Dating or Courting? Which is the “right” way for a young, single person to find the “ONE” that they are to be with the rest of their lives? I hope to bring you a perspective from both sides and let you decide for yourself.
There are similarities between them, really. The end result is hopeful of a long term relationship, most often marriage. It’s a chance to get to know someone else, build relationships and even life time friendships.
This is “fairly new” to our society, only really appearing in the last 100 years. As it has been described, it’s a way for people to meet and get to know each other one on one. Most often, the dating couple will go out for dinner, a movie, to the zoo, etc. alone. They are normally “unsupervised” or without a guardian. The exception to this is group dating or double dating, where more than one couple is involved.
Dating someone is as simple as asking a young lady out for a cup of coffee, or to dinner. A young man asking a young woman out for coffee is simply wanting to get to know them better, not asking for her hand in marriage.
The pros to this idea is that the couple can truly get to know each other in a less stressful environment. (If little brother or a parent is always with them, conversations tend to not go to deep levels about who the person truly is. Hopes and dreams are tempered with the idea of “being tattled on”.) You can easily see what a person’s true character is when they feel free to talk openly.
The “hook-up and break-up” generation that has evolved from dating has many drawbacks as well. Teenagers are taught from an early age that they can “love” someone one day, then “love” someone else the next. Their view on relationships is based on how pretty the girl is, how popular the boy is, and if their friends approve of the other. The idea of “fast love” can lead to young men and women giving their hearts away quickly, and running fast toward a physical relationship. Breaking up can be as painful as a divorce for many.
Dating, especially at an immature age, can lead to bad decisions being made. Not just in a physical relationship, but in even choosing WHO to be in a relationship with. In high school, more often than not, relationships are built on who is the prettiest, who is the star of the football team, etc. They are less likely to be based on character, values, and the real person.
And that is what the modern day courtship line of thinking was trying to protect against. They are wanting to “build a wall” so to speak around their children’s hearts, to protect them. Who can blame them for wanting the best for their child? But, is what they propose as courtship the answer, truly?
To best answer that, we need to define what “courtship” is by their standards. In courtship, the young man asks the father of the girl permission to “court” his daughter. Instead of asking to go to a movie, they are asking for the daughter in marriage BEFORE knowing her. All parents are involved in this process, giving or denying permission. When permission is given, the couple “enters courtship”. This typically means that any communication between the couple is monitored, such as texts, messages, or emails.
A courting couple may go out to a movie, or dinner, or any other “date”. The difference is that they are not allowed to be alone. Ever. A sibling, parent, or other responsible person is always with them. Being alone would allow for hormones to take over, and the couple may be led into temptation, and thus, sin. Being supervised and having communication monitored allows the parents to maintain control, and thus, giving the young couple “accountability”.
I have also seen cases where the young couple was not given a choice in the courtship. Their marriage and courtship were a match-maker set up. Most often done by the fathers in the intent “of their daughters best interests”. One young lady told me her story that her father set her up in a courtship at the age of 18. She knew her husband only 6 weeks, and never even so much as held his hand until they were at the altar. They have been married for 6 years now, with 4 children.
Pure? Romantic? Sure. I’ll agree to that. Is it in the best interest of the young adult though? When do we give them the option of who they marry? When do we begin to trust THEIR decisions? When do parents allow their children, who are now entering adulthood, to learn how to manage a relationship on their own?
Advocates for courtship can usually quote Joshua Harris by page and paragraph. In his book, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, Harris states that “dating is breeding grounds for divorce” because it trains young people to quit relationships when things get too hard to handle. I admit, I read this book cover to cover religiously. MY kids were going to court, that was it. Purity and piety, not even kissing until at the altar was the goal here. Otherwise, they might not be “good Christians” and what would others think?
