Interesting Research

Why Our Distant Relatives Reduced Romance In Their Non-Dating Cultures. Pt.2

Interesting Research

In Part 2 we will continue to look at how our ancestors and distance relatives used to find people to commit to and marry. Courtship was an important time in the rise of romance because, for the first time, society accepted that romantic feelings before walking down the aisle were important.  

In Part 1 we looked at how arranged marriage cultures used to work. This post takes a look at the courtship culture. As we read about this, it can help us reflect on our own culture of dating and romance. 

(The following extract is taken from page 42-45 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)

Let Courtship Commence

A new trend called ‘courtly love’ (amour courtois) emerged in the eleventh century in the area around Provence and Burgundy (in modern-day France). Men of noble birth were taught that they needed success in romance in order to be ‘real men’. 

So men, being men, turned this into a competition by showing off their flamboyant fighting and dancing skills for the benefit of the ladies – lucky you (not!). These were the original trophy wives, women who knew that, if they wanted to bag the best man, they needed to be rich, gorgeous and out of their suitor’s league. 

Idealised Love

You might think this is wildly romantic or complete lunacy, but this wasn’t real love. It was idealised love: fantasy, rather than reality. 

Wealthy, beautiful women were the object of romantic attention, but this didn’t automatically translate into happy relationships. Having men fight over you might sound like heaven, but the ability to hit people and show off isn’t a good indicator of a great husband. 

Having women sit demurely on a pedestal, focusing on their looks and hiding their faults, isn’t a good indicator for a great wife either. Since most marriages were still arranged, it was a recipe for disaster. (Read Why Believing In ‘The One’ Is Very Overrated)

This trend did begin to place the notion of romance into the pre-marriage

However, this trend did begin to place the notion of romance into the pre-marriage rather than post-marriage category. The whiff of romance was in the air, and things slowly began to change in parts of European culture. 

In Britain, many poets, including Shakespeare, wrote about romantic love during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The world of art and literature helped to spark a new trend that would become firmly established in the eighteenth century and would snowball until the beginning of the twentieth. This trend was known as ‘courtship’.

Courtship was revolutionary.

Romance Is On The Rise 

Imagine being stuck in a world where there is no guarantee of being able to talk to someone you fancied, and then all of a sudden you’re let loose! 

Well, maybe not completely. But for the first time ever, Western society began to accept that having feelings for someone before you married them mattered, a bit. 

For example, a beautiful girl could catch a man’s eye in public, and he was allowed to pursue her (if there was some money in the bank, and she had a reputation for being a nice girl!). Once he had permission from both families, he could pull out all the stops. You know, take her for walks and write ludicrous love letters.

By the end of the eighteenth century, it was normal to think it was best if you actually liked the person you had to marry (and there’s us thinking that was obvious). 

The importance of romance was on the rise. Some rich families even ended lucrative marriage arrangements because their children failed to create an emotional bond during courtship. Women in Britain could even veto partners selected by their parents.

Novels like those of Jane Austen, who published her first book in 1811, exalted marriage for love. Ironically, the very poor, who had little to gain economically in marriage, had more freedom to focus on romantic feelings. If you’ve got to spend the rest of your life in a hovel with someone, you might as well make sure it’s someone you like!

More Freedom 

We think courtship began to evolve in the seventeenth century, and this practice lasted right up until the beginning of the twentieth century. 

It would have looked different at different times, in different classes and cultures, but essentially the Western world began to accept that having romantic feelings for the person you were about to marry was important.

At the heart of courtship was the belief that romance should be explored before marriage

The Victorian era (1837–1901), with its boom in wealth from the Industrial Revolution, really solidified this change in Britain. 

With increased wealth came increased leisure time. And if you were from the richer classes, what better thing to pursue with all this new time and wealth than romance? Courting couples could ‘go out’ together and buy each other gifts, even if they did have to put up with some ageing aunt to chaperone them. And we thought bumping into your Bible study group leader while on a first date was awkward!

At the heart of courtship was the belief that romance should be explored before marriage, and pre-marriage feelings became more and more important.

Still Not Like Dating 

You may think that this sounds like dating. Sometimes people think that courtship is just another word for dating, but it isn’t. 

Though courtship was the forerunner of today’s dating culture, it was still very restrictive. For starters, courtship wasn’t casual, because it signalled publicly the couple’s intent to marry one day. They may have been able to get to know each other before marriage, but society saw this as a serious move towards marriage. 

