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Who's messing around with romantic courtship?

By Thom Patterson, CNN
updated 9:27 AM EST, Mon February 13, 2012
ABC's
ABC's "The Bachelor" in which 25 women compete for the affections of one man, corrupts the idea of courtship, say experts.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Traditional romantic courtship is fading, say observers
  • Expert: Pre-dating courtship via technology leads to faster sex
  • Under 30 crowd risks dangerous intimacy gap, says sex expert
  • Women's health blogger: "Men have lost their game"

(CNN) -- Cupid called. The big baby says stop fooling around with romantic courtship.

He's serious. Valentine's Day is Fat Boy's turf and we should keep our mitts off. Couples are playing fast and loose with centuries-old traditions embedded in our DNA. Don't mess with it.

Here's what's got the kid PO'd:

-- Texting is the new love letter.

Is traditional dating losing to tech?
Valentine's Day gadgets
Smartphone apps for your valentine
Waffle House serving Valentine's dinner

-- Pickup artists claim they can get a date in three texts.

-- Real kisses are often replaced by cell keystrokes like KOTL (kiss on the lips.)

-- Romantic courtship has been hijacked by reality TV shows like "The Bachelor."

Are these changes cheapening love and romance? Are we seeking easy shortcuts for courtship because we're too busy?

Let's ask some experts.

"We lost our footing somewhere along the way regarding the romance," says Danae Matthews, a San Francisco 20-something who blogs about dating for the online women's resource Women's Health Base. "I wouldn't call it desperate, but it's rushed. We're jumping into things too quickly."

Case in point: more than half of singles have sex on first dates, according to a new poll. "That doesn't surprise me at all," Matthews says.

Why all this first-date sex? It's the technology, says sex and relationships expert Laura Berman. When people meet first via online dating sites or by texting, they're likely to flirt and indulge in pre-date sexual banter. That creates sexual tension -- and even a sexual expectation -- that sets the stage for a randy first encounter IRL (in real life), says Berman.

Basically we're moving from traditional courtship rituals like buying flowers, writing poems and sending love letters ... to tweeting stuff like "TD2M" or "LH6." (See text decoder in left margin of this story.)

DECODER
AOC Available on cell

TMB Text or tweet me back

TD2M Talk dirty to me

RYS Are you single?

PCM Please call me

NT Nice try

NSA No strings attached

LMIRL Let's meet in real life

LH6 Let's have sex

KOTL Kiss on the lips

IWALU I will always love you

ICFILWU I could fall in love with you

D46? Down for sex?

BTYCL Booty call

BCOY Big crush on you

831 I love you (8 letters, three words, 1 meaning)

6Y Sexy

143 I love you (1 letter, 4 letters, 3 letters)

1432 I love you too

53X Sex

DWPKOL Deep, wet, passionate kiss on the lips

K4Y Kiss for you

LUH Let's hook up

MTLA My true love always

MUSM Miss you so much

RUH Are you horny?

GYPO Get your pants off

I&I Intercourse and inebriation

ILUAAF I love you as a friend

GF Girlfriend
BF Boyfriend

Who cares? Well, this cultural shift actually might be fueling a serious communication gap that may negatively affect an entire generation.

Berman says she's really worried about Matthews' crowd -- age 30 and under -- who haven't got "enough training and experience about how to be verbally and emotionally and romantically intimate in person." They're communicating one-on-one by typing a lot of the time.

That generation is at higher risk for "a lot of miscommunication, a lot of conflict, a lot of divorces," says Berman. "There's a risk of losing that deep intimacy from eye-to-eye contact, which is so important to mating and courtship rituals so ingrained in our DNA." Without social and emotional intimacy, she says couples lack marriage bonding tools that are crucial to surviving difficult times.

Several celebrity marriages didn't survive this past year. You probably heard about a lot of them, including Katy Perry and Russell Brand, Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian. It's hard to know the real reasons behind Hollywood split-ups, but Kardashian said, "I rushed into something too soon."

On the other hand, celebrity courtship train wrecks are laid out for everybody to see on ABC's "The Bachelor," where 25 women compete against each other to win the heart of one man.

