Alex Williams writes yet another piece in today’s NYTimes on the end of courtship. Mark Mitchell has posted  about this in the past, and I certainly cannot improve on Mark’s observations. I do have three children between the ages of 18 and 24 (two girls, one boy) and worry what all this portends for them, not least because marriage is a difficult enough task without all the extra baggage the millennials will be bringing into it.

TV shows such as the popular How I Met Your Mother portray the single life as an endless series of largely forgettable sexual conquests wherein you sample as much of the fare as you can until you stumble upon “the one.” The meaninglessness of dating life is supposed to be compensated for by this highly romanticized and – let’s face it – fictitious idea that our “soul-mate” is out there and will be immediately recognizable. The fact that the conceit of the show is that it is a story a father tells his children makes it doubly creepy. It does get at something, however, and that is that baby boomers have no idea how to structure the sexual lives of their children, and the results are now making themselves apparent in a world where young men and women don’t even know how to approach one another, much less figure out a way to develop a relationship.

It has pervaded the culture deeply. Even the children emerging out of stable and affectionate marital relationships seem ill-equipped to figure out how to replicate that for themselves. As Jason Peters is fond of saying: this will not end well.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Previous articleThe March for Life, Poetry, and ‘Epimethean Men’
Next articleBeyond Supply and Demand
Jeffrey Polet
Jeffrey Polet grew up in an immigrant household in the immigrant town of Holland MI. After twenty years of academic wandering he returned to Holland and now teaches political science at Hope College, where he also grudgingly serves as chair of the department, having unsuccessfully evaded all requests. In the interim, he continues to nurture quirky beliefs: Division III basketball is both athletically and morally superior to Division I; the Hope/Calvin rivalry is the greatest in sports; the lecture is still the best form of classroom instruction; never buy a car with less than 100,000 miles on it; putts will still lip out in heaven; bears are the incarnation of evil; Athens actually has something to do with Jerusalem; and Tombstone is a cinematic classic. His academic work has mirrored his peripatetic career. Originally trained at the Catholic University of America in German philosophy and hermeneutical theory, he has since gravitated to American Political Thought. He still occasionally writes about European thinkers such as Michel Foucault or the great Max Weber, but mostly is interested in the relationship between theological reflection and political formation in the American context. In the process of working on a book on John Marshall for The Johns Hopkins University Press, he became more sensitive to the ways in which centralized decision-making undid local communities and autonomy. He has also written on figures such as William James and the unjustly neglected Swedish novelist Paer Lagerkvist. A knee injury and arthritis eliminated daily basketball playing, and he now spends his excess energy annoying his saintly wife and their three children, two of whom are off to college. Expressions of sympathy for the one who remains can be posted in the comments section. He doesn’t care too much for movies, but thinks opera is indeed the Gesamtkuntswerk, that the music of Gustav Mahler is as close as human beings get to expressing the ineffable, that God listens to Mozart in his spare time, and that Bach is history’s greatest genius.


  1. Lasch has some interesting things to say about courtship/dating in Haven in a Heartless World, particularly how the displacement of courtship by dating sets the stage for marital problems later on. The emotional deformities and sexual antagonism of dating/hooking up doesn’t simply go away when a person finds “the one.”

    The dating system seems to contain many of the same problems found in youth culture more broadly. The formative experiences of seeking excitement and fun in high school and college do little to prepare a young person for adulthood.

  2. Can someone tell me what “courtship” is? I ask because I honestly don’t know. Does it refer to a specific set of practices, to the way you approach someone and develop a relationship with them? Or does it refer to the development itself — to having the guts to want and ask for and work for a meaningful, trusting, romantic relationship?

    To me, as a “millennial,” the idea of being taken out to a fancy restaurant by a guy on a first date is horrifying. But the idea of casually hooking up with a guy for four months is horrifying too. (I’ve never tried either, to be fair. I would say “maybe I should,” but that veers too close to the all-too-common philosophy that you can’t be happy with one thing until you’ve tried them all.)

  3. I hope I’m not the only person who thinks that the creepiest phrase in this entire post is “that baby boomers have no idea how to structure the sexual lives of their children.” Why in the world would any parent want to “structure” their children’s sex lives? I provide my sons with information and instructions about sex, including my preference that they avoid sex until they are married or at least 21, but I will not “structure” anything beyond that. They will have sex when they are adults in a responsible and thoughtful manner and leave me ENTIRELY out of the matter. I will not select or approve their loves; I will advise them to run as fast as possible in the other direction from any woman who wants her parents involved in their relationship. I expect that my children and I are fond enough of each other that they will not become involved with a woman whom I dislike or who dislikes me. Beyond that, their love lives are their own.

  4. What you have to realize is that the media is intent on seeding every woodpile they can create with several snakes and then reporting on a dangerous increase in snakes along with a deterioration of wood-stacking trends.

    Every parent should just do what they normally do and despite the vicarious agora of cheap amusements, your kiddies will turn out alright. The kid I used to come to blows with most is now my closest confidant in a family business. Distrust of this depauperate culture is passed on, readily.

    But then, I never made them bundle up in blankets in a supervised overnight although I did prohibit the participation in a particularly idiotic rage for coed slumber parties that came through here several years back. You’d have to be a complete moron to place 13 year olds in a setting without supervision but then, we seem to be existing within a moron-rich age.

  5. Karen,

    Have you considered that what Mr. Polet means by “sexual lives of children” concerns the perceptions, relationships, and activities that children have toward and with members of the opposite sex? I think he means the when, where, and in what manner boys and girls interact with each other–not literal sexual intercourse.

    It seems that a prerequisite to this comment section, however, is a deliberate literal mindedness.

    • Indeed, I think he meant a general control, not a statement about specific control within the nuclear society. In all functioning societies human sexuality is controlled, and generally that control passes to those who possess seniority.

  6. I don’t think it is appropriate for parents to exercise any control over their adult children’s love lives at all, in any form. After my sons are 18, the only hold I’ve got on them is in the form of cash. I won’t, for example, pay for them to live with a woman with whom they are having “relations” without marriage, but beyond that, it is absolutely none of my business.

  7. The cultural environment will do considerable shaping in the absence of parental engagement, and its bias tends toward polymorphous perversity. I was once a middle school principal, and when I brought up with the staff some questions about a scheduled dance and standards that might be taught or reinforced in the way the dance was structured, I was informed by an adamant staff member that “we don’t have any right to teach the kids our values.” It was a faddish sentiment, widespread at the time.

  8. “I don’t think it is appropriate for parents to exercise any control over their adult children’s love lives at all, in any form.”
    That is what has caused increases in many social problems.

  9. Courtship which, whatever its form, is a prelude to marriage. Marriage is not a matter for individuals but for families. It is about the continuation of the traditions, customs and habits of two families; the security of the wealth of two families; and the continuation of the blood line of two families; therefore, families have a vested interest in “courtship,” whatever form it might take because it directly impacts the deep and abiding interest of the family.

    Modern abstract notions of the individual, of legal majority, and of sexual whim do not in the least negate this fundamental aspect of the created order.

  10. “I won’t, for example, pay for them to live with a woman with whom they are having “relations” without marriage, but beyond that, it is absolutely none of my business.”

    So you have no interest in what sort of mother your grandchildren will have?

  11. pb, by the time they are interested in getting married, my sons will have experienced more than 20 years of my opinions and actions about what constitutes good behavior and character. If that isn’t enough to ensure they’ll select decent partners, then nothing would be.

Comments are closed.