Forged by medievals, burnished by Austen, killed by the recession

Forged by medievals, burnished by Austen, killed by the recession

By Isha Singh Sawhney | 19 January, 2013
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen in the 2005 movie, Pride and Prejudice

Courtship. Doesn't the word sound like it should just travel back to the pages of the Jane Austen novel that it came from? And stay there. Forever. It makes me think of chintz sofas, a tea set with the English countryside on it, complete with a tea-cosy, scones and misty Brit weather. And probably galoshes, because you know, you just trooped in from a romp in the heather. Hmm, that's Scottish, isn't it? Anyhoo.

Courtship. It's not simple to just dismiss or accept it. My relationship with courtship or what's less anachronistically known as dating is as complicated as my relationship with chivalry. It's a love-hate sort of dynamic, where I can go from hating being told it's unsafe to drive back alone at night or hating the person taking me out for a romantic candlelit dinner, to wondering why my man-friend hasn't offered to pick me up one particularly late evening or date-night in a few months.

If you think about it, they're both pretty antediluvian concepts. And both imply in their very essence that the woman belongs to the weaker sex, and therefore, the man must initiate processes that will take her life forward. Whether it's about opening a door or wooing her to get married. Incapable of doing either herself, she is rendered weak, helpless and well, you know at the mercy of his will and fancy.

A recent NYT piece in heralding the death of courting, seemed to think it had in the last decade or so been alive, and that by its very nature of being heteronormative, been killed by men. It blamed the recession, technology and the fears, of missing out and rejection. The writer also went onto say that this was leading to less conventional dates and more last-minute invites on non-dates, with a bunch of other people, all bolstered with requisite stories of women who found themselves being led on, or not, by unthinking/feeling men who seemed to just want to stay in bed and order in.

What I absolutely dislike is firstly the assumption that the whole act of courtship is dependent on the man. He asks you for dinner, he asks you to get married to him, and he asks you if you want his jacket. Ughh.

Dropcap OnYes, our generation resorts to "hanging out". We feel safe in the cocoon of the words just hooking-up or just hanging-out. Notice how a very emphatic "just" always precedes those words; the person saying it convincing her/him as much as you.

Forget using the term "courting", we shy away from even calling it dating. In fact for quite a while, after two people start hooking up, very slowly one boundary is crossed, when you sort of realise you're only "hooking-up" with each other, i.e. you had some awkward conversation about the other person you had been sexting, and decided, you were ready for monogamy. And then another is crossed when accidentally or not, a few months later, one of you refer to the other as a boy/girl friend.

"Courting" according to Webster's esteemed definition is "to seek the affections of; especially: to seek to win a pledge of marriage from" and "to engage in social activities leading to engagement and marriage". Here is the underlying premise — you can't court/woo/date/ask her to that Chinese dinner, unless you intend to very seriously follow it up with a ring, somewhere hovering over that American chopsuey.

What I absolutely dislike is firstly the assumption that the whole act of courtship is dependent on the man. He asks you for dinner, he asks you to get married to him, and he asks you if you want his jacket. Ughh. These antiquated dating rules also stretch over to include the whole concept of a woman doing anything to trick a man into marrying her.

Bottom line, the rules have changed, with marriage not being the ultimate act. So must the systems change. Sometimes we like the prolonged hang-out; sometimes we want something more public, sometimes we just want someone to watch re-runs of Big Bang Theory or Bigg Boss with.

The term hooking-up itself is a sort of an indefinite no-man's land, one which is not bogged down by obligations and each other's irritating habits. It's easy, spontaneous and quick to discard, especially when you have alcohol to blame for the 'befores' and 'afters'. Plus, if it falls into a pattern, and a hook-up becomes a hangout, then you can choose — do I want to go out in public with this person? Do I want to meet their friends, family, dog, etc.? Do I want to make a special effort to be with this person on New Year's, a birthday or whatever special day? No pressure. No stress. Just remember one rule. Be on the same page.

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