While doing my daily round of the internet last week, I noticed that, over at Dear Author, Jane's #5 wish in her List of Things She'd Like to See in 2012 from the Romance Genre was More Courtship.
"I am not sure whether it is paranormals and the fated mates that have led to the slow devolution of the courtship, but whatever is the reason, we need to put a stop to it," Jane writes. "I love the courtship. Dating is so rife with opportunity and conflict. Where is the slow build of attraction?"
Now, don't get me wrong, I believe in the concept of instant attraction and people who simply belong with each other, but watching while two people start to become more aware of each other is wonderful, too, and Jane's post got me thinking how much I love those films and novels in which the main characters actually go out on dates, get to know one another, prolong the suspense for us. Will they or won't they? The almost-kiss can be as sexy to me (sometimes sexier) than sex itself.
Case in point: Scarecrow and Mrs. King. If you were born in the 80s or later, you most likely won't have a clue what this is, but for a romance-loving teen like me in 1983, it was The Best Thing on TV, my favourite show.
Bruce Boxleitner played a suave CIA spy, teamed with Kate Jackson as a divorced mom of two who got drafted by circumstance into the spy game. Their chemistry steamed up our little TV screen, and watching their feelings develop and grow brought me back every week thinking, "This is it! This is the week that they'll kiss!" Their interrupted almost-kisses were the thing of legend, but their first Real Kiss, right at the end of the Third Season (!) made my heart happy because I had watched all the small little moments that led to it.
Back in the mid-18th century, the Irish writer Laurence Sterne (of Tristam Shandy fame) wrote that "Courtship consists in a number of quiet attentions, not so pointed as to alarm, nor so vague as not to be understood."
Those "quiet attentions" are why I so love books like My Love, My Enemy, by Jan Cox Speas, with its pairing of the young American heroine, Page Bradley, and the dashing English spy Lord Hazard, set against the War of 1812, when a brave but rash action by Page throws them (literally) both in the same boat (well, ship) and Lord Hazard decides that, with Page on her own, he is honour-bound to guard her honour, however attractive he finds her. Which means that they don't even kiss till the end of the 14th long chapter, by which time we've watched while they break down their differences, overcome prejudices, notice each other's small faults and discover the things they admire in each other.
Again, it's those stray little moments: the times that their eyes meet, the times they say small things that mean something more, the few times they touch.
It's those same moments, I think, that mark the progression of real-life relationships, too: that first meeting, or first introduction; the first time you notice what colour his eyes are; the first time you go out together; the first time you hold hands; the first time you sit up until 2 a.m. talking; the times that you wish he would kiss you; the first time he actually does...
It's not all smooth sailing, mind you. Both in real life and in fiction there is angst, and plenty of it, and it's not a state I'd want to spend forever in. It's too exhausting. But whether it takes a full year, as it does with Lord Hazard and Page, or three seasons on TV, or one unforgettable day spent with Gregory Peck (Roman Holiday, pictured above), I'll admit I'm a sucker for stories of courtship.
What about you? What's your favourite example of courtship in fiction, and do you agree with Jane that we need more of it?
(Come back on Thursday, to see whether Julie comes out of her luxury bolthole...)