Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed

Lonely Woman on a Bench - Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed

Author’s Note: This blog post has been expanded and clarified in my book Courtship in Crisis.

I grew up as a member of the homeschool community back when we were hiding from the cops and getting our textbooks from public school dumpsters.  When I was a teenager, my friends started reading this new book called I Kissed Dating Goodbye. For months we could talk of little else. After reading it myself, I grew into as big an opponent of dating as you could find. Dating was evil and Courtship, whatever it was, was godly, good and Biblical.

My grandparents would often ask why I wasn’t dating in high school. I explained what courtship was and quoted Joshua Harris, chapter and verse. Their response surprised me.

“I don’t think courtship is a smart idea,” my grandfather said.

“How can you tell who you want to marry if you aren’t going out on dates?” my grandmother wondered every time the topic came up. I tried to convince them but to no avail. They both obstinately held to the position that courtship was a foolish idea.

Well, what did they know? They were public schooled. I ignored their advice on relationships, preferring to listen to the young people around me who were passionate advocates of courtship.

As I grew older, I started to speak at homeschool conferences and events. I talked with homeschool parents, students and alumni all over the country and started to see some challenges with making courtship work.

Some of the specific challenges I identified were:

  • Identification (Finding that other person)
  • Interaction (Spending time with the other person)
  • Initiation (Starting the relationship)

So I founded PracticalCourtship.com. Its purpose: to instigate a national conversation about how to make courtship more practical. Visits and comments poured in from all over the country about how to make courtship work and why it did not work.

Each year I waited for courtship to start working and for my homeschool friends to start getting married. It never happened. Most of them are still single. Some have grown bitter and jaded. Then couples who did get married through courtship started getting divorced. I’m talking the kind of couples who first kissed at their wedding were filing for divorce.

This was not the deal!

The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.  The whole point of courtship was to have a happy marriage, not a high divorce rate.

So I humbled myself and took my grandmother out for dinner to hear why she thought courtship was a bad idea all those years ago. She had predicted the failure of courtship back in the 90s and I wanted to understand how and why.

Now let me define what I mean by “courtship”.

So what is courtship anyway?

After 20 years there still is no general consensus as to what courtship is. But here are the elements most conservative communities have in common:

  • The man must ask the woman’s father’s permission before pursuing the woman romantically.
  • High accountability (chaperones, monitored correspondence, etc).
  • Rules about physical contact and purity. (The specific rules vary from community to community).
  • The purpose of the courtship is marriage
  • High relational intentionality and intensity
  • High parental involvement. Fathers typically hold a “permission and control” role rather than the traditional “advice and blessing” role held by their fathers.

The Case for Traditional Dating

My grandmother grew up in a marginally Christian community. People went to church on Sunday, but that was the extent of their religious activity. They were not the Bible-reading, small-grouping, mission-tripping Christian young people common in evangelical churches today.

And yet her community of friends all got married and then stayed married for decades and decades. So what on earth were they doing that worked so well? Over dinner, my grandmother shared her story about what dating was like back in the 30s and 40s.

When my grandmother dated in middle school (yes, middle school) her parents had one primary rule for her.

The Primary Dating Rule: Don’t go out with the same guy twice in a row.

So if she went out for soda with Bob on Tuesday, she had to go to a movie with Bill on Thursday before she could go to the school dance with Bob on Saturday.

That sounded crazy to me. So, I asked her the rationale behind it. She explained that the lack of exclusivity helped them guard their hearts and kept things from getting too serious too quickly. The lack of exclusivity kept the interactions fun and casual. “The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!” She said.

The lack of exclusivity helped the girls guard their hearts and kept the boys from feeling entitled to the girl. How could a boy have a claim to her time, heart or body if she was going out with someone else later that week?

She went on to explain that by the time she graduated from high school, she had gone out on dates with over 20 different guys. This meant that by the time she was 17 years old she knew which Bob she wanted to marry. They got married and stayed married till my grandfather passed away half a century later.

“If I had only gone out with 3 or 4 guys I wouldn’t have known what I wanted in a husband,” she said.

It is not that her parents were uninvolved; it is that they played an advisory role, particularly as she entered high school and they relaxed the rules about not going steady.

The Difference Between “Dating” and “Going Steady”

She went on to explain that there used to be a linguistic differentiation between “dating” and “going steady”. “Going steady” meant you were going out with the same person multiple times in a row. It often had symbols like the girl wearing the guy’s letter jacket. This telegraphed to everyone at school that she was “off the market” and that she had a “steady beau”.

It seems that my great grandparents’ rule forbidding my grandmother from going out with the same guy twice in a row was a common rule in those days.

The Greatest Generation was encouraged to date and discouraged from going steady while in middle school.

This is different from my generation, which is encouraged to “wait until you are ready to get married” before pursuing a romantic relationship. This advice, when combined with the fact that “the purpose of courtship is marriage”, makes asking a girl out for dinner the emotional equivalent of asking for her hand in marriage.

I am not convinced that anyone is ever truly ready to get married. Readiness can become a carrot on a stick, an ideal that can never be achieved. Marriage will always be a bit like jumping into a pool of cold water. A humble realization that you are not ready and in need of God’s help may be the more healthy way to start a marriage.

As the decades moved on, our language and behavior changed. We stopped using the phrase “going steady” and changed “dating” to mean “going steady”. For example, we would now say “John and Sarah have been dating for 3 months.” when the Greatest Generation would have said “John and Sarah have been going steady for 3 months.”

We then started using new pejoratives like “dating around” and “playing the field” to describe what used to just be called “dating”. Each decade added more exclusivity, intensity, and commitment to dating and saw a subsequent rise in temptation and promiscuity.

It is easier to justify promiscuity when you are exclusively committed to just one person, even if that commitment is only a week old.

In the late 80s and early 90s this promiscuous culture reached its peak. People would “go steady” for just a few weeks and then move on to the next relationship. It was this “hookup and breakup” culture that the founders of courtship were reacting to.

But their proposed solution involved adding even more commitment, exclusivity and intensity, the very things that lead to the problem in the first place. This is why courtship is fundamentally flawed.

The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing.

Or, put another way, they replaced dating with engagement. The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date.

Similarities between Courtship & Engagement:

  • They both require the permission of the father.
  • They both are intended for marriage.
  • They are not “broken up” but are instead “called off”.
  • When they are called off there is an inevitable rending of a community as one of the couple no longer feel comfortable spending time with the community of their ex-future spouse.

Young people are expected to jump from interacting with each other in groups straight into “pseudo-engagement”. This is a jump very few are prepared to make. The result is that a commitment to courtship is often a commitment to lifelong singleness.

Why the Courtship Divorce Rate is So High

Recently I have seen a spike in divorces amongst couples who courted. I have a few theories as to why this is. Young people whose parents often maintain veto power on all of their decisions are then expected to make this most important decision without any experience in good decision making. They have no context of who they are, past decision making or an idea of what they are looking for in a spouse.

How can you know what personality you fit well with if you only go out with one other person? The result can be a mismatched couple and a marriage that is difficult to sustain.

Right now all we have little research to go on in terms of the courtship divorce rate. In my observations, some homeschool communities have a much higher divorce rate than others. I would be very interested in seeing some research on this phenomenon. This blog post is my call for more research on the divorce rate amongst couples who “courted” before getting married.

Advantages of Traditional Dating

Less Temptation – It is hard to fall in love with Bob on Tuesday when you know you are going out for coffee with Bill on Thursday. This lack of emotional commitment leads to less physical temptation.  Less temptation leads to less compromise. I have no idea how women are supposed to guard their hearts while in an exclusive relationship with the purpose of marriage.

More Interaction – I know many homeschool girls who are frustrated that they never get asked out on a date. It is not uncommon to find a 21 year old stay at home daughter who has never been asked out on a date. The reason for this is not because the girl is unattractive (although that may be the story she convinces herself of over time).

