Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The "traditional" Western method of heterosexual courtship consists of a very specific set of rituals: - boy asks girl out, picks her up, pays for dinner, etc. While I often enjoy symbolism, I find the symbolism of this particular ritual troubling and somewhat insulting. It seems, historically, the male has specific, concrete, active ways to show interest in pursuing a relationship with another person: I will pay for your dinner. I will hold the door for you. However, what is the parallel ritual for the female in this situation? (You shouldn't have to think too hard about that one. Hint: rhymes with "put out.") In sub-cultures which discourage sexual relations outside of marriage, there is less of an answer to that question.

Meanwhile, the "hookup" culture seems to be becoming the norm among our generation. Totally absent are traditional dating behaviors. It seems - at least superficially - to be more egalitarian. However, I also find this replacement to "traditional" courtship troubling as well, for different reasons. It does not seem to be a solid basis for forming a lifelong partnership, which is, purportedly, the goal of courtship. At least as a courtship model, hooking up fails.

This puts young people from more traditional sub-cultures, such as LDS, which strongly discourages sexual activity before marriage, in a somewhat awkward position. There is an amalgamation, an entire spectrum of acceptable courtship behaviors present here: from the people who follow the traditional pattern very strictly, to people who opt for a more egalitarian approach (not to mention people who pick and choose). This can make things messy. Extremely messy. And that messiness sort of helps me to see the benefit of having things clearly defined. When there is no formal framework to distinguish a romantic relationship from a simple friendship, the participating parties can easily end up with differing expectations regarding or understandings of the interactions. Recipe for disaster or heartache or at least confusion. That point has been especially driven home for me recently.

So what are we left with?

The traditionally arbitrary, gendered behaviors? Lack of any sort of framework whatsoever within which to place the relationship? Is there some sort of compromise here - some sort of egalitarian ritual we create - perhaps from the traditional pattern superimposed with our current ideals? Or does it come down to that pesky adult behavior called communication?

I am interested in what other heterosexuals think. Also, I'm interested in how individuals within the gay/lesbian community approach courtship.


Anonymous said...

hey, do u wanna hang out with me and pay for the dinner????
actually, u could pay for the movie tickets later too.
You know, new times, im broke.

Sad for a While said...

I vote for transparency! (i.e. "that pesky adult behavior called communication") I don't really think it's possible to use one system now that we've moved away from the traditional. And even the traditional was full of misunderstanding--just read Jane Austen novels! (or don't because I hate Austen) I wish that if a boy was interested in me, he would just walk up and say, "Hey I kind of like you," as I, on rare occasions, have done, and I wish I had the courage to do so more frequently.

Th. said...


I never knew before today that TDN and g were one and the same.

Mak said...

I hadn't checked your blog in a few months, but this is a really interesting topic to me. Frankly, I was impressed to see such a clear and logical analysis on the pros and cons of the two diverging systems... I realize this is probably quite sexist of me, but I think that women in general do not look at the methods of developing a relationship very logically. In fact it seems to me that it is mostly women who champion "hookup" culture, for a couple of different reasons.
First off, it does seem to give women a more equal status, it gives them an additional sense of power that they don't feel they have in the traditional model (but more on the truth of that in a moment). Secondly, and I think this is the more driving reason albeit subconciously, the hookup model creates greater ambiguity, which I think is what most women want.
Now that doesn't sound very logical to me, to want a system that is intentionally ineffective, but I have increasingly learned for the past several years that what women love most (especially compared to what men value) is anticipation. Again I'm making sweeping generalizations here, but I've found that women believe in things such as "It's the thought that counts" and the value of spontanaity (sp?) much much more than men do. To give an example of what I'm saying, I've noticed that when giving a gift to a woman, it doesn't matter so much what the gift is as how the gift is given. If a woman is given a thousand dollar gift with no box, no wrapping, no social anticipation is created about discovering the gift over the course of a day, etc. she will not be very moved by it, even though at the end of the day it's theoretically a "high-value" gift. Now on the other hand, a man could get a woman an inexpensive (even cheap you could say) gift, but if he wraps it with care, and perhaps hides the gift somehow, and does things over the course of the day that subtly indicate that there might be a gift for her at the end of the day; when she finally opens the gift her anticipation turns to ecstacy and the guy gets a huge hug and squeals of joy.
Women love anticipation, and they love it much more than men to be honest. So an ambigious system of dating naturally provides the anticipation that most women crave in their life, especially as most men are so bad at providing that anticipation personally. Ultimately this means a lot of women sacrifice having a long term relationship (because the men are generally so confused and clueless in the hookup world and so can only see the short term options open to them) but what the women gain is that anticipation of wondering, "Maybe that guy likes me, but maybe not...". And as I've said, most women would rather have the anticipation than the final result, so in general the sacrifice of not having a long term relationship is worth it to women.
Now, I had mentioned the power relationship from the traditional model that I think women want to change for the most part. Now, I'm not really in favor of keeping the traditional model, but I find it ironic that women would want to change it "to get more power" for themselves in the relationship process. The real truth is that in the traditional model, women DO have the power. Yes, that power is the power of "putting out". It may not seem classy, especially termed like that, but that is real power over men.
As I've alluded to, men care less about anticipation and more about results. So if a man is hitting on a woman, and she's not interested in him (usually because he hasn't built any anticipation into the relationship) all she has to do is give him no results (which is hard for some women to do I do realize) and he'll either change strategies or give up. Well that's all well and good you say, when the man has already shown interest in a woman, but what if there's a man that a woman is interested in, but he hasn't shown interest yet? Frankly, this shouldn't require any explaining to women: put out just a little bit. That means you pet him on the arm or on the chest when you see him, you give him a slightly more intimate hug than you would give the creep you're not interested in, and you laugh at his jokes. Most women have this down pat. The only piece of advice I can really give on this subject is: forget the eye-contact games. Most men don't understand them, so if you find one that does, that's a bonus for you, but it's an unrealistic expectation to think all guys understand eye-contact language (just as it's unrealistic for guys to expect all women to be sex starved playboy bunnies).
I've gotten a little sidetracked here, the point is that women not only approve a guy once he's interested, but they also pick the guys that are interested in them, I'd say more than 80% of the time. Women have all the power in the traditional model, all guys get to do is follow the rules once they've been selected by a female for the courtship game to begin.
So if women have all the power in the courtship model, why are so many men in favor of this traditional way of doing things? Two simple reasons: first, on the surface it does look like they have the power, and secondly (again the more important albeit subconcious) the method of playing the game is so simple, ANY guy can do it. Can you follow rules? Then you can get a girl. The same is NOT true in the hookup model.

