In a past post, What Is Christian Courtship?, I explained how Christian Courtship is a social structure that was developed by American Christians in the early 90’s as a way to pursue romantic relationships other than through dating. Courtship structure has four distinct characteristics:
- Intentional Exploration of Marriage
- Romance From Friendship
- Approval and Oversight of the Woman’s Father
- Courtship In Community
If you’d like to learn more about the nature of Courtship and how it differs from dating, please read What Is Christian Courtship? since my purpose in this post is to discuss several weaknesses inherent to Courtship structure.
Before You Get Too Excited
Let me try to preemptively calm any fears that I’m condemning Courtship by first clarifying what this post is NOT saying:
- It’s not saying Courtship is inherently bad, wrong, or shouldn’t be used.
- It’s not saying it’s impossible to use Courtship structure to build a happy, healthy marriage. Many people have done so.
- I’m not saying dating is better than Courting. (No social structure is inherently better than another; all have strengths and weaknesses.)
That being said, let me also clarify what I DO want to communicate about Courtship through this post:
- Courtship structure has several inherent weaknesses. These weaknesses don’t disappear just because a person prefers Courtship over dating.
- Everyone who desires to use Courtship structure to pursue romance and marriage should be aware of these weaknesses.
- Everyone who uses Courtship structure should know how to respond to the weaknesses inherent to Courtship and how to recognize when it’s wisest to switch to an alternative structure that offers greater strength in Courtship’s weak areas.
That being said, on with the main event!
4 Problems With Christian Courtship
#1 – Limitations of Romance From Friendship
Courtship structure maintains the ideal that romantic relationships should come from established friendships. This is with the intent that the two romantically involved people with have a sound understanding of the other person’s character and personality. The problem with only initiating romance from friendship is that friendship is limited in its ability to provide a pool of potential romantic partners.
Friendships are developed through people sharing what they have in common in daily life. Maintaining friendships with numerous single peers is easy enough when in high school and college, two environments that foster close, regular contact with single peers. The realities of adult postgraduate life aren’t so kind. The average Christian adult life centers in three areas: home, work, and church. These are the three areas in which friendships are easily cultivated due to being around the people in those three areas regularly. Cultivating friendships outside these three environments is much more difficult, since other environments are ones we aren’t required to be in and tend to be in less often.
So what happens if we don’t find a friend we want to Court (and who mutually wants to Court us) within our regular home, work, and church environments? We’re left with little easy opportunity to build friendships that could result in a romantic relationship. The average working adult simply doesn’t have time to invest in intentionally going to other environments to build friendships that MIGHT result in a romantic relationship. This reality drastically narrows the possibility being able to initiate a romantic relationship from a friendship.
To overcome this problem, many adults have to arrange intentionally to spend time with a member of the opposite sex in whom they have romantic interest, building friendship in the process (for more on that subject, read 3 Principles Of Friendship In Dating). However, planning to meet even a casual romantic interest at a predetermined time and place for the sake of getting to know him or her is, by definition, dating.
(By the way, you can get my free Guide To Finding Christian Singles)
#2 – High Initial Intensity
A Courtship relationship is supposed to be pursued for the purpose of determining whether the man and woman will marry. This is made clear from the beginning of the relationship. The man is also supposed to speak with the woman’s father, whether biological or spiritual, and receive the father’s approval to pursue the woman before the man makes his interest known to the woman.
These characteristics of Courtship combine to give Courtship a high initial intensity. Or, to put it another way, Courtship has a high emotional cost of entry. Both the man and woman must be willing to commit to an exclusive romantic relationship in order to determine if they’ll marry. The man must have the motivation to go through the procedure of being examined by the woman’s father. And all this must be done before any communication of interest is made between the man and woman. The emotional intensity of this process is several orders of magnitude greater than going on a simple coffee date.
I suspect the high initial intensity of Courtship results in people only pursuing a Courtship if they both have romantic feelings for each other beforehand. After all, you don’t want to marry someone for whom you have no romantic attraction. And beginning a Courtship in hope that the feelings will develop later comes at a great emotional cost if the feelings fail to appear, due to the intensity of the Courtship process. The result is that many people feel they don’t want to risk investing in a Courtship if they don’t already have feelings for the other person.
I once went on a casual date with a woman who attended a church that followed Courtship structure during her young adult years. She said eight different young men at that church asked her to begin a Courtship with them. She rejected seven of the eight because she had felt no romantic interest in them at all. She accepted the one invitation because she had felt romantic chemistry with the young man before he invited her to pursue a Courtship. I asked her, “If those eight guys had asked you on a coffee date rather than to begin a Courtship, would you have said yes?” She replied, “Oh, yes.”
