The New York Times had an interesting article today called, The End of Courtship. In it, the author Alex Williams clearly lays out a growing trend among young adults to forego traditional ways of courtship, including dating, for quicker forms of bonding. This has been called “hooking up”. This growing social trend is a rejection of how men and women have approached bonding prior to marriage, namely courtship and dating. One woman describes “hooking up” as somewhere between a date and a high five where couples pair off to “hang out”. What seems to be included is a spontaneous sexual encounter free of commitment although this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.
The typical response is we need to move back to more traditional forms of courtship! In fact, some Christian circles have even eschewed dating for more of an older courtship model (remember, I Kissed Dating Goodbye?). There certainly are some good things that dating and courtship bring but in a mobile society such as ours how beneficial would it be to create a Christian culture where we throw back to an old school form? As some have gently pointed out, it’s not that either courtship and dating don’t have shortcomings associated with them. Further, as Tim Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage, “Why (stop with) courtship? Why not go all the way back to completely arranged marriages?”
Two quick thoughts. Part of the problem with a hookup culture is that it tends to either bond people too quickly, often with sex as the end goal, or it perpetuates laziness in just “hanging out.” Truthfully, I like hanging out with people but there is something about demonstrating intention as men and women form relationships. It doesn’t serve a greater good to force a relationship too fast nor to slow it down to a snail’s crawl. In our age of instant gratification, it seems to be helpful to have ways of gauging a person’s character prior to expressing intent. While it slows the process down from going too fast, it certainly keeps it from just “hanging out” with no intention in mind. One of the markers then of healthy attraction should include ways to decipher a person’s character.
Second, it would be good to take into account value that older forms of courtship and dating provided: family, church, and community. While I’m not advocating going all the way back to earlier forms there were “guard rails” that were erected in the form of institutions and groups that seemed to help raise cautionary flags and provide avenues to get to know people apart from artificially moving it ahead too quickly. In a very mobile society, at least one of the functions of community is to help provide these railings.
Most young adults see the community as the place to meet people. It’s a way of trading the nightclub scene and bars for a safer environment. This is what I think Lauren Winner is partly getting at when she speaks of the value of “acquaintanceship”. I totally understand that. But another purpose of the community is to provide guard rails for people to keep them from trying to figure this out on their own. In some ways, the community functions as a surrogate family to help shepherd people in a way where the group members learn together and rely on each other for insight that might overcome our own personal blindspots or uncontrolled desires. This is to help people not just meet people in a group and then take off. The group actually models and shepherds people in a way where relationships grow naturally.