The real reason is that few guys are willing to ask permission from a woman’s father to marry her before being able to ask her out on a date to get to know her. Even when this permission is requested, it is unlikely to be given.

I know several godly, hardworking and attractive homeschool guys who have been rejected by as many as a dozen fathers. I respect their tenacity. Getting turned down by courtship fathers is tough on guys because the fathers are rarely gentle or kind. So if you are a courtship-minded girl wondering why the guys are not calling, you may want to ask your dad how many guys he has run off.

With Traditional Dating, asking a girl out on a date is no big deal. All the guy is asking to do is to get to know the girl better. Maybe this leads to a deeper relationship, maybe it doesn’t. Either way, the interaction is easier and more fun when it is not so intense.

Less Heartbreak – One of the promises of courtship is that it can lead to less heartbreak than dating. I laugh at this to keep myself from crying. This could not be further from the truth. Calling off a courtship can be as emotionally wrenching as calling off an engagement. It can take years to recover from a “failed courtship.” Also let’s not also forget the emotional cost for girls of not being asked out year after year and the emotional cost for guys of being rejected by father after father.

More Marriage – Let’s face it, most married people got married because they dated first. I would even submit that most homeschoolers who do get married supplemented with dating at some point in their journey. Courtship is not resulting in many marriages despite having been advocated by (sometimes unmarried) conservative leaders for nearly 20 years.

More Fun – The institution of marriage is crumbling. Of the last two generations, one won’t get married and the other won’t stay married. A smaller percentage of people are married in America than at any other time. Part of what helps perpetuate the institution of marriage is making the process of getting married fun. My grandmother made dating in her day sound really fun. Courtship on the other hand can be awkward and emotionally heartwrenching.

Dating also trains people to continue dating their spouse after they get married. It is important for married couples to be able to have fun with each other. The kind of parents who are the strongest advocates of courtship are often the ones who go on the fewest dates with each other.

More Matchmaking – Modern Courtship doesn’t really have a mechanism for matchmaking. How can there be blind dates if the man must first get permission from a father? Courtship relationships are so intense that even introductions can be awkward. I know many happily married couples who met through a blind date or an online matchmaking service like eHarmony. Matchmaking is a time-tested practice that Traditional Dating is fully compatible with. Courtship? Not so much.

More League Awareness –  Not everyone has the same level of attractiveness, character, intelligence and wealth. Parents tend to see their own children through rose-colored glasses. Homeschool communities can be a bit like Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average. It is easy for “no guy to be good enough for daddy’s little princess”. The sad result of enforcing this mindset is a daughter who becomes a spinster. With traditional dating guys learn their league by finding out what girls say “yes” to that second date. Girls learn their league by seeing what kind of guys ask them out.

Responding to Common Questions & Objections to Traditional Dating

Why Not Just Spend Time in Groups?

If you talk with advocates of modern courtship they speak highly of single people spending time in groups. Group settings reduce the intensity, commitment and exclusivity and thus protect the hearts of single people.

The problem with group settings is that not all personality types open up in group settings. Many married couples include one spouse who is more comfortable in group settings than the other. These couples may have never found each other if they were limited to “group dating.”

In group activities, it can be hard for the wallflowers to be discovered for the flowers that they really are. They need a less intense 1-on-1 setting in which to bloom. Group settings are particularly rough on women who grew up in communities where they were trained to value submissiveness, meekness and quietness.

The other challenge with group settings is that they are logistically complex. The more people you add to the group, the harder coordination becomes. Where is a stay-at-home daughter who attends a small family integrated church supposed to find groups of young people to hang out with? The result of limiting interaction to group settings is many lonely nights interacting with no one.

But Isn’t Courtship Biblical?

When applying Scripture, particularly the Old Testament, to our lives, it is important to differentiate between Biblical precedent, principle and precept. Just because Jacob had two wives and a seven-year engagement does not mean that God wants all men to have two wives and seven-year engagements.

What we have in the Old Testament is a lot of precedent: each story is different from the last.

For precedents we have:

  • the woman as the protagonist in the romance (Ruth & Boaz)
  • the man as the protagonist in the romance (Jacob & Rachel)
  • the romance arranged by a third party (Isaac & Rebekah)
  • the woman entering the man’s harem (David & Abigail, Micah, Bathsheba etc.)

There are some good Scriptural precepts about sexual purity in the New Testament, and there are some principles about the benefits of marrying young and that sort of thing.

But the Bible is surprisingly quiet when it comes to laying out a system of courtship. Courtship Systems are cultural, and the Bible rarely advocates one cultural approach over another. God’s heart is that every tribe and tongue come worship him without having to surrender their food, language or other cultural distinctives in the process.

Most of the moral arguments for courtship are actually arguments for arranged marriage. The arguments for the strong involvement of parents fit arranged marriage much better than they fit courtship.

When I started PracticalCourtship.com, one of my goals was to never use the site to criticize arranged marriage. In countries like India, that have both arranged marriages and “love marriages,” the arranged marriages have the lower divorce rate. Arranged marriage has been used by many cultures for many years with good results.

The problem is that arranged marriage is not a good fit for western culture. Many Americans value individual liberty more than life itself. Giving this most important decision to someone else is not something many of us are comfortable with. Also, parents are often hesitant to arrange marriages lest their child resent them if the marriage turns out to be an unhappy one.

I don’t see Arranged Marriage taking off in Western Culture.

We need a system to help young people make good decisions. Fortunately, we have one: Traditional Dating.

Traditional Dating fits our culture like a glove. Most of Americans already intuitively know how it works because it is part of who we are as a people. If you don’t know how it works, ask your grandparents and they will tell you of the glory days when men were free. Watch the twinkle in their eye when they tell you of a time when men and women could fall in love and pick their own spouses.

Hasn’t Our Sexualized Culture Ruined Dating?

There is no denying that the media is far more sexually charged than it was when my grandparents were dating in junior high. Now while some of that is the media following culture (The Beatles sang about hand holding while hippies swapped STDs in the 60s), I do believe that media affects the culture. The question is how do we best respond to that culture.

The commitment, exclusivity and intensity of dating is what lead to temptation and compromise in the first place. Courtship makes the problem worse by increasing the commitment which intensifies the temptation. The advocates of courtship know this, which is why chaperones are so critical to the system.

The other problem with courtship is that it often delays marriage. Courtship communities expect young people to live celibate lives in a sexually charged culture for a decade or more before they get married. The Bible instructs us to flee temptation and to marry lest you burn with lust. Courtship teaches instead to delay marriage until you are ready.

I recently heard a local pastor complaining about a rash of older 20 something women in his church who had given up on finding prince charming. They started making physical compromises in an effort to attract a man. Once they gave up on courtship they just grabbed whatever the world was offering.

The benefit of traditional dating is that the lack of exclusivity reduces temptation. It also helps young people find out who they are and who they are looking for faster.  Early marriage reduces the number of years a young person must resist sexual temptation through celibacy.

Finally, I should say this: Where sin abounds, grace abounds more. I understand Grace to be the power of God to do the will of God. The power of God is greater than the power of our sexualized culture. There is nothing new under the sun and no new temptation that is not already common to man. This is not the first time Christians have lived in a sexualized culture.

If you study history, you will find that this actually happens often. In each of those generations God provided a way out. I believe that for our generation that way is Traditional Dating.

Now Let’s Talk Some Specifics

Suggestions For Single Women

If you are a single woman, realize that the reason guys are not asking you out is NOT because you are unattractive. It is because you live in a system where he must want to marry you before he can get to know you. It is the system that is broken, not you. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Somewhere out there is a guy who will see you as the most beautiful woman in the world. The more guys you meet, the faster you will find him.

  • If a Christian guy asks you out for dinner, say “yes”. You don’t need to love him to say yes to a first date.
  • Be friendly. Give the guy hope that he has a chance with you. Coyness is not as attractive as the media makes it out to be.
  • Don’t make him run a gauntlet before he can get to know you. Realize he is not asking to marry you when he asks if he can buy you dinner.
  • Some guys are hidden gems and are more than meets the eye. Give him a chance to win your attention and to earn that second date.
  • If you are not interested in a guy, let him down gently. There is a way to give a firm “no” to a guy without making him feel like a worm.
  • Don’t call in your dad to scare him off unless he won’t take the hint. Your dad and his shotgun should be the last resort.
  • Let the guy pay for dinner.

