Sunday, June 14, 2015

Courtship and Dating

    Okay, guys and gals, I'm going to attempt to tackle a subject I have avoided up to this point. I have spent the last couple weeks thinking over and researching different views of this discussion, and I finally decided to go ahead and post on the topic.

    Our youth culture today is full of examples of short-term boyfriend/girlfriend relationships between teens and sometimes even pre-teens more and more. I could give many examples, from a 12 year old boy in a youth ministry I once helped with who bragged about his first kiss with his girlfriend, to a 13 year old girl who went into great detail describing her boyfriend with my dad, to another 13 year old boy whose aunt told my dad about his habit of going to the mall to meet up with pretty girls. True, this is one extreme of the dating culture, not necessarily the norm, but still disturbing.

    First of all, when did that become normal? What's the point? I'm all for friendships between guys and girls, but what's the point of forming a particular attachment of "this is my boyfriend" or "this is my girlfriend" when nothing will come of it for years, and you both know it?

    But on the other end of the spectrum, we have another extreme. Courtship, an idea espoused by many fairly well-known, conservative Christian leaders such as Eric Ludy, Josh Harris, Bill Gothard, and more, has made its debut in the last twenty years mostly in the homeschooled circles in which Doug Philips and Bill Gothard left their mark. Beyond the concept of courtship is the even more extreme version of spouse-finding backed by Jonathan Lindvall known as betrothal.

    So amid all these older men, what can I say that's new on the topic? First off, I'm not presenting a system of how you should find a spouse. For goodness sake, I'm 17 years old and have never had a girlfriend. I'm not here to give you relationship advice or concepts for finding a spouse. You'd be dumb to listen to me!

    But I do want to share thoughts. You can critically examine them or you can throw them out as outrageous, I don't really care. I'm simply putting down a couple of thoughts I've had recently on the subject.

    One of the first problems I've run into is that nearly every person you speak to in conservative, family-integrated circles has a different definition of courtship, and pretty much no one has bothered to define dating. It's very hard to have an intelligent conversation on a topic if both sides are undefined. So, I'm going to do my best to define them first.

    First, it's fairly hard to find a working definition of dating. Since it is by far the main method of finding a spouse in the US, most people would simply define it as "the method used to find a spouse"! For example, Wikipedia (which I am not a huge fan of anyway) defines dating as "a part of the human mating process whereby two people meet socially for companionship, beyond the level of friendship, or with the aim of each assessing the other's suitability as a partner in an intimate relationship or marriage." With a definition that broad, pretty much any method of finding a spouse would be considered dating, including courtship.

    So, since it is hard to find a specific definition for what most courtship advocates consider the opposite of courtship, I'm going to define "dating" for this particular article as "short-term, romantic relationships". The majority of the time, this method seems to have little to do with actually finding a spouse and more to do with having fun with a member of the opposite gender, but for the sake of this article, I'm including both short-term, recreational dating and more serious, focused dating under the same heading. It will be easier to define if we don't try to fit it into one sentence but instead describe it, as I'll do later with courtship.

    Dating in general involves going out on multiple dates with different people over time to find a suitable spouse. These dates can be simply recreational or with the fixed intention of trying to meet someone you would be willing to marry, but both would be included under the heading of dating. Dating is generally done almost entirely between the two people in the relationship, with little to no external control from outside the relationship.

    So, with dating semi-defined (defined as best as I can!), let's try to move on to courtship. With an entirely different problem from dating (which has no real workable definition I could find), courtship has so many definitions that it would be hard to find one that actually covers all aspects of the system of thought. For example, well-known courtship proponent Bill Gothard defines courtship on his website as, "Courtship is experiencing the blessing of God by loving the Lord Jesus Christ and honoring both sets of parents." While a guy/girl relationship is implied because of the phrase "both sets of parents", it isn't even clear from that definition we're even talking about a romantic relationship rather than simply something we are all called to do Biblically. I mean, we're all called to honor each other and love Jesus. That doesn't mean I'm in a courtship!

    Others have similar problems. I've heard many people say that courtship is "dating with a purpose". I don't find that definition satisfactory though, since I know many people who have "dated with a purpose" yet still have come nowhere close to what most courtship proponents would consider true courtship. Some websites, such as the fairly known Christian question website define courtship by its attributes, some of which it listed as no physical contact and a platonic type relationship unclouded by emotion. These, while some courtships do include these standards, aren't universally accepted as courtship.

