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. Interesting post. I think you make A LOT of great points. I think the main problem I see though with the whole dating v. courtship issue is such a strict emphasis on doing things based on such strict models no matter which side of the issue people come down on. It seems like many people focus too much on doing it by the book and not enough on using simple Godly discretion and common sense. In reality, as you pointed out The Lord writes every love story in such a unique way, it’s really not a one size fits all issue. I’m a 20 year old girl and my dad and I have an agreement (not a rule) that I can go out on dates with a Christian guy at my discretion but if I want an actual serious relationship with anyone my dad wants to meet him first. It’s not a courtship permission situation, just a friendly chat and I’m in the room. This same agreement also applies to my younger brother with girls he dates. It’s not because my dad is controlling or legalistic, but simply because my family is close knit and likes to keep up with each other. It’s something I really appreciate about my family and frankly if a guy wasn’t okay with that I would give him my blessing to “move onto the next girl” that said, other people may want to be more or less strict and honestly that’s okay, as long as you stay in a pattern of god honoring behavior I think there’s room for personal preference.

  2. I think a lot of the problem with the courtship mindset lies with the heavy, heavy chaperoning and lack of physical affection that goes on before marriage. I think there is a real danger of giving the notion that people are so sexually weak, that they can’t be trusted to be alone with a member of the opposite sex before marriage and that they can’t be trusted with a small amount of physical affection because it DEFINITELY leads to sexual sin.

    I think such attitudes could lead towards trust and jealousy issues because the people are so conditioned to think that any sort of “alone” time is “dangerous”, that they are so weak sexually that they can’t be trusted to ever be alone.

    Also, I think that never learning how to show physical affection without it leading to sex before marriage could cause problems afterwards…problems in that a couple doesn’t learn how to show affection without the expectation of sex. If they never kiss without having sex, they never learn how to “just kiss”. And it can cause problems in that a couple doesn’t learn how to communicate about their physical relationship. A couple who is committed to sexual purity, but also spends some time alone together and doesn’t have blanket rules against things like kissing before marriage is going to have to talk about these things, set boundries for themselves and enforce those boundries. It forces them to communicate about their sexual feelings and temptations and boundries. A couple who never spends any time alone together and never even kisses before marriage is missing out on a huge communication opportunity. Of course, they are less likely to fall into sin, but they are also less likely to learn how to communicate about this important aspect of their relationship.

    • I agree with this! I have told my children, I never want to witness your first kiss. (like on your wedding day)

  3. Please, please, please, write a book. I am seminary student and this subject of courtship (at least in my graduate program) is all but decided as the best thing since sliced bread, because their is no stand out opposition to courtship. I too have had Homeschooled courtship friends get divorced and yes one of them one was the very strictest of courtship types. Even as a 12 year old I thought Kissed Dating Goodbye was wrong. So I argued with my mother(not recommended) and by the time I was 16 my folks decided I might be right, and since then I have been on many dates and have had limited heartbreak and a better perspective due to less serious scenarios. My church groups usually disapprove of my dating style, so I am begging you to write a book. If you need info on courtships gone wrong just let me know. You have also made me feel guilty in that I have not written something similar to this blog. To the many comments/commenters that are concerned with the “Father’s role” in this courtship style. I am in agreement with Thomas, because despite good intentions I have seen the kind of ridiculous expectations and rules that play into a system that promotes a young man to do whatever a father ask, and when in love these young men do it. No, I was not one of those guys, I am just not serious enough of a personality to write an essay to the father of a girl I kind of like. Sorry! Even if I really liked her, and were not permitted to date her, than what does that say I like about her? However, my brother is the type to jump through hoops, and has been rejected by more fathers than daughters (oh yeah he is now a Christian camp/missionary director) but I guess since he was from a different church or social group he was not “one us” so to bad. All I want is for my friends and family to have happy healthy relationships and marriages, and I think freedom is preferred to rules and regulations. Last thing, Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. I believe my parents did a great job, and they trust me (and my sister for the other gender side) to make the right choices in life. They generally give me their advice after they are well acquainted with a girlfriend of mine, which is nice.

