Ivory French casket with scenes of romances – possibly a courtship gift. Courtship is the systematic process that one undergoes in order to ensure compatibility with a lifelong partner.Walters Art Museum

Courtship is the period in a couple's relationship which precedes their engagement and marriage, or establishment of an agreed relationship of a more enduring kind. During courtship, a couple get to know each other and decide if there will be an engagement or other such agreement. A courtship may be an informal and private matter between two people or may be a public affair, or a formal arrangement with family approval. Traditionally, in the case of a formal engagement, it has been perceived that it is the role of a male to actively "court" or "woo" a female, thus encouraging her to understand him and her receptiveness to a proposal of marriage.


The average duration of courtship varies considerably throughout the world. Furthermore, there is vast individual variation between couples. Courtship may be completely omitted, as in cases of some arranged marriages where the couple do not meet before the wedding.

In the United Kingdom, a poll of 3,000[1] engaged or married couples resulted in an average duration between first meeting and accepted proposal of marriage of 2 years and 11 months,[1][2] with the women feeling ready to accept at an average of 2 years and 7 months.[1] Regarding duration between proposal and wedding, the UK poll above gave an average of 2 years and 3 months.[2]

Courtship traditions

Youth conversing with suitors
from the Haft Awrang of Jami, in the story A Father Advises his Son About Love.

While the date is fairly casual in most European-influenced cultures, in some traditional societies, courtship is a highly structured activity, with very specific formal rules.

In some societies, the parents or community propose potential partners, and then allow limited dating to determine whether the parties are suited. In Japan, there is a such type of courtship called Omiai, with similar practices called "Xiangqin" (相親) in the Greater China Area.[3] Parents will hire a matchmaker to provide pictures and résumés of potential mates, and if the couple agrees, there will be a formal meeting with the matchmaker and often parents in attendance.[3] The matchmaker and parents will often exert pressure on the couple to decide whether they want to marry or not after a few dates.

Courtship in the Philippines is one known complex form of courtship. Unlike what is regularly seen in other societies, it takes a far more subdued and indirect approach.[4] It is complex in that it involves stages, and it is considered normal for courtship to last a year or longer. It is common to see the male showing off by sending love letters and love poems, singing romantic songs and buying gifts for the female.[5] The parents are also seen as part of the courtship practice, as their approval is commonly needed before courtship may begin, or before the female gives the male an answer to his advances.[4]

In more closed societies, courtship is virtually eliminated altogether by the practice of arranged marriages,[3] where partners are chosen for young people, typically by their parents. Forbidding experimental and serial courtship and sanctioning only arranged matches is partly a means of guarding the chastity of young people and partly a matter of furthering family interests, which in such cultures may be considered more important than individual romantic preferences.

Over recent decades though, the concept of arranged marriage has changed or simply been mixed with other forms of dating, including Eastern and Indian ones; potential couples have the opportunity to meet and date each other before one decides on whether to continue the relationship or not.

Modern people

Main article: Dating

In earlier 1800s, young adults were expected to court with the intention of finding a marriage partner, rather than for social reasons. In more traditional forms of Christianity, this concept of courtship has been retained, with John Piper defining courtship and distinguishing this concept from dating, stating that:[6]

Courtship ordinarily begins when a single man approaches a single woman by going through the woman's father, and then conducts his relationship with the woman under the authority of her father, family, or church, whichever is most appropriate. Courtship always has marriage as its direct goal...Dating, a more modern approach, begins when either the man or the woman initiates a more-than-friends relationship with the other, and then they conduct that relationship outside of any oversight or authority. Dating may or may not have marriage as its goal.[6]

Christian minister Patricia Bootsma delineates this distinction, writing that in contrast to the modern conception of dating, in "courtship, time together in groups with family or friends is encouraged, and there is oversight by and accountability to parents or mentors".[7] She further states that with courtship, "commitment happens before intimacy".[7]

In America, in the 1820s, the phrase "date" was most closely associated with prostitution. However, by the Jazz Age of the 1920s, dating for fun was becoming a cultural expectation, and by the 1930s, it was assumed that any popular young person would have lots of dates. This form of dating, though, was usually more chaste than is seen today, since premarital sex was not considered the norm.


