Courting vs. Dating: A History of Terms

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Ask a young person today about “courting” and they’ll probably tell you about a 1900s period drama they saw on Netflix. In this day and age, in the era of Tinder and hookup culture, courting seems like a vestige of the past. Before the sexual revolution, the term courting basically means the same thing as dating, but think PG dating, rather than adult dating.

In the past, the courting phase was pretty tame and usually didn’t involve much physical contact. What physical contact did occur is stuff that might make modern daters, especially in a casual dating scenario, feel uncomfortable. Like, imagine if the physical contact you had with a Tinder date was limited to hand-holding and gazing meaningfully into one another’s eyes? Um, no thank you.

So what’s the difference between courting and dating? These days, maybe there is none. Courting isn’t even a thing. Here’s why we think we should be grateful for that, and for some other developments we’ve made in the realm of dating.

A Brief History of Courting

Courting was invented by Christians as a way to describe the relationship between two young people of marriageable age who no longer saw themselves as mere friends, but a potential husband-and-wife duo. What they weren’t allowed to do?

  • Hold hands
  • Kiss
  • Be alone together
  • Touch
  • Misstate their intentions

It’s amazing that our species didn’t die out altogether. Of course, for the Christians it was a way of ensuring that your potential partner was just as firm a believer in Christ as you were — a sort of litmus test in sexual frustration. Fun!

The Evolution of Courting

Not so fast, though — there’s a more modern version of courting that’s been making the rounds, one that doesn’t adhere to such puritanical guidelines but is grounded in a sort of old school version of romance. Dating, we say these days, is more for fun — just a little lighthearted experimentation, without all the heavy expectations. Courting, on the other hand, could still be a more serious business. It’s a term that wouldn’t get used unless marriage was a real possibility to both people. If you can imagine

hey baby, should we take this to the next level and change our Facebook status to ‘courting’?

Is Modern Courting a Thing?

Technically, this term probably doesn’t apply too often to what modern daters do. It’s likely to garner more raised eyebrows and quizzical expressions than anything else. On the other hand, if used in the more modern sense, it can serve as an interesting topic between two consenting adults, who want to explore a more committed and exclusive type of romantic relationship: “hey baby, should we take this to the next level and change our Facebook status to ‘courting’?

Fortunately these days a sense of humor is pretty common as far as dating is concerned. And we’ll probably learn more about our date’s sense of humor on a modern date than we would have staring stonily at one another across a room filled with religious-type chaperones. We still think sexual experimentation is a fine way to learn whether or not you’ll “click” with the person you’re dating, whatever type of relationship you’re looking for. We think this tact will likely show you more about your compatibility than a vow of celibacy and a chastity belt.

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Samantha Elise Oscar
At DatePerfect, we're lucky to have Samantha as a regular contributor and key researcher. A dating expert at her core, Samantha's knowledge of the dating space spans many provocative topics, from marriage tips to sugar dating how-to's. Samantha has her finger on the online dating pulse and keeps us plugged in to dating's newest trends, most surprising twists, and biggest stories. Is there a topic you'd love to see Samantha cover? Please contact us if you have an idea for a future story and we'll get Samantha on it. Thanks for reading!

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