  4. Great article! My only possible disagreement with what you wrote is have the young man ask the parents permission before allowing the daughter to go out on a date. There is no way I would allow my high school age daughter to go out on a date with a boy before my husband and I met him. Perhaps you meant twenty-something women?

    • Yep, I agree with you 100%. I think the blog is written mainly for 30-year olds who are outside the parental home.

  5. I don’t believe in courtship but then I don’t believe in dating either. I believe that you should ask God who your mate is and follow his leading. It shouldn’t be up to your parents via courtship but nor should you be off aimlessly dating.

  6. This is a great article. One that has really started my mind spinning a little. I really appreciate the professional and educated and gentle way this is written. There is just one thing I would humbly suggest. As a parent, I do believe it is important for a child to respect their parents and preferably have such a relationship with their parents as to want them involved in these decisions and more specifically in the decision of who to “date”. I also would hope that the people my children are interested in dating would respect us as his or her parent. Therefore the part of your article that encourages men to drop a girl just because she has to ask her father’s permission is concerning. Just because a father would like to give his permission for a girl to date does not mean he is controlling. Sometimes it means he is loving and involved. I would encourage the author and my fellow readers to reconsider this point. Consider that you can successfully have a relationship with your child/teen/young adult that includes speaking into their dating choices.

    Although traditional dating may be more culturally relevant than courtship the fact remains that times have changed. Partially due to the more explicit and rampant sexualizing of our society, it is true that there remains a need for some very involved parenting even in the midst of the traditional dating context.

    I feel it is a slippery slope to encourage boys to just blatantly disregard a girl who has respect for her father in a way that she would like to ask his permission to date. It is also a slippery slope to encourage a girl to proceed without caution, so to speak. I do believe it would behoove more young people to be seeking their parents advice and matters such as these.

    All that said, this is certainly a topic that more homeschoolers, churches and Christians in general need to be discussing in forums just like this! Thank you for opening that door.

  7. So disappointed that this article lumps all who see the value of courting as “flawed”. Obviously there are those who use it as a form of extreme control; however, done in love I still believe courtship before marriage is essential – especially for those under 20 years old. Less serious dating may have worked well in the 20s and 30s, but in this generation dating relationships move far too fast. Perhaps it has something to to with what they see in movies and TV or maybe its more about the expectations of peers. Either way, dating may not only break a heart but steal innocence.

    My husband and I talked frequently with our young daughters about why we felt courting was safer for their hearts and spirits than dating. We also encouraged them to bring their concerns and thoughts to us if they felt constricted by it. Our older daughter (now 37 and teaching in Seoul Korea) never felt led to date, court, or marry – absolutely HER choice. She had multiple male friends in high school and college and still does. Will she ever marry? Only she and God know.

    Our younger daughter (now 32) questioned the dating/courting much more. When she was 15, there was one young man she was interested in from another church. We suggested she invite him to join us for dinner so we could meet him (before giving her permission to go to his youth group) and even offered for her to invite him camping with several other young people from our church. She was quite surprised when he said “I just wanted a date for Friday night”. She eventually courted and married a young man from our church that she had been friends with for 3 years before considering anything “romantic”.

    Since they were only 17 when they realized they might want marriage in the future, he had enough respect for her to talk to her Dad. In addition, both sets of parents met with them and the six of us set out some guidelines for spending time together. For the first six months they each spent time with the other’s family and phoned and/or emailed daily. To reduce the possibility of inappropriate (sexual) communication, our daughter was aware that she must call from the living or dining room (where anyone might walk in) and we had the right to check her email account (although we never felt the need to). After the 6 months, they were free to go on occasional “dates” alone so they could learn more about each other privately. We never made rules about holding hands, hugging, etc. They chose not to kiss until much closer to their wedding day.

