The Loss of the Courtship Ritual
Something is happening in the courtship ritual that is undermining commitment in long-term relationships. The courtship ritual has lost a series of commitment decisions leading to marriage that helped to confirm the marriage choice. This loss has led to a greater degree of uncertainty and is undermining relationships that are supposedly based on commitment.
The courtship ritual used to include a series of decisions. First, you made a decision to date someone. Then as the relationship progressed, you made a decision to “go steady.” Then as the relationship deepened and you were getting serious, you made a decision to “get pinned.” By now, you were really “serious” and made a decision to get engaged. Finally, you made the ultimate decision to marry. This process required a series of conscious and very intentional decisions each requiring a different level of commitment. This level of decision making made the final decision to marry much easier and the relationship more committed.
This courtship ritual has been nearly lost in the current cultural milieu of dating. Today, the relationship often begins with casual “hooking up.” This leads to more times of “staying over” in which the couple begins to live together without a conscious decision for a commitment. In this process, couples often end up sharing cell phone contracts, apartment leases, and in many cases, children without ever having made a decision for a commitment. At this point, some decide to get married, but often it is because they have fewer options. It is then, after the marriage, that they ask, “Is this the person with whom I want to spend my life?” Scott Stanley, a researcher at the University of Denver, refers to this process as “Sliding vs. Deciding.”
As old fashion as it may seem, I recommend that we reclaim the courtship rituals that require decisions and gives more choices. Why marry someone that you didn’t choose; again and again and again?