The tragedy of this is that it’s a known phenomenon that romantic feelings toward a person can develop as you get to know that person better. It’s not unusual for people to go on a casual date and find increasing romantic interest as they get to know each other better. I fear the high initial intensity of Courtship has prevented romantic relationships that otherwise would have been lasting from ever starting.
#3 – Restricted Social Experience
Part of Courtship’s intentional exploration of marriage is the expectation that people who follow Courtship structure don’t participate in any type of romantic interaction before they’re ready to get married. It also means not having romantic interaction with anyone with whom you can’t see yourself getting married. This results in people who use Courtship structure missing out on the social experience that comes from participating in casual romantic interactions.
Courtship proponents say that singles can gain all the social experience they need to know what sort of person they should marry by interacting in groups as platonic friends. It’s true that you can learn much about people through friendships and group interactions…but only to a certain extent.
Personalities and social dynamics are different between two people are talking one-on-one and several people interacting in a group. Some things about a person that can be discovered in a one-on-one interaction can’t be discovered in a group interaction. Chief among these discoveries is how much camaraderie and chemistry exists between two people. This is important since camaraderie and chemistry between two people is critical to the health of a marriage. Under Courtship structure, two people can only explore one-on-one camaraderie and chemistry by beginning a Courtship. As discussed above, that requires a high emotional investment that can prevent the Courtship from ever starting.
Having limited experience interacting with the opposite sex in one-on-one settings (note that this doesn’t mean the two people are isolated) also puts a person at a disadvantage in knowing how well he or she matches with various personalities. Again, certain personality and social dynamics don’t appear in group settings. It’s all well and good to theorize about how well you match with one personality or another, but theory can’t provide the same value of proof that experience can (many college graduates see this reality when their degrees don’t make up for their lack of workplace experience).
In my early twenties, I was recovering from a young adulthood spent refraining from any type of casual romantic interaction. One of my mentors challenged me on the subject. “You have this image in your head of the woman you want to marry,” he said, “but you’ve never actually found out in real life if that’s really the type of person that’s right for you.” He was challenging me to recognize that my lifetime habit of not engaging with women one-on-one had left me inexperienced and unknowledgeable in truly understanding what sort of woman I should marry. My decision to accept his advice to begin engaging in casual romantic interactions was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It helped move me from a perspective informed only by theory to one informed by experience.
#4 – Vulnerability to Unwise Parents
Courtship structure holds up parents, especially the father of the woman, as very important for guiding and counseling the man and woman in their Courtship. The father of the woman is also expected to screen her suitors and dismiss any that he finds lacking for any reason in his sole judgment. The intention of this degree of parental involvement is to protect the woman and give helpful support to the man and woman.
I fully agree that there are many wonderful, wise Christian parents in the world whose involvement in their children’s romantic relationships is a blessing and joy to their children. What follows is in no way intended to detract from the goodness of the influence of godly and wise parents. The problem isn’t the good parents but the bad parents. The further problem is that the bad parents think they’re good parents. A brief search of the internet will produce more than one horror story of how foolish parents became destructive influences in their children’s love lives. The risk of unwise parental influence is greatest in those segments of Christendom that hold most strongly to a complementarian perspective that elevates the husband’s/father’s authority in the household as supreme. The risk is greatest because no check or balance is placed on the father’s authority.
The Bible acknowledges the authority of parental authority when it says, ” Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1 NET) But it also says immediately thereafter, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger.” (Eph. 6:4a NET) These two statements reveal the biblical balance that governs parental authority. Parents have authority over their children for the benefit of the children as they grow from childhood to adulthood. But parental authority also has its biblical limits. The Bible acknowledges that parents have the moral obligation not to burden their children with commands or expectations that unreasonable, unwise, or unbiblical. Unfortunately, parents, being mortal like the rest of us, don’t always recognize when they impose unreasonable or unbiblical expectations on their children and their love lives.
To make matters worse, I’ve never found any discussion of how young men and women can find recourse if they face destructive parental influence in their love lives. In all the writings of Courtship proponents that I’ve read, I’ve never once found instructions given to young men and women as to what to do in the face of unwise parental influence. It’s reasonable for young men and women to appeal to church elders for recourse against destructive parental influence (Matt. 18:15-16), even among the most complementarian church cultures. But in no pro-Courtship writings have I ever found options for recourse discussed. In this way, Courtship structure is left vulnerable to the destructive influence of foolish parents who think they’re wise.
But Wait…There’s More!
This post is lengthy enough already, and I want to keep it as short as possible. The problem is…there are more problems! The above four problems are four primary problems within Courtship that I want to emphasize. However, I’ve written about four additional problems with Courtship structure. If you’d like to read about them, please click here, and I’ll email the information about them to you.
What do you think of these Courtship problems? Have you encountered any of these? Have you been able to overcome them? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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