective if the men of my acquaintance have no knowledge of this?  If a man decides to follow a specific protocol in pursuing a girl and she has different ideas, then will his resolutions be for naught?

So, what can we do?  How do we improve?  I really do think that something must be done, but I am at a loss as to what.  What do you think?

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