Colonial Courting Rituals Would Be Creepy as Sin Today
Finding a mate just isn’t what it used to be. Back in the “good ol’ days,” the parents were more parental, the sexism was more sexist, and the hysteria over sex was more hysterical. The courting rituals were truly bizarre, and we can thank our lucky stars they no longer exist. Of course, most of these rituals were only practiced by white straight people, and some only by wealthier colonial or Victorian-era Americans. But today we can all mock them relentlessly together. Let’s get to it.
When your dad picks who you’re going to bed with forever
Gone are the days when your old man could get together with his buddy at the tavern, kick back, down a few cold ones, and decide who you’re going to spoon for the rest of your f*cking life. Yes, if you were unwise enough to be born in colonial times, dorky dads would arrange your marriage for you, hearing not your sobs but rather the jingling of cold hard cash wrought from your dowery or inheritance (depends on your gender). End up with some ugo disgustor? If you didn’t have any Freudian reason to think of your dad during business time, you certainly had this reason.
When the girl seduces you with a fan
When you see a well-to-do Victorian gal cooling herself with her fan, she ain’t cooling herself with her fan, son. She’s engaged in a complex system of signals ranking somewhere between the high-step strut of the Blue-Footed Booby and the third base coach of the New York Yankees. Is she fanning herself slowly? Sorry, she’s engaged. Quickly? Single. Fanning with the right hand? Oh my God / look at that face / you look like / my next mistake. Left hand? F*ck off. Fan open, then shut? Kiss her, bro. Fan open wide? She loves you. Fan half open? You’ve just been friend-zoned. Legs shut — I mean fan — fan shut? She hates you. Good luck remembering all that. Don’t mess this up.
When age really was just a number
The age at which most colonial women married hovered around 19-22 (men were usually in their late twenties). So not too different from modern times. But remember, that’s an average. Some girls did marry when they were teenagers (others were married off as children). The age of consent in the American colonies was usually 10, though sometimes 12. Eventually, states started raising it. California raised it to 14 in 1889, then 16 in 1897. Others followed suit after that, though one technically kept the age at 7 until the 1960s (looking at you, Delawarean sickos).
When you had to do all your flirting in front of her mom
Remember your middle school and early high school dances and the agonizing embarrassment of the ever-present, complex surveillance apparatus made up of moms, dads, older siblings, teachers, and Principal Bacon? Well, back in the olden days, chaperones weren’t something you could just wait out as the years ticked by. When a man came a-calling, he had to sweep the girl off her feet in front of the potential mother-in-law. There was no one-on-one time. You went over to her house and, if f*cking Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightly is any indication, make boring conversation while drinking tea, playing cards, or abusing a piano. Want to come back again? You’ve got to impress the ‘rents.
When you could get married literally by just saying you were
Yes, one courting ritual was called “handfasting” or “spousing.” If you wanted to be married (by law, mind you), all you had to do was just hold hands and say you were married. You could do this anywhere and at any time, during this age that now sort of sounds like a Libertarian paradise. Apparently (to absolutely no one’s surprise), men would often be all for this, getting married on the spot to a nice yet sexually repressed girl, having sex, and disappearing into the night. Then daddy had to hunt you down — not to kill you for sleeping with his little angel as might happen today, but to force you to actually be her husband.
When you partook in sleepovers at her Mom and Dad’s
It was a simpler time, when religious parents knew that kids would mess around and knew there was nothing they could do about it, so they decided to pretend to do something about it while willfully facilitating it. We’re talking bundling, people. When parents said Yes, you kids can have a sleepover as long as you promise not to have sex, let ma sew boyfriend up in bag, and let pa install an impervious one-foot-tall bundling board between your sides of the bed. Not letting Nathaniel sleep over was, apparently, deemed an ineffective way of preventing two lovebirds from engaging in smash game in the room adjacent to mom and dad’s.
When the “courtship stick” was how you sexted
Just like today, when lovers send texts to each other while snuggling on the couch together after Christmas dinner so relatives can’t overhear them, colonials found a way to keep things spicy with secretiveness. The courtship stick was a six-foot-long hollow stick that allowed young men and women to whisper some sexy messages to each other in a world of zero privacy. Small homes with parents or parents-in-law, especially those that think touching is a no-no, mean there’s just no way to tell your gal her butt looks great in that dress she wears daily or your man that his plowing is an incredible turn on.
When you could skip the engagement ring and give her a thimble instead
If you lived among the Puritans, you didn’t have to get your woman an engagement ring. Instead, you could give her a helpful piece of sewing equipment. Puritans weren’t showy people, so a little thimble could be offered to the woman (in their defense, it would later be fashioned into a ring; cheap-ass Puritans), presumably as a sign of all the trousers she will have to repair over the course of her lifetime. That’s how you really blow away the ladies.
Garrett S. Griffin is a political writer for Weekend Collective and the author of Racism in Kansas City: A Short History. A former religious conservative, he is now an atheist and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. Follow him @garrettsgriffin.