Suggestions for Single Men

  • Start asking girls out. Most girls would love to be asked out and will say “yes” if you would just ask them.
  • Realize that asking a girl out for dinner is not the same as proposing marriage.
  • If she says you need to talk to her dad first, take the “no” for what it is and move on to the next woman. For a better explanation of this point see 7 Reasons I Recommend Avoiding Dragon Guarded Women.
  • If you have been browbeaten by harsh courtship fathers, I feel your pain. Ask God to heal your heart and to give you the courage to try again. The tide is shifting. The leaders that those men used to justify their actions are quickly fading into the past. We are entering a kinder, gentler age. Who knows. Maybe the next girl you ask out could be the one.
  • Get a job. Money makes you more attractive.
  • Pay for dinner.

Suggestions for Both Single Men and Single Women

  • Do what your grandparents did and go out on dates with lots of different people before going steady with any of them.
  • Don’t marry the first person you have feelings for.
  • Keep an eye out for public places where you can have private conversations.
  • Find a church with lots of single people. There are still churches out there with a healthy culture of traditional dating. If no one in your church got married last year, don’t expect to break that trend. You can always move back to your parent’s church after you find your sweetheart.
  • Have fun.
  • Fear God.

Suggestions For Parents

  • Try to make marriage attractive to your children by loving and respecting your spouse the best you can. One reason that your children may not be getting married is because they don’t want what you have in your marriage.
  • Start dating your spouse again. Do whatever you can to make your marriage a happy one.
  • Encourage your sons to ask girls out on dates.
  • Allow your daughters to say yes to first dates from Christian guys you don’t know.
  • As your children become adults, give advice instead of commands. Being a parent does not make you a Pope for another adult.
  • The gentler you are in giving advice, the more it will be sought.
  • Take a step back and trust God to guide your child directly.
  • Pray earnestly and persistently for your child.
  • Encourage your children to find their way to places where they can meet other single people.
  • Don’t force your daughters to stay at home. Let them get out into the world where they can meet godly men. If you want to catch a fish you must first walk to the pond.
  • Remember that gentleness and kindness are fruits of the Spirit.
  • Treat the person interested in your child as a fellow brother or sister in Christ.

How to Talk With Your Folks About Courtship

Share this post with your parents and talk to with them about why courtship is flawed and why you are going to start going out on dates.

The older you are, the easier this conversation will be. I find that even the most controlling parents start to mellow out as their single daughters start entering their 30s. That biological clock waits for no man, even Prince Charming. It will help when their friends start bragging about their grandchildren.

Listen to them as they share the mistakes they made while dating. Listen to their story of how they fell in love. Just remember that every romance is different and your story will be different. Just because your parents got divorced or live in an unhappy marriage does not doom you to their fate.

Realize that many of their rules were created out of fear. They are afraid that you will suffer the same way they did when they were your age.

Don’t forget that they love you. Explain to them that you all want the same thing: for you to be happily married.

Explain that courtship is not helping you become happily married. Courtship leads to singleness more often than it leads to marriage.

If all else fails, play the grandchildren card. Most parents want grandchildren. Try to explain that if they want grandchildren you need to get married and courtship is not helping you do that.

Where do we go from here?

Share this post with your community on Facebook and Google+ to continue the conversation. My hope is that as single people start embracing traditional dating we can restore the fun first date to our culture. The more people who read this post the more guys that will start asking girls out and the more girls who will say “yes” to that first date.

Tweetables:

  • The Greatest Generation was encouraged to date and discouraged from going steady in middle school. (Click to Tweet)
  • The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing. (Click to Tweet)
  • The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date. (Click to Tweet)
  • A commitment to courtship is often a commitment to lifelong singleness. (Click to Tweet)
  • Most of the moral arguments for courtship are actually arguments for arranged marriage. (Click to Tweet)
  • Being a parent does not make you a Pope for another adult. (Click to Tweet)
  • The benefit of traditional dating is that the lack of exclusivity reduces temptation. (Click to Tweet)
  • When applying Scripture, it is important to differentiate between precedent, principle and precept. (Click to Tweet)

What do you think?

If I have learned one thing running PracticalCourtship.com, it is that courtship is very controversial. Even the definition of the word sparks a debate. That is fine. I am happy to see your thoughts and opinions in the comments.   A few requests for the comments:

  • Keep the conversation civil. No name calling. Just because you were hurt in the past is no excuse to hurt others in the future.
  • Keep the conversation humble. Bragging about how this is not a problem in your family is not very helpful.
  • Please read the follow up article before posting comments. I may have already addressed your question in the Q&A post.
  • I reserve the right to delete comments. It is not censorship to take your comment off of my personal blog. Remember you can say whatever you want about me or this post on your own blog or Facebook page.

If you think that this post should be expanded into a book to respond to some of the concerns posted below, click here, to get book updates.

This post has turned into a book!

Courtship in Crisis

Thank you to everyone who backed Courtship in Crisis on Kickstarter. You can now find the book on Amazon.

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the author of Courtship in Crisis, the former head of PracticalCourtship.com, and co-founder of the Austin Rhetoric Club, a homeschool speech and debate club in Austin, Texas. He is a professional speaker and CEO of Author Media. He sits on the board of directors for several nonprofits, including the Texas Alliance for Life.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

1,482 thoughts on “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed

  1. As a homeschooled guy who grew up among friends and churches that emphasized the courtship relationship, I spent much of my late-teenage years contemplating the road of courtship. It’s scary; get a degree, get a career, tread lightly around young women at church, don’t get one-on-one with them if you don’t plan to enter courtship unless you talk to her father – it’s the equivalent of hacking through a forest with a sword only to have to fight a dragon at the end. Not that there aren’t many well-meaning parents out there who didn’t want what was best for their children. However, it’s so repressive. Parents strive to make sure that their kids don’t make any mistakes and that they have no opportunities to truly spend one-on-one time with other peers of the opposite sex, hoping that this will ensure that no broken hearts or passionate romance occurs. Too many families that I know where young women in their mid-to-late twenties have never had a relationship because guys’ attentions have been shut down by the women’s dads.

    I know a number of young women in my circles who entered courtships and got married, only to realize later that their husband wasn’t everything they thought he was. These guys knew that acting spiritual and sharing dad’s views were the way to impress dad, whom the girls would entrust judgement to on potential mates. In the end, only we as young people can know who we want to marry best. Parents can be excellent advisers but shouldn’t be calling all of the shots between their children and their children’s potential spouses.

  2. As a mom to 2 adult sons and 2 teenagers (girl and boy) This has been a topic in our family for awhile. I see your points of where it’s flawed. But to say that a father is controlling because the guy has to ask to date his daughter?? In a world of absent father’s you bet dad is going to protect his daughter. If the guy doesn’t want to meet the parents then he isn’t worth dating my daughter. Dad’s job is to protect her until she gets married. Also, dating isn’t what it was ‘back in the day.’ You HAVE to protect your heart….both guys and gals…..How does dating and making memories with that many people help your marriage? There has to be balance.

  3. It seems that dating, courtship, and singleness are still being discussed as if it is mainly a concern with kids. Yes, high school and college is where the hormones and concerns draw center stage, but the main issues as far a culture and sustainability are in the devastating effects of the singles in their 30′-40’s.
    The trial of singleness has never been such an unmet and dismissed need as it is today. The Church is still preaching that 9 out of 10 people will get married?! Whether this is still a currently true statement or not, falls short on addressing the real issue of how to live relationally in a culture that has lost the definition of marriage. “Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a “capstone” rather than a “cornerstone”
    In serval ways singles in their 30’s and older, have become orphans. No longer living with or dependent on parents, possibly living miles away from family. Especially the women. Who then becomes their advocate? If receiving undesired attention or need to comfort a person or situation? I have been and have seen far more damaged done emotionally to single women in the church because, in some sense, they have no voice.
    Being single into my 30’s is one of the places where I find myself questioning God’s character as a loving Father, His sovereignty. Surrounded in and out of the church by labels, questions, and statements/judgments about my character based on my age and that I am “still” single.