Cultural standards meant that you certainly didn’t ‘court’ lots of people on your path to finding true love.

Money and status still played a huge part. If their family didn’t like you, you weren’t going to get a look in. Although interest in romance was rising, society still thought marrying for nothing but romance was crazy and would lead to marital unhappiness. 

The emphasis placed on feelings was still restricted

Popular literature at the time may have presented marriage as a bed of roses for a couple who were madly in love, but society as a whole never accepted it as the sole justification for marriage. 

Courting couples had more freedom and some space to enjoy premarital romance, but parents, money and families still had a greater say, and the emphasis placed on feelings was still restricted. (Read 2 Strategies for Surviving The Changing World Of Dating)

  • How would you feel if people expected you to marry anyone you tried to chat up?
  • How would you feel about being allowed to seek romance with someone, but only if your family approved of them and their bank balance from the start?
  • Why would you feel this way?

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Imagine If we remembered that our focus on romance is still quite new, and other people didn’t always place such importance on it. This can help us as we try to balance romance, enjoyment, commitment, hard work, and all the things needed to make a relationship work. (Read Why You Should Remember That ‘Romance’ On Its Own is Rubbish)

What do you think are the good/bad bits of courtship? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 11/3/2019

Why Our Distant Relatives Reduced Romance In Their Non-Dating Cultures. Pt.1

Interesting Research

It is easy to think that the way we find love today is the same way everybody has always done it throughout history. But dating is a cultural practice and phenomenon that’s only about 100 years old! Romance wasn’t always as important to society as it is now.

Whenever I deliver teaching on dating, romance, and faith, I always make it clear that dating didn’t always exist. In fact, it has only existed for about 100 years. 


That is often the word I hear in reply. Or the expression written on people’s faces. Because many think: Surely everyone dated? Everyone looked for love like this? Everyone searched for romance? It’s natural right? It’s obvious? Well actually, it isn’t. 

Our ancestors and distant relatives from the past didn’t date or place such an emphasis on romance. It was very different back then. It’s worth reflecting on this, to help us consider the strengths and weaknesses of our own approach nowadays. 

(The following extract is taken from page 40-42 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction here for free.)

The Rise Of Romance

If we look back through human history, it’s fair to say that having romantic relationships before you got married was pretty unusual. 

Although the search for romance occurs at different times throughout history, most cultures have practised arranged marriages, meaning that your parents got to choose who you would spend the rest of your life with. It’s really only the modern Western world that has strongly rejected arranged marriage and created a dating culture. 

The obsession with romance in our pre-married relationships is a modern phenomenon

Arranged marriages still occur in many societies today, even though parents involvement varies from culture to culture. In fact, 55% of marriages in the world are thought to be arranged, meaning that less than half of us are free to choose our own marriage partners. 

But in the West, it goes without saying that marrying for love is the ideal, and the obsession with romance in our pre-married relationships is a modern phenomenon.

Ye Olde Matrimony

If we wind the clock back by a thousand years, we can see that throughout the Middle Ages in Europe (around AD 500–1500 or so) marrying your children into wealth and status was often vital for survival (no money meant no life – there were no state benefits). 

In most cases, the choice of who you married came down to these two things, so looking for romance wasn’t a concern for the majority.

Marriage was a serious family business

It’s not that being in love didn’t exist in these cultures. It did, of course. But you didn’t expect to fall in love, get romantically swept off your feet, and then walk down the aisle. Affectionate feelings (if they came at all) grew after marriage, not before.

Marriage was a serious family business, a chance to climb the social ladder and gain financial security. As children, you would have been expected to play your part. Whether your family was stinking rich or dirt poor, everyone knew that a chance to increase wealth and develop family connections mattered:

If your sister is not yet married, I trust to God that I know how she may be married to a gentleman with an income of 300 marks a year, a great man by birth and good family. If you think you can negotiate anything in this connection please send me word by the bringer of this letter.
(Edward Lord Gray, in a letter to John Paston, 1454)

Totally Different 

There would have been some exceptions, of course. We can see that Pope Gratian wrote, ‘No woman should be married to anyone except by her free will.’ 

So, in theory, some people may have had a say in the spouse selected for them, but that would have been rare. Money and survival were too important for most people. The idea of marrying the love of your life would have been as alien as us buying a computer that doesn’t connect to the internet.

  • How would you feel if you were told that romance didn’t matter?
  • What would you say if you could not make love the main focus in choosing your next date or spouse?
  • Why?

