Courting: What is it? How do you do it?

Courting is a set of actions or behaviors that are designed to drive the feelings of attraction into infatuation. Courting is what you do to express your feelings of attraction.

The goal of courting is to create a special kind of relationship: the pairing relationship. The key issues to be dealt with in courting are these:

Courting Behaviors

You have two different kinds of courting behaviors: natural and culture-based. Natural behaviors are those that seem to be in our genes, and they are the same no matter what culture you examine.

Culture-based behaviors are those that have arisen over many generations of "your people." You're a part of some culture, which may contain elements of your nationality, your religion, your language, your socio-economic level, and your region.


This means that an American from New England will have some courting behaviors identical with those of a person from Sweden, China, or India. That same American from New England will also have some courting behaviors that are different from those of an American from Georgia.

This book will not attempt to cover the different cultural courting behaviors. They are too diverse and too wide-ranging. The important thing for you to know is that there are cultural differences in courting rituals. So, if you find a possible partner whom you like, and the possible partner is from a different culture (religion, ethnic groups, region, country, social level, etc.), you can expect that person to court differently than those from your own culture.

We will speak mostly about the kinds of courting behaviors that seem to be part of our genes. All birds, fish, and animals that mate have courting rituals. A few rituals may be learned by observation. For the most part each animal, fish, and bird has a genetic program for how to court. The courting rituals have a place in the pairing process. The rituals determine whether or not mating will take place, and prepare both parties for the process.


Let's illustrate the two levels of courting behaviors. Imagine a shipwreck, a desert island, an American man of twenty-five from Des Moines, Iowa, and a native girl of eighteen, from the depths of the jungles in the Amazon. The two do not speak the same language, and have no experience of any kind with the culture, life style, religions, ethics, mores, politics, beliefs, or expectations of the other.

Advance the situation a few weeks. The two have joined to find shelter, food, and safety. After working to solve a number of jointly faced problems, the two have formed many bonds. The bonds they have forged provide the basis for attraction, and they both feel the stirrings of attraction. Courting behaviors can now be expected. So, the boy sends a signal. He draws a heart with an arrow in it, on the sand. She doesn't get it. The message was a cultural message. It would mean something to a fellow American, but means nothing to this girl from the Amazon jungles.

She sends a signal. She takes two palm fronds and entwines them, and gives them to him. He draws a blank. The message was cultural. It would mean something to a boy from her jungle lands but means nothing to a boy from Des Moines.

He watches her, and when she notices, he tilts his head and his eyes catch hers. She gets the message. She blushes, giggles, and averts her eyes. He gets the message and his pulse quickens. He stands up, lifts his head high, picks up a stone and throws it far into the distance. She claps and throws a stone a shorter distance. He laughs, makes signs like swimming, and beckons her to follow him to the water. In the water, he splashes her. She splashes back. He splashes more vigorously. She dives under the water. He follows, and when she emerges he ducks her under the water. She shrieks and pushes him away. He swims a little distance away and studies the clouds. Soon, she swims underneath and pulls him under. He laughs and chases her again.

You don't need words or agreed upon customs to court. This same set of courting activities would be understood regardless of custom or language.

Purposes for Courting

Courting behaviors serve a variety of purposes:

Notice that the genetic programming is not in tune with the popular trend in the United States toward equality between the sexes. This difference between genetic and cultural programming can cause difficulties in modern American couples working toward an egalitarian relationship.

Their left-brain reasoning and cultural beliefs move them in one direction, and their genetic programming takes them in another. This presents no real problem to the thoughtful couple. The thoughtful couple will allow the process to proceed as modified by their beliefs, and moderated by their goals.

We do many things socially that oppose our genetic programming, and we have no real problems with it. For example, we restrain our basic urges to take what we want, fight if frustrated, and touch what pleases us. Let those who want egalitarian relationships understand that the courting process isn't quite built that way, and let them see that it is one more hurdle to overcome.

Testing and Provoking Responses

One other important element needs to be explained: the idea of testing and provoking responses. It helps to imagine a series of different levels of feelings. Let's invent a scale of feelings where zero is no interest, one is a little interest, and so on up to ten, which is full infatuation.

Boy sees girl. Boy jumps to level one right away. Boy initiates some courting activity. It might be indirect he does something to attract her attention. Or it might be more direct he looks at her and smiles. Girl sees boy and finds him attractive. She jumps to level one also. She then responds to his action. She'll attempt to communicate a response equal to the level of her feelings. She'll send a level one response.

