In the last week, my post Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Flawed received over half a million readers and over 100,000 comments, likes, and shares on Facebook. It has sparked a robust discussion in the comments section with over 1000 lengthy responses.
So, I would like to respond to some of the most frequent questions and concerns. The following are synthesized versions of common comments, questions and objections.
If you have not yet done so, I recommend you read Why Courtship Is Flawed first. It is the more important post.
Want to a better case for why courtship is fundamentally flawed? Check out our Kickstarter campaign for the upcoming book Courtship in Crisis.
“Are you saying parents should be uninvolved in the process like they are in modern dating?”
No. No. No.
I think many of the people who are asking this merely skimmed the article instead of actually reading it.
I am arguing for a different kind of parental involvement: that of a trusted adviser rather than a dictator. I am trying to show that parental control over adult children can do more harm than good. The kind of parent who feels “no control” is “no involvement” may have control issues. If the comments are any gauge, most young people long for relationship advice from their parents.
Parents play a vital role in traditional dating. They meet the dates and give their son or daughter advice on what they like and don’t like about each one. This way they help their children learn to make their own good decisions.
Then both young people (if they are still minors) get permission from their own parents before they start “going steady.” During the going steady phase the parents are giving advice and encouragement. If they are both adults, this permission step is often skipped although advise is still sought.
Then finally the guy gets permission/blessing from the girl’s father before they transition from going steady to engagement. This step typically happens despite their age. So a 34 year old man would still ask permission/blessing before popping the question to a 34 year old woman. During the engagement phase, the couple is still getting parental guidance. The culmination of this is the rehearsal dinner where the parents typically give short speeches of relationship advice and encouragement.
“You are encouraging children to rebel against their parents. You should have a millstone tied around your neck and should be cast into the sea.”
This may be the first time I have had Christians cuss me out and wish for my death. This is the inevitable outcome of this sort of conversation. I expected it. The good news is more people are praying for my salvation now than ever before. I appreciate the prayer however it is intended.
My audience for these posts is single adults (18+). According to Google Analytics, the majority of readers of the original post are over the age of 18. I am far more concerned about the 25-year-old stay at home daughter who has never gone out on a date than I am about the 16-year-old guy who believes dating is evil.
It makes sense to me that the younger a child is, the more control the parents extend over his or her life. My Podcast Co-host and bestselling author James L Rubart has a three step process he went through with his sons of Dictator, Coach, Friend. As his sons matured, the nature of his relationship with them changed. By the time they were 18 they had transitioned into the “friend stage” with him. This sounds very healthy to me.
For a great post on this, see author Mary DeMuth’s wonderful advice on parenting your children through romantic relationships.
“Our courtship worked. Therefore, courtship works.”
My thesis is not that Courtship is universally flawed. It is fundamentally flawed in the same way a Yugo was a fundamentally flawed car. Yugos sometimes worked. For some people they lasted years. But eventually they all broke. While all cars break down eventually, some cars break down faster than others. The better the initial design the longer the car lasts.
Many of the successful courtship stories posted in the comments contain a statement like “we used a modified form of courtship.” So they knew they needed to modify the Yugo to make it more reliable. If you are a good mechanic, you could keep a Yugo running for a long time. This does not negate the premise that the fundamental design is flawed.
I suspect most singles would prefer their romance be more like a BMW than a Yugo.
I am not saying Courtship is evil, or that it will lead inevitably to singleness or divorce. God gives us a lot of freedom when it comes to relationships. I have nothing against Arranged Marriage or its little sister Courtship. If it has worked for you, great!
If it is not working for you, I would like to humbly suggest an old fashioned alternative called “Traditional Dating” that worked for my grandparents’ generation.
Just because something is flawed does not make it wrong or evil. I am not here to judge you if you prefer courtship.
“Joshua Harris is a terrible person for advocating courtship. He ruined my life.”
Ultimately we are all responsible for our own decisions. I have no one to blame for my failures other than myself.