So there you have it, my excessively long rant that just proves what a sexist pig I am. My main defense for what I've written here is just that it works for me these days. It took me a very long time to figure this out, for the longest time I thought the best way to do things was to be upfront and say "I like you". It never worked out ;-) But now that I NEVER say anything that direct or "efficient" anymore, I have a lot more sucess in the ambigious world of dating.

-Colin C

Katya said...

I don't think courtship rituals started out as a quid pro quo. On the contrary, they started out as a man needing to prove his worth to a woman (and to her family) as a suitable, well, suitor. So he takes her out and pays for everything as part of his "mating dance" to convince her that he's worthwhile.

Unfortunately, a more egalitarian culture has turned that into a situation where the girl "owes" the guy something for the date, which is, ironically, an even more sexist and unbalanced arrangement than the traditional courtship ritual.

I think the messiness comes from different frameworks colliding. Traditional gender roles work pretty well in a lot of ways, but a more progressive or egalitarian system can work, too. (I've been a bit mystified to see how my no-Mo friends end up pairing off and getting married, because the process is very different — and much longer — than it is in Mormon culture, but it still seems to work pretty well.) But if you get one person who wants to stick to one system and one person who wants another, that's a recipe for trouble. (And this may be where you have problems, because you don't like traditional dating, but you're dating primarily in a Mormon community, which expects it.)

The Dancing Newt said...

Anonymous - not sure that's EXACTLY what I was talking about.

Sad - do you dislike Jane Austen for literary or philosophical reasons?

Th. - it took me about 10 minutes to figure out WHAT you were talking about! Ha ha ha.

Mak - while I wasn't specifically addressing power dynamics of the traditional model, I think you make some interesting points there. I also find some of what you say to be blatantly false in my experience, although it would be a little presumptuous of me to assume that my experiences are representative of anyone else's. I would ask you one question though: you say that your approach "works" for you these days. What do you mean by this: that you have more dates/sexual encounters with more females, or you have found greater quality in your interactions with the other sex?

Katya - Interesting ideas on the historical perspective. I wonder when that changed. Also, "the messiness comes from different frameworks colliding" - I like how concisely you phrased that.

Beth said...

Eye contact is an important part of body language.

Transparency in the right situation or context is ftw.

The Dancing Newt said...

Beth you are a little darling.

The Dancing Newt said...

Also, here's something my colleague sent me on the subject:

"Is there some sort of compromise here - some sort of egalitarian ritual we create - perhaps from the traditional pattern superimposed with our current ideals?" -- YES. Create away.

"Or does it come down to that pesky adult behavior called communication?" -- YES. Unfortunately, that is the ONLY way to make it work they way you/he want/need it to work.

And it does not end with courtship. A good friend here in my prairie homeland just told me that he is getting divorced. The root cause: a lack of communication. Better to establish a pattern of communication early on, even if only to communicate that both of you are going to stick with a "traditional" courtship, but especially if you plan to chart your own course.

