Magazine article The American Enterprise

Fanning Real Desire

Magazine article The American Enterprise

Fanning Real Desire

Article excerpt

The following remarks are excerpted from a recent American Enterprise Institute discussion of Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, a new anthology of "readings on courting and marrying" by authors ranging from Homer to Tolstoy to Miss Manners. Christina Hoff Sommers of AEI moderated.

CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS: This book is a response to the antiromantic roar against courtship, marriage, and family life in contemporary American society. Our speakers are the book's editors, Amy and Leon Kass, professors at the University of Chicago; Judith Martin, author most recently of Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic Tranquility; David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values; and Amy Holmes, a policy analyst at the Independent Women's Forum.

AMY KASS: The time has come to offer real help to the romantically perplexed, to pursue a revival of courtship--romance that seeks and leads to marriage. Lest you think us quixotic, here are our reasons. First, we recognize marriage's unique opportunity for erotic fulfillment, deep friendship, lifelong intimacy, and personal growth, as well as its indispensable contributions to children's well-being.

Second, we believe good marriages depend on good choices, choices likely to be better if they are prepared by a pattern of romance that, from the start, aspires to marriage as its lasting home. Third, despite numerous obstacles to the revival of courtship, including discouraging evidence about the state of romance, we think the time is ripe for a sexual counterrevolution.

More and more people, especially young women, are admitting their personal unhappiness with, and looking for alternatives to, the "hook-up" culture.

For all the talk about family values and the breakup of marriages, little attention is paid to what makes for marital success. The courting customs for entering into marriage have disappeared, with no new cultural forms to replace them, and so the path to the altar has become uncharted territory.

In earlier days, courtship took erotic love of man and woman as its starting point, but mindful of both the perils and promise of sexual desire and erotic aspiration, it sought to discipline love. When courtship worked well, it provided ample opportunity to discover how good a match this was likely to be. It provided practice in being married--a very different kind of practice from that provided by premarital cohabitation, which is characterized by high personal autonomy and low personal commitment, preparing one only for transient and conditional attachment, not lasting marriage.

Numerous circumstances now hinder a revival of romance: Casual and loveless sex, preoccupations with careers, diminished regard for marriage, fear of intimacy and the vulnerabilities of giving your heart, lack of trust in anyone but yourself, the deeply discouraging examples of divorced parents, and the cynical, academic theories that see all human relations in terms of money and power and that redefine sex as a "cultural construction" aimed at control.

In the college class on courtship we currently teach, we've heard many dismaying opinions:

* "The thought of living with the same person for 50 years is simply incredible."

* "We are not supposed to get married until we are 28; so we know from the beginning of all of our sexual relationships that they are supposed to be impermanent."

* "Though we're living together, we know we will split when we graduate, but we'll say, `thanks for the experience.'"

* "Casual sex with lots of men gets the sex thing out of the way so that it is now possible for women as never before to get to know men as friends."

Listening to such talk among current students, and having watched our former students over 25 years, well beyond their college days, fumble along from one unsatisfactory relationship to the next, becoming jaded and embittered, we might be expected simply to toss in the towel. …

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