Courtship is a time of getting to know a person with whom one plans to spend the rest of one’s life. Someone described it as ‘the process of feeling one’s way into the mind of another.’
In Victorian times courtship was an established ritual. The prospective groom would ask the girl’s parents for permission to woo their daughter. The girl was often chaperoned by an older woman, who ensured that there was no flaunting of moral codes, and that the rules of etiquette were maintained. Courtship could not go on indefinitely but lasted between three to six months.
In many eastern societies marriages are arranged by parents or relatives. There is no period of courtship. The boy and the girl are practically strangers when they get married.
The animal world also has its courtship rituals. The male selects a partner purely for the purpose of mating. He dances or touches or displays his beauty or fighting prowess to impress the female. But it is her prerogative whether to accept or reject his overtures.
There is a difference between courtship and dating. Dating is friendship with no strings attached. It doesn’t call for long term commitment and need not lead to marriage. It is a casual social activity for a limited period of time and is not limited to one person.
Today young people consider this premarital interlude a private affair between two people contemplating marriage. Their focus is on learning about each other, on interpersonal relationships, companionship and the joy of sharing their lives. They may meet and converse face to face or by phone or e-mail. There may be exchange of letters and SMSs. They go out together for a meal or a movie or participate in some mutually acceptable activity. Exchange of gifts, flowers or tokens of affection will enhance their relationship.
However, many young people rush into marriage without understanding its significance. Nurtured on myths, romantic ideas and expectations, they are convinced that marriage is ‘living happily ever after.’ This is a sure recipe for frustration. Romance is exciting and invigorating but has a brief shelf life. To make marriage exciting and invigorating, it is important to demystify romance, and get one’s priorities right. Couples must rid themselves of the myth that marriage is one long honeymoon and must clarify their expectations. Choosing a life partner is not to be taken casually.
Rod McKeun says, “A soul mate is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
Compatibility between partners is therefore of primary importance
• Know each other’s backgrounds: Are there wide differences in social status and lifestyles? Is there a willingness on both sides to make some adjustments?
• Matching of minds: Do you have matching temperaments or are you at loggerheads on many issues? Is there respect for each other?
• Moral commitments: Do you believe in fidelity and permanence of marriage? Are you willing to work hard to keep your marriage intact?
• Religious beliefs: Will religious differences work against your marriage?
• Respect for the separateness of the other: Khalil Gibran has valuable advice for those contemplating marriage. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of heaven dance between you. Stand together yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
• Accommodation: Is the man willing to let his wife pursue employment? Is the woman willing to give up her professional activity for family life if necessary? There is need to strike a balance between dependence and independence.
Communication must be easy and free. This will enable partners to learn about each other’s likes and dislikes, eccentricities and tastes.
• Verbalize individual needs and concerns
• Be open about shortcomings such as laziness, procrastination, temper. Discuss secret addictions or former love affairs.
• Show your positive attributes like creativity, diligence, integrity, compassion.
• Discuss important topics like sex, children, family relationships, in-laws, contraception.
• Finances – one’s attitude to money, extravagant or miserly, hoarder or spendthrift?
• Illnesses – Any chronic or contagious illnesses? Genetic disorders? Mental illness?
Communication must be both verbal and non-verbal as in body language and behaviour. Does your partner come through as honest, supportive, friendly and reliable?
Commitment to each other is a step of faith. When it is mutual, it will strengthen the marriage bond. Both must be willing to give up certain freedoms and take on new obligations when necessary. If one partner suffers from commitment anxiety, it must be addressed. When the desire to build a life together is earnest, anxiety will give way to confidence.
“The ability of spouses to change sufficiently to each other’s minimal needs,” will ensure longevity of marriage, counsels Dr. Jack Donavon.
Social, moral and spiritual guidelines must be formulated on which the relationship can be built. This too requires commitment on the part of both partners.
There is little point in building a future together if two personalities are incompatible, if communication between then is not free and easy, and if they are unwilling to commit to a lifetime of fidelity. It is always wise to discover prayerfully if it is God’s will for you to enter into matrimony with the person of your choice.
“Choose not your friends by their outward show, for feathers float high and pearls lie low,” says Alexander Pope about Friendship. It could well apply to the choice of life partners.