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January 29, 2000
Column #961

(first of a two-part series)

FOR VALENTINE'S DAY: CONSIDER COURTSHIP

     As Valentine's Day approaches, if you are single, do you find yourself asking life's biggest questions: "Where am I going? Who is going with me?  How will I find my life partner, and know that he or she is the one? Should we live together first to find out?"

     There are nearly 50 million nevermarried American adults -- more than ever before, because they don't have good answers to these questions. In college, millions live in dorms with both genders, with manifold opportunities for quick sex, what they call "hooking up."

     Fortunately, Leon and Amy Kass, married nearly 40 years, and professors at the University of Chicago for 25 years, have written an inspiring new book called "Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying." It is an anthology of the best writing ever about wooing and winning a life mate. Instead of Seinfeld and Ally McBeal, it offers Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," the Bible's "Song of Songs," from Tolstoy's "War and Peace, the courtship of Emile and Sophie."

     "We invite people to ponder why Adam and Eve, when their eyes were opened, covered their nakedness," says Amy Kass. "Can modesty transform lust into love? What does Socrates mean when he says that love is of immortality; or Kierkegaard mean when he says that absolute faith in marriage is the only attribute that makes a man lovable? Why does C.S. Lewis think that Eros cannot deliver what it promises without the promises of marriage?

     "What does Robert Frost mean in suggesting to his daughter and her groom,

"Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore,
Together wing to wing and oar to oar."

     Leon Kass, calls their book and new college course, "a superior kind of sex education. Present sex education is stripped of the context of love and lasting marriage. We've found a way to educate hearts and minds without preaching. The imagination allows students to identify with characters they don't meet on the street, who can move their hearts and souls to a finer, higher, truer understanding."

     As Amy Kass put it at a seminar hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, "We think the time is ripe for a sexual counter-revolution and a renewal in love that leads to marriage. More and more people, especially young women, are owning up to their personal unhappiness with, and are looking for alternatives to, the hook-up culture."

     However, when asked how students are reacting to this rich diet on courtship, Leon Kass said, "Their reactions are mixed. There has been no active rebellion, no wild and ideological reactions. They are taking it seriously. But some of their sensibilities are odd. The class had a hard time understanding what shame has to do with nakedness. One said, `Why should you be embarrassed about being naked?'"

     Other student opinions are pitiful: "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 our sexual relationships that they are supposed to be impermanent."

     However, the Kasses believe that beneath this unromantic, self-protecting cynicism, young people really do have longings for wholeness, intimacy and fidelity - longings that they do not yet realize could be satisfied by marrying well."

     They assert that women have power to demand courtship. "Men make advances, women should offer resistance plus the promise of yielding should the man prove worthy," said Amy Kass: "This a woman does not because she is sexually repressed, but because it is marriage she is after - not hookups, brief affairs, or even a long-term relationship. If women as a group exercise more sexual self-restraint and eschew cohabitation, men will be compelled to court them."

     David Blankenhorn, President of the Institute for American Values, is delighted that "middle-aged academics, are telling the world that they have uncovered a new cure-all wonder drug for young people who want to find true love. Amy and Leon have reinserted courtship into our national conversation on sexuality, love and marriage in this rich book full of beauty, truth and wisdom."

     But Blankenhorn is alarmed by the withdrawal of parents giving guidance to their adult children. "This generation of adults lives in unprecedented ignorance about the mate selection behavior of their own children. This book calls on parents who have abdicated their responsibility "to reflect on what we might do to change things."

     Why not give the book to your unmarried children?

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus.

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