Coming of sexual age has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Where once the rules of courtship were clear and defined by religion and social morays, today’s lovers must navigate a different course to love, sex and relationships. The reasons are many. Cars get a lot of the blame for the freedoms we now enjoy en route to sexual intimacy. Prior to the automobile, men were primarily expected to visit a woman in her home, and under the auspices of chaperones, woo their sweethearts on the way to marriage. Sex happened at later ages and stages in the process, and marriage occurred sooner.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and the dating landscape is remarkably altered, unrecognizable from a century ago. Courtship, with it’s clear emphasis on getting married, is far less common a practice with the exception of religious or traditional communities. Making out in cars has led to making out at all sorts of places that would make Victorian’s swoon.
Women’s liberation, birth control and advances in reproductive medicine means that women have options denied their grandmothers and generations before. From the perspective of sexual freedom, we have much to be grateful for, including same-sex marriages and acceptance of those whose sexuality doesn’t fit the hetero-normative paradigm.
I wouldn’t trade what we’ve gained for anything (and we’ve got a long way to go before we’ve fully ensured our sexual and reproductive rights).
Still, I’d be a big ol’ liar if I didn’t also fess up to something: I like being courted. Having a man open doors for me, pay the tab and give me his arm to lean on always made me feel good. That’s a lie – it turned me on, made me want to come back for more and then some.
Chivalry especially has always been like sugar for my romance-connoisseurs’ heart. An authentic compliment has earned a few good dates a feathery kiss in response. Flirt with me like I’m the only one in your universe, and who knows what delights await us after that hand-fed chocolate soufflé. I’m that enamored with the art and heart of bonding.
Here then, in no particular order, are practices from the past that could sweeten the deal for modern lovers.
Date One Person at a Time.
One potential problem with dating more than one person at a time is that someone is either shopping around, or avoiding commitment and emotional intimacy. The idea behind this is to show intention that both partners are focused on something long-term.
This guideline, “is meant to provide the freedom to love each other fully without being afraid that the other person will start considering other partners,” writes YourTango.com. “Of course, this doesn't mean all courtships end in marriage…it just means that people enter into courtships for the purpose of a serious, future-focused relationship.”
In a novel twist on the rule of three, Dr. Diana Kirshner, author of Love In 90 Days, suggests people follow the Dating Program of Three. If you are interested in a long-term committed relationship, she suggests you actually date three people at a time and refrain from sexual intimacy until you and your partner agree to date exclusively. “When it comes to dating, moderation is key. It keeps you from moving too quickly or too slowly when you’re getting to know new” potential lovers, she explains.
Truth is, when you really like someone, it’s near impossible to go out with someone else. To be clear about your intentions is to date with integrity. To own that you want a long-term commitment is to date with a certain type of personal courage.
Which leads to the next suggestion…
Have a Commitment Before Sex.
Waiting to have sex until you have a commitment helps, “you break out of your prison of deadly dating patterns and maneuver more skillfully in the dating world,” writes Dr. Kirshner. Sex too soon can lead to what she calls the “Flame Out Deadly Dating Pattern.”
She explains: When we have sex prematurely, “reason often goes out the window. When we “fall in love,” our brains make large quantities of dopamine and norepinephrine. These brain chemicals create the excited, exhilarated and focused state that allows us to have eight-hour dates.”
“Second, when we fall in love, serotonin levels fall and resemble the levels found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorders. So we tend to ruminate, fantasize and obsess,” about our new flame.
“Once this process takes you over, you lose touch with reality, seeing only the positives. You lose self-control. Instead, you are locked on the target, the fix—hotwired and ready to do outrageous things, sometimes self-destructive things, whatever it takes to be with him. One look, one sweet word is all it takes. Even if you don’t really know him. Even if it is not in your best interests. And as you continue to spend more time together the addiction intensifies.”
Finally, “if you move too quickly into the pulsing rush of love, you put yourself at risk for an agonizing withdrawal if this man rejects you. Then sleeplessness, crying jags, over- or under eating, obsessive and upsetting thoughts, all mess with your brain chemistry even further.”
Wow. Messed up brain chemistry is enough to put the breaks on premature hanky panky.
Another way to signal that you are open for love only if they are canoodling with a commitment is to…
Traditionally, courtship has been “conducted publicly, and with the approval of both parties' parents,” writes YourTango.com. If that feels too claustrophobic for you – and in all honesty, there’s no way I would have dated most of the guys that got high approval ratings from my family – keep in mind that those who know you best often see something you don’t see in yourself or potential partner.
Family and friends can introduce you to potential partners and give you a shoulder to lean on when you need it. Love via referral can also shorten the time it takes to know if someone’s trustworthy, gainfully employed and worthy of your time and attention. There’s also a reason matchmaking is on the rise: sometimes we need a professional connector to help us connect.
When you make that happen, it helps to…
Be Courteous and (gasp!) Chivalrous.
“In this day and age of equality of the sexes, the polite way to interact with women can be confusing,” admit the hunks at AskMen.com. “Unfortunately, the sentiment that women are equal to men can easily – and mistakenly – be interpreted to mean that you have to treat your girlfriend like a dude. She may be as capable as a man, but she is, in fact, a lady.”
Be a cut above the rest and practice bi-directional good manners. Pull off the “Romeo act” with ease and ooze cool, they suggest. Their advice is right up courtship’s alley. From offering a woman your coat to holding an umbrella over her head – bearing the weather’ as they call it – shows, “you’re paying attention to how she’s feeling. Both these things speak volumes about your personality, making you appear valiant and strong.”
How else can you be that extraordinary date? AskMen.com suggests basic good manner moves that would serve anyone wanting to impress someone special: walk on the outside of the sidewalk (a “very gentlemanly move”), pick your date up, make sure they get home safely, hold doors open, and introduce them to people.
I know these suggestions will rankle some readers (putting on the Teflon coat now), which is why I think this should go all ways and beyond sexual intimacy. Make us feel good, let us make you feel good, simply by taking the time to show respect and good manners, in the bedroom and in life.
You see, I have a theory about this. Somehow, we’ve misplaced civility in our daily interactions (watch any TV lately?), and it shows up everywhere, including intimate relationships. Imagine the pay it forward benefits of bringing some of these old-fashioned kindnesses back in vogue.
We’ve got to start somewhere. Why not love?