How Do I Love Thee?

Romance and courtship have changed a lot in recent years, and not necessarily for the better. For those who think flowers, chocolates, or love poetry are still the medium of choice, consider a couple of recent personal ads from the "Washingtonian" magazine: One wealthy Romeo says he's looking for a "drop dead gorgeous, sensitive, passionate" woman to share his Caribbean holiday. Another, who describes himself as a "financially secure" executive, wants you to call if you're a "strikingly beautiful woman" who enjoys "fast boats and overseas travel." By offering financial incentives in exchange for female companionship, it would seem that a lot of men these days view romance through a crass economic lens. It's one more example of how romance and courtship have been corrupted in our time. How in the world did this happen? As my colleague Anne Morse recently wrote in Boundless internet magazine, Historian Beth Bailey just might have the answer. Bailey observes that until the start of the twentieth century, dating as we know it did not exist. If a boy wanted to get to know a girl, he had to wait until she invited him to her home. But between 1890 and 1925, young women began moving from the farms to the cities. Jammed together in crowded rooms, they no longer had parlors into which to invite gentlemen callers. As a result, Bailey writes, "A 'good time'... became identified with public places and commercial amusements." The move from private parlors to public dance halls, she says, "fundamentally altered the balance of power between men and women." Men no longer had to wait for women to invite them to their homes. Instead, women now waited for men to invite them on dates. Little by little, Bailey writes, dating "moved courtship into the world of the economy. Men's money was at the center of the dating system." This led to a view of "dating as a system of exchange best understood... as an economic system." In a sense, the author says, a woman was "selling her company to [a man]." The implications of this arrangement have recently become chillingly apparent. A survey of boys found that more than half thought that if a man spends "a lot of money" on his date, it's okay to demand that she have sex with him. And other research finds that many young women agree. What a departure this is from the traditional understanding of courtship and marriage. You see, the biblical view of courtship and marriage teaches that couples are to put aside their own selfish desires and focus on the interests of the loved one. But the cold, hard world of economics teaches the opposite message: that we're entitled to a "return on investment." When it comes to romance, today's young women might consider taking a leaf out of their great-grandmothers' etiquette books. For example, instead of letting a man pay for an expensive dinner, suggest options that cost little or nothing: Take in a free concert, lecture, or ballgame, or attend church activities together. Tell your date you're insisting on this, not because you're a control-driven feminist, but because you are a true traditionalist. And remember, the economic game works both ways. All those rich Romeos trying to buy women's company through vulgar classified ads may find the drop dead gorgeous, sensitive, passionate woman they're looking for—only to find that she's a gold digger who takes them for everything they've got.


Chuck Colson



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