    So, again, I'm forced to define courtship simply by its attributes. Courtship is a more serious method of finding a spouse, in contrast to the tendency to simply be recreational. Strong parental involvement (particularly of the girl's parents) is usually an important factor. Many courtships are also known for their lack of physical contact (different couples draw the lines in different places), presence of a chaperone, and more serious nature of the relationship. However, like dating, the term "courtship" covers such a broad spectrum of ideas it is hard to judge what true courtship is.

    I'm going to be bluntly honest. Both ideas scare me. On the one hand, the idea of dating as a flippant, almost recreational method of meeting with girls seems pointless and hurtful. There's a reason so many videos and articles are made about breakups, because through dating, if you plan on having boyfriends from the time you're 12 to when you marry at 22, you will have broken up multiple times. Toss in that since I at 17 am not ready to get married and I have much better ways to spend my time, the concept of dating really doesn't hold much appeal to me.

    At the same time, having grown up in courtship circles all my life, I've seen and heard enough courtship (what I consider) horror stories to make me rather nervous to touch the whole package. So, if I appreciate neither side, what's the point of the article? Good question! I'll get to that!

    I've pointed out several of the problems I have with the modern dating sphere, but I'd like to turn my attention over to courtship now. Courtship has its own set of problems. Anyone who has grown up in these circles have heard the stories of way over-protective dads (I could give you the list if you wanted) that made life hard for prospective boyfriends. While I may choose to try to go deeper with a girl who proves logical and thoughtful, that is no guarantee that her father is that way. I hesitate to involve myself in a relationship in which someone who I have no control in choosing has full power over our mutual relationship, no matter his rationality or spirituality. Also high on the list is the idea espoused by many courtship proponents (such as the Duggars) that the guy and girl should spend no time alone together. Usually, the reason given is accountability or to remove temptation from the couple's path. There just seems to be a lot of room for error there, long lasting, devastating error.

    So what I want to do with this article (have I really spent this much time just trying to get to this point?) is point out some of the problems I see with both systems. Yes, you heard that right. I like neither system the way I've seen them occur.

    So let's start with dating. What do I find unsettling about dating?

    1.) Recreation. It becomes fairly obvious when you speak to most dating teens that seriously getting to know the other person with the intention of marriage is not the goal. Usually, it's an attempt to find the prettiest girl and go out with them. The majority of the time, the goal seems to be either having fun or attaining status of "wow, I went out with the prettiest girl in the school" or whatever. I have never had a dating teen brag to me about how deep and intellectual his discussion with his girlfriend had been the night before. I have had teens try to show me pictures of their girlfriends so I'd tell them just how pretty they were. The goal in this type of relationship is fun, rather than a serious finding of a spouse. If I want fun with a girl, there's no need to call her my girlfriend. I'll just initiate a card game with her at church or strike up a conversation at taekwondo, with no need for the exclusivity that goes with the term "boyfriend" or "girlfriend".

    2.)  Breakups. Why can you find so many videos on breakups on YouTube and articles online? I've never even tried to find any, yet there they are, sitting in your suggestions bar on YouTube. Why? Because breakups happen a lot! As I said before, if teens plan on dating from when we're 13 to when we're 24, we're talking about a roughly ten year span of dating! Chances are you won't be dating the same person all ten years. That means you will have broken up, probably several times. Honestly, I don't see the point to putting yourself through that. Why do you need a boyfriend at 14 years old only to break up with them at 17, so you can pick up another boy at 18 and date them until you're 20, and so on? I'm even being generous with the length of time there, since we've all heard of the more common, six month, four month, seven month dating relationships.

    Those are my two major issues with dating. But what about courtship? Courtship was the savior, right? Supposed to preserve us from the current problems of spouse finding, correct? Well, I find some problems here too!

    1.) An over-emphasis on parents. In response to dating's problem of nearly no parental influence, courtship shot back with the concept of parental controls in the courtship. Sure, go for it. I got no problem there. But then you begin hearing the stories of fathers who made admittedly suitable guys wait seven years to marry their daughters, just because they said so, no reason given. Or dads who spend months drilling a guy to see if he's a suitable match for his daughter. Soon, it seems no longer as if the guy has to win a girl's heart, but as if he must win her father's heart first! Sure, I want her dad's blessing. And I want him to get to know me, and I hope his daughter asks his advice about me. But that's not the same as putting me through a six month examination about theology, career, money-handling, etc.