Mak said...

So to answer your question, Yes. Both more and better. I certainly don't feel like I'm an expert dater these days, but I certainly feel like I have much better success at it now than ever before. I'm kinda curious what specifically you disagreed with, as most of how I see things is based on closely listening to women talk about what they want and paying attention to the response I've gotten when I've done different things, so I'm always looking to tweak and refine my understanding of how to be sucessful talking to and dating women. Also, I thought Katya made some really good points.

Mooney said...

I think there are problems with all the "systems" we're looking at.

Scenario A- Let's take an LDS male, raised in the system you call the traditional model. He pursues this traditional approach to dating and courtship for the original reason of communicating both his interest and value. He thinks (however naively) that even if a girl is not interested, she may become so if they spend some time talking and interacting. He is not in it for results, but for potential. He has no expectation that the girl has gotta "put out" in any way, shape or form. Paying, to him is just what his mother taught him a gentleman does. In fact, he's typically thrown a bit by premature romantic gesturing on her part, not because he's not mutually attracted, but because it wasn't in his expectations to begin with. Often, however he meets resistance to this way of doing things, by companions who either prefer a different model or a different result. Many girls have trouble with him paying because in the past, they've felt pressure to reciprocate because of it. Even when the man intends to apply no pressure. Other times, the girl is interested in the ambiguity of the hookup model, and I'm gonna go ahead and say Mak is right about some of the uglier insinuations concerning women preferring the hunt to the kill. Of course this is not universal and I'm sure implication of you personally offends you the way the insinuation that guys expect some 'repayment' offends me. The distinction is obvious; some guys expect payback; some girls want ambiguity.

Scenario B- The same LDS male is frustrated with the traditional model, not because of it's lack of results, but because of it's failure to produce what he turned to it for in the first place... potential. Be it resistance to the model by females or flaws in the model from inception, he finds it almost entirely lacking promise. If positive experiences resulted even 15% of the time he might consider it a useful model. But the majority of dates just plain suck. People promote diligence to the traditional model by making statements like "you're not asking out the right kinds of girls" but he's asking out all kinds of girls. So frustrated LDS male encounters a girl who is blatantly interested in the hookup model. It doesn't matter that he knows it's a lousy model... the other one is too. He goes along with the charade and even hopes against reason that it will produce a healthy relationship. He brings communication and honesty to this interaction in an effort to shape it into a valuable one. His efforts are usually vain as girls who want the hookup model lose all interest when a guy wants to bring a level of the c word into the relationship.

Scenario C- Frustrated with both models, LDS male decides this is a less a problem with the model and more a problem with the product he's marketing. There are A LOT of single men in the LDS community who focus here and only get depressed. Others try to beef their resume and marry a girl who's just interested in the job and the house. The person that they are is not what's really wrong though. Sometimes the women are the ones who are really guilty of focusing on RESULTS. LDS girls have a pretty pervasive problem with designing their futures instead of experiencing them. Men who don't fit the presupposed situation they've imagined for themselves rarely even get a first chance. Other times, the girl wants to have the relationship in her mind so badly, she thinks the relationship she has is something it's not. The bottom line is, we get into real troubled waters when we start wanting to control the behavior or feelings of the other party before we even know what they are.

What I'm saying is that...


The failure is not in the model.
The failure is not in the man.
The failure is not in the woman.
The failure is not in the timing.
The success is just, plain and simple, a capital M Miracle, and we all have our trials of Faith.

At the moment, I believe.

Katya said...

Mooney makes some interesting points about the inefficiencies of various models. Another problem with Scenario A is what to do with guys who are super shy, because they're going to have a much harder time being the one to do the asking.

Mak said...

Wow, awesome post Mooney. I would still say that many guys are looking for results (physical results) at a subconcious, instintual level, but I think you are right on the money on the experiance of many LDS men with the different dating paradigms, and many non-LDS men as well actually.

In response to how being shy affects a guy's chances, I think it really depends on how shy he is. I'm not at all what I would call a shy person, and never have been. But for the longest time, I would be amazed at how some of my shyer friends, who frankly were also not as physically attractive as me, and much geekier than I am, would end up in relationships while I still seemed to be hopelessly single. I used to chalk it up to luck (good on his, bad on mine), and eventually I started to believe that it was "more a problem with the product I was marketing" as Mooney put it. But now I realize that my friends shyness actually was an advantage for them in a certain way, though unintentional on their part. It made them more mysterious, ambigious. It created more anticipation in the girls that did take any interest in them, as they wondered if he liked them and wasn't showing it, or if he was stand offish because he didn't like them. Feeling the anticipation, the girls would just ramp up the agressiveness, and soon the guy would be in a relationship. The biggest key was that these shy guys never had the "courage" to tell the girls that they liked them early in the relationship out of a fear of rejection. I use courage in quotes because having the courage is NOT an advantage here; I've never been afraid to tell a girl what I think, and it's always shot me in the foot because as soon as I tell her, I've just killed the mystery, again the anticpation.