    They married at 18 with both families blessings (even though we may have liked them to wait until a bit older). They have been married for over 12 year and are going strong in their love. They have 2 biological children (11&8) and recently adopted 2 brothers (6&4).

    My point is that courtship can work wonderfully when discussed as a family choice (not just an authoritarian parent!) I would say however, that once your children are adults (20 years plus), their decisions about dating or courting should definitely become their own. While we would encourage a daughter or son to spend time with both families before marriage, even that is strictly their choice!

  8. I agree with almost everything you say with one exception. I should allow my teenage daughter to say yes to a date without her mother or myself even knowing who they are. What kind of parent would just let there 15 or 16 year old say yes to a 18 year old and the parents just are like whatever? I have never told a boy he could not date my daughter, but you had better believe that if he wants to take either of my daughters out he must come talk to their mother and myself. That is like telling your kids, I don’t need to know where you are or who you are with because it is not my job to raise you or provide for you or even offer advice to you. I am throwing you to the wolves have fun, and sorry if anything happens b

  9. I understand the points that you make and agree to some extent, but your “facts” don’t quite add up. If marriages in the general population are breaking up at a rate of 50%, how can you claim that dating will solve the problem (the majority of the population don’t even know what courting is so clearly that isn’t their problem). Also, the majority of people in the general population are postponing marriage and their reasons again have nothing to do with courtship. I agree that hardcore courtship can have real problems, but I think your scope of experience is a bit too narrow to paint such a broad picture of how to fix the problem.

    Couples who understand Natural Family Planning however have a documented decrease in divorce rates (less than 5%), so I think if you are looking for marriage insurance you need to consider that respect is the way to go. We need to respect each other as individuals and learn to understand the beauty of God’s designs for the human body and marriage. Neither courtship nor dating are a guarantee of learning this essential lesson. So, I appreciate your perspective and it indeed is good food for thought, but I think there is far more to the problem than you are stating.

    • Yes!! How true, Natural Family Planning is so beautiful and does indeed take respect and mutual self-giving. I think there is more to the story as well, but I also don’t get why there is only the choice of marriage, and not the vocation to the single life. Don’t parents who endorse courting tell their children to seek God’s Plan for them, and this may or may not include marriage? Why is it a given everyone will marry? What about vocations?

  10. This post taught me a lot. I thought my wife and I had courted but it really sounds like we just followed the traditional dating route we first became good friends (dating) where I took her out to dinner and paid and then after doing that for a while I then asked her to be my girlfriend (going steady) then we continued with that for a while then got engaged and 10 years latter still are happy and going strong. I was totally against dating by today’s definition and by complete accident seemed to have went what this post described as traditional dating. Thanks for educating me on what courtship is and for preventing me from putting my daughter in a forever single lifestyle.

    • Thanks for your comment Russel! I’m glad you read this and understood. I REALLY appreciate what you’re doing for your daughter. 🙂

    • You DID court and that IS courtship. 🙂 I don’t think this post educated you on what courtship is at all. It’s describing a specific program of courtship that courtship has been redefined in recent years to mean. It’s not whether or not you engage in courtship, it’s how you engage in it. Courtship is a very old concept and comes in many different forms (good and bad). One specific philosophy of courtship need not take over the original concept. Don’t give up on “courtship.” Really, the only alternative is arranged marriages. 😉

  11. I graduated from high school in 1989. I was never homeschooled, and I never ‘courted’ in the traditional sense… however, this comment resonated with me:

    “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).”

    I was asked out on a “date” one time during high school. I did not go for varying reasons. I went to college straight out of high school and again, had very few “dates” (even though we had TWIRP week, and I asked guys to go out with me). I definitely had myself convinced that I was unattractive and still struggle with those feelings today… at age 43.

    I married straight out of college to a guy who was my best friend. After 19 years of marriage, we divorced. (He did the ‘traditional’ thing of asking my dad for my hand in marriage.)