Even now, some years later, Harris himself is wondering about this type of courtship. The kind that parents control every single movement their children make. In one interview, Harris stated
“I know in many ways it’s too late for me to fix something for people who feel like they’ve been hurt by the books,”Harris told me. In almost an hour of talking about the negative impacts of the work he is best known for, he never sounded dismissive or defensive, and he didn’t use his youth or inexperience as an excuse for his book’s flaws. He spoke slowly and carefully, returning over and over to the theme of his own readiness to listen to his critics. It’s worth noting that Harris is media-savvy to avoid saying anything too definitively apologetic. But after making his name spouting certainties, there is a certain poignancy in his willingness to be nakedly hesitant in public. (source)
People hurt by the idea that “sex before marriage” was dirty, impure, unholy had a hard time letting go of that thought process when they DID get married. Especially if they faltered and had sex before marriage. Such as this person who wrote,
I have been married to my wife for over seven years. We’ve been together over ten. We have a beautiful daughter, and successful careers. When we were dating, we had sex. Because of the shameful purity movement rhetoric we learned from your book, sex became tainted. To this day, I cannot be intimate with my wife without feeling like I’m doing something wrong. Sinful. Impure. We both adored your book as young people. And I believe our diligent commitment to your ideas, and our “failing to stay pure until marriage” has permanently damaged our relationship. Years of truth and counseling later, I cannot get the subconscious idea out of my head that I am doing something wrong. D–m you.
So, what about those who stayed pure in courtship until marriage? What about those who experienced a “failed courtship” where the couple did not make it to the altar together? Were there people who experienced a tangling of lives due to the “shame” of wanting to date? What did the youth from 1997 on really feel about courting as Joshua Harris put it?
Over an email conversation, this roundtable was created. People from every walk of life were part of it, sharing hurts, disappoinments and even condemnation they experienced from the thought process of this book. For example,
We were taught a lot about “what we don’t do,” even though people being people actually did do those things, and were judged or disfellowshipped for doing them. And “what we don’t do” was a way to be pious while building social standing for being “different” and more controlled. It’s pernicious because it encourages you to bring the external self-serving colonial standard into your own conscience. And then you oppress yourself and call it holiness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about depression and how much of it can be traced back to purity culture. I’ve had it most of my adult life, and I can definitely trace some of it back to the constant self-loathing I went through growing up. And I keep going back to something that I’ve been thinking about when it comes to purity culture and depression is the possible link between the two.
The things I’d want my 15-year-old self to know, despite IKDG and that whole subculture: You’re not property. You’re not property your parents will one day hand over to your spouse. You’re not a commodity or a trade item. Your value doesn’t rise or drop like stock. The world can be hard enough and you might be tempted to get hard-hearted with it. But your openness is not a flaw, and feeling might not always be fun, but it is good. The guys are figuring themselves out just like you are. You can have standards without growing cold. Fear is not the way of grace or growth.
So, is the answer to the damaging “purity” culture to run out and have as much premarital sex as possible? Um, not even close. Even those in the round table would tend to agree.
I understand that the people in the round table discussion are the extreme, and not everyone who was involved in a courtship has had these experiences. Not all courtships lead to feelings of guilt, anxiety, or depression. Actually, the same could be said about dating someone exclusively and “breaking up”.
So, the basic argument is that dating leads to impurity and courtship leads to spiritual and/or mental abuse. But, neither are true in my opinion. So, is there any middle ground to this? Perhaps.
As he so eloquently stated in his article found here, Thomas Umstattd Jr seems to agree that courting is fundamentally flawed. As a matter of fact, he himself went from “courtship only” to back to dating. His grandmother gave the best reasons of all.
Dating can give you options of getting to know different people at the same time by dating different people different times. For example, going out with Bob for coffee on Thursday evening, then having dinner with Jason on Sunday. Dating multiple people can help a young lady guard their heart, as they can be less likely to want a physical relationship with Bob when they know they are going out with Jason 3 days later. Young men learn that they do not have exclusive rights to that girl or her time, and tempering temptation can be easier in many cases.
What’s right for you and your child?
Well, I can only say that we are a non-courtship house. This is only due to the definition of courtship that others have given me. I don’t want to control my children as they enter adulthood, I want to guide them. My husband and I agonized over this decision years ago, to be honest. BUT, we knew we were training up our children as best as we could. Did we make mistakes? Um….yeah! Plenty of them. And we will continue to do so, even as we strive to be more like our Messiah.
Whatever decision is made in your home, be it courtship, dating exclusive or dating non exclusive, may I suggest that you leave the lines of communication open with you and your soon to be adult children? TALK with them about this choice, and talk often. Be ready to see things from their perspective, even if it differs from yours.