What Does Courtship Mean

Women's Dating

What Does Courtship Mean?

Karen Belz

Written by: Karen Belz

Karen Belz

Over the last 10 years, Karen Belz has written for dating and lifestyle sites such as Zoosk, Bolde, and Elite Singles. She started her career as a professional writer by helping launch HelloGiggles in 2011. Karen graduated from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Broadcasting with a minor in Print Media Studies. She is now happily married and believes that healthy communication is the key to all successful relationships. You can follow her on Threads @karenbelz.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema loves using her writing skills to tell stories that matter. Her time as an English student at Emory University molded her into a detailed writer with a knack for the relatable. She has previously worked as lead campaign writer for an animal advocacy group and now brings her passion for engaging and actionable content to DatingAdvice.com.

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Dating has gone through some changes over the last few decades. Nowadays, it’s not a requirement for men to pay for dinner dates, individuals usually meet each other at a set location instead of being picked up, and if a relationship blooms, it’s pretty common for a couple to live together before tying the knot — if they choose to tie the knot at all. 

But while “courtship” may have faded out of your vocabulary, it’s still an important part of dating. 

Courtship occurs when someone develops romantic feelings and intends to progress into a relationship. It is the stage before officially dating (or going steady). The term came into play in the 16th century

Back then, it was used to express “paying court to a woman” with the intention of a lifelong marriage. Humans aren’t the only living creatures with courtship rituals — animals have them, too.

While its roots are ancient, and some standard practices may feel outdated, the concept of courtship is still rooted deep within us — and it’s important to brush up on the topic if you’re looking to settle down.

Key Elements of Courtship | Dating Stages | Modern Challenges

Key Elements of Courtship

The term’s definition has changed a lot, but the key elements of courtship look similar in many ways. Modern courtship is still focused on a respectful, well-intentioned, and measured dating experience.

1. Expressing Intentions

Even if you and your partner seem to always be on the same wavelength, no one is a mind reader. That’s why you need to be clear about your intentions. Try not to move too fast — if you just met, take it slow. 

A new person may feel intimidated if you propose a steady relationship right off the bat. Instead, wait until the two of you feel more comfortable with each other. 

courtship and intentions

If you can, tell your crush your feelings privately and face-to-face. While texting may be tempting, it’s not as effective. Reading someone’s reaction through words alone can be difficult. At the start of your relationship, your potential partner needs to hear your tone and speech patterns. You can avoid misunderstandings by talking in person.

Once your courtship begins, it’s best to avoid big, public displays of affection. PDAs can add unnecessary pressure to these early stages of your partnership. Your intentions may be romantic, but they can often make people uncomfortable, possibly tarnishing the start of a promising relationship.

2. Building Trust

Once you know your partner returns your romantic interest, you need to prove that you’re trustworthy and have their best intentions at heart. If you’re a known flirt, reel it in and focus only on the partner you’re courting. Otherwise, they won’t take your intentions seriously and may doubt your actions moving forward. 

Keep your word, communicate promptly, and really listen when they’re telling you about how they’re feeling. These actions will show you care. The phrase “actions speak louder than words” is true — don’t just tell them how you feel — prove you care by putting in the emotional work. 

3. Maintaining Mutual Respect

The best relationships honor boundaries and show respect for each other’s perspectives. If you’re hoping to build a strong and healthy relationship, it’s important to make sure their voice is heard. Whether it’s a small question about dinner or concerns regarding the physical relationship, keep your ears open. 

Even if you disagree, you should talk it out without immediately taking your differences as a personal attack. Respect is the foundation of all healthy relationships, and the two of you need to work as a team if you’re hoping to make your relationship last.

4. Deepening Emotional Connection

An essential part of courtship is getting out of the house and experiencing life together. Whether it’s a neighborhood art show or a movie you’ve been waiting to see, these small ventures can help build your emotional connection. 

dates help couples grow closer

Shared memories are a great way to build a positive foundation for a relationship while getting to know someone. By exploring the world together and trying new things, you’re building memories that will be cherished for years to come. 

Even not-so-great dates can build your emotional connection, especially if things go awry based on unusual circumstances. Maybe you’re weathering the storm together at the airport or stuck in a traffic jam on the way to an adventure. 

These minor inconveniences will show the other person how you manage stressful situations, which is important to know if you’re going to build a life together someday. 

