The Sociology of Love, Courtship, and Dating

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Bryant-45099

Part VII.qxd

10/18/2006

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Page 266

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THE SOCIOLOGY OF LOVE, COURTSHIP, AND DATING
ERICA OWENS
West Virginia University

T

he question of “What is love?” has piqued curiosity and engendered frustration for much of history. The exasperated answer that you “just know” when you are in love is reflected in the body of sociological literature on the phenomenon. Sociologists do not seem to agree on a uniform definition, although there are several competing but complementary typologies that attempt to pin down those emotional and behavioral states that add up to romantic “love.” Love scholarship can be roughly divided into two philosophical camps: (1) that which argues love must have certain components to be genuine, for instance, to differentiate it from mere liking or lust, and (2) that which suggests that love is a publicly informed but privately experienced state that is whatever the person “in love” believes it to be. Research on romantic love attachments often addresses the behaviors used in dating or, more infrequently, courtship; however, not all research on dating and courtship specifically addresses love. In this chapter, I will treat the three topics as separate. This is a conceit; clarity may be improved by separating the threads of romantic entanglement, but in research, as in life, the division is nowhere near as neatly accomplished. It should also be mentioned here that the experience of love as understood in modern Western society has not been shared by all cultures in all times. In ancient Greece, true love between equals was seen as possible only between two men; although men married for purposes of procreation, a close emotional bond with a woman was seen as undesirable (Hendrick and Hendrick 1992). Romantic love 266

as featured in novels and film began in the twelfth century. At this time, love came to be understood as an intense and passionate relationship that made the lover somehow a better person and was thus a worthy pursuit, albeit one with elaborate rules and rituals that required time and resources (Singer 1984). The ability to participate was associated with aristocrats or members of the “court,” and it is this circumstance that gives us the term courtship. Still, the expectation that one would love one’s spouse was many years in coming. According to Stone (1980), changes in economic production and labor markets, together with public health measures, helped to encourage young persons to marry for love. Families had less sway over the choices of young people as production moved away from the family and into the factory, and as life expectancy increased, so did the emotional investment a spouse was willing to make in his or her partner. In some cultures where partners are still chosen by a young person’s family, love is still not seen as a requisite for marriage. In this view, romantic love is a poor basis for forming a lasting union—and this normative stance is evident in research on spousal choice and sentiment. In one study (Levine et al. 1995), researchers asked participants in 10 countries whether they would marry a person who had the traits that they hoped for in a spouse, but whom they did not love. In the United States, fewer than 5 percent of people said that they would make such a match, while in nations such as Pakistan and Japan, young people were much more likely to consider such a union (50.4 and 35.7 percent, respectively). In nations where familism takes

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precedence over individual goals and desires, love and marriage are not always experienced together. Should love develop between the two, so much the better—but if not, the marriage is based on a solidly practical foundation designed to maintain familial and community stability.

WHAT IS AND IS (PERHAPS) NOT LOVE
With such an elusive topic, it is perhaps not...
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