This can help us critique and reflect on our own dating culture

No Dates, No Dating 

Ancient culture just didn’t nurture the belief that romance should guide who we end up marrying. So dating didn’t happen. 

After all, why would you need to date if marriage wasn’t based on your choice and opinion anyway? People didn’t need to get to know their future spouse or search for someone special, so they just didn’t need to date. 

Romance had to take a back seat, but there was about to be a big shake-up! (Read Does Christian Dating Go Against God’s Views On Relationships?)

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Part 2 looks at the next stage in the rise of romance, and look specifically at the culture of courtship.  

For now, imagine if we took the time to reflect on how people used to find their partners. I’m not saying we need to turn back time and do it as they did, but this can help us critique and reflect on our own dating culture, which is often seen as ‘natural’ and the way ‘it always has to be’, which can stop us reflecting on how to do it better. (Read Can We Really Trust What Our Culture Says About Relationships?)

What do you think is good/bad about this culture? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 4/3/2019

The Best Advice For Getting Over A Break-Up

Break- Ups, Interesting Research

Break-ups are part of dating sometimes, but they are not easy and they’re not fun. Logically, we may be able to gain some perspective, reason it all through and tell ourselves it’s okay. Yet this isn’t stopping the emotional roller coaster or pain we’re experiencing. However, the latest research from psychologists offers us three bits of advice to help us deal with the heartache of a break-up. 

I remember talking to a friend who had just broken up with his girlfriend. He was understandably upset, and while it wasn’t a total surprise, he had hoped it would turn out differently. 

If you asked him about it at the time, he could tell you all the reasons why it was probably best for both of them. Why it wasn’t going to work out long-term, while giving all the good reasons why they had separated. But he would also have these emotional outbursts and want to get back with her.

Emotional Bond

I thought, and still think, that this is totally understandable. A relationship isn’t only about reason or logic, it involves our emotions too. 

Breaking an emotional bond is hard in any situation. Some break-ups are mutual, some aren’t. Some may be coming for a while, but others are a complete surprise. The common denominator though is that all of them leave some emotional pain and heartache.

The emotional bond is probably going to be harder to deal with

So whether we can or can’t reason with ourselves that it’s for the best, we need to understand that the emotional bond is probably going to be harder to deal with. This needs to be addressed if we want to get over it.  

New Research Offers 3 Tips  

Saying to someone there is plenty more fish in the sea, or saying that it could be worse, may be logical and help to an extent, but it doesn’t help people get off the emotional roller coaster. However, new research from psychologists may be able to help us.  

The research suggests 3 main strategies to get over heartbreak. 

  1. Think Negatively About Your Ex
  2. Accept Your Lingering Feeling Towards Them 
  3. Distract Yourself

Think Negatively About Your Ex

This strategy involves us critically examining our ex and remembering that they’re not perfect. 

This will help because it reminds us that it’s unhealthy to just remember the good bits, which can cause us to fall into the trap of thinking that no one else will ever make us happy again. This will also cause us to be stuck in the past, rather than putting our energy into moving forward. 

Taken too far, this can become really negative and make you feel worse. I had a friend who would endlessly list and exaggerate all the things that she (now) thought was wrong about her ex. But it made her really bitter and she processed her emotions in the wrong way. (Read The Worst Advice You Can Hear About Rejection)

Thinking negatively can help us gain the right perspective if it’s balanced with the other 2 strategies. 

Accept Your Lingering Feelings Towards Them 

This involves accepting that the emotional bond is still there.

We can’t ignore it

We can’t ignore it, pretend the feelings don’t exist or try to cover them up with another dose of anger. We’re allowed to say and accept that breaking the emotional bond is hard.

It will also help us to dig down into why we like them. Was it because of their sense of humour or the way they treated you, etc. These characteristics can help us to look for the right things in the next partner when the time is right.

Being able to realise what was good and reminding ourselves that they will not be the only person who has a sense of humour or who will treat us well, will help us to focus on moving forward. 

Distract Yourself

This strategy is as simple as it sounds. It’s about putting things in the diary, keeping ourselves busy, and meeting up with friends. 

The research suggests that this will not necessarily help reduce the feelings we have for our ex, because we all know just ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. However, it can make us feel more positive and optimistic because we won’t just sit there and think about the break-up.  

