Modern courtship bears little resemblance to the rituals that traditionally led to marriage in most countries in the past. Technology and economics have changed the rules, the expectations, and the rituals leading to marriage.
The Courting Path to Marriage
The concept of courtship has always been the process of rituals that eventually leads to marriage. This is different than "dating" because the idea of two young people actually getting to know each other before marriage is a relatively new one. Reverend Skip Burzmato of the Boundless.org website has written on the way courtship traditions changed throughout the 20th century, moving from "...the more predictable cultural script that existed for several centuries, to the multi-layered system..." which includes the modern courtship process of dating.
The Rise of the Dating Industry
Mass communication was also part of the process of the changing face of courtship. Many cultures had the equivalent of a yenta, the Jewish matchmaker famously portrayed in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Even the Victorians had matchmakers such as the protagonist of another hit musical, Hello, Dolly. These were people who controlled, within the communities, the process of courtship by determining both acceptable behavior and often acceptable partners.
However, as mass media became more prevalent, modern courtship rituals changed from local customs to widespread norms. As the Rev. Burzmato put it, the "higher authority" of dating advice columnists in newspapers and magazines changed the way young people perceived courtship. Birth control was another factor that changed the process of marriage. As Leon Kass of the University of Chicago wrote in his book Building a Healthy Culture: Strategies for an American Renaissance, when sex and pregnancy were no longer linked, the necessity for a marriage changed as well.
Modern Courtship to Rescue Marriage
As marriage rates decline in the U.S., many groups blame these changing "family values" for the rise of the "hookup culture" which they feel is destructive to both men and women. Allison Kasic of the Independent Women's Forum has written about the need to "celebrate romance," moving back to traditional courtship rituals of dinner, flowers, and conversation. Christian groups especially have embraced this return to a slower and more methodical path toward marriage.
In the video 18 Kids & Counting: Dating vs. Courtship, the Duggar family literally claims that "Dating is training for divorce." Instead, they teach their children to "trust in God" as opposed to "shopping around" for a date. Another model for Christian courtship is documented in the blog Kristina Keeps. She and her husband followed Seven Royal Laws of Courtship which included maintaining at least six inches of distance between them at all times.
Does Courtship Still Work?
Amanda Stiver of the Vertical Thought blog also believes that traditional courtship is a process needed to create "...a loving marriage relationship that results in the growth of two people together." Websites such as True.com try to provide both the security and convenience of online dating with a screening process and focus on permanent relationships. In some ways, it has become a "virtual yenta," joining online dating sites like eHarmony that claim amazing success at bringing couples together for marriage.
According to research by the National Wedding Show published in Marie Claire, the modern process of courting and marriage seems to take nearly three years. In that same article found in Marie Claire, NWS representative Alexandra Campos also revealed another of the biggest changes in courtship: one in ten women break with tradition and pop the question themselves, on average a few months sooner than men.
Either way, fans of courtship in contemporary society can take comfort that even in a fast-paced information age, the path to the altar still takes years between the first "hello" and the final "I do."