I have a deep respect for Joshua Harris. His teaching led a generation of conservatives away from promiscuity. He helped move us from the cultural norm of hooking up on the first date to having a first kiss at the altar. His call for holiness is something we should heed still. I remember being so fired up for Christ after listening to one of his teachings that I shared the gospel with a couple of complete strangers at a Walgreens. I just couldn’t help myself.
I really respect him for dedicating his life to advancing the Kingdom full time by leading and planting churches.
I know some of you have been wounded by courtship in the past. Some of the stories in the comments have broken my heart. I had no idea how bad it was for some people. These outcomes were not Joshua Harris’ intent. He, like me, was a single man trying to respond to a broken relationship culture and trying to direct people back to Christ.
It was other conservative leaders who weaponized Harris’ teachings and used them to chain singles into a rigid set of rules. They turned I Kissed Dating Goodbye into a religion called Courtship.
One of my fears with my post is people will do the same thing with it. I don’t want to see Traditional Dating turned into yet another set of chains. Please say “no” to legalism.
“I courted, and now I am in an abusive relationship. What should I do?”
You are a child of our heavenly Father. He loves you. You belong to Him and no one else. Don’t let anyone twist the Scripture into an excuse for abuse.
“It is unfair to tell guys to avoid women who say, ‘Talk to my dad.’”
One reason I wrote this post is because about half a dozen godly single men asked me to write it. They had done their best to honor God through courtship and had ended up with broken spirits. The heart of my post was to encourage them and the others like them to try again. That is my heart.
First off, the section at the end of Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed is advice. I am not giving commands. There have been enough commands about relationships from others. You don’t need them from me. And who am I to tell you what to do anyway. I’m just some guy with a blog.
Secondly, I am talking about relationships between adults. If you are 14, you should talk to your parents about these posts and let them set me straight.
Finally, I’m not saying it is wrong to pursue a girl who requires a guy to fight a dragon before winning her heart. I just wouldn’t advise it in most situations.
7 Reasons I Don’t Recommend Going After Dragon-Guarded Women
- Getting parental approval to start makes things too intense too quickly. Getting permission to enter a relationship whose purpose is marriage, before getting to know the girl, is like stepping on the gas while also stepping on the brakes. That is not a healthy way to start a relationship. Better to begin as “just friends” who get coffee or ice cream every now and again. Please read the original post for all of the problems that come from getting too intense too soon. Here is another way to think of it: it’s like trying to bake cookies at 500 degrees. The higher temperature the harder it is to avoid burnt cookies.
- There is a good chance “Talk to my dad” is really her way of saying “no.” Often girls feel bad about hurting a guy’s feelings by saying “no.” It is easier for a girl to send the man to her dad who can say “no” for her. So my advice is to take the hint and take the “no” for what it really is.
- There may be maturity issues. If she doesn’t feel mature enough to give you a direct answer, there is a chance she is not mature enough for the relationship. The kind of girls protected in this way are often the kind of girls who don’t have a lot of freedom to make their own choices, which can stunt their emotional maturity. They may still live at home and lack the real world experience for the kind of serious marriage-bound courtship the dad will likely insist you have.
- There may be trust issues. Assuming she is an adult (18+), the fact that her parents don’t let her make this decision reveals their distrust. If her parents, who have known her all her life, don’t trust her, then why should you? These trust issues may instead be a symptom of a lack of trust in God. On the other hand, she could be an amazing trustworthy girl whose suspicious parents are unwilling to cede control over her life to her.
- The parents may need to be “handled” for the rest of the relationship. Some of the comments say that the man should ”man up” and “handle” the father. This can put an undue strain on the relationship and can lead to some very sad outcomes as I’ve seen in the comments. Ideally, family gatherings should be something couples look forward to. No one wants Christmas to be a warzone.
- It makes the relationship mathematically more complex. Two people together is one relationship. Three people triples the number of relationships to three. A true courtship with all four parents involved is 15 different relationships. Any of these relationships can bring tension into the romantic relationship. The more people in a relationship, the harder it is to “shake hands and make up.” The inevitable reconciliation needed for a healthy relationship can become nearly impossible. The less flawed model is to have only one relationship between two people who get advice from 4 trusted advisers. Thanks to Stephen McCants for correcting my math on this.