Now I have met people who were litterally so shy that it was nearly a social disease, and it's very hard for people like that to develop a relationship, but I don't think being a little shy hurts guys that much.

Katya said...

Mak - I've wanted to respond to your first comment, but it's so long that I haven't had time to critique all of it. Here's what I've got, though:

To give an example of what I'm saying, I've noticed that when giving a gift to a woman, it doesn't matter so much what the gift is as how the gift is given.

If a woman is given a thousand dollar gift with no box, no wrapping . . . she will not be very moved by it, even though at the end of the day it's theoretically a "high-value" gift.

I think this is a reasonably accurate observation, but I wouldn't chalk it up to loving "anticipation." Rather, I'd say that women are more interested in the emotional significance of an act than they are in the physical reality of it. So, a gift which indicates that a great amount of time, effort, care, or thought went into it is more valuable than a gift which doesn't have those indicators. E.g., it's pretty easy to buy a girl a CD, but it's a lot more effort for a guy to burn a CD full of songs which remind him of the girl, complete with a hand-written CD liner which says why each song makes him think of her, and how the order of the songs reflects the story of their relationship thus far.

More generally, women love the "story" of a relationship and the way that various interactions (including gift-giving) retells that story. Maybe it's a way of gauging if the guy will continue to care for and about the girl and their potential offspring (which is a pretty important biological consideration).

So an ambiguous system of dating naturally provides the anticipation that most women crave in their life . . .

Here is where your argument starts to fall apart. Anticipation is different from ambiguity and women are not stupid enough to think that they're the same thing. If my boyfriend says "I've got surprise plans for Valentine's Day. Be waiting at 6 pm and dress warmly." that's a recipe for anticipation. I don't know what's coming but I assume it's going to be good. (And I agree that anticipation is part of what women want, even if our ultimate goal is larger.) However, if I get into a big fight with my boyfriend and we don't speak for three days and then I find out he came by my apartment when I was gone but didn't leave a message and just said he'd come back later . . . well, that's less about anticipation and more about ambiguity, because there's a good chance he's going to break up with me. And I don't know a woman in the world who'd prefer the latter situation over the former. Again, we're not stupid. We don't want to introduce artificial instability into a relationship just so we can reap "anticipation" from it, we want a guy who is frequently doing kind and thoughtful things for us because that show's that he's emotionally invested in the relationship (and yes, anticipation will be part of that).

Katya said...

Aw, crap. "shows," not "show's."

The Dancing Newt said...

Mooney - while I think I agree with you on the 'miracle' part, can you elaborate on what you mean? Even though a successful relationship truly is a miracle, do you think there is anything anybody can do to improve either the model or what they bring to the model?

Mak - the part I disagree with is something along the lines of what Katya said. Perhaps I find emotional significance to be important, although certainly not the MOST important aspect of a relationship. And while I do not like being forced to define how I feel before I know for myself, having things remain undefined after a certain point makes me feel worried and anxious. Certainly NOT what I would want or seek for myself.

The Dancing Newt said...

By "emotional significance," I mean what Katya refers to as "the emotional significance of an act."

Sheesh I think this is a record number of comments for this little blarg.

Mooney said...


Well, I think we'll never find a system that meets everyone's expectations or desires. Mostly because we don't really have a common goal. Ask a thousand people what the end goal of dating is for them, and I'm willing to bet less than half say marriage and many wouldn't even say a long term committed relationship. Even less who attain that remain monogamous. Here's the cynic in me, but we all want different things. The only goal that seems common is sex. Dating or hooking up or whatever "tryout" system we subscribe to, is ultimately something we do to choose a mate. Inasmuch as we have different goals, we do what is natural. We choose whatever system works best for us at the time.

Mak said...

Katya, well, I think you're right about there being a difference between ambiguity and anticipation. But I think part of what I'm getting at, is that the overwhelming majority of people (both male and female) set their bar of success pretty low. So when you consider that most men don't know how to create a genuine romantic sense of anticipation, a system where the men say nothing about their feelings rather than being encouraged to expose them, will at least not kill any suspense about his intentions. I agree, this is not as good as a situation where men are communicative AND skilled suitors, but again I think most people aren't aiming that high. They're willing to take "he didn't blow it with me" as a sucess, even though it's really just a lack of failure. Now keep in mind, I'm not saying that any of this is a good thing, and I admit I don't have some genius idea for how to fix society on this matter. I'm really just commenting in detail on how the two paradigms collide messily.