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An Encore For Courtship

Posted by Karyn Polewaczyk  January 29, 2013 11:30 AM

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The New York Times recently ran a piece called The End of Courtship, where Style columnist Alex Williams interviewed Millennial women unhappy with the state of modern romance, know-it-all dating experts, and a handful of token men for the ever-important middle-class male perspective to ultimately surmise that the end of modern romance as we know it is indeed nigh. Amidst the commiserating, closer interviewee Cheryl Yeoh proffered that courtship is alive and kicking because, as she stated frankly, if a man really wants her, “he has to put in some effort.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Yeoh. I think that all of us, regardless of gender, have to put the work in—whether it’s with respect to our relationships, our jobs or our finances—in order to reap the benefits. It can also mean putting in the work to find a compatible mate, since the days of boyfriend trees, lush and ripe with emotionally-available men waiting to be plucked, have gone the way of of the 1950s housewife. Yet most of the women Mr. Williams spoke with seemed entitled, like they'd earned something for just showing up, which causes me to wonder if we've forgotten that a relationship is a privilege, not a right. It’s not that these women don’t deserve high standards; it’s that, I fear, they don’t know what their standards are. Almost all of the women Williams interviewed seemed particularly miffed by the lax communication style exhibited the by men they'd met online. The Internet is a breeding ground for casual conversation; its cousin, the text message, is about as noncommittal as chatter comes, with no rule as to who or what merits a reply, if any at all. Why the surprise? It doesn't mean we should brush aside our expectations for an iota of someone's attention. It means that if things just don't jive with someone, it's okay—and it's our responsibility to stick to our guns and hold out for something (or someone) more aligned with our wants and needs.

Me? I’m just fine being on my own, thanks, and I think it's a shame that the act of dating multiple people at once (versus hyperfocusing on someone early on to the point of scaring them away) is somehow lost on my generation. I can't deny that I like walking through a door held open by someone else, whether I'm entering a fancy restaurant or my office building. I appreciate it when a man has the gumption to ask me out, period. I even enjoy the act of sliding my arms into a coat that's been held out for me; it makes me feel feminine and even a tiny bit glamorous, like a catered-to movie star. These aren't acts of courtship; they're just good manners, easily reciprocated when the occasion arises. Yes, I prefer the asking to be done by the man—but I'll take the reins when I feel compelled. Call it a compromise, call it Dating 2.0: in the end, these gestures are nice, plainly and simply. They're certainly not a litmus test of whether a man is worth my time. (I can't say I've ever held out a coat for a guy, though.)

Mr. Williams' piece carefully omits the fact that the media—namely, gossip websites and certain women's glossies—plays a big role in the way we perceive whether a relationship has failed or succeeded, which is the reason why I think so many of us feel undue anxiety about being single. For women especially, the clock to find Mr. (or Mrs.) Right ticks loudly, and the alarm rings even louder once you’ve hit a certain age. That kind of pressure can make us do crazy things, like plan our fantasy weddings before we’ve made it past the third date; reply to texts from absentee men that say “hey babe, what are you up to this weekend?” as Anna Goldfarb considered, or worse: we'll partake in an interview that makes us seem stodgy and self-righteous.

Courtship isn’t over. Courtship is the willingness to take a chance on the unknown, to give a bit of ourselves because we want to, not because we have to. Courtship, as it always has been, is a game. There are just new rules—and it's still fun to play.

UPDATE: If you're interested in reading how Boston-area singles are re-thinking the online dating arena, check out Rachel Zarrell's front-page Boston Globe story, Dating Goes Social.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About this blog

Karyn Polewaczyk lives and writes in Boston, and believes that heading out into that good night, like any adventure, begins with the first step. Let's Go Out is a conversation about dating and nightlife in our notoriously chilly city, with first-hand tips from the trenches. Karyn's writing, which focuses largely on women's lifestyle topics, has appeared in the Weekly Dig, Jezebel, xoJane, Northshore Magazine and More.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @KarynPolewaczyk.

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