Three days after I met my boyfriend Joe in a rave in the woods at Wilderness, I found myself eating spaghetti bolognese with his aunt and uncle at their house a few miles down the road from the festival.
I appreciate this was pretty fast moving, as relationship progressions go.
However, having not washed for an entire long weekend – and gotten soaked through in a torrential downpour as we were packing up our tents – I’d be damned if I was going to turn down Joe’s offer of a hot bath and meal within 20 minutes.
(The real reason, of course, was that we were already smitten and didn’t want to part ways yet – especially considering we hadn’t left each other’s side in the last 36 hours of the festival).
As we made our way up the driveway of the family abode in Joe’s 4x4, I almost had to pinch myself.
I’m not sure what I’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.
They lived in a beautiful 12th century farmhouse, surrounded by a courtyard, two barns and picturesque gardens, like something straight out of a Jane Austen novel.
His aunt and uncle owned a garden centre nearby that was popular with the fashionable folk of the Cotswolds, meaning that their home was decorated in the most exquisitely cosy, bohemian style.
Aga, free-standing baths, shelves stacked with all the books I long to read but never make time for, proper fireplaces in most rooms and thick, luscious shag-pile rugs and blankets adorning each of the chesterfield sofas.
A veritable snuggle-fest if ever I saw one, and exactly the type of place you’d give your right arm to conk out in after a soggy festival.
When we made our way in to the kitchen, Joe’s cousin Tom (who I’d met the night before at Wilderness) asked if we fancied watching the new Jurassic World film he’d (naughtily) found a way to stream from the internet.
The theme of dinosaurs that had been showing up all weekend was continuing to present itself, and I took this as a sign that perhaps Joe and I weren’t meant to part ways just yet.
After probably the best bath of my entire life, Joe took me to the pub around the corner for a much-needed feed and a gin and tonic (the pub also happened to stock nearly 300 different gins – the day just kept getting better!)
With belly’s full and hearts even fuller, we returned to the house, watched Jurassic World with his cousin, and passed out for at least two hours on one of the chesterfields.
By the time we awoke, his aunt and uncle had returned from the garden centre.
Surprisingly, they didn’t seem the least bit put out to find that their wayward nephew had brought a strange girl to their home, unannounced.
I assumed that this would be our cue to leave, but, excited for me to get to know some of his family, Joe offered to make us all dinner and his cousin Tom told his parents that we’d be spending the night in the guest room (with the four-poster bed!)
It felt like we were three months in to a new relationship, when it was actually closer to three days in to a courtship.
Missing the irony of this, I spent a fair portion of the evening meal telling Joe’s aunt Louise about an idea I’d come across on online lifestyle site Elite Daily whilst researching the Love chapter of ‘The Inner Fix’.
The writer, Scott Spinelli, proposed that you don’t really know your significant other until you’ve spent all four seasons with them.
By rushing in to a relationship, you miss out on the crucial things that make your partner who they are – things that aren’t going to be listed on their online dating profile, things that take time to reveal themselves, and, most importantly, things that may make you question whether or not you’re a good match for one another in the long-term.
Which is why I believe there’s something to be said for the courting rituals of ye olde days.
According to the Oxford dictionary, courtship is described as:
“A period during which a couple develop a romantic relationship before getting married.”
Historically, with regards to a formal engagement, it tended to be understood that it was the role of the man to actively ‘woo’ or ‘court’ the woman, therefore helping her to understand him and distinguish her receptivity to a marriage proposal.
Nature displays various modes of courting too, but it’s typically initiated by the male making a remarkable presentation to the female – sometimes through distinct sounds, sometimes through aggressive behaviour, and sometimes through dance.
The female then decides which suitor takes her fancy.
Some social scientists believe that this is not all that different to human courtship which is arguably more controlled by the female of the pair, whilst the male battles for her favour and attention through various modes of solicitous behaviour.
But, what makes traditional courtship different from modern dating is that it’s a process that requires time, patience and effort.
And for all its many benefits, one thing that technology has undoubtedly eroded is our ability to be patient.
In the McDonald’s culture we live in today, where we’ve become so accustomed to getting our desires and whims met instantly (hello junk food, online shopping and digital porn on command) we’ve forgotten that in most cases:
Good things take time.
Whilst I’m not against couples getting speedily engaged, hitched or shacking up together if that’s genuinely what works for them, I do think it’s worth questioning this insatiable need of (some of) ours to bulldoze our way through these romantic rites of passage.
Social media and online dating have clearly shortened the amount of time most of us bestow on the process of getting to know potential partners.
Sure, there may be the illusion of a courtship by going on a handful of dates (before jumping in to bed together).
But, this is not the same as developing a deep and nuanced connection and appreciation of one another.
That only comes with time.
In my own life, I can see how I’ve rushed through the early stages of a romance out of fear I’d lose my partner unless this thing was locked down.
Sometimes, the rapid hurtle towards commitment was born out of such intense desire and passion that we couldn’t prise ourselves away from each other long enough to consider whether or not we were actually a good fit.
(We never were).
The problem with slowing down, engaging our brain and taking a good while to get to properly know and understand the person we’re dating is that it’s not considered all that exciting and romantic.
Romeo and Juliet meet, fall in love and tragically die side by side in the space of four days.
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were married within a year of meeting on the set of ‘Cleopatra’ – despite him being married for 14 years and Taylor being on her fourth husband at the tender age of 29.
And don’t even get me started on Henry VIII.
As you’ll likely know, in the early days of new love there’s an explosion of neuro-chemicals in our brain that create an intense experience of happiness and desire within us.
But, no matter how great that spark feels at first, no matter how much you convince yourself it’ll last forever, that typically highly sexualized infatuation is only a short-term phenomenon that results from the insecurity and newness inherent in the relationship dynamic.
According to psychologist Susan Heitler:
Love is blind while you are in the initial infatuation stage. After that, clarity about reality tends to emerge. Continuing to love someone is likely to depend on how suitable that person is as a partner in the project of living.
A year after meeting Joe at Wilderness I found myself stood in his aunt Louise’s kitchen with her once again, discussing how I’d be moving in with her nephew soon.
I’d been living with my best friend Noo for the last six months - having lived at my parent’s house for the first six months of mine an Joe’s relationship.
Whilst I’d obviously stayed at Joe’s flat a lot during that period, we’d decided to wait just over a year before committing to full co-habitation – mainly because it would be the first time I’d officially lived with a partner, and I wanted to be sure I was really ready for it so I wouldn’t fuck it up.
By this point, we’d experienced each other’s biggest flaws.
We’d had a few gargantuan fights – and survived them.
We’d each cultivated rich and exciting lives outside of the relationship.
We’d been away together a fair few times and not wanted to throttle each other (for the most part).
We’d gotten better at navigating and resolving conflicts.
We both knew exactly where we wanted this relationship to go (marriage and probably kids one day – with lots of travelling solo and together thrown in, too).
But, most importantly, we weren’t making this commitment whilst still in the starry-eyed honeymoon phase, because both of us had made some misjudgements of epic proportion when we’d done so in the past.
We were making it despite having been together long enough to be acutely aware of one another’s various failings and foibles.
So, although we may have fallen in love fast, when it came to sharing utility bills and deciding whose turn it was to scrub the shit-splattered toilet bowl, we took our sweet, sweet time.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Have you ever made a romantic commitment prematurely?
What did you learn from it, and what would you do differently today?
All my love,