    I hope somehow my comment will help.

  12. Could not agree more with this article. Although my parents didn’t advocate courtship, I readily adopted it in middle school and high school after reading”When God Writes Your Love Story” and Josh Harris. Then, I went to a Big 10 School, and learned courtship doesn’t work. Conversations with my pastor, lots of reading and talking with friends changed my views 180 degrees. I went on lots of dates with different guys in college, made some silly mistakes, had fun and learned a lot. Dating teaches you to enjoy another person (versus viewing them as project) and know and love them for who they are versus if they’re right for you.

    I often remark that I wouldn’t have dated then married my husband had I not enjoyed coffee, dinner, walks, etc. with a lot of different types of guys and learned what I really was looking for in a relationship. I like to think I served my brothers too by going on dates with them.

    One note I would add.. I think group situations are a great option in college setting to become friends with guys. They’re not substitutes for dates, but the guys I went on dates with I met first through hanging out together.

    Great stuff. Thanks for being a needed voice in this conversation.

  13. I just wanted to say that, as modern dating is usually rather exclusive, it is not necessarily controlling for a father to want to be asked by a man if he can date a girl. I know my father would, and he isn’t controlling. If the man, the girl, and the girl’s parents all understand that the date does not necessarily mean a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, then I guess it might be weird for the father to require permission, assuming the girl is of age.

    • Just curious, would a non-controlling mother want to be asked by a woman if she cold date his son? And if not, why the gender difference?

  14. We are guilty. Guilty of telling our children not date, but something happened when they got older. Thankfully my husband never really bought into the “Father’s Veto” and secondly, we saw homeschool graduates spin their wheels, not get married, and grow angry.

    We told our children to date.

    Our younger children are in public school. The middle schooler snuck around and had a boyfriend. She wasn’t too sneaky, I found out.

    I was angry, but took the only road open to me: I got to know HIM and his MOTHER. I made my expectations clear. We (his mother and I) watched them like hawks.

    You know what happened: they broke up.

    I think we parents were more hurt than they were.

    My point is this: boys and girls need to mix and mingle. They don’t need to have sex. They don’t need to sneak around. They just need to figure things out….for themselves.

    Is it right? Well, it’s right for us. Maybe everyone should do what’s right for them.

  15. Love this… lots of good insight and advice! one of my relatives frequently had more than one date on the same day and would tell date #1 to please have her home at 5pm because she had a date with date #2… she ended up marrying date #1… who started making her late for her next date on purpose when he wanted to start going steady 🙂

  16. Thank you so much! This article is so so so incredibly encouraging to me.
    Those who oppose it: why? why is it such a problem that he believes courtship is fundamentally flawed? Why do you take it as though it’s a personal attack on you? People believe different things sometimes, don’t take it personally. Really, he intends it for good, and I take it that way. Most of the teens I know who have been forced into courtship have snuck behind their parents and done things that are unmentionable, and it was because they didn’t feel trusted. If you want your teens to respect you, show them trust! If they mess up, that is their fault, not yours. It’s in between them and God. You teach them, and they have to ultimately make the decisions. As much as you’d like to, you cannot control them and every move and decision they make. They need to know how to make decisions on their own, because you’re not always going to be there. I know teens and parent who have ended up HATING and having terrible relationships with each other over issues such as this. Give them some space, okay?I know from personal experience, when I was in my teens, my parents were very controlling and they would constantly tell me what things were wrong and that just created in me a desire to do those things to feel like I was my own person. Yes, I realize that was wrong of me to disobey, but if they would’ve trusted me it could have been different.

  17. Guidance is surely necessary, but more freedom should be allowed to make mistakes and therefore learn. Experience is not the kindest of teachers, but it is surely the best.

  18. I have never read something more free I g on this subject! Thankyou so much for answering all my prayers about this very problem! I used to feel like such a slut for even being interested in or attacked to, more than one guy but its really normal…. I feel like the traditional dating u talked about is very good also for keeping down the high rate of exsesivve fantasizing in the homeschool/courting communities. So many girls are absolutely consumed with this fictional world that they live in full of romance and quite simply, just imagining guys liking them and imagining what it would be like for a guy to show interest in them…. and it goes on from there to where it is all they can think about. I think that traditional dating could normalize boy girl stuff to the point that I could eliminate the homeschool girls live in their own world made up of simply being like by a man. Because if they were accustom to guys asking them out from an earlier age and accustom to being with a guy and around guys then it would be normal, they would feel more confident about themselves and wouldn’t have this huge, overwhelming curiosity in their brains and desire in their heart for male attention, therefore leading to having to live it out in their heads…. does this make any since? I guess im just saying, yes, girls and guy interacting, being attracted to one another, being open about it, all helps immensely with normalizing it so its not the big bad evil that u know little about and arent supposed to speak about but of coarse u want it because god instilled these desires in us! So I think… like u said, it does cut down on temptation, alot!

  19. Of our five, one dated. He is twice divorced. The other four went the courtship route at our direction. Three are in deeply devoted and happy marriages and the other has been with her boyfriend for just over three years; they plan to marry when he finishes college. Just saying it’s hard to generalize these things. What works in one family may not work in another. Throwing courtship out as an option makes as much sense as throwing dating out when you are doing the tossing for all people at all times. For our family, we didn’t like what the dating scene did to our oldest so we gave courtship a go. And it’s working really, really well. I much prefer the notion of people doing what works best for their particular families. 🙂

  20. I am a grandfather with a few words after reading this blog from my daughters post
    I was one young man dating in High school, went steady in my senior
    . and then broke to go to college. out of state. In my first freshmen year and dated a different girl every couple of weeks. Guys would say how do you get those pretty girls to go out with you?. In the 50′,s you didn’t jump into bed after a few dates and the girls knew you were not really interested in getting serious for some time.
    Never regretted having to meet so many girls from others towns and backgrounds. During my 2nd year a got pretty serious but found me wife back home at my church during Christmas Holidays.
    WE got engaged in the Spring and married when I graduated from college.
    We didn’t have sex until we got married although there were many times it was extremely tempting.
    WE were married for 44 wonderful years until she died of Ovarian Cancer.
    I was very lonely since we were not blessed with children.
    After several months a got on Yahoo singles and started dating again.
    Met several women, got involved in one very serious relationship with a women who was two timing me and dropped me after many months of dating back and forth over 100 mile distance.
    I got back on the site and just a week later I found a wonderful Christian lady and after 6 months we were married. I now have a family of 2 Children and 6 grandchild. in my opinion dating is the answer at any age, but not hooking up just for sex. Take the time to really get to know your mate.
    You may be blessed even more than one time in your life

  21. I was homeschooled all my life and have conservative parents. My mother would joke that she was going to arrange my marriage but the topic of whether I had to “date” or “court” was never actually discussed.
    When I was sixteen I met my husband at a Bible study. My parents met him first a few days before I did but they had no hand in our meeting or spending time together, and as there were several guys there and only one girl my age they expected me to hang out with the guys. After two months of Bible studies, youth groups, and Facebook conversations we finally admitted (over Facebook) our interest in each other and our desire to have a serious relationship with each other. A week later, Gabriel spoke to my dad. He told him that he was interested in me and that we wanted to pursue a relationship. He asked for my father’s blessing, and my father willingly gave it.
    Our relationship after that continued on in much the same way. We met at Bible studies and with our group of friends only and never went on a date. The only difference was that we would wander off from the group to have private conversations sometimes. A month later he gave me a ring, and then (AFTER he gave me the ring) asked my dad for my hand in marriage. Again, my dad willingly gave his approval, but this was the extent of his involvement other than driving me to wherever I was meeting Gabriel and the rest of our group, and having lengthy conversations with Gabriel when he came to our house.
    After our engagement we spent more time alone but still never went on a date, partially because Gabriel didn’t have a drivers license or car. He sometimes spent the night at our house (he slept in the living room of course) and over Thanksgiving I spent every day for about a week alone with him while we cleaned a friend’s house. So my parents were pretty laid back but they also really really liked Gabriel and trusted him with me.
    We got married a couple months after I turned seventeen and now, a year and a half later, we are still very happily married and have a beautiful baby boy.
    So I shared all that to say that I agree with a lot of this article, but I don’t think you have to “date” in order to find your one true love. Gabriel was the first man I ever had a relationship with and our relationship was more like courting than dating, but I think the way my parents handled things took a lot of pressure off and allowed us to get to know each other. And I definitely think that if a girl tells a guy to talk to her father, he should talk to her father. Not all fathers are controlling and if a girl specifically tells a boy to ask her dad, it’s probably because she trusts her dad to give the guy a chance but wants him to be respected. However there should be a mutual attraction and interest established between the young couple before he asks the father, otherwise he has no motivation to ask the father and the father has no reason to consent (why would a boy go to a father if he’s not even sure he likes his daughter, and why would the father he a guy date his daughter if he doesn’t even know if his daughter likes him?).
    Anyway, this is just my experience, and my thoughts on the matter. Also I think the courting movement, like so many other movements, was a radical response to an equally radical culture. The strictness of the courting structure was a response to a culture where teenagers are losing their virginity and becoming pregnant at 13 because parents are providing NO structure at all. So, while flawed in its extremism, courting is an attempt to balance a sex-crazed, divorce-ridden culture, and as such has many good values and ideas. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but instead balance the two ideas.
    Thank you for writing this article.

  22. Very interesting. I am age 60+, and although I DID grow up in a pretty conservative Christian family, the whole idea of control to this extent is just a little dismaying. I have been married for almost 40 years, and dated a fair number of guys when I was young. My husband was certainly not what my parents expected for me, but they allowed me to have some discretion in my life when it came to dating. When my husband met my family and expressed interest in learning more about me, my parents were open to him and took him under their wing. I’ll always be thankful to them for trying to nurture in a Godly way, and steer us correctly, without being controlling to the extent that they called the shots. My husband loves my parents and they adore him.

  23. I really appreciated this article. Very good food for thought as my children get older. There definitely needs to be some means where young people are *encouraged* to spend time getting to know a variety of people without the pressure of turning it into a serious relationship immediately. Although my family followed courtship, I was lucky in that I had plenty of opportunity to spend time around guys through my schooling and career–and also a lot of unofficial getting-to-know people happened online. Fortunately the courtship teachings hadn’t quite caught up with the technology. I am happily married, but it is in spite of courtship.

    Even though I was sure I did not want courtship for my children, I still felt like “casual dating” was probably a thing to be avoided. This article has caused me to reconsider that. I can definitely see the wisdom in encouraging people to learn to spend time with the opposite sex without having to feel the pressure to move immediately into a relationship–while still encouraging them to being open to pursuing that relationship when the right person comes along.

  24. thanks, so much! I married a man who has a courtship family. Ugh. I had read Joshua Harris books as a young woman and agreed with them, but not enough to just to give up dating, but with dating with intention. When my Husband and I first meet, we probably would not have seen each other again for a year if it had not been going out on our first date. His family was not “comfortable” with our “dating” (but in hindsight they call it courting).
    Our first date was dinner alone and then a group event. My husband is a wallflower and the group part of the date was a little Awkard. to this day we will most likely be hanging around each other at a party just because we are different at them.

    my parents were not gauntlets. To let me go out with guys they usually wanted to meet the guy at the door, mostly make sure I wasn’t going out with a drug dealer on a motorcycle to the tattoo parlor! (as if they I would ever)
    And YES my husband had a Job and his own house, it made him way more attractive!!

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