Shared experiences lay the groundwork for greater empathy and understanding. Spending time with someone will help you learn their backstory and better understand their perspective.

Dating Stages

Now that you know the key elements of courtship, here are the typical dating stages for couples in traditional relationships. 

1. Initial Attraction

Attraction is how you initially identify who you want to date and start the courting process. While physical attraction is the easiest to spot, you can also be attracted to someone’s personality. 

initial attraction

Physical attraction can often grow as two people get to know one another, so don’t disregard a potential match if you’re not immediately attracted at first sight. That attraction may come gradually as you get to know them on a deeper level. 

2. Development of Relationship

Courtship isn’t just the honeymoon period — it’s also the period where you tackle challenges, learn to communicate better, and see if you’re capable of working compatibly as a team when times get tough. 

Fights and disagreements can be significant stressors to your relationship, but they’re actually a healthy part of relationship development. 

According to the Kansas City Relationship Institute, “Because conflict is built into all human relationships, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is going wrong or that arguing with your partner is bad — conflict is actually a vehicle that can drive our relationships to deeper levels of understanding and connection.” 

By talking things out, you discover your partner’s dealbreakers, limits, and quirks — and learn how to compromise and grow. 

3. Commitment and Long-Term Bonds

Committing to another person doesn’t necessarily mean marriage. As you get to know your partner, you’ll learn whether they view “happily ever after” as making the bond legally official or if a long-term partnership is enough to make them feel fulfilled. 

traditional dating

While all relationships look a little different, most committed relationships are monogamous, meaning that two people have an agreement to close any other romantic or physical relationships. 

Polyamorous relationships involve consent to date other people or have different arrangements. Whatever you agree to with your partner, you need to stick to that, otherwise you’ll undermine the trust in the relationship.

Modern Challenges

While courtship as a concept has been around since the days of yore, it’s changed a lot with the times. For example, back in the 16th century, people didn’t have to worry about the etiquette of texting or changing relationship statuses on social media. As technology advances human connectivity, the ways of courtship must evolve.

Impact of Technology

One of the biggest challenges for daters today is navigating social media as part of their courtship. When do you post photos together? How do you go about changing your relationship status? Is it OK to slide into someone’s DMs?

Now more than ever, it’s easy to find partners — and lose partners — due to the digital networks we build online. 

technology has changed courtship

Social media has created new dating possibilities with the simple addition of a relationship status to the profile page. That means no more wondering if a potential match is single. 

Flirting with people online isn’t very intimidating — even if you can’t find the words, you can use emojis to get your point across. 

It’s usually easier to text rather than endure a face-to-face conversation about romantic feelings. That means that it’s easier than ever to have that first chat without worrying (as much) about rejection. 

That said, social media and dating apps can give the impression that there’s always someone hotter out there. You have to know when to stop swiping and browsing. 

Many sites announce when you were last active, so inquisitive daters may not know where they stand if they come home from a promising second date only to see you’ve since logged into the dating site where you initially met. 

Changing Gender Roles

It can be difficult to define the gender roles in a modern relationship, especially in a same-sex relationship. Back in the day, women were expected to stay at home and handle child rearing, while men were expected to bring in a paycheck large enough to support the entire family. Suffice it to say, traditional gender roles are outdated. 

couples moving away from gender roles

Due to the economy, plenty of couples can’t afford to live on one paycheck alone. However, gender roles can still be a big help in identifying relationship expectations. Discussing these roles can be a good way to get the conversation about personal responsibilities rolling. 

You should always be honest with your partner and identify your roles early on. That way, you can split chores fairly and know what to expect going forward. After all, a healthy relationship requires an equal amount of physical and mental labor on both sides. 

A Romantic Pursuit From a Simpler Time

While courtship has changed drastically throughout the past few decades, it’s still an undeniable part of our dating lives. Standards and expectations have evolved over time (mostly for the better), but the heart of the experience of asking another person out remains the same.

courtship and teammates

These days, it’s not just up to women to express feelings and chase romance — everyone should be responsible for managing feelings, communicating openly, and keeping the spark alive.

In the process of pairing up, view your partner as your teammate, not your opponent. You’re seeking someone you can openly communicate with, especially when times get tough. While initial physical attraction is important, building a deep emotional connection over time is so much better.