The concept of modern dating was initially seen as frustrating and mocked the moralistic values of traditional courtship.[8] One of the reasons there was this disagreement was that they did not want their children growing up doing what many did during the sexual revolution in the 60’s. The act of dating is seen to be very temporary, with such acts seeming as if they are “on one day” and “off the other”.[8] Most young people that come into relationships usually have multiple partners before settling down into marriage.[9] Unlike courtships, couples that are on a “date”, do not require a chaperone or someone in their presence to prevent anything unholy from happening. In recent research, it was found that marriage rates have dropped among people generations before. With the lack of courted relationships in today's society, fewer people are getting married and practicing premarital sex.[9] A large percentage of modern families are started with children and marriage following after. Traditions are often referred to as a thing of the past, although there are many people that still follow the old-fashioned courting route for their relationships.

Courtship in social theory

Courtship is used by a number of theorists to explain gendering processes and sexual identity. Scientific research into courtship began in the 1980s after which time academic researchers started to generate theories about modern dating practices and norms. Both Moore and Perper found that, contrary to popular beliefs, courtship is normally triggered and controlled by women,[10][11] driven mainly by non-verbal behaviours to which men respond.

This is generally supported by other theorists who specialise in the study of body language.[12] There are some feminist scholars, however, who regard courtship as a socially constructed (and male-led) process organised to subjugate women.[13][14] Farrell reports, for example, that magazines about marriage and romantic fiction continue to attract a 98% female readership.[15] Systematic research into courtship processes inside the workplace[16] as well two 10-year studies examining norms in different international settings[17][18] continue to support a view that courtship is a social process that socialises both sexes into accepting forms of relationship that maximise the chances of successfully raising children.

Courtship in Australia

Courtship in Australia is generally reserved to those with religious affiliation. As a standard rule, dating is widely accepted; along with inter-racial relationships, gay/lesbian relationships, pre-marital sex and abortion.[9] A lot of the Australian values are derived from British courtship culture; therefore, marriage practices are much the same. Modern western culture has taken over, leading to more and more people committing to partnerships through dating. Before entering marriage, a lot of Australian couples like to live with each other to get an idea of what married life would be like. This would not happen in a courtship as both people vow to chastity and often like to keep a chaperone around.[9]

Commercial dating services

As technology progressed the dating world followed. In a Time-line by Metro, a statistic match-making business opened in 1941, the first reality TV dating show was developed in 1965 and by the 1980s the public was introduced to video dating.[19] Video Dating was a way for singles to sit in front of a camera and tell whomever may be watching something about themselves. The process of elimination was significant because now the viewer was able hear their voice, see their face and watch their body language to determine a physical attraction to the candidates.

In online dating, individuals create profiles where they disclose personal information, photographs, hobbies, interests, religion and expectations. Then the user can search through hundreds of thousands of accounts and connect with multiple people at once which in return, gives the user more options and more opportunity to find what meets their standards. Online dating has influenced the idea of choice. In Modern Romance: An Investigation, Aziz Ansari states that one third of marriages in the United States between 2005-2012 met through online dating services.[20] Today there are hundreds of sites to choose from and websites designed to fit specific needs such as Match, Eharmony, Okcupid, Zoosk, and Christianmingle. Mobile apps, such as Grindr and Tinder allow users to upload profiles that are then judged by others on the service; one can either swipe right on a profile (indicating interest) or swipe left (which presents another possible mate).

Courtship in other animals

Further information: Mating, Mating system, and Courtship display

Many animal species have mate-selection rituals also referred to as "courtship", anthropomorphically. Animal courtship may involve complicated dances or touching, vocalizations, or displays of beauty or fighting prowess. Most animal courtship occurs out of sight of humans, so it is often the least documented of animal behaviors. One animal whose courtship rituals are well studied is the bower bird, whose male builds a "bower" of collected objects.

From the scientific point of view, courtship in the animal kingdom is the process in which the different species select their partners for reproduction purposes. Generally speaking, the male initiates the courtship and the female chooses to either mate or reject the male based on his "performance".

