Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is Courtship Behavior a Fraud?

An emailer objects to my "passionate courtship" model for marriage:
"You're always advising husbands to act like they did when they were 'courting,' which is already an old-fashioned concept, but that's phony behavior. Guys only do that stuff—buying flowers and candy and opening doors and even going to chick flicks—in order to get her to bed. Nobody actually lives like that. It's a fraud, part of the mating dance guys are supposed to go through."

Reading that reminded me of my dad, the way he once reacted to this European guy who would kiss ladies’ hands on being introduced: "Phony hand-kissing,” I remember my dad saying with contempt. “A real man saves that stuff for the bedroom."

I am also reminded of that ultimate anti-chivalric, chauvinist hero, Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire. Here’s a famous exchange with Blanche DuBois:

I was fishing for a compliment, Stanley.

I don't go in for that stuff.


Compliments to women about their looks. I never met a dame yet that didn't know if she was good-looking or not without being told, and some of them give themselves credit for more than they've got. I once went out with a dame who told me, "I'm the glamorous type." She says, "I am the glamorous type!" I say, "So what?"

And what did she say then?

She didn't say nothing. That shut her up like a clam.

Did it end the romance?

Well, it ended the conversation, that was all. You know that some men, Blanche, that are took in by this Hollywood glamour stuff whereas some men just are not.

I'm sure you belong in the second category.

Are these guys right, and I’m wrong? Should there be a post-nuptial ritual when husbands pull the pedestal out from under their new wives? Are male courtship rituals ridiculous and emasculating? Are they artificial and unsustainable?

I will agree that courtliness and chivalry are not easily sustained. Which is one reason so many marriages end unhappily. But is courtship behavior artificial? Let me quote my own book (Chapter 3, "Perpetual Courtship"):
“The truth is, perpetual courtship is not an artificial contrivance, a trick foisted upon credulous husbands. It is an arrangement in harmony with our own biological natures, male and female. And even if it wasn’t, who cares? It works! What wife can hold out against continuous, insidious courtship? How can she not be susceptible?
“If a marriage is to be a compelling and continuing love story—and that's the goal here—romance must be reinvented, with new romantic challenges thrown in the way of the suitor (lawful husband though he be).”

Endlessly replaying the male-female mating dance is a secret a husband and wife can share, a little engine that can and could, that will generate erotic energy day after day.

It may not be the only secret to marital happiness. I haven’t made a study, it’s not my field. But it's certainly one secret, and I've seen many marriages collapse from its non-application.

The Kowalski Method may also seem like a workable formula for a sexually charged marriage, but unless the husband looks like the young Brando, I wouldn’t advise him to try it.


Susan's Pet said...

I was going to comment ..., then you said, "unless the husband looks like the young Brando, I wouldn’t advise him to try it." Ok, you beat me to the puch line.

I see nothing wrong with ritual, protocol, courting, etc., as long as they are benign and get the job done. Many women, including my wife, are supportive of the hand-kissing Hollywood fakery, and they get off on it. Fine. I can go with that.

However, the bottom line is what you do with it once you have it. Namely, you have your wife or SO, who expects you to behave in a "courting manner" once in a while. If it does not cost you an arm and a leg, or a pair of balls, by all means do it. It makes her happy, which should in turn make you happy. It is not a matter of life or death. It is a matter of civility and refinenment.

That Kowalski character was a dope.

Mark Remond said...

Thanks, Susan's Pet. As another commenter commented (that's what they do, after all), some women don't like being put on a pedestal. In which case, you shouldn't keep hoisting 'em up there so you can worship them from below. But, as you say, courtship can proceed in terms of civility and refinement... and as a reminder to oneself that she is a prize beyond measure.

Anonymous said...

There is an art to hand kissing. The way the gentleman bows, the way he holds her hand, the speed at which he lifts it, the pressure of the kiss, all communicate powerful messages to the woman. And for the man, as he kisses the hand, naturally he breathes in and savors her perfume and gets a blast of her pheromeones. This is heady stuff indeed.