    [Disclaimer: There are some singles that enjoy, have embraced, and do not in any way seek a different way of life. I am not speaking for those singles. Nor am I addressing those men and women who have chosen singleness alternatively due to the harm of painful/failed relationships.]

    I am relating to those who are single and for them, it is a trial. Singleness, which was thought at one point to be a life stage, yet, after living single for 10, 15, 20+ years, it has well worn out its “stage” and is very much the present reality. A way of life lived. Faced every morning with labels defining them in the culture and by the Church.
    We are made alive in Christ. New creations. In fact we, part of the body, indeed, we become the Bride of Christ. Scripture lavishly uses the illustration of marriage to intimately relay the love of our Lord for us. As much as this draws awe from the depths of our spirit it simultaneously presses a bruised heart. The great hope is grasping that Christ is close to the brokenhearted. That our worth has been established through His death and resurrection.

    The Lord does not promise the single desiring to get married a spouse and for many there may be decades of time that laps before marriage. The question then is how can the Church [from the pulpit and in community] do better at building up those who go through seasons of mourning their singleness?

    • Angela, I think you’ve raised some excellent points here, and I’d love to address them further on my blog. If you’d be willing to chat with me about how the Church can be more helpful/supportive and how we can encourage that happening, would you email me? a2jc4life at gmail.

      • My heart goes out to you… as I am in the same boat – along with many other women I know. The challenges involved are different, but not too far from those associated with the courtship model. The basic questions are the same – where and how to meet a godly guy who would want to pursue a relationship?

        Most men in churches are not interested in serious relationships, or even their walk with God – those who are, usually are married already. There is always a surplus of women. yes, we know God is not limited to numbers and statistics – but the sad fact is, marriage is supposed to be between one man and one woman, so there is not much room for flexibility in that regard 😉
        People who marry later in the 30’s and 40′ all have had some kind of divine intervention from the Lord – and of course that how it should be, a love story written by our Heavenly Father. However, what is not right, is the heartache esperienced by many, many single girls, who have been used and abused emotionally by the ‘Christian’ players, who just had their fun boosting their own ego. Summa summarum: women want to marry and be serious, men generally prefer to play around – and still make it to Heaven..

        How to relate to the opposite sex in a godly, constructive way, is the number one dilemma for many of us singles. Sometimes the guys are so shy and frustrated from their own disappointments that even saying a ‘hi’ seems to upset their stomach … and the temptation to view every one as a potential partner is truly great. It’s not limited to the twenty-somethings.

        Thankfully, I never married a wrong man, and thus avoided the pain of divorce. (Somehow that is sometimes seen as a stigma in itself – never married, never was good enough ..) While my identity in the Lord is stronger than ever and definitely better than when I was young, the pain of singleness na dunwanted celibacy is not less painful. The more I know the Lord, the deeper the lomging to share Him and His vision with that Right Man…

    • Reading this original post reminds me what deep trouble the Church is in regarding coming to marriage. I’m a wife and mom of littles now, but I married very late. My children should be my grandchildren. Many, many of my Christian friends married very late, or are still single near 40. The spinster is not a phenomenon limited to courtship nor the homeschooling community. I probably don’t even know anyone who has practiced courtship. I would explore the influence of the world on the Church. I experienced what the Russian gal above did in church singles groups. Nobody goes out on dates. Nobody certainly courts. Somehow or other, sex is going on, though, which leads to the occasional pregnancy and perhaps a marriage very likely to fail. Would this be solved by lots and lots of dates? I think there is a deeper cultural reality here. Godly men who truly are seeking the Lord and searching His word are exceedingly rare. Singleness was a trial to me. I was in mourning. I still occasionally grieve for that time, just remembering it, and I grieve with my friends who are still waiting.

      More loose thoughts on the OP:

      Are divorces, no matter the community, happening because spouses don’t get to know each other well enough before marriage? Or are they happening because the definition of marriage has changed? I remember my grandparents’ marriage. It wasn’t something I would want to repeat. Going on regular dates as a married couple? Not really part of the regimen, and that wasn’t remotely part of the problems in their relationship. Divorce never occurred to them. There was no no-fault divorce then. My guess is: almost everyone had this expectation, and that’s why marriages lasted, not because they went on lots of dates. We don’t have an almost everyone now with a marriage definition that coincides with the Biblical.

      Going on a date with lots of people doesn’t help you get to know what you want in a spouse. You have no idea, probably, after a malt at the drug store, or a coffee nowadays, what this person’s values are. You don’t know how they treat people they are comfortable with. You can’t assume they even have a marriage definition compatible with yours.

      What we need, I think, is a mass conversion to Christ, and a revival of large populations to walk in His Spirit. This is what will build a cultural foundation that provides fertile soil for planting lots of marriages both lasting and happy. So let’s hit our knees, eh?

      In my 30s, a Christian man asked me on a date. (Yay!) There was nothing that especially appealed to me about him, but nothing disqualified him. So I said yes. By the end of dinner, I knew enough to want to find out more. He knew that I was patient with slow restaurant staff and that I had been waiting many years for a man I could serve the Lord with.

      He was talking marriage by the end of the night. I figured I’d consider it. So I interviewed him about his values over the next several weeks. I interviewed his roommate. I observed his close relationship with his parents who lived nearby. He passed. Also, he’s handsome and gainfully employed. And also, I settled for less than what was on my list. He’s a human. Most men are. Most wives are disappointed after marriage sets in. Probably most men are, too, especially after weight gain sets in. Our spouses just aren’t everything we put on our list. Too much fantasizing.

      We were engaged within weeks and married a year later. We did not kiss until engagement. I wish we had stuck it out till marriage. Man, it is hard to live pure when everyone just trusts you to be all kinds of alone together – hard even when purity is a top priority. Why is this period of intense temptation so necessary? Why is it the standard policy? As an outsider to communities that practice courtship, it really looks more realistic for acting like a Christian during this whole process. We didn’t sleep together, but it wasn’t good.

      At any rate, we got to the altar. My husband and I both have the expectation that our marriage is for life. Nine years and counting. I am daily thankful for him. I can’t underscore that enough.

      The kids are so small now, but this article reminds me there is no time like the present to teach them all He has commanded us.

  4. I find this article very interesting. Thought provoking but not fully persuasive. I think the current situation for young people in trying to find mates is very complex. The world has changed since our grandparents met via traditional dating.

    I have three daughters going off to college this fall. Two are biological and one was adopted as a teenager.

    My family rule was no exclusive dating until you turn 18. I had no problem with the girls going out being social and enjoying life. We encouraged social interaction with other boys and girls.

    One of my daughters was four months shy of her 18th birthday and a young man from church who was home-schooled called me to ask if he could date her. I talked to her about it and she said she wanted to date him so I said “yes”. She wanted my feedback because she didn’t want to, in her words, make a “stupid decision.”

    He was her first exclusive boyfriend. What disheartened her was how quickly the relationship turned to talk of marriage. As his talk of their future together increased her feelings that they were not compatible as a couple were increasing. Eventually the pressure he put on her led her to break it off. So the courtship thing really didn’t work out well for her. But neither has traditional dating for our other two daughters.

    Her twin sister just discovered, four days into college, that some Christian guys expect to get physical on a first date and can get upset when a girl says, “No.”

