Jewish World Review Feb. 11, 2002/ 29 Shevat, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Because I was courted -- NOBEL economist Gary Becker reduces everything to exchange theory, including courtship,"Persons marry when the utility expected from marriage exceeds the utility expected from remaining single." Be still my heart, thou romantic scholar of externalities and marginal costs.

Guns and butter aside, Prof. Becker has a point. Marriage is a process, a decision made after investigation. In business terms, due diligence precedes the merger. In lay terms, courtship comes before marriage.

Such a simple concept, but so lost in time. As hearts turn to Valentine's Day and See's chocolates, the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) sounds the call to bring back courtship. As an antidote to the vulgar "Vagina Monologues" that has dominated Cupid's day for years, IWF wants college women to abandon hooking up, aka one-night-stands, in favor of dating and courtship

IWF's 2001 study, "Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Dating and Mating Today," tugs at the heartstrings. It is a story of the gullible and trusting snookered by wily hucksters. Rainman vs. Tony Robbins. Housed in coed dorms, women find the magic between the sexes is gone. One noted, we wash our dishes in the men's bathroom in the dorm, why bother dating?

If women do "hook up," chances are they did the asking and paying. The women describe an awkwardness following the sexual intimacy of the hook-up; unsure whether there is a relationship or if an obligation exists.

Suckers. In Beckerese: there is no utility for men in courtship or marriage if you don't need either for optimum pleasure.

Courtship went by the wayside thanks to the 60's sexual revolution. The sociological research on courtship has all but ended with the exception of studies on living together prior to marriage, violence and courtship, and what leads to sexual intimacy, but not necessarily marriage. The IWF study has the answer on the cause of sexual intimacy on campus. Put down "drunken binges."

The Institute for American Values' study, "The Experts' Story of Courtship," offers insight into the role of courtship through a historical review. Only since the Industrial Revolution has US courtship moved away from the auspices of family, church and neighborhood. These "control groups" curbed intimacy and knew their couples well enough to either encourage them or put on the big kibosh. Sociology has mucked about and put forward the hoax that relationships are about sex, lust, and all manner of lasciviousness. Science disdains the medieval practices of courtship, honor and monogamy. Marriages lasted longer with the latter.

Courtship provides the opportunity to find that elusive soul mate only after a background check. Dating is foreign now to two generations and has always been a bit of a chore. However, dating is revealing. Before hopping into a dorm room with Jim Beam and a hook-up, it's nice to know Mr. Right-for-the-moment's career plans.

I had more than my share of dating humiliations. A friend arranged for one blind date, apparently using height as the sole criterion. A 6'8" Jenz, the name alone was trouble, showed up in clothing that he had made himself, as he did his entire wardrobe. It was rather like being on a date with Shaq in Amish bellbottoms. Jens was still a better seamstress than I and hence ruled out as progenitor for my heirs.

Only once did I experience a cheap date. He had to pick up his car at my apartment because I drove it there alone from the restaurant after asking for his car keys as he was figuring my share of the tab.

There was the young man who took me home to meet mom and "mom" had an industrial Hobart mixer on the kitchen floor. My culinary skills were no match and this match was clearly not made in heaven, even using a mix.

The length, depths, and troglodytes of my courtship years warrant a book. But there would be no chapter on regrets for I had the privilege of being courted. Because I was courted, I understood that the talent pool was shallow. And, dare I say, I learned to understand men? Because I was courted, I have fond memories, not heartbreak from intimacy abandoned. Because I was courted I had confidence in the decision to marry - something the IWF study shows women fear. Because I was courted, I reached Gary Becker's rhapsodic point of utility of marriage exceeding utility of remaining single. Because I was courted, I want the same for young women today.

As this Valentine's Day approaches, is it too proletarian to mention romance? Is courtship too cliché? Is it too late for dating? Women hold the trump card. Physical favors withheld pique courtship attention. Don't hook up and don't pay. In exchange theory terms: demand to be courted and accept no substitutes. The male demand is not as elastic as you have been led to believe. Once you've been courted, you'll understand.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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09/20/01: No tinhorn terrorists can frighten us
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© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings