Its Courtin Time Again
by Sonia Linebaugh
Scientists can tell us a lot about the birds and the bees, but they dont know much about human romance.
- Mr. Frog went a-courtin, he did ride, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-courtin, he did ride, Uh-huh,
Mr. Frog went a-courtin, he did ride,
A cape and a pistol by his side, Uh-huh,
He rode up to Miss Mouseys door, Uh-huh,
He rode up to Miss Mouseys door, Uh-huh,
He rode up to Miss Mouseys door,
Where he had never been before, Uh-huh,
He took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
He took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-huh,
He took Miss Mousey on his knee,
And said, My dear, will you marry me?
Uh-huh, Uh-huh, Uh-huh.
The traditional Mr. Frog song can last as long as the singer can keep it up with impromptu verses added as whimsy dictates. In most versions, the courtship is fraught with danger. Miss Mousey is eaten by a wedding guest who happens to be a cat. Mr. Frog lives long enough to be swallowed by a duck. Tradition holds little romance and less sentiment.
Frogs Do It
Down in the streams, roadside ditches and low wetlands of Chesapeake Country, as the cold of February gives way to late winter rains, the real Mr. Frog will take to singing his own song, but it wont be Miss Mousey hes courting. Mr. Frog will sing his way into the heart of a comely froggy lass, with the promise peet-peet-peet. Or, backed by a full chorus, he may offer a drawn out p-r-e-e-p that sounds like a finger run down the teeth of a comb. Ms. Frog, being more selective, will seek out one singer from the clamorous crowd. Often, thats the frog with the longest song.
Frog courting is well studied. In wetlands like the Chesapeake, research scientists say, some of this springs frogs will live to court again, but not so many of the thousands of soft, jelly-like eggs that result from this courtship. Most will not survive long enough to hatch, let alone court.
Scientists, psychologists and psychiatrists have long tried to discover the consistencies of human courtship. Theyve used hidden cameras, questionnaires and direct observation. Theories have been posited about hidden signals in the tilt of a head, the folding or unfolding of arms and legs and the frequency of laughter.
Uptown, in the Baltimore neighborhood of Canton, none of the expert research means a thing to young adults bumping into one another in the restaurants and neighborhood bars. Those of courting age are tuned only to inner songs.
On the Human Side: 1
Jen met me long before I met her, confesses Adam Smith, 34.
It was at the Pickled Parrot, explains civil engineer Jennifer Zielinski, 28. I didnt go into the neighborhood bar to find a husband. I just stopped by with a colleague after work. Adam caught my eye. He was talking to everyone. Hes charismatic. Hes physically attractive and very open. People remember who he is.
I kept dragging my friend with me to see if the blonde guy was there. I developed a serious crush. After we stopped by the Parrot a number of times, my girlfriend demanded that I talk to him. He still didnt notice me. On my second try, suddenly he talked back.
Says Smith: She looked sexy but professional. She was different from most girls in the bar, but it was a while before I learned that shes an engineer. First, there was just this beautiful young lady who asked about my job at Living Classrooms Foundation. We talked. I invited her to the Parrots Monday night lobster dinner. Then on Sunday, I noticed her with another guy. I thought she was dating him.
On Monday, Smith showed up for the dinner with two friends to protect his ego in case she didnt show. Zielinski showed up with a girlfriend. Once past that hurdle, the two saw each other every day until their official first date, set the following weekend.
She came out of her house looking for my car, laughs Smith, but I had brought my tandem bike. We rode down Clinton Street to where the ships used to come in, and we took wacky photos. Then we rode to Fells Point and had a romantic dinner, a romantic evening.
For interpretation, we return to Zielinski: We knew it was serious a couple of weeks into the relationship, she says. Youll laugh, but it was a conversation about pugs that did it for me. When I was growing up, we always had pugs. When Adam and I talked about pets, he brought up the subject of pugs and said he had always wanted one.
Not so quick, says he. I gave it three weeks. Then I knew there was no turning back. She was the one though it took me nine months to figure it out. Now, its stressful because were getting married in May. If the wedding plans dont kill us, they will make us stronger.
Let Zielinski count the ways. The prospect of marriage has a positive effect. Were thinking and talking about how were going to wind our lives together. The prospect of the wedding, however, has been very difficult. Combining the expectations of both families and planning a wedding in my hometown, Cleveland its very stressful. But well be okay afterwards.
To reassure themselves, this couple looks back on the scene of their engagement. We were on a blanket on a deserted beach in the American Virgin Islands, recounts Smith. We had a bottle of wine. Jen knew we were getting engaged but somehow, she was surprised. It was perfect. Perfectly romantic.
Squirrels Do It
In backyard trees, Eastern gray squirrels do not wait for romance. Games of chase have already begun, with males pursuing females up and down and round and round the silver maples. Courtship proceeds with purrs, barks and sucking noises on both sides. After mating, male squirrels avoid the females and do not help with the young. The seasons first litter will arrive in May. Second-year females may be courted again in early summer.
We know a lot about the courtship of squirrels. Scientists tell us that photoperiod the lengthening daylight hours of late winter play a role. They tell us that females are receptive to males for a maximum of 14 days per mating cycle. They tell us that the males testicles drop temporarily into the scrotum during breeding season. But scientists cant tell us anything about squirrel romance.
Come to think of it, scientists cant tell us much about human romance either. All they can say is that photoperiod has only a subtle effect on humans, that timing and length of courtship are indeterminate, that hormones and pheromones surge suddenly into activity with puberty and fade with little consistency as adulthood gives way to the senior years
On the Human Side: 2
Down in St. Marys County, Tara Patrizi and Mason Schoenfeldt were not thinking about courting the day they met. It was August, 1992, and both were 19 when a friend introduced them during the festivities surrounding the Governors Cup sailing race at St. Marys College of Maryland. Patrizi remembers, He was wearing a suit. He had just gotten off work and he was wearing a suit. How often do you see that? And his hair looked perfect.
Schoenfeldt counters, Did I go to St. Marys to find a wife? No. But she was blonde and had these big brown eyes. Its the eyes that got me. But that day was a party. I didnt expect anything to come of it. We had fun, but then she left to go back home to Severna Park and then to school at Frostburg.
Patrizi says, I kept thinking about him. I remembered the way he stared at me and he didnt look away when I looked back. I rewound and thought and remembered again. Finally, I called him. I had never called a guy before, but I was very confident. Even if he said no, I was confident enough to call.
Schoenfeldt, who grew up in Lothian, remembers that call. I had just come in from the cornfield when my Mom told me I had a call. I was flattered to be noticed by one of the popular girls.
The relationship soon moved beyond flattery and small talk. Both knew it was serious when they started seeing each other every week despite the distance. I didnt even have a car, says Patrizi, but I soon knew every Frostburg student who lived in St. Marys and might be going home for the weekend. I lived in a dorm while Mason had an apartment, so I did most of the traveling.
The drive up and down the Western Shore continued through Masons graduation from St. Marys and Patrizis graduation a year later from Frostburg. Then, says Patrizi, I really thought he would propose. But he didnt. I thought about it a lot. I finally asked him where he thought this was leading. I told him that if it wasnt to marriage, I would have to move on.
Soon they started looking at rings, but then Christmas went by, New Years went by, Valentine Day. I even had hopes for St. Patricks Day, says Patrizi. Then I thought he would wait for my birthday in August, so it was a surprise when he asked me on Memorial Day. Who proposes on Memorial Day?
The scene was the steps of the Maryland State House in Annapolis. A police officer chased them away, but they came back. Japanese tourists snapped their cameras as Schoenfeldt went down on one knee. Patrizi laughed and laughed. He didnt appreciate it, but they managed to get engaged. On November 27, 1999, they married, seven years after that first exchange of glances.
Patrizi, now Mrs. Schoenfeldt and a teacher at Rippling Woods Elementary School in Glen Burnie, says Marriage has nothing to do with love. I love Mason, but marriage has more to do with respect, with paying the bills and washing the dishes. We broke that rule about not going to bed angry before we were married three weeks. But that was hard. We wont do that again. Now, hes my best friend. I want to tell him everything. He always makes me laugh when Im in one of my bad moods.
Schoenfeldt Mr. agrees: Shes my best friend, says he, who develops new cancer drug studies for National Institutes of Health. We started with love, and now were best friends.
Herons Do It
Over in Charles County as in many other remote spots in Chesapeake Country herons are heading for their annual love tryst at a hidden rookery. Courtship rituals include display and change in body color, with the male taking on a much brighter hue. Male and female herons pair off before setting up nests at the top of tall oaks, tulip poplars and pines in a noisy, squawking community alive with 2,000 adults and shortly 1,500 chirping newborns.
On the Human Side: 3
American courtships dont depend on the impulse of the crowd. Scientists and doctors who study humans admit that courtship is individual, with no clear meaning for any signal that males and females send one another. Its so indeterminate that courtship can catch humans unawares.
In Baltimore, Colleen Angus, 35, first noticed Bernie Krupp, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, when she met him for a consultation. First thing, she says, Im an eye person. He looked right at me. He has a real gentle look that got me going. Hes very soothing. Im hyper all the time. Its nice to speak to someone who is calm, soothing and nice to look at.
But, says Krupp, We didnt connect then. My first impression was that she was innocent and naive. There was a very nice vibe that said she is a nice person but sensual at the same time. We met again when my office set me up for a haircut appointment at her salon.
I was happy to see such a beautiful woman again, but there was no magic yet, he continues. Later she sent me a hair-care product with a little note, and we started exchanging cards.
When they finally set a date, Krupp says, I was so nervous. I left Owings Mills really early. I had never been to Canton. I drove to Federal Hill. I got on Route 95. I kept making wrong turns. I still got to her house 10 minutes early. She wasnt home yet from her late evening at the salon. When she got out of the car, she looked so stately.
As Angus remembers it, we just talked. Hes a good conversationalist. Most men just want to go to a bar and drink. This was a longer courtship. I learned more about him before we got romantic.
Bernie takes care of everything, Angus continues. Everything he arranges is perfect. We really like each other. We have a good friendship. Weve been seeing each other five days a week. Now, hes going to move in.
First, says Krupp, I liked her innocence. Now, I like her feistiness. And still her naiveté. Shes wise about some things and naive about others. We balance each other. We have common interests like yoga and travel.
Not everything is so well balanced. Its a little crazy now since Im moving in, he allows. My daughters are 18 and 14, and they wonder if Ill be there all the time.
But for now, love has conquered all. The relationship works on so many levels, says the doctor. Theres a lot of potential. I think she was really put here for me. We make each other crazy, but we resolve it. Our relationship is a work of art.
Owls Do It
For the short-eared owl, its the courtship that is crazy and artful. Up in the late-winter sky, The male owl dances to attract a mate in a series of aerial swoops unlike anything else in the bird world. toot-toot-toot-toot, he sings, toot-toot-toot-toot. Intoxicated with his play, he touches his wings together, strokes back and claps wings together again with an audible crack. In time he pairs off with an admiring female, who scrapes out a shallow nest on the ground. Young are born within four weeks and are cared for by both parents.
On the Human Side: 4
Scientists these days admit there is no observable common courtship ritual among humans. The business of intention is, they admit, fuzzy. Auguste Flach knew this in 1928, writing, in rough translation from the German original, The dynamics of movement are clear and compelling while the meaning and intention is ambiguous.
Back at Cantons Pickled Parrot, Stephanie Linebaugh took a chance on the ambiguity of a first meeting.
I was sitting with my brother when this cute guy named Mike came over, says Linebaugh, 29. I noticed right away that he had nice eyes and made eye contact. Assuming Darin and I were a couple, he asked, So, how did you two meet?
I told him, I was born, and there Darin was. He got it. Then he entertained me by showing me a bar trick. It had to do with two forks, a match, a toothpick and a glass. The object was to balance the fork on the edge of the glass with only the toothpick touching the glass. I couldnt do it, but I talked him into giving me the secret. He was terribly clever.
Mike Sprinkle, 32, tells his side: She actually talked to me. We had a good conversation, not anything important, just good. She was polite, nice and down-to-earth. She didnt have any make-up painted on.
Linebaugh made the next move, too. I asked him to walk me to my door, just a block and a half away, says Linebaugh, who grew up in the Chesapeake Country village of Fairhaven Cliffs.
I was going to ask her, says Sprinkle, but she beat me to it. The same goes for initiating the first date and the first kiss.
Yes, admits Linebaugh, I asked if he was going to ask me out on a date. He said yes, so I set a time and place in about two weeks. He called later to make sure I would go through with it. We saw each other again at the Parrot before we got to the first date.
Five minutes into that first date, I knew I wanted it to be serious, says Sprinkle. She kissed me on her doorstep that evening, and I asked if we were going to see each other again. She said yes, but she had to look at her calendar.
He called me a lot, says Linebaugh, a researcher at Center for Watershed Protection. I knew it was serious. The relationship is solid and stable. We get along well. Hes very good in a relationship: Never plays games; Doesnt hide how hes feeling.
The couple felt so good about their relationship that last year they bought a home together in Severn. Next came the proposal. Sprinkle got to it first, but he confesses that he only beat her to it by a minute. Theyll be married this May.
I just feel extremely comfortable, says Sprinkle, a computer network engineer. I dont need to hide my feelings, and she doesnt need to hide hers.
Frog, squirrel, heron, owl, man, woman. Singing, chasing, congregating, clapping, exchanging glances, cards and phone numbers. No matter what the experts know or say, courting happens. Marvelous. Magical. Memorable.
Mr. Frog has the final say: If you want any more, you can sing it yourself. Uh-huh.
About the Author:
Sonia Linebaugh is about to become the mother-in-law of Mike Sprinkle. Former associate editor of Bay Weekly, she works on graphics and writing projects from her Fairhaven Cliffs home. Shes also about to publish her first book.