New research seems to offer us some real tangible and practical advice

Doing things we love to do or used to do, but haven’t in a while because of the past relationship, will also help create a more positive and forward-looking mindset too (Read Revealed: Why Some Break-Ups Feel Good (After A While))  

Imagine If…

All three strategies can help people overcome the pain of breaking an emotional bond. While there is no magic formula, and everyone is different with unique situations, new research seems to offer us some real tangible and practical advice. 

Imagine if you made sure you did indeed: Think Negatively About Your Ex, Accept Your Lingering Feeling Towards Them, and Distract Yourself, and enabled others to do the same, we could find real help in times of need. (Read Break-Ups, Anger, and Frustration, What Should I Change?)

What other advice have you given to people in this situation? Comments welcomed below.  

Originally posted 19/11/2018 

2 Proven Traits That Make A Relationship Last

Interesting Research, Marriage

I came across some very interesting research the other week. It was about one of these theories that says it can tell how likely a couple is to stay together/get divorced based on two key factors. I think these things are never fool-proof, but they can offer so much insight into what makes a healthy relationship and something we can all learn from. 

I was listening to this very short podcast episode from Relationship Matters (Ep. 70) a while ago, and the presenter and co. were discussing a piece of research that looks at creating healthy and happy long-term marriages, and what were strong predictors of relationship success. 

One phrase they used to describe marriage was ‘it’s a training ground’, which I really liked. 

It stresses that traits need to/can be learnt and improved. It’s not like some people have them and the rest are destined to have bad relationships forever. Or that some ‘lucky’ people are able to demonstrate them all the time. 

We all need to work on getting/keeping these traits, and they can help build the stable and enjoyable relationships we crave.  

#1 Forgiveness

The first trait they spoke about was forgiveness. Married couples that forgave/learned to forgive each other were the ones that were much more likely to stay together long-term. 

This may be unsurprising as it’s something that is spoken about or hinted at a lot. But what does it actually mean?

For example, I know I need to forgive friends when they let me down, but I can find myself holding grudges or talking negatively to others about them. Sometimes it’s because, without ignoring the fact I have been really hurt, I’m not really trying to forgive. 

Forgiveness allows us to get back in sync with each other

I find forgiveness isn’t a one-off event but actually a frequent and often daily thing in my marriage. Whether my wife needs to forgive me for something ‘small’, like when I leave the dirty dishes on top of the dishwasher instead of putting them inside it, again! 

Or big things that lead to arguments, like when family traditions clash and cause problems and one of us begins to act unreasonably. 

When we choose to forgive, we’re choosing to not let negative events/problems define our relationship. Forgiveness may be a process and may take time and is often hard, but forgiveness allows us to get back in sync with each other. 

We need to actively choose to foster the trait of forgiveness, and not allow mistakes and bad choices to define the relationship. 

I think communicating about everything, big or small, acknowledging when we have hurt each other, and actually saying the word ‘sorry’, are vital. Otherwise, the grudges, anger and negative emotion will cause a barrier over time, that will make it harder to foster connection.  

#2 Self-Control 

The second trait of self-control was one that may seem obvious to some of us, but it wasn’t one I would have thought of before hearing about the research. However, when you break it down it makes a lot of sense.

Self-control essentially allows people to approach marriage in a healthy and respectful way. It means they will resist the urge to flirt or cheat, and won’t be aggressive or violent, and will be more likely to make sacrifices for each other. 

Self-control allows us to stop, or resist doing it in the first place

All of these things are, I would say, part of the minimum requirements needed to make a relationship strong, long-lasting, and mutually fulfilling. (Read How Successful Relationship Avoid Letting Anger Win)

When my wife and I are stressed, it’s easy to shout and be harsh with each other, but self-control allows us to stop, or resist doing it in the first place. It allows us to focus on the other’s needs and not just focus on ‘me’ and what ‘I’ want all the time. 

Good To Know 

We don’t marry perfect people. We marry people who are willing to learn

Whether we’re married, or want to get married one day, this research can help us to remember what it takes to build and keep building a good relationship. 

The research also pointed out that the process of being together also increased these factors. Which is why I like the phrase ‘training ground’. No one is perfect, we don’t marry perfect people. We marry people who are willing to learn to foster healthy habits. (Read Quick Guide: Discover What All Good Dating Relationship Have In Common)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we tried to forgive more and forgive quicker. Yes it takes time, yes we may need to discuss things first, but it’s something we need to work on to help our relationships. Imagine if we practiced self-control too, by stopping and thinking about the other person and not just our needs.

I think these things would help make our relationships strong, and help bring/increase the security and enjoyment we crave in our relationships. (Read What 35 Years of Marriage Really Looks Like)

How else could these two traits be beneficial? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 29/10/2018

Why You Should Remember That ‘Romance’ On Its Own Is Rubbish

Finding A Date, Interesting Research

Romance is a gift from God. I believe we’re meant to enjoy it. But if we only pursue romance, our foundations won’t be able to sustain the relationship we are craving and trying to build. We need to remember it’s not enough on its own to make a relationship last.

(The following extract is taken from page 48-50 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free.)


It’s fascinating to see the rise of romance and how it goes hand in hand with dating. We now have a dating culture because Western societies accept that:

1. We are free to choose whoever we want as our boy/girlfriend or spouse.
2. Relationships are allowed (often expected) to be temporary and non-committal.
3. Romantic desire or ‘falling in love’ is the most important ingredient in any (new) relationship.

‘Dating’ might go by lots of different names: ‘going out’, ‘hooking up’, ‘getting together’, ‘going steady’, ‘seeing someone’. But whatever we call it, dating is always about two people looking for and fostering an emotional bond. By its very definition, it doesn’t need to be exclusive or committed, and if it’s not satisfying, end it!

Catching Our Eye

Today nothing receives more attention in popular media than romance.

We love the idea of falling in love. Nearly every song is about being in love – or losing it. Every good film needs romance, whether it’s a chick flick obsessed with ‘the one’, or an action movie where the hero gets the villain and the girl thrown in for good measure, or the kids’ story with the happily-ever-after ending.

The rise of romance has made love and romantic relationships the meaning of life

Magazines and newspapers are filled with tips for finding love, and a whole industry rotates around celebrities’ love lives. Closer to home, social media provides us with immediate updates on friends’ relationship statuses, complete with snaps of their happy moments.

Everything is telling us that romance rules and that, without this kind of love, we can’t be happy. The rise of romance has made love and romantic relationships the meaning of life.

Weak Foundations

But our focus on romance has its problems. In her sequel to Eat, Pray, Love, author Elizabeth Gilbert travels the world, exploring attitudes to love and marriage. Her discovery is that:

‘Whenever a conservative culture of arranged marriage is replaced by an expressive culture of people choosing their own partners based on love, divorce rates will immediately begin to sky rocket. . . about five minutes after people start clamouring for the right to choose their own spouses based on love, they will begin clamouring for the right to divorce those spouses once that love has died.’

Romance is something that looks good in the shop, but when you take it home it can sometimes be a bit of a let-down.

Fragile, haphazard and selfish

The side effects can’t be ignored. Dating in a way that focuses primarily on romantic feelings makes the relationship more likely to be fragile, haphazard and selfish.

Triple Threat

Relationships become fragile because feelings are always shifting and changing. If people believe that relationships are only ‘successful’ when they have romantic feelings, then when those feelings are lost, or weaken, what happens to the relationship? The result is a rise in the divorce rate in recent times, which has clearly risen overall in the last fifty years.

They become haphazard because valuing feelings above commitment can leave the relationship in a kind of no man’s land. Instead of intentionally and selflessly investing in their relationship, people think, ‘I’ll see how I feel.’ Thinking this, or ‘It’s not serious or anything; we just like each other’, means that no-one knows where they stand.

They become more selfish because, in the end, you’re focused on how you feel and what you want, and the relationship just rolls along unintentionally with no defined purpose or commitment. It also breeds a selfish attitude towards relationships and to each other: ‘I’ll date as long as I am happy’; ‘I’ll only commit to you as long as I want to. If it gets hard, it’s over.’

Is there another way?

Dating lots of people, and pursuing temporary relationships in search of an ‘emotional high’, can cause damage.

We can end up feeling hurt, rejected and lonely. So if dating this way is causing so much heartache and insecurity in relationships, should a romance revolution do away with romance altogether, or is there another way? (Read 2 Strategies for Surviving The Changing World Of Dating)

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free now, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

I have written many times about the fact that we should enjoy dating and relationships, but we need to approach it with healthy expectations and lay good foundations too (Read 15 Questions for Building Mutually Enjoyable Fulfilling Relationships)

Imagine if we remembered that romance is amazing, but on its own it is rubbish. Healthy long-lasting relationships involve many other elements too. These elements, along with romance, can help us build the great relationship we’re looking for.

How often do we get told relationships are about more than just romance? Comments welcomed below.

Originally posted 13/8/2018