    My adopted daughter spent more than 10 years growing up in an extremely restrictive Christian environment (a Christian children’s home). Though she is now 19 I had to step into her dating life when I discovered that she was using very poor judgment. She was never taught how to think through decisions and how to make good, responsible choices. For the last 3 years we have been trying to help her with that. When some of her friends began to privately express to us alarm over the guys she was seeing I investigated. We ended up preventing her from seeing a man out on parole for raping multiple boys and girls. This man’s parole was so restrictive that he couldn’t leave his RV without court permission. A connection in the court system pulled his file for me and told me the man was extremely disturbed emotionally and a psychopath. He was a well polished liar. She wasn’t able to see the red flags but when she let me read the texts he had sent her I could immediately see trouble.

    Yes, I put my foot down and said “no” to him and several other men she was seeing socially, including a married man who was trying to seduce her. When a married man is making comments in multiple texts about all the attractive features of her body and how much he thinks about her, he is not “just a friend.”

    There is a role for a father in protecting his daughters. It is a role not to be abused. But I know all three of my daughters, including their points of vulnerability, and I will protect them. I’ve got their backs. This is a different world than it was 50 years ago. The number of smooth talking predatory males are only increasing.

    I personally knew one atheist college guy who would pretend to be a Christian in order to get girls in bed. He admitted to taking the virginity of 10 Christian girls at college because it was “fun”. Later he would regret this after getting married. He married a Christian woman eventually but and considers himself an agnostic now.

    My daughters have processed with me so many conversations they’ve had with male Christian friends that have convinced me that way too many are getting more relationship advice from pornographic websites than the Bible. These are regular church-going teenagers attending conservative evangelical churches. Due to the nature of my work, I know way more than I ever wanted to about adult websites so I immediately pick up on the kind of thinking expressed by them.

    I also realize that they also need to make mistakes in order to learn. It takes a lot of wisdom to know when to let teenage children make a mistake and learn from it and when to step in.

    Please don’t paint all involved fathers as simply men desiring to control their daughters lives. It is not a bad thing for a boy who likes a girl to meet with the family. Any guy who won’t talk to me or my wife that wants to date one of my daughters makes me wonder why. It is not a bad thing for me to try to persuade my daughters to avoid men of questionable character.

    My wife and I always have told them that adult decisions have adult consequences. We will fully support them while they go to college. However, we will not financially support an immoral lifestyle. This has never been a point of contention between us or any of our daughters but they know that immoral choices will lead to real consequences. Teaching this lesson is part of being a good parent in my book.

    • Thank you Chris. I think this is a very accurate picture of what high school and college age Christians are going through. With God’s help a loving parent that has a good relationship with their child CAN help their maturing child steer clear of situations they don’t have enough experience to deal with.

    • Wow. If the situation is how you painted it, it’s great you got involved.

      But as someone who is in her early 20s, I don’t think that’s an accurate picture of most guys out there. I know there are predators, but most man aren’t. Plus, the author’s point is that if you date while you are younger, you become more aware of when someone is pretending to be something and who is actually awesome.

  5. “The problem is that arranged marriage is not a good fit for western culture.” – Why does this matter?

    “I don’t see Arranged Marriage taking off in Western Culture.” – Is this the goal? Are we trying to come up with a hit record?

    Is it possible that western culture may be the problem? And if so, ditch it, or at least the aspects that are not working.

    If I can arrange a good marriage for my daughter(s) what do I care about the rest? If arranged marriage works, and is a useful tool why not promote it?

      • Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Jeremiah 29:6

      • Does it teach that though, Vauhn? Or are you cherry-examples of God talking to specific individuals about their specific situation and assuming it must be true for every person for all time? The Bible is the inspired word of God and it’s profitable for all people for all times, but Thomas is right that there’s a big difference between descriptive and prescriptive verses. Just as we as modern Christians aren’t called to follow the Old Testament Israelite dietary restrictions, we’re not called to follow their marriage customs.

  6. I grew up in the same circle as the author, in fact our families knew each other. Thank you for writing this!!! As a young woman whose family chose this path (while not to the same extent listed here), as I grew up and left home I started noticing some of the challenges this article broaches.

    The high pressure situation makes it very difficult for people to be themselves or be honest about their relationship expectations, which causes so much heartbreak and disappointment. There is also concern because I think it leads to very young marriages and settling for the one person Mom and Dad let “onto the porch”. It’s hard to learn the social skills needed to get to know people if you don’t get to practice in a safe environment first before you get launched into the “real world” full of not so kind people. If you can’t practice discernment and setting boundaries while still at home, how could it be easier to do so later on ? either while dating or in a marriage, or even in other relationships. It also makes it tempting for people who desire serious relationships to stay closer to home instead of making their own paths and dreams, or follow their callings because the home community and nearness to family required for courtship as defined by the article makes it impossible to leave home if you subscribe to this (especially for women). If you hope for marriage growing up in this mindset, it’s hard to go out and follow a calling if it leads you away from home. This means people are trying to find each other before or instead of find their calling in life. How can people know who to look to spend a life with if they haven’t gotten the chance to explore their plans and dreams ? Exploring those change who you are as you grow away from home, and therefore that changes who you “need”.

    The healthy home environment allows a safe place for a child or young adult to make choices and learn: why should relationships not be included ? It also changes the attitude of a normal stage in life and makes it something high pressured and takes all the fun and normal butterflies out of it. Everything has to be analyzed on a high “can this work for the rest of your LIFE” level. As someone who already over-thinks life, this isn’t always a healthy approach either. I appreciate the hearts and intentions of those who want to invest in a good solid relationship and are seeking to grow the next generation of healthy families, but I have to agree with the author. I am no longer convinced that courtship is any sort of “fail safe” guarantee to that end. In fact it may very well lead to the opposite. My family is definitely reconsidering their approach for my younger siblings.

  7. I understand where you are coming from, but I happen to know that courtship is not exclusively bad. I have had 6 siblings get married under the “rule of courtship.” The sibling (respectively) didn’t need to “go hunting” for the right person. In each instance, the right man/woman was ‘plopped down” right into the path of them serving the Lord as a content single. They knew (respectively) that said individual was the right one, and the relationship was pure and beautiful to watch.
    We used the courtship method, because from my dad’s understanding, there was no commitment with dating. If there was no commitment – if you could break it off on a whim – you were essentially setting yourself up for the same mindset in marriage. Also if you’re jumping from person to person in a dating relationship, would that not encourage frivolity? Would not people be more inclined to commit adultery in marriage if they had “partially given their heart to other men through the practice of dating?” Can you really say upon marriage that you value your mate if you did not practice commitment before then? Please explain.

    • I think he’s drawing a strong line between “dating” and “marriage” – it’s not the same to be dating and to be married. Dating is casual by nature. It leads to “going steady” – which seems more in line with your definition of marriage. The author doesn’t advocate that you should “go steady” with tons of people. In the end, getting coffee with someone shouldn’t be a big deal. That’s what he means by dating. It’s not a commitment beyond the few hours of fun.

      Also, he’s not saying courtship doesn’t work at all. But you have to realize how lucky some people are to find their spouse so early. Not everyone is so blessed.

  8. Please expand this to a 180 page (or so) book, 9th grade reading level, with lots of witty and inspiring analogies, anecdotes, & examples. I would love for my children to read this someday. I would love to see young American Christianity learn how to be courageous in romance AND maintain robust, Scriptural purity standards. (P.S. – I volunteer to co-author) 🙂

  9. As a mother who has homeschooled 3 daughters and 2 sons, I found your blog refreshing. My 18 year old and I were trying to put this into definition the other day, but you have done it so well. I absolutely love the concept of never dating the same guy. Furthermore, at some point “what is healthy flirting?” needs to be addressed in the homeschool community. How do Godly men and women signal an interest without making a marriage commitment? Let’s hear more about a date (which ends in a drive home at a reasonable time) rather than a date (overture to sex).

    Well done, my dear.

