My Dear “Kindred Spirit,”
I’d like to excuse my lack of posts lately by claiming to be suffering from writer’s block or some such nonsense, but I can’t honestly claim that.
I’ve had at least half-a-dozen different ideas for posts within this past month or so, I just haven’t had the time or energy or focus to write them. Or perhaps I just haven’t prioritized writing them, so they haven’t gotten written.
And they still may not get written. We’ll see how far I get with this one as it is.
So I’ve been promising and threatening to write this post for a few weeks now. It all started when I read an article on courtship. I sent said article to my brother, and he proceeded to write his own post about courtship. So I been thinking about it a lot, and although I don’t really have anything new to add to the discussion, why should that stop me from writing my own post about it and putting in my own experiences in my own words?
As you probably already know by now, I grew up in a very conservative environment. Although I don’t recall ever hearing it spoken, the general attitude among the people I hung out with was that dating was bad, courtship was the “right,” Godly, honorable, and “correct” way to find a mate.
For those of you unfamiliar with the terms, or unsure of the difference between courtship and dating, courtship differs from dating in that courtship is viewed as a much more serious, direct approach to relationships and marriage.
Symptoms of courtship include (but are not limited to) things such as the man receiving permission from the woman’s father before he begins getting to know the woman, the couple interacting mostly (or only) in group settings, the couple always having a chaperone, and there being established rules about how much physical contact is allowed between the two.
Depending on the background you’re coming from, you may be horrified at the very idea of those things, or you might be wondering what the big deal is – isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? Why would anyone see courtship as weird?
Before I really get into talking about why I no longer agree with the courtship mentality (dang, did I just let the cat out of the bag?! I probably wasn’t supposed to give my opinion on this subject away so quickly!) I’d like to explain what the purpose is behind courtship.
I think it’s important to understand that the courtship model is a reaction. If you are a Christian – or even if you’re simply a person with more traditional beliefs and morals – I think you will quickly agree that the “norm” for romantic relationships in today’s society is low commitment. Couples date for years on end with no thought of marriage. They get emotionally and physically involved with one another without any sort of commitment, they live together, sleep together, and have children together without ever actually committing themselves to the other person. This lack of commitment in relationships is a symptom of the loss of morality and breakdown of the family unit in today’s society.
The Christian community sees this downward trend toward a loss of morality and commitment in relationships and naturally wants to do something to prevent it in their own community and families. It’s perfectly understandable and natural.
It’s also definitely a fear-based reaction. An attempt to control the outcome of the young people’s relationships, an attempt to protect them from the painful long-term results most uncommitted relationships have.
But just like any set of rules based on fear, it simply doesn’t work.
I can’t fault the intention. If only it were so easy! Just follow this set of rules, and you’ll end up happily married, with no broken hearts, mistakes, failures, or unpleasant events during the process!
So the courtship model attempts to address two common relational problems: Lack of commitment, and loss of purity. In this post I’d like to discuss the lack of commitment side of things, I’ll leave the really interesting stuff (loss of purity) for part two. 😉
The lack of commitment is addressed by requiring commitment before the process begins – expecting the man to obtain parental permission before he begins showing interest in the woman, making the relationship exclusive early on, the conversations and interactions from the very beginning of the relationship being intensely focused on the future, the life goals and religious beliefs of the two. The whole atmosphere of the relationship is one of rapidly moving toward marriage.
So what’s the problem? Why doesn’t this work?
Well first of all, who really wants to commit to a perfect stranger? I can’t help but feel sorry for all the men trying to pursue a relationship in the courtship mentality world… Having to be screened and grilled by a girl’s father in order to simply talk to and get to know her as a friend! So already, we’re discouraging people from getting to know each other, and to see the opposite sex only as potential marriage partners. If a man can’t converse with a woman without talking to her father and expressing his “intentions” first, and a woman can’t talk to a man unless he has first talked to her father and practically agreed to pursue her in a romantic way… It’s no wonder there are so many older single people in the conservative Christian community! Who wants to jump through that many hoops just to get to know someone?! It’s easier to just stay single!
Ok. Next problem: Immediate exclusivity. (Is exclusivity even a real word??)
A year and a half or so ago I was talking to two different men on a dating site. I liked them both very much, had some really good conversations with both of them, and when a family member asked me which one I liked better, I struggled a lot with answering that question. I liked them both!
But it got to be a month or so in with talking to both of them. Conversations were getting more intense, and I started feeling like this was wrong – to be talking at the same time to two men who were showing interest in me (even though they were both aware that I was talking to others as well). I felt pressured to jump into an exclusive relationship with one of them, as that’s just what you do when you believe in courting instead of dating. You don’t have “deep” conversations with two different eligible men! You pick one and talk only to them and end up marrying them!
So… I made myself pick between the two. And I can remember talking to my mom about it (there may or may not have been tears involved), saying “I just feel like whichever one I pick, he’ll be the wrong one! I’ll end up regretting my choice no matter what I do!!”
The hilariously ironic part of this is that I didn’t actually know either of these men! Here I was, pretty much trying to decide which one I’d rather be married to, when I didn’t actually know either of them! Had I not been such a believer in the courtship model, I probably would have continued talking to both of them for a few more months, committing to neither, and after getting to know them better as people and friends, rather than as potential husbands, I would have been in a much better position to decide if I wanted to be in a romantic relationship with either one of them.
Instead I ended up in a serious, exclusive relationship with someone I barely knew as a person, which leads us to the next issue with courtship:
By the time you notice the red flags, you’re already in over your head.
When you commit to someone you barely know and immediately begin getting really serious about the relationship, it doesn’t provide much opportunity to slow down or back out when red flags pop up. If those red flags even have time to pop up before marriage!
In my case, by the time some red flags started popping up and I began to admit to myself just how miserable and scared and in “survival mode” I was in the relationship, we were practically planning the wedding already (in fact, we may or may not have been literally planning the wedding… I don’t remember the exact timeline). I knew there were issues, but I felt absolutely trapped. I was terrified of backing out, because ending the relationship would literally mean giving myself the label of “damaged goods.” People who court aren’t supposed to have multiple serious, exclusive relationships. They’re supposed to have one relationship that includes marriage and a lifetime together.
Those who have been in multiple relationships are seen as damaged goods, and while it’s not impossible to overcome that past, it is incredibly difficult to do. Such a person definitely wouldn’t be seen as a catch, and such a woman definitely wouldn’t be seen as the type of girl a man would want to pursue. Why would any woman give herself that label?! Better to just stay in the relationship and make the best of it.
And I nearly did. But thankfully my family doesn’t actually believe in courtship, and I was fully supported and encouraged when I finally did get up the courage to end my relationship.
Unfortunately many women aren’t as fortunate as I, and they end up married to men they barely know. And vise versa – many men end up married to women they barely know.
Some make it work, and survive lives of a merely tolerable marriage to someone less than ideal for them, others end up divorcing, and a very, very small percentage are fortunate enough to actually end up with a good marriage that truly thrives instead of just surviving.
Don’t go anywhere, folks. This was just part one. I’ll be back soon with part two and the physical purity rant!