Normally, a response from one will increase the feelings of the other. So, let's say that our boy goes to level two. He needs to communicate this new level. So, he'll send a flirt, or attract attention equal to the level he feels. And, so it goes.

When one gets ahead of the other, the one ahead will attempt to provoke a response equal to or greater than the level the other individual feels. On it goes until he reaches level four. Level four might require a touch to express. So, he touches her. Since he has no sign from her that she is at that level, he might make it seem accidental, or part of something else (like a game of tag).

Once he gets a touch back, he's ready to escalate again. If she won't touch back, or does not yet want to touch (being at a lower level of feeling), he'll attempt a variety of strategies to get her to respond at his level.

Part of the courting process seems to want to keep the escalation growing and to keep the responses matched. The process gets out of whack when one person gets too far ahead of the other. When one gets too far ahead, the person with the lesser level can feel overwhelmed by the person ahead. The person ahead can feel frustrated and tormented by the apparent resistance or reluctance of the other.


Courting is risky. Somehow, people find themselves embarrassed to be expressing a level of feeling much higher than has been confirmed between the two. This gives rise to testing and teasing. Harry has kissed Sandy, and Sandy has kissed back. They both feel good about each other. Things are progressing splendidly.

Next, Harry puts his hand on her breast. Now, for Sandy, the question is whether this is a genuine escalation for Harry, or is it a test? Harry might well be at a higher level of feeling, ready to advance the relationship, or Harry might simply be testing to see if Sandy is at a higher level.

The issues are too complex to speculate about in text form, so we won't follow all the choices that could ensue between Harry and Sandy. They will serve as an example of the difficulties of courting, i.e. when is a signal a legitimate escalation, and when is it a test?

If Sandy thinks Harry is testing, then she may respond with outrage to Harry's communication. If she responds warmly to Harry, and he is only testing, Sandy could find herself communicating a deeper level of feeling for Harry than Harry really has for Sandy.

Teasing is a test in the pretense of not really meaning it. The pretense allows the test to have no response, without risk of rejection. Okay, so you have a series of issues to resolve. You have a series of behaviors that are used to resolve them. You have levels of feelings. You have testing and teasing to confuse the whole affair. It seems so difficult that it almost makes you wonder how anyone gets through it. Well don't worry. Everyone works his or her way through it, sometimes many times. Here are some thoughts that can make courting as smooth and easy as this complex step can get.

It Helps to Talk About It

After you and your partner have clearly begun courting, bring it up for discussion. Read through this chapter together, and discuss your reactions. Here's a checklist of things that might be discussed.

1. Is your window open or closed?

2. What are your thoughts on exclusivity? At what stage? Let it evolve, or make a decision?

3. What is intimacy to you? How open are you willing to be? What level of trust do you expect? How slowly shall intimacy evolve? How slowly shall trust evolve? What kinds of things destroy trust? What kinds of things damage intimacy?

4. How fast do you each escalate? How will the slower one ask the faster one to be patient? How will the faster one handle the need to be patient? How does it feel to be ahead? How does it feel to be escalating more slowly?

5. How do you want to handle sex? Can you just let it evolve naturally? At what point will it be too much too soon? Can you reach agreement on how to limit sexual escalation to a rate both can be comfortable with? Would you prefer an agreement in advance so that sex doesn't become an issue critical to the relationship? Does talking about it take out all the mystery? Would you prefer to ignore it? What might be the consequences of ignoring it? Is it too early to talk about sex?

6. What does it mean to dominate? What does it mean to be submissive? Can you discuss it? How do you want your partner to be? How comfortable could you be in the role your partner described? What kind of relationship do you visualize? A traditional role prescribed relationship? An egalitarian relationship? What does that mean to you?

7. What does commitment mean to you? When do you expect it? What is tied to? Are you resistant to it, or eager for it? What responsibilities come with commitment? Who is responsible for what?

8. How public can you be in declaration? How public do you want to be? How would it be for you? When do you declare that you are a couple? What is good about early? What is good about later?

From the standpoint of our genes and hormones, attraction leads to courting, courting drives towards infatuation ... and increases attraction. Infatuation leads to strong bonds that come from positive shared experiences ... made stronger by the power of infatuation and the increased attraction.

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