- It is not your place to change someone’s family. Unconditional love means you love without conditions. This means accepting someone for who they are. Going into a relationship with a goal to change someone or their family is not love, it is manipulation. This goes both ways.
I will admit, there can be great rewards for the knight who fights off the dragon to win the hand of the princess. This is an old story and one knight may succeed where many others have fallen.
There have been many stories in the comments of married women who are thankful for their dragon fighting husbands. There is nothing new under the sun. Domineering fathers will always be with us. I agree it is unfair to doom guarded adult daughters to lifelong singleness.
But if you were my friend, I would advise you to try to find a girl without a dragon flying about her castle.
“Are you saying that we can rely solely on human wisdom in relationships?”
Unless the Lord builds your relationship you labor in vain regardless of what method you are using. No system is a substitute for the Holy Spirit.
“Are you saying if I use traditional dating I will have a long and happy marriage like your grandparents?”
No system is perfect. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We are all broken and any human system will contain that brokenness. Some systems are more broken than others. Your trust should be in Christ, not in the system you are using.
But just because no system is perfect is no excuse to use no system at all. Just because the cookies can burn in any recipe is no excuse to reject the idea of recipes altogether. The better the recipe you are working from, the better your chance for success. I don’t recommend baking with a fundamentally flawed recipe which must be modified in order to work.
“I am 25 years old and no guy has ever asked me out on a date. What should I do?”
As a man I am very hesitant to answer this question but it is too common in the comments not to make the attempt.
First I would recommend talking to a friend who is recently married and ask her to coach you. Talk to your mom as well. Trusting God is not an excuse for inaction. Don’t sit on the couch trusting God that he will do the dishes for you. Trust that he will give you the ability to wash the dishes yourself. God put us on this planet to work and relationships require work from both the man and the woman. Don’t confuse laziness with holiness.
Second, watch your vibes. There is a vibe girls send out when they are in a relationship with a man. This vibe communicates they are “off the market.” Some Christian girls unintentionally put out this vibe in an attempt to “guard their hearts.” The result is that honorable guys leave them alone and they only get hit on by dishonorable men or no men at all.
My advice to you is to be friendly to guys. Make eye contact, smile, laugh, and give them attention. I can think of nothing more attractive about a girl than a genuine smile. This is not Turkey where women are discouraged from laughing in public. The Bible encourages us to speak kind words to each other.
Before a guy can pursue you, he needs to notice you and have hope that he has a chance with you. This can be a beautiful relational dance. But like any dance, this one requires both people to participate.
Move your purity ring to your right hand. A ring on your left ring finger can look like an engagement ring and communicates to honorable men that you are taken. When my sister made this shift, she suddenly had many honorable men asking her out. It was a night and day change. Even as a guy, I wear my purity ring on my right hand.
“Courtship is Biblical because the Church is Christ’s bride.”
Just because all cats are mammals does not mean all mammals are cats.
God gave us marriage to help us understand a small part of the glory that is Christ and the church. I don’t think we can expect to fully understand something Paul described as a great mystery. If you are expecting all of that glory to fit into your marriage (or courtship), I fear you may be disappointed. Remember we are all prodigal sons, prone to wander.
Also I should note that Christ’s marriage with the church is (arguably) an arranged marriage. So I am not sure how this supports courtship. For the vocal advocates of arranged marriage, I would like to reiterate that I have nothing against you or your system. I admire your willingness to buck the culture.
Don’t Forget to Love God First and Foremost
As Christians, our mission is to love God and love each other. This is the greatest commandment. The purpose of all of our activities whether it be dating, courtship, arranged marriage or washing the dishes should be to love God.
Binding each other with man-made rules is not love. Taking advantage of each other is not love. Manipulating each other is not love. Love is patient and kind. Love is not boastful, proud or rude.
As we discuss this topic let us be patient and kind. Let’s try not to be boastful, proud or rude. If we practice loving each other as we discuss this, it will be good practice for discussing difficult topics with our future spouses. Learning to disagree agreeably is a great skill to help any relationship.
“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”