Sea Turtles

Courtship of green turtles

All animals have different courtship rituals that reflect fitness, compatibility with others and ability to provide. Sea turtles court during a limited receptive time. During the courtship males will either nuzzle the females head to show affection or by gently biting the back of her neck.[21] This may go on for long periods of time depending on if the female responds to the male. If the female does respond, by not fleeing, the male will attach himself onto the back of the female’s shell using his front flippers.[21] He will stretch his long tail under the back of the females shell to begin copulation.

Courting can be competitive among males. The male that has better endurance will win the female. To a female, endurance is a great trait to be passed on to their offspring, the higher the endurance in the male the higher the endurance will be in her offspring and the more likely they will be to survive.[21] Female Leatherback sea turtles will also choose many different males to copulate with in order to diversity their offspring since it is known that Leatherback sea turtles have female-biased offspring.


Hippopotamus are commonly misconceived as being aggressive animals, when in actuality the mothers are very nurturing and sensitive.[22] Mating and birth both occur in the water for hippopotamus. This because it gives them privacy when conceiving and it helps conserve energy during birth. The female hippo normally averages around 5–6 years while males are average an age of 7-8.[22] During mating season the male hippopotamus will find a mate out of the herd, showing interest by smelling the female’s dorsal end.[23] As long as the male acts submissive during courting season the adults in the herd will not interfere. Once the male finds the female he wants to mate with, he begins provoking the female. He then will push the female into the water and mounts her. In order to alert the herd or other animals that may be lurking around the male will let a loud wheezing sound.[23] Preceding birth the female exhibits aggressive behavior leaving the herd until after the birth of the calf. Although hippopotamus can mate anytime of the year, the mating season ranges from February to August. Because the energy cost is high, the female generally only has one offspring in a two years span.[22]


The courtship behaviour or of honey bees follows through two distinct types: Apiary Vicinity Mating and Drone Assembly Mating respectively.[24] Apiary vicinity mating usually takes place in weather that is cool and is more local to the apiary from which the queen resides.[24] The drones are in the same apiary too but do not mean that it will lead to inbreeding. Drones assemble in a bulb of warm air close or far from the apiary. They are alert when the queen has flown out of the hive and will follow her route. This is followed by a sort of fast hum or buzz in the general bee population that follows an upward temperature gradient.[24] The male drone mounts on the virgin queen and inserts his endophallus, ejaculating semen.[25] The male honey bee will then pull away from the queen, but his endophallus will be ripped from his body and remain attached to the newly fertilized queen. The next male honey bee will remove the endophallus that was previously left by the other male honey bee and will eventually ejaculate and lose his own.[25] The frequency of mating for the male honey bees is seven to 10 times during a mating flight. Most of the drones die quickly immediately after mating, and their abdomen rips open since the endophallus has been removed.[25] The few that survive are usually ejected from their nests, as they have served their sole purpose by mating .

They only attend one mating flight and queen stores up to 100 million sperm within her oviducts during this flight, but only five to six million are stored in the spermatheca of the queen.[25] Only a few of this sperm are used by the queen at a time to fertilize the eggs throughout her life. New queen generations will mate and produce their colonies if the queen runs out of sperm in her lifetime. The sex of the offspring is controlled by the honey bee queens as the eggs passing through the oviduct can be determined whether they are fertilized or not by the queen.[25] Research has indicated that eggs that are fertilized develop into female workers and queens while the unfertilized eggs become drone honey bees. Female workers can lay infertile eggs but do not mate. The infertile eggs become male honey bees. The eggs of the queen are laid in oval-shaped structural cells that usually stick to the nest ceiling. Royal jelly is then filled with these cells to prevent larvae from falling.[25] Soon-to-be workers are fed royal jelly during the first two days. The future queens are given royal jelly throughout the entire larval period. Each member colony development depends on caste. For proper growth from eggs to adult, the male honey bees need 24 days, 21 for workers and only 16 for the queens.

See also

Specific terms from various cultures


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  2. 1 2 Average man takes 3 years to propose Metrosexual, Sunday, February 17, 2008
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