Thomas Umstattd Jr. recently made a splash with his article “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” To be perfectly honest, I thought a number of his points were very good, like frosted flakes in the bowl glinting in the morning light of your quiet breakfast nook. But I also thought, retaining the honesty theme here, that a number of his other points were like mushrooms that somebody stuck in there.
His good points were the kind of points that would be made by sane people anywhere, whatever steps in the mating dance they might want to use. I am a courtship advocate, and yet have often said that the courtship model too frequently means that six idiots are involved instead of two. So my purpose here is not to defend indefensible things, like courtships from Hell, or power-tripping fathers.
Nor do I want to be dismissive of some of his other good points — such as courtship ramping up an unnecessary intensity for some folks. Sometimes courtship is treated like a done deal, like a fait accompli. Billy is courting Suzy, let us say, and people bustle up to Billy at say, “Congratulations!” That is like being congratulated that you applied to Harvard, and you haven’t even taken the GREs yet.
Whenever you have a lot of human beings doing something, a good number of them are going to do it with less wisdom than others. The bell curve follows large populations inexorably. So nothing said here should be taken as a dismissal of Umstattd’s right to point out the problem cases. I myself have seen more than a few.
But as someone who helped to put the courtship paradigm on the map, I do think I have a responsibility to respond to some of the mushrooms. The mushrooms in this instance would be those areas where he solves problems that are not necessarily problems, or where he fails to account for other obvious possible explanations for the problems he sees.
An example of the first would be his discussion of divorce, and the problem presented by those who thought that courtship was divorce insurance. Why are so many couples who courted now getting divorced? His whole article is directed at solving this problem (along with the problem of people who haven’t been able to get married at all), but he acknowledges that we don’t really know if the divorce rate is a problem.
“Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce. The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later. The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.”
His reasons for writing include this high divorce rate, but his evidence for this is anecdotal, which he acknowledges. But he still assumes — in one of his headers — that the courtship divorce rate is in fact high. “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High.”
He calls for research on the courtship divorce rate, knowing that we don’t really have hard numbers to go on. But if this is the case, then why are we calling for solutions?