Shows like these corrupt our view of courtship, says CNN's Josh Levs. On the side, Levs also designs unique marriage proposals.

Imagination can turn courtship rituals into lifelong memories, he says. But "The Bachelor" twists this idea to make us believe that courtship is about performance.

"If you go into your relationship thinking it's a performance, you're destined to epic fail," Levs says.

Matthews agrees that reality TV's emphasis on competition hasn't helped her peers. Heightened rivalry within her age group is pressuring singles to stake an early claim on sex partners before someone else snatches them up. Sometimes the need to win outweighs better judgment about their choice of mates. "Competition and insecurities are really widespread," she says.

Romantic Courtship Hall of Fame

If there were a Romantic Courtship Hall of Fame, the cell phone and the Internet would have their own wing by now. Down the hall you'd see Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher who talked about deep spiritual love called "agape." Near the gift shop you might pass the inventors of chivalry -- medieval knights who won the keys to maidens' chastity belts by slaying proverbial dragons.

Oh yeah, and don't forget about a third-century bishop named Valentine who, according to legend, performed illegal Christian marriages in secret. Some say St. Valentine's Day marks the date he was executed by the Romans -- February 14.

As a culture, we've said buh-bye to scented envelopes containing heartfelt love letters written in calligraphy on fine stationery. No more treasured bundles of love notes tied up in brightly colored ribbons and handed down to the grandchildren.

It's enough to make Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein wonder whether Facebook essentially killed the love letter.

There's a risk of losing that deep intimacy.
Laura Berman, sex and relationships expert

"The next generation won't know what they're missing," says Berman. Our post-Internet world is clutching its smartphone with both hands and thumb-typing: "Screw that. We'll invent our own courtship traditions, BTW, RYS [by the way, are you single]?"

Get a date in three texts

If you want to know how men are straying from the classic ideals of romantic courtship, consider Brad Branson.

Remember that character Tom Cruise played in 1999's "Magnolia?" Frank T.J. Mackay was a troubled self-help guru who gave seminars on how to pick up women.

Branson is not Mackay.

But he is an executive coach at Real Social Dynamics, described online as "the world's largest dating coaching company."

Branson travels the globe teaching at "boot camps" for men who want tips on winning women over. Price tag: $2,000.

Check out Branson's "tested," three-step "protocol for texting girls to get the date," according to his website.

1. After getting her number and waiting until shortly after she leaves the bar, he advises texting, "Hey girl, get home safe -- Brad."

2. Next, wait about 36 hours and then text her something you're randomly doing that day. Branson suggests: "Always nice sitting by the pool all day drinking beer.'"

3. Finally, he says you should propose a nonspecific date: "You! We should do something this Thursday."

Baddaboom. Baddabing. She texts back yes! You're in. Thanks dude.

"Some of these things are helpful for guys who are really shy," admits Matthews. "But really, these are just ways of tricking people. Just strike up a conversation by saying what comes natural to you, she suggests. Then let the courting wackiness ensue.

I feel like somewhere along the way men have lost their game.
Danae Matthews, Women's Health Base

"I feel like somewhere along the way men have lost their game," says Matthews. "There's been a shift somewhere where men think that they can sit back and let the women come to them to show they're viable candidates for dates."

By the way, Alec Banks over at HelloGiggles offers some tips on how to woo men, if you're so inclined.

But let's give texting its due: For busy couples it's so much easier to text something as thoughtful as "I'm thinking of you. I love you." Or, "I'll see you later and we'll get our swerve on."

Atlanta store manager Brenda Hunter allows her 17-year-old daughter Shannon to text and Skype freely with her boyfriend in Selma, Alabama. They only get to meet IRL during holidays. "It allows them to court more," says Hunter. "And the focus of the relationship stays in their heads. It's more spiritual, less physical."

As Berman puts it, "Texting has become a romantic touchstone."

So where are we headed? Will future Shakespeares compose breathtaking sonnets on their Droids and iPhones?

"Use technology as much as you want," says Berman. "Just make sure that you're also exercising your human contact muscle."

Will convenient courtship through technology lead to a resurgence in romance? Matthews says, why not? "I think we all just need to slow down a little bit," she says. "I think we'd all enjoy dating a little bit more."

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