What is Courtship? You might recall from my post a couple weeks ago that I’m talking about Christian Courtship, the modern social structure that was developed in the early 90’s as a response to broken relationships that many Christians saw coming out of modern dating. Courtship was supposed to be a better alternative for finding healthy romance leading to marriage. Let’s take a look at four main characteristics that set Courtship apart from dating, and then I’ll share some thoughts on what it means for your own pursuit of romance. Understand, though, that there’s variance among families that use Courtship. Some may not hold firmly to each of these characteristics, but I’ve found that these seem to be the most consistent defining characteristics in the literature of Courtship proponents.
What Is Christian Courtship?
Intentional Exploration of Marriage
The first thing that makes Courtship different than dating is that it is intentionally aimed at marriage. One of the biggest criticisms aimed at dating is that it’s directionless. Many authors criticize how dating enables people to set into a relationship that is emotionally and sexually charged yet going nowhere. The thought is that this encourages people to use dating for self-service without making any constructive commitment. Courtship was supposed to correct this by requiring that if a guy and a girl get into a romantic relationship at all it’s because they agree at the beginning that they are committed to deciding if they will marry, not because they just like the fun of the relationship. The two have ultimately have to either marry or break up. There’s no staying together indefinitely for the fun of it.
Romance From Friendship
In Courtship, romance is supposed to grow out of friendship. This was supposed to counter the explosive relationships that sometimes arose out of dating. I’m sure you can imagine it. A guy and girl meet somewhere, hit it off, go out, and get love struck. A week later they think they’re soul mates. Two weeks later they realize they can’t stand each other and part ways. Courtship says that by being friends with someone before you begin a romantic relationship allows you to truly know his or her character apart from super-charged romantic feelings. This allows you to know if you’re getting romantic with a true keeper or just a pretender. It was also supposed to tone down the romantic high that often comes at the beginning of a dating relationship and help couples be more objective.
The Approval and Oversight of the Father
The second major characteristic of Courtship is the role of the woman’s father. Courtship expects that any man who wants to Court a woman receive her father’s approval before even speaking to her about the relationship. The role of the father was introduced to Courtship to try to correct many of the harms that were seen in people’s dating experience. The father is supposed to meet the suitor when he expresses interest in his daughter in order to get a feel for what type of man he is. The father tries to weed out any men to are after his daughter for the wrong reasons or who aren’t serious about considering marriage. The father also has opportunity to review how ready the man is for matrimony as far as vocation, personal character, and spiritual maturity are concerned. If the man receives the father’s approval then the daughter is asked if she would like to begin a Courtship. Even during the Courtship the father (and often mother) will remain involved, providing oversight to the couple as their relationship progresses. In spite of my tongue-in-cheek title for this post, please understand that the father isn’t supposed to be a judge who makes all the decisions for the couple. The father is supposed to provided security, oversight, accountability, guidance, and encouragement.
Courtship in Community
The final characteristic of Courtship is that it’s supposed to be done in the context of family and church community. This is for a few reasons. By Courting in community the couple is able to get a taste of what it’s like to be together in real life rather than just on romanticized dates. This should give them a chance to better weigh if they belong together in marriage. The community also provides accountability. Family and friends will often be aware of the couple’s commitments to purity (that is, if they will hold hands, kiss, hug, etc.) and hold the couple to them. Courting in community also allows the couple to give back by allowing younger family and friends to see their example and through it learn for their own future Courting.
In fairness, I should mention that there is encouragement for dating to be done in community. Dating in community is one of the main points Dr. Neil Warren emphasizes in Finding The Love Of Your Life. However, dating doesn’t require it while Courtship does. Also, in spite of my tongue-in-cheek title, the community isn’t meant to serve as a jury. They encourage and assist the couple, but the two make their own decisions concerning their future.
Courtship: God’s Gift to Romance or Failed Social Experiment?
Perhaps you’ve read all this and thought, “Oh, so Justin, is it better to Court than to date?” That’s NOT what I’m saying. I’m saying that all this is how Courtship was intended to be better than dating. But there is great debate as to whether it really is. Courtship has been criticized just like dating has. The characteristics of Courtship that were intended to give it strength also gave it weakness.
The intentional focus on marriage caused some people to feel like their Courtships were so serious and intense from the beginning that it was downright awkward to interact with their significant other. It also discouraged Courting freely because people would only start Courtships with someone they thought they would want to marry.
Pursuing romance from friendship was nice inasmuch as you knew the person, but many adults found that once you’re past a college environment that your circle of friends (and therefore eligible bachelors/bachelorettes) can become quite small. Having to be friends before pursuing romance made finding a significant other much more difficult.
While fathers were supposed to provide valuable oversight and wisdom to a Courtship, in many cases fathers became so overbearing in what they required in a man that good Courtships were squelched before they could even begin. The fatherly love that was supposed to protect daughters sometimes became an irrational over-protectiveness that chased good suitors away from her. And in some cases, the father’s oversight failed to detect bad characteristics in the man that were only later revealed in marriage.
Sometimes there was such pressure and expectation from the family and church community that people felt pressured into staying with or marrying a significant other that they didn’t really want.
In August, 2014, Thomas Umstattd Jr. published a blog post entitled Why Courtship Is Fundamentally Flawed. The post was shared on Facebook over 100,000 times. Other bloggers such as Elizabeth Esther, Darcy, and ElisaM have written about the harms they encountered through trying to follow Courtship requirements. Yet individuals such as Douglas Wilson and Scott Ross were quick to respond to Umstattd’s critiques, saying that Courtship really is better than dating when done right. So what should we believe for our own love lives?
First, be aware of the weaknesses that are inherent to Courtship. If you personally believe in Courtship or come from a family that does, take some time to become well-educated on why Courtship has garnered strong criticism. Don’t follow a social structure without understanding its hazards. Second, you will have to decide for yourself what you think is best for your love life. I’m afraid there’s no way to do that other than to study, think, and decide for yourself. Third, if you have already been burned by Courtship, understand that there are other options. You don’t have to think the only path to lasting love is through a social structure you’ve found to be detrimental.
What has your experience with Courtship been like? Do you think it’s good, bad, somewhere in between? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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