  10. My dad isn’t a Christian (but I come from a Christian family) and I live abroad so I don’t ask him for permission to date a guy. I have never been homeschooled either. I have been praying for THE guy for the last 10 years but was always wondering why Christian guys were never interested. This article helped me to understand it finally. Over the years I bumped into just a few Christian men (that I can count on one hand)who expressed some interest. I have met (unintentionally) many Non-Christians who were crazy about me and thought I was very attractive. I didn’t date them because I wanted a Christian guy. I was often wondering that I wasn’t too Spiritual for the Christian guys or too pretty… what was wrong with me. I was 25 and never kissed a guy and most of the Christians didn’t express any interest. I was at the bottom of my life (looking for a job for nearly a year as an unskilled graduate) and this Non-Christian guy entered it. I didn’t care anymore thinking, well the Christians don’t want me so what. We kind of dated for 6 months but it wasn’t going that well. He wasn’t the guy.

    Then I realised that I was living a lie thinking that Christian men didn’t want me. One of the girls from our church recently found a guy on Christian online dating site and got engaged. I decided to try it and couldn’t believe myself. There were so many nice Christian guys who thought I was beautiful and attractive. First time in my life I felt attractive around Christian men. I am happy that I’ve changed my mind and decided to pursue Christian men once again. I do regret now that I dated that non-Christian guy.

    I just want to say that we are losing hundreds of women (I don’t know about guys) to the world just because they feel “unattractive, rejected, unspiritual” around Christian men who are just probably intimidated by the fact that dating means like almost marrying someone. My mum married a non-Christian man when she was 41. She didn’t manage to find a Christian guy but still wanted a child. She didn’t have many options in her life.

  11. I think most of the commenters who object to Thomas’s telling guys to move on from girls who insist that they ask their father’s permission before they go on a date are kind of missing the point. The whole point is that going on one date shouldn’t be that big of a deal. A young man shouldn’t have to ask a girl’s dad before he buys her a cheeseburger. Of course, if he wants to “go steady” then there should be conversations with her parents! But the whole point of “dating” (as opposed to “going steady”) is to keep it casual to prevent premature seriousness and intensity. If a guy has to meet formally with a girl’s father just to get coffee with her, then all of a sudden it’s no longer just an afternoon at Starbucks where they can get to know one another as people but Maybe This Guy Is Going To Be My Husband? And it’s that mentality that can lead to heartbreak.

    • These were my thoughts on this exactly. I think there is a time and place where asking the father is a good idea. On the other hand, asking the father makes it so formal that it is akin to requesting to go steady.

  12. As a liberal Reform Jewish girl raised in California, I have never heard of courtship before stumbling onto this article, but it raised some questions with me. I never got any clarification if the courting couple was ever left alone during their courting. I understand that parents wish is to monitor and chaperone the courting couple to make sure nothing untoward happens, but in my experience, the dynamic of a couple is automatically and completely changed when a third party (especially a parent) is involved. There is no room for candid remarks or conversation, so I can see an immediate problem because once the couple marries and is finally left alone and unescorted, personalities change. How can you really get to know someone to know you’d like to spend the rest of your life with them and have children and raise families with them if you never really know them at all? And, in my personal (liberal West coast viewpoint) if you can’t trust your child to be alone with someone else and not betray their trust or your trust (this goes for both men and women), you may as well not trust your child ever. Personally, if I was never left me alone with someone I wished to date because my parents wanted to make sure nothing bad happened, I’d be insulted at how they view me and my choices and willpower. This shows me that they don’t view me as an adult and therefore don’t view me as mature enough to marry and raise a family. Can anyone clarify this for me?

    • Shelly, it totally depends on the family. Some don’t ever leave them without family or another chaperone-type around. Some don’t ever leave them *completely* alone (as in, they might go out in a group of friends, without parents around, but not just one-on-one), and some do.

  13. I can completely relate to everything said here. I’m not a homeschooler, nor was I raised in a “courtship” atmosphere. My girlfriend, however, was and her parents are determined to make our relationship into a courtship. I honestly hadn’t realized that before reading this article. I love my girlfriend; we are, how you put it, “going steady.” We were good friends for about a year and a half before jumping into the dating pool. During that time we were essentially going out, we did fun stuff, hung out, went out to dinner with friends some. But we would both do the same thing with other people too, it was very much how you described it. Now we are going steady and want to get engaged, however her father has conditions to that engagement seeing as he and her mother view us being in a courtship. Which is why in some regards we believe ourselves to be engaged, we just can’t make it official because of her parents. I’m hoping that they get a change to read this as well and will help us in the future. All I can say is being in a courtship is awful, it’s emotionally draining being with her family, never knowing if you are saying the right thing at the right time or behaving in a certain way. It is exhausting! Take this up coming weekend, we are going to meet up (long distance relationship) and her father wants me to ask for his permission, I don’t like that idea but had no idea why until i read this. Thank you so much! Your words have helped me so much in understanding where i can go from here and how to deal with her parents to an extent. Thank you so much!!

  14. For the sake of credibility in your article: the past tense of the verb “to lead” is “led,” not “lead.” The word “lead” which sounds like “led” is the metal.

  15. This post has been very helpful. You have voiced concerns I have had that I think I felt but never could quite articulate. My wife and I have tried to encourage our kids to let us know if they were interested in someone, so we could arrange activities with the other family, without stating that the activity was about the potential couple. We thought it would take the pressure off that comes with courtship as well as dating. So far, none of our children have taken us up on the offer (ie. This approach is not working either). Thank you!

  16. I am a homeschooling mom with 2 young , but growing up faster than I would like, children. My husband and I were 28 when we married- we didn’t even meet until we were 26. So while getting married young seems like a good plan, waiting until the right person enters your life can be equally valuable. We dated, no courtship for us, the courtship thing was just building up steam among the parents of teens when we met. This blog is certainly food for thought as my children approach the age where they will start wanting to date. (They are only 9 and 6, but like I said, they are growing up quickly!)
    One thing I would add is: Parents, date your children. Starting when they are young, moms, take your sons out on a date and teach him how to treat a woman. Dads, do the same for your daughters. Teach them how to show members of the opposite sex kindness and respect.

  17. Thomas, this is excellent. Would like to have our editor review it. I am thinking this would make a good column. Great job. Evelyn ab 83 year old great grandmother…

  18. Thomas, this type of discussion is long overdue. While I disagree on the points about directly rebelling against parents who enforce courtship (obviously with some exceptions for those who are long since of age, adulthood, and financial independence) as well as the part about fathers not needing to require permission, I do agree with the sentiment that courtship has failed. I say that in regards to the formalized courtship system. I really have to think that Harris never intended for courtship to develop into the emotionless, regimented system that it has become.

    My dad and I agreed on to pursue a courtship model when I was finishing college, single, and in a position for marriage. We didn’t follow the hard, fast rules that have been regimented into courtship, and I pursued friendships with girls to get to know them purely as friends and then if one looked promising, then some form of courtship was a possibility. Eventually a couple at my church did some match making for me (hard for dads to do that from 200 miles away) and a successful courtship ensued. We kept it informal with none of this pressure that I see in regimented courtships, and so it was fun and enjoyable as romance should be. That started 4 years ago, and Hope and I celebrated our second anniversary in June. This is not to say that there weren’t failures along the way. Mom, Dad, and I learned some hard lessons from involvements with girls whose fathers held to regimented courtship, and that level of authority removed their qualms about changing the rules along the way. And that is the true failure of courtship as we know it today: when it fails, two people who have become close friends almost invariably end up being ripped apart. Often the girl has become friends with the guy’s family and vice versa, so this is not merely the ending of one friendship, but of many. Not only is that devastating, but it is also morally reprehensible.

    I think the biggest advice I could give to fathers of both genders would be to encourage your young people to develop friendships with members of the opposite sex so that they will have that broad community. And if your child goes far away to college, it helps for them to gain the help of *trustworthy* members of a church their who can help with that matchmaking. And if you see a good candidate for your son, push him in her direction (gently). My dad did all of those things because he knew his responsibility as a father, and it worked.