    2.) An intensely strong (borderline legalistic) emphasis on standards. In the circles I've been in, the higher the standards and the harder they were to keep, the more spiritual the couple must have been. If you managed to attain the "no-touch" courtship, you were the model couple, obviously spiritually more mature than the couple who *gasp* held hands! Never mind that the Bible never says where the line is beyond not crossing the line of fornication. Ignoring that, many courtship proponents have built an incredibly complex system in which physical contact at all becomes a no-no. The idea of shaking hands with any girl in the church except the one you're courting just seems weird to me! We should not judge others on extra-Biblical standards of our own making.

    3.) Chaperones. Now, I have nothing against the idea of chaperones going along on dates. If that's the way you want to do it, go for it! But let's be honest that there are things that I would like to tell my prospective wife on a date that I don't particularly want to tell her brother. There are ideas and dreams that you may feel comfortable sharing with a young lady you are becoming close to that you don't particularly want to share with whoever else is at the table. Plus, discussions about beliefs usually carry on more freely between two people rather than three.

    So, I imagine a lot of you are saying right now, "You haven't helped at all! All you did was criticize both!" And I suppose that's true! But here's my point!

    Below I'm going to share some thoughts. Please take these as thoughts, random ramblings from a teenager, not from a mature elder who has been through a relationship and seen the world! These are simply the ponderings of somebody who has spent a good bit of time in these circles! These are not rules you must follow in order to gain God's favor, and you are not less spiritual than me if you disagree! These are simply the things I think make sense. If either dating or courtship makes perfect sense to you, go for it! There's nothing wrong with either system as long as you do them in a God-honoring way. This isn't a question of theological truth, just personal preference.

    1.) Let's not even bother with the whole girlfriend/boyfriend thing until we're ready for marriage. C'mon, seriously, what's the point of having a specific "girlfriend" (I'm not speaking of friends that are girls, but rather of a particular romantic relationship) at 14 years old? What's the point? You can't get married for at least a few years (assuming you stick with the same one that long), and you're simply distracted! So, let's just lay off the whole deal until we're ready for that step. That means old enough and close to mature enough (I'm not sure you're ever mature enough, but you get the point), at a minimum.

    2.) What's with the big deal with guys being friends with girls, and vice versa? Look, I realize there are people at church who like to put together couples in their heads. I also realize that when they see guys and girls talking together, it gets the little wheels in their heads turning. But could they please keep their mouths shut about it? Just because guys and girls are friends doesn't mean there is anything romantic going on, and bringing it into the discussion will simply make what was probably a harmless friendship awkward. So please, people, let guys and girls get to know each other, as friends! Let us play games and talk together. Let us get over our fear of the other gender and learn to interact with them!

    3.) When you do get ready to get to know a young lady (I'm speaking to the other guys on this one), bring her family into the discussion. Different people feel differently about whether or not you should talk to her father first, or get permission from him in order to have a courtship at all. That's not my point here. My main point is to involve her family. Let her parents know what you're doing. Don't dodge her dad like he's the plague. Talk to him, explain your interest, and get to know him better. No, you don't have to fall in love with him. No, you may not even get along with him that well. But have the respect to talk to him (and her mother) when you want to get to know a young lady. How much sway parents will hold over the relationship can be decided depending on the two young people's personal beliefs and how they've been raised. But at a minimum at least get the parents involved.

    4.) No, if you leave a Christian young guy and a Christian young girl together, they will not immediately begin kissing if you leave them without a chaperone. Despite the somewhat popular belief that teens have absolutely no self-control, that is actually false in some of us (go figure!). If our parents have trained us to follow the Holy Spirit and live for Jesus, they can hopefully trust that we won't whip around the second they turn their backs and begin doing wrong things. I'm not sure what the problem is that so many homeschooled, courtship-minded parents think is wrong with us that it is absolutely unthinkable that we would be left alone with a young lady (or vice versa). I think most of the Christian parents who feel this way have worked to instill in their children these standards of self-control. At least some of us teens try to keep these principles not because of the presence of a chaperone but because we love Jesus Christ and want to please Him.

    5.) Watch the physical side. How far is too far? I couldn't tell you! All the Bible says is to flee youthful lusts and avoid fornication. That's all Paul thought needful to tell us, so I'm not going to go beyond that. However, be careful of it! At the same time, hugging a friend of the opposite gender at church is not wrong! Why do we have to complicate everything?

