Tuesday, July 28, 2015

I Don't Think Courting Means What You Think It Means

At our house, Saturday is chore day.

But I'm one of those people who conducts dialogues with myself while I'm cleaning - history, writing, movies... I ponder it all. And today's topic is Historical Courting.

Not courting.

Historical Courting.

Because, as I'd like to point out, there's a difference between what a lot of folks would like to call courting and the idea from which it originated.

Something I've begun to notice from many Christians who are discouraged with the world we live in today, is a desire to return to bygone days - the "It was better back then" mentality. But the past is subjective to its own circumstances. Humanity doesn't change, just it's circumstances. They had murderers back then too.

Likewise, the idea of courtship is vastly dependent on the participating culture aa well as the era.

But to keep things simple, I'd like to point something out (I'm using a mid-late 1800s example).

Did you know that the word, "Chaperone," DID NOT refer to someone who followed you on your date? Chaperone was actually more commonly used in place of the words escort, date, or companion for the evening.

Yes, I did say date. As is the male love-interest.

Think of it in this context. No matter what, as a girl, it's good to take precaution when you go out. If you're by yourself, don't walk into dark alleys, and best case scenario, take a friend with you.

Same concept.

If you're going to a party, you go with a date right? Your date is responsible for taking care of your for the duration of the evening and returning you home. This could be a brother, a male friend or another male family member.

In the movie, "Meet Me In St. Louis," Esther Smith (Judy Garland) is escorted to the Christmas Eve Dance by her grandfather. Her sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) is escorted by their brother. However, both girls meet up with their beaus at the dance, who bring them home at the end of the evening.

But here's what I really want to get at.

You've all read L.I. Wilder's Little House books, right? And I don't mean, "seen the TV show." That TV show is horribly inaccurate. So don't use it as a source of knowledge for the books.

The second to last book, These Happy Golden Years was written about the time during which Laura and her husband were dating (the mid 1880s - they married in 1885). This is the Victorian Era, if you were curious - the days of bustle dresses (my personal favorite).

So anyways... I've heard a lot about some more modern concepts of courtship, but it doesn't exactly match these idealized days of dating. In fact, it was more reminiscent of something my dad once said to me when I was in junior high.

He told me that if a guy wanted to date me, there was a written test and an interview.

I laughed.

But really... If you HAVEN'T read Laura's books, I would like to share some details.

  • Laura met Almanzo officially when he offered her a ride home from school (though she did run into him shortly after moving to their homestead in De Smet)
  • Almanzo was 10 years older than Laura and her father's friend.
  • Almanzo would drive Laura home each week from the school she taught at because he was better able to than her father. 
  • Most of their "dates" were what Laura called their, "Sunday Drives." She and Almanzo would go on long buggy rides after church. 
  • Some of their dates were in groups, such as buggy rides with Ida, Mary and Cap, or the period of time during which they attended "singing school." 
  • Almanzo did ask Pa's permission to marry Laura before proposing. 
  • Laura's and Almanzo's first kiss was upon their engagement. 
  • Laura was 18 and Almanzo was 28 when they married.
Anyways... while I was throwing around these ideas, you can see where a lot of modern courtship ideas come from, such as the waiting to kiss and asking her father's permission to marry her. However, I would also wager that their "courtship" also looks an awful lot like modern dating, as well.

Actually, I would say that this Historical Courtship looks more like common sense.

Remember what I said about the written test and the interview? Honestly, I think that more stems from the idea that your parents ought to have met your date. Think about it... Almanzo was a trusted friend of Laura's family. When he began asking Laura to go on rides with him, Ma and Pa trusted him to take care of their daughter. But it's more similar to that age old idea of your date coming inside to sit with your father while he's waiting for your to come downstairs. Dad asks a few questions, says something about the shotgun he owns and what time to have you home.

You know, the more I think about it, even when girls aren't living at home anymore, they tend to talk a lot about the men they're seeing with friends. Advice and insight from friends can be incredibly valuable. The same can be said for dear old dad's impressions.

So, if your escort/date presents himself as a nice guy, then I think, as long as you avoid alleyways, closets and dark rooms, he can to trusted to chaperone you when you go somewhere. To keep you safe from miscreants who might try to steal your purse.

But even Laura went on group dates. Friends make good company. They can help judge character and encourage everyone to keep their hands to themselves (aka PDA).

Something interesting about the way Laura and Almanzo starting dating, though... It's hard to tell at first. There are no declared intentions, just a gradual increase in awareness of one another. Almanzo begins changing their outings to specifically reflect Laura's preferences.

This is most certainly not to suggest that These Happy Golden Years ought to be the model for every relationship. I certainly would like to marry someone a LITTLE closer in age than 10 years. But I think the book certainly offers a good perspective on what dating used to look like.

And what it DOESN'T look like, is our modern courtship.

It's a new day. A new era. A different time. And our definitions are affected by our own culture, just as their was affected by the conditions of the 1880s in South Dakota.

So please, don't use the, "it was better back then," line unless you really know what it was like then. Because modern courtship is NOT a revival of historical values. It's a response to our own time and culture.

#petpeeves #historymajor

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