  19. Thanks for speaking up. Interestingly enough, a similar discussion is happening in secular circles. The traditional definition of dating has faded out across the board, not just in courtship circles. If you haven’t read it before, the below article may interest you. I think we should also recognize that the general population is marrying later and less. Singleness isn’t a curse or a disease: for some people it’s a calling. http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/2014/05/16/boston-college-professor-assigns-students-dates/jHXENWsdmp7cFlRPPwf0UJ/story.html

  20. There is so much wrong with this article, logically, that I don’t even know where to start. The points that are raised are GOOD ones, and the discussion certainly needs to be had! But reacting against something that’s broken by throwing out the baby with the proverbial bath water and using equally one-sided arguments to combat it is not a sound solution. Better to ask ourselves WHAT is broken, and whether it can (and/or SHOULD) be fixed, to FAIRLY examine all the evidence from ALL sides, and to consider what the biblical teaching IS (as well as isn’t) before just deciding to throw out something with thousands of years of history in favor of something that worked for a few decades because we loused things up when we tried to restore the old paths.

    That we’re stuck with either mid-1900’s-style dating or an overbearing form of courtship is a false dilemma.
    The examples given are all based on individual families’ interpretation of “courtship” and can’t be “interpreted” equally.
    Suggesting that the way our grandparents found their spouses is best because it “worked” is an appeal to a false authority. (It’s comparing apples to oranges, anyway. Divorce was much harder to come by in those days, so maybe it happened less often, but maybe that’s because a lot MORE people were living miserably and/or with abusive spouses, so the unhealthy marriages are just more OBVIOUS now.)
    Assuming that those who have opted for courtship and are still single are still single BECAUSE of the courtship choice is overly simplistic and not necessarily always accurate. Maybe those who have chosen courtship also happen to be those with a high view of marriage and, thus, high standards for spouses and are single because of an unwillingness to “settle” that wouldn’t be changed by the METHOD of pursuit.
    Saying that lots of people who chose courtship are single or divorced doesn’t prove anything. Lots of people who chose courtship are still married. (I know plenty of people for whom that’s true, including myself.) Likewise, lots of people who chose dating are divorced or still single.
    “Casual dating” in the 2000’s is not the same thing as casual dating in the 1940’s. A typical first date in 1940 consisted of a burger and an ice cream soda. A typical first date in 2000 is likely to include heavy kissing and may even involve sex. (I’m not suggesting your readers necessarily hold this expectation; I’m saying the cultural climate surrounding “dating” is very different.)
    Whether or not a father biblically has responsibility for a daughter over 18 is highly debatable. Some of us see much to suggest that he DOES and nothing to suggest he DOESN’T, except extremely recent CULTURAL precedent.

    I could keep going, but I won’t. In my estimation, what this whole issue really comes down to is that a whole lot of people emphasized some METHODS for courtship over the PURPOSE for courtship. I absolutely agree with all of the points you noted as descriptive of courtship – but I suspect I see a broader range of ways those principles can be applied. Entirely too many families have embraced courtship – or purity or modest or homeschooling or WHATEVER – out of FEAR rather than out of FAITH, and that is never a good thing. The attitude is different. The tone is different. The application tends to exclude common sense and necessary/reasonable adaptation to circumstances. And ultimately the message it communicates to our children and to those around them (like, for instance, potential spouses!) is all wrong.

    I can tell you without a doubt that not one person in my household lived in a bubble. So far we’ve been married in our early 20’s, mid- to late-20’s, 40’s, or not at all (yet). “Courtship” or “dating” had/has nothing to do with it; God’s timing and the presence of the right people did/does. (We’d turn your theory on its head if that sort of thing were “proof.” The strictest understanding of courtship coincided with the youngest marriage, and vice versa.)

    • I agree very strongly with this response. I am part of a family who have practiced “courtship.” Some of my siblings are married. Some of us are not. Courtship “worked” for my younger brother. It did not “work” for me. Both of us had a friendship to a greater or lesser degree with the girl we were interested in. Both of us kept that friendship casual until we had talked to the father of the girl. Both of us prayed long and hard before beginning a courtship. From then on, it went entirely different for us. He’s happily married with kids, and I’m single, and living alone.

      One of the main things the author of this article misses is how God’s will works differently in each person’s life. He seems to think that if you’re married, and stay married, it’s a success, and if you are in your 30s and still single, or divorced, it’s a failure. I am in my 30s. I was very interested in a girl for quite some time in my early 20s. It did not work out. There was a lot of pain involved. I still sometimes wonder if I’ll ever find someone else. However, I very much believe that God has his plan for me, and if it means never getting married, then that is what I want. Somehow, the thing He wants to do in my life is different than what He wants in my brother’s life. So should I be convinced that courtship set me up to fail? I’ve also seen families where the kids dated. Some of them also ended up happily married while others did not. Did dating fail them?

      What you had to say about method, Rachel, really struck a chord with me. There are many different methods of mate-finding, even (and especially) in the courtship culture. I personally disagree strongly with a lot of the courtship methods I’ve seen used. In fact, most of what the writer gave as “common elements” in courtship are not part of what I’ve seen as universal to courtships at all. I’ve been to well over 50 weddings in my life, most of them Christian weddings, and at least half of them “courtship” weddings. So many different methods were employed by the couple and their family/parents before they got married. A lot depended on what background they came from, and how controlling the parents were. But one principal held true in the ones I respected the most: they were both single-heartedly seeking the Lord, and wanted their relationship to honor Him. The methods differed. The principle did not. And these marriages, begun with the principle of seeking the Lord primarily, have EVERY SINGLE ONE has lasted, grown stronger, and impacted many positively for Christ.

      I think the “principle” of courtship is to seek God, letting Him bring the right person to you in the right time. The “principle” of dating is to seek pleasure, and hopefully through it, to find the right person. This is an oversimplification of the principles, and could definitely be worded better, but it encapsulates my intent. I’ve seen dating methods used, but the governing principle was the principle of courtship. And on the other hand, I’ve seen courtship methods used, but the underlying principle and attitude was dating. The fruit of the marriage/relationship (not in the “success” of a lasting marriage, or the “failure” of singleness or divorce, but in the response of the individual and couple to God’s work in their lives, and their impact on those around them) is more in line with the principle followed, not the method.
      —–
      I just looked up your profile, Rachel, and want to thank you for your insight into the courtship issue. I highly recommend the rebuttal you’ve begun to this article to anyone else reading this. http://titus2homemaker.com/2014/08/why-courtship-is-not-fundamentally-flawed/

    • “Whether or not a father biblically has responsibility for a daughter over 18 is highly debatable. Some of us see much to suggest that he DOES and nothing to suggest he DOESN’T, except extremely recent CULTURAL precedent.”

      Can you tell me what the “much” is to suggest that a father has responsibility to make decisions for an adult daughter? Can you tell me why he’s not equally responsible to make decisions on behalf of his adult son?

  21. Thank you for this, Thomas. What a refreshing perspective.

    I met my husband through courtship and I can say that we have a wonderful marriage in spite of, not because of it. Courtship itself was rough, for many of the reasons you mentioned. My husband and I approached our relationship very clinically and analytically. We knew all of the “important” things about each other, such as how many children we wanted and whether or not they’d receive an allowance (not sarcasm…we left few stones unturned, not realizing that many of these ideas would change over time with a dose of reality!). However, I didn’t know his favorite food or much of anything about his family (we were long distance and I was not allowed to visit him…he could only visit me) to give a couple examples. We didn’t get to know each other in any kind of casual setting that would have better prepared us for day to day life together, because as you said, there was so much pressure and every opportunity we had to talk or visit was so high-stakes.

    I do take a bit of issue with your admonition that guys should move past girls who point them to their fathers for permission before dating. But I don’t object for the same reasons as many of the other commenters. I don’t believe that an adult man should have to ask permission to take an adult woman on a date.

    However, in my case I am grateful that my husband was willing to jump through my parents’ hoops for me. At the time I was far too insecure and timid to pursue a relationship had my parents said no. In fact, I once told my (now) husband “I don’t think you understand how much power my parents have in our relationship.” Now I am dumbfounded and wonder how I could have been so servile, but at the time it was what I was conditioned to do. I’m glad my man was willing to meet me where I was and pursue me anyway.