    So, those are some thoughts I thought I'd just put out there. Again, these aren't rules that you must live by. As you probably noticed, there isn't much Scripture in this post. You wanna know the reason? Because God didn't choose to devote a whole lot of time to this topic in Scripture. Yes, He showed a lot of different ways of finding a spouse, but He never labeled any of them as His particular preferred method. And before you decided to go imitate whatever methods you find in the Bible, I would take a quick look at some study materials on the difference between historical narrative and Biblical principles for living! While the Bible may speak of Ruth finding a husband by curling up at his feet on a threshing floor, surrounded by sleeping men, that is probably not a recommended method today. While it may mention marrying captives taken in war, again, not a recommended method.

    So, take 'em or leave 'em, it's up to you! These are just some simple thoughts I had. I'm not sure if these thoughts mean I believe in courtship, dating, both, or neither, and honestly, I don't really care. If you have any further thoughts, objections, or questions, please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer it!


  1. Good article! I too don't believe the Bible sets out a particular path for finding a spouse. So whenever people ask, thats what I say. To me, it is up for each individual couple decide. In general though, I personally prefer the idea of "Christian" dating over courtship simply because there seems to be a lot more problems with courtship. Also, unlike courtship, dating gives a time of getting to know each other before getting into a relationship. For a lot of people, they might not have families who get together with other families 24/7, so a lot of times a pre-courtship period is not always possible.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! Basically, it comes down to your third sentence, "To me, it is up for each individual couple to decide." That's basically the long and short of it. If the couple doesn't mind chaperones and extremely high standards held as very important, that's fine! If another couple prefers dating, go for it! At the end of the day, there is no one Christian answer.

      Welcome back, by the way! :)

  2. Good article! It was a little long, but from skimming through it, I think I agree with you for the most part. Its a topic that is really hard to condense into a blog post, but you did a good job of it. ;) It is refreshing to hear a more balanced view point. Thanks!

    1. I'm glad you liked it! It is by far one of the longest posts I've ever written. When I went back to proof-read it last night before I posted, I was thinking, "Wait, did I write all that?" :) Thanks for the encouragement!

    2. Yeah, I have started posts before on this topic, but every time I would start one, I kept on thinking of more and more things to add, so I finally just decided to not post on that topic. I also figured enough other bloggers had at least one post on this topic, so the blogging world really wouldn't be in desperate need of mine anyway. Haha! Have you ever read the book "Sex, Dating, and Relationships" by Gerald Hiestand and Jay S. Thomas
      It is such a good book on the topic and probably the most balanced views I have read. Very refreshing! I highly recommend it. I don't know that I agreed with everything, but it definitely made some good points.

    3. No, I have not read it. And I hadn't realized you had a blog too! Going to check it out now... :)

    4. Haha! Yes, I do blog. I have actually been blogging for about 5 years on the same blog. ;) I am not super regular about posting and I like to do poetry a lot (as you will notice. ;) ), but hope you enjoy it.

    5. Nice blog! And yes, you do like poetry! I will be back over there to check it out some more. 5 years is a nice long time to get used to it. Mine's only been up since September. I'm still a newbie!

    6. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it and please come back too. ;)
      Yes, 5 years is a long time. I have considered starting a new blog just because that blog is so old and I know I have changed so much since starting it and my views have changed on things, as well, and I feel like I am not even the same person as the person who started it 5 years ago, but I don't know. What do you think? Maybe I should ask my readers that question sometime.

    7. I don't know how much you've changed, cause I've only known you for probably a month! If your views have changed a ton, I'd say changing blogs might be a good idea. At the same time, some change is normal in five years!

      I'd probably pose that as a question on the blog! But I can already tell you most people would vote for you to stay with the same blog. :)

    8. Very true! Yeah, I will probably just stick with what I have. I have been talking about changing it for a long time now, but I still haven't so I probably never will. Haha!

  3. NIce job, Taylor! Having done courtship and married from it, I definitely agree with you. With our kids, we are all for waiting until marriage is a viable option, carefully evaluating compatibility for marriage, desiring to be around the possible spouse -to -be, and minimizing temptation. However, you have very valid points, and from someone who has lived through the awkward courtship moments, we are hoping not to repeat them! :)
    I have an idea. I'll pick your wife. :) That's not dating, betrothal, or courtship. We can start a new trend of letting your siblings pick your spouse.

    1. Ha, ha, good suggestion, Aimee! Hmm, well if I had to choose someone to pick my spouse, it would be you. Well, after me!

    2. Who is Aimee???

      If I'm going to be commenting over here, I really should set up an account, shouldn't I? That way I wouldn't have to get your answers through Revive...

    3. That would be my dear, wonderfully wise sister!