  22. I can’t quite decide what I think on this. I grew up in the “courtship culture” and started talking to, started being courted by, got engaged to and got married to the same guy in 8 months. A little less than 4 years later here I sit in my parents’ house with a 3 year old child, after having run away from a man who abused both of us (me mentally/emotionally, our son pysically/emotionally), who continually tried to force me to obey his overbearing father without question (to the point that it put us in financial ruin on more than one occasion), and who could not keep a job and made me pack up and move on average every 2 months. I’ve since found that my husband has been unfaithful for 3 years now via pornography and dating sites. After multiple close calls with almost having to take him to the emergency room because of injuries inflicted by my husband, I finally became afraid for my child’s safety and one day while he was at work I left.

    What went wrong? Why didn’t I or my parents see any of this before? Our courtship and engagement were SO awkward. My husband lived 2500 miles away so I moved out there to get married to him. We were not allowed to go anywhere by ourselves, barely allowed to hold hands, and lived in constant fear of saying something “wrong” which meant we barely spoke at all. I hated every aspect of my wedding from the dress to the ceremony because it was all done to make sure and not offend his parents. The first month after we got married I barely saw my husband because he was working 60 hours a week and spent a couple hours every day after work at his parents’ house. I only started seeing him once we moved back to my hometown because he was losing the job he currently had.

    But how was I supposed to know everything would go so horribly wrong? I never once saw the “real” guy because he was so consumed with hiding who he was from his parents. As soon as we got married he commenced hiding who he was from ME and trying to force me to be the woman that his parents wanted me to be. When I didn’t immediately conform, he would find various ways to punish me.

    I am left broken beyond what I could ever have imagined, unable to trust my own memories because of the mind games he played, unable to trust myself at all. I don’t know what a “normal” relationship looks like. I have forgotten what it feels like to know tenderness and affection. I struggle to show these to my child because I barely remember what they are.

    All this could have been prevented. Would it have been prevented by dating, by keeping my “options open”? I don’t know. I think maybe if I had had some concept that out there was another man or men that would be willing to have me as a wife, I would have chosen differently. But he convinced me nobody else would want me and I couldn’t get out from the very beginning because it meant going against not only his family but mine as well. When I finally broke free I did it against the will of almost everyone in my life and it was the hardest thing I ever did. Now I’m fighting to keep my son safe from the man who has hurt him in so many ways.

    All that to say…there is so much good in courtship, but so, so so much potential for hurt. I just wish I knew what the right answer was, because here I sit at 23 years of age with a 3 year old child and almost 4 years of marriage behind me and I am so broken and have such a stigma on me now that I am afraid I will rush blindly into another relationship because of this nagging worry in my mind that my husband really WAS the only man who could ever want me, that I really am as fat and ugly as he said, and that I am doomed to a life of singlehandedly raising a little boy desperately in need of a father.

    • Hi Star. My heart went out to you when I read your post. I wanted to share a resource with you that I think will be very encouraging as you heal from this abusive relationship. http://www.leslievernick.com/ I hope you will look to God and hear Him speak what is true about you. You are loved. You are precious. You are valuable and worth knowing and loving. I am praying for you and your son. You need to be cheered on for making choices to protect your son and yourself and I am doing that for you today!

    • Star ~ Your story really tugged at my heart because it reminded me of my own story. I grew up hearing courtship was the best way to do things, and that if you didn’t marry your first love then you weren’t as good and godly as those who did. When I met my ex-husband, I had sworn off courtship and even Christianity… but my view of our relationship was still dominated by patriarchal, courtship ways of thinking. We were in a relationship (also long distance, rarely spent time with each other) for a very short period of time before he became fed up with the distance and wanted me to live closer, resulting in a rushed wedding that pleased his parents and left my parents feeling confused and hurt. Shortly after our marriage I found out soooooooo many things about my ex that would have kept me from marrying him if I had known them previously. He turned out to be verbally abusive and by the time I left he had me convinced that I was fat and useless. At one point all I wanted was to have a child with him but after I left, all I could think about was “please don’t let me be pregnant with his child.” I almost cried when my period came the first time after I left. I can’t imagine going through what you’re going through with your son – *hugs.

      I felt like such an awful person and a failure for having left my husband and first love, thanks to the culture I was raised in. I truly believed he was the only person who would love me and find me attractive, since I had been one of those girls who had never been approached about a true relationship prior to meeting him. The other kids I knew growing up were more interested in friendships/casual dating and I judged them for this, because I had been told it was not a good and godly way to conduct yourself… because your heart was a bag of skittles and someday you’d not have anything left for your future spouse. My current husband has needed almost two years to help me overcome these feelings (bless him for it) and begin to find my footing as a happy, more self-assured woman. He personally experienced the controlling patriarch/courtship in a previous relationship and thoroughly agrees with the author’s surmising of things.

      I hope you can find a good lawyer, Star, and make sure you get your bases covered proactively. Assume the worst and hope for the best, meaning have a plan in place in case he decides to try to screw you over in court. If you can’t afford a lawyer look around for places who help those with little/no income. Take care of yourself for your son’s sake, even if you’re feeling guilty and worthless right now. Your husband was manipulative and horrible – eventually you will be able to accept that and start processing things and then, at some point, be able to move on. *hugs* You are one of many who has found themselves in this situation, sadly. There will be many more so long as the model of courtship is pushed onto young people (in my opinion).

    • Hey Star. I am the daughter of a woman who went through something almost exactly like you have described. She got married to my father right after three years of dating. What she didn’t know at the time was that he had personality disorders from being verbally abused all throughout his life by his father. He was never good enough for his father and that lead him to develop control tactics to manipulate those around him. My mom saw the signs when she was having dinner with his family, but she didn’t know that these were red flags to tell her that he didn’t actually have his head on straight. He spent the time they dated and during their entire marriage telling my mom that she was never pretty, skinny, or quiet and demure enough for anyone else to love her. He then proceeded to play the same mind games with my brother and myself, and for 21 long years of their marriage, he verbally abused all three of us. When I was 10 we moved in with his mother (also a tyrant). He started to get physically violent (only classified as the lowest level of domestic violence, but he was doing damage physically and mentally) with my brother and I after my grandmother’s health started going downhill. He also tried to convince me personally that I will never be good enough for anyone and even went as far as to call me the b word. He said I would end up like my mother. No one will love us but him. And for a little bit, I thought about believing his brilliantly crafted lies. And sometimes, I still find myself believing all the lies he drilled into my head over 13 years of abuse. I am now 16 and I have had extensive counseling.

      The point that I am trying to make here is that what he said is 100% untrue. Any type of abuse is a reflection on what he thinks of himself. I love my mother very much and so do those around her. We have friends and family (and a couple shrinks) that will always be there for us, and have helped us heal the wounds inflicted over those years.

      I also had the good fortune of being old enough to understand the circumstances which I was living. But your three year old my not. If he ends up having to visit his father, he definitely will not understand as he will probably end up turning into his father’s weapon against you. https://www.psychopathfree.com/content.php?252-The-Parent-Without-a-Conscience
      This is a website for parents with abused children, and for children to understand what is happening when they are old enough. But the best way of making sure he grows into a brilliant young man is to show him unconditional love, listen to him and answer his questions honmes. However that manifests in your relationship.
      I would also recommend the book RED FLAGS OF LOVE FRAUD by Donna Anderson for when you are ready for a relationship. It will help you spot and avoid potential problems in a love interest.

      I said all that to say this. Posting this here was very brave of you. I will be praying for you. And there is someone out there that would never abuse you, be it a friend, family member, or new love. God made us all to be reflections of himself. No one, especially anyone brave enough to get out of the situation, is as worthless and as ugly as he made you feel.

    • Dear Star,

      I am heartbroken by your story. You are a beautiful, blessed and loved child of God. I am praying for you and your son.

      Love,

      Marie

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