Courtship is now in session

A couple of years ago, I read a self-congratulatory article (I have since
either lost
or
discarded the URL) written
by
a
man
gushing over the fact that his daughter had gotten married in exactly the right
way. She stayed in his house under his protection for as long as she was single,
which I think was about 18 years or so. A boy she knew and liked became interested
in
her, and he expressed his interest to the father. The father and the boy had
many conversations, and eventually arranged a wedding. They told the girl what
they were doing, and she giggled with delight, but they didn’t tell her when
the wedding would be. On the day of the wedding, the father woke his daughter
and told her, "Get ready, honey. You’re getting married today." She literally
squealed with glee. After the ceremony, the father accompanied the newlyweds
to their new house. He walked with them to their bedroom. As they knelt down
at the foot of their bed to pray together, the father left, closing the door
behind him, quite pleased that he knew exactly the right way for a young girl
to marry and that he had made it happen for his daughter.

He didn’t say it outright, but I got the feeling that he would disapprove
of the young couple having sex until after the birth of their first child.

The ladies (a mother and her three grown daughters) at Girltalk discussed
the idea of courtship recently (when you have time, read all
of their courtship posts
starting at the bottom) and drew
some fire
in
the Crosswalk forums. Since forums are for people who don’t have blogs ( :)
), I thought I’d finally weigh in on the issue.

One of the few things I learned in the college classroom was this: Most arguments
stem from a disagreement about
definitions. I once argued with a roommate for 90 minutes when he told me he
believed in predestination. I adamantly argued against it. I told him it was
bad theology. I wondered how he could function in life if he believed something
like that. (I’ve mellowed with age.) Eventually I realized that the idea he
called predestination was
an idea I called foreknowledge, which I had no problem with. We held
identical beliefs that we argued about for 90 minutes because were working
from different definitions.

Getting back to my original subject, I think for most people the word courtship tends
to conjure images of a controlling father handing his daughter over to a controlling
husband
and imagining that she’s excited about it, like the smugly satisfied father
I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I don’t think that’s how the Girltalkers
define it. In their first
post on the subject
, the mother of the family explains
that she and her husband educated their daughters early on about what to look
for in a man:

1. Genuine passion for God.
2. Authentic humility.
3. Love for the local church.
4. Biblical convictions about manhood and womanhood.

I think these are all essential traits for a Christian woman to seek in
a husband. The parents also told the girls to consider:

-Do you fully respect this man the way a wife is called to respect her husband?
-Can you eagerly submit to him as the church submits to Christ?
-Do you have faith to follow this man no matter where he may lead?
-Can you love this man with a tender, affectionate love?

Again, these are essential questions for a Christian woman to consider.

When I read the daughters’ love stories, I did not get the sense that they
had overbearing parents who imposed themselves on their nearly-grown children.
I got the idea that the girls loved and respected their parents and actively
sought their counsel. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. I hope my
children will feel the same way about me. And if I have a daughter, I intend
to interrogate every single boy who wants to be near her and instill a fear
of God—if not me—in every one of them as well. If I have a son, I intend to
teach him how to treat a woman as if she were God’s own daughter. If I have
one of each, I’ll do both.

In retrospect, I think the evolution of my relationship with Mrs. Happy was
a kind of courtship. We certainly didn’t date in the modern sense. We got to
know each other gradually, under
fairly
neutral
and
controlled
circumstances,
and
our
love grew out of our friendship, quite unintentionally. All the while, I tried
dating other girls. It never worked for me. It always felt forced even
with girls I really
liked.
At times,
I even
asked
advice of my parents about different girls. They both persistently tried to
steer me toward the eventual Mrs. Happy no matter which girl I asked them about.
That’s
not
why
I married
her, but it did give me a little more confidence in my decision. Dating worked
for friends of mine who married before I did and are still happy. The Girltalkers’
courtships obviously worked for them. As long as people are happily married,
maybe it doesn’t really matter how they got there.

3 thoughts on “Courtship is now in session

  1. Josh Harris certainly started a whirlwind of discussion with his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, didn’t he? I think you’re perfectly right that much of the heated argument is coming from mutual confusion over definitions, especially about the word dating.

    I think to Harris, and many other people, dating means “what the secular world calls dating”; in other words, a euphemism for shallow relationships built around premarital sex. No wonder they’re against it — we all should be! It’s not surprising, then, that they swing around to the other extreme and say, “Christians just plain shouldn’t date; they should find other methods of courting potential spouses”.

    There’s also the fact that when people write books on dating, the first audience they think of to address (it seems to me) is high school and junior high students, who are either just going through puberty or only a few short years past it, and still in the middle of an onslaught of hormones. They’re noticing for the first time in their lives that the opposite sex looks really, REALLY good, and trying to figure out what to do about it. But most of them are years away from having the emotional, spiritual, or social maturity for marriage. For that audience, a book that says, “Don’t date, there are better ways of relating to the opposite sex” may be very good advice.

    But I think there’s another segment of the Christian population middle ground that these authors are missing: adult Christians. People with the social, emotional, and spiritual maturity necessary to make a good marriage work. And that, I think, is the group of people who are probably saying to Harris and other “Christians shouldn’t date” proponents, “What are you talking about? You’re just plain wrong.” And again, it probably boils down to different definitions.

    When I think of dating, I think of spending some time alone with a Christian woman I’m interested in getting to know better. We’d go out to dinner, or on a walk, or ice-skating, or some other activity that allows for plenty of time to talk. And we’d ask questions, find out about each other’s families, each other’s relationship with God, and each other’s interests, dreams, and passions. All the while, the question would be at the back of my mind, “Could she make a good wife for me?” And she’d be thinking the same thing: “Could he make a good husband for me?” If the first date was enough for a clear “No” for either one of us, the right thing to do would be to share that, politely of course, at the end of the date. “Thanks for a fun evening. I probably won’t ask you out again, but I’ll see you around at church.” Or, when I drop her off and say, “Let’s get together again sometime,” she might say, “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll pass. I appreciate the compliment, but I just don’t think it would work.”

    (Incidentally, it’s a lot kinder to let someone down, gently but firmly, sooner rather than later. If you’re wanting to avoid hurting their feelings, consider this: they’ll be hurt, at least a little, no matter when you tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks” — but if you tell them as soon as you’re sure, you’re sparing them the pain of having the “What if…?” drag on, and on, and on.)

    Christian dating, as I see it, should be all about evaluating the other person as a potential marriage partner. It should only be undertaken by those who are themselves ready for marriage, and it should be undertaken with the greatest of respect for the other person as a fellow child of God. That means, among other things, back off on the physical. Don’t kiss on the first date, or even on the second. Only kiss when you mean something by it, when there’s already some level of emotional commitment and you both know you’re getting serious about each other. Exactly what level of commitment is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but you should at least have known each other for a while and know what you’re getting into. For myself, I’ve decided that I only want to kiss a woman after I’ve asked her to marry me. I’m not saying that everyone should follow that rule, but you should at least know that you plan to date only this woman for a while. In other words, you should be “going steady” before you kiss. (Now there’s a useful phrase that should be brought back into the language!)

    I’ve come to this opinion gradually, though reading books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot, Boundaries in Dating by Cloud & Townsend, and A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. I’ve also had long conversations with other Christian guys, some married and some not, about their dating relationships, mistakes they’d made in the past, and pain they’d suffered. One thing I was surprised to learn is just how much of an emotional bond is established just by kissing. But when I thought about it, I realized that I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The process of becoming one flesh isn’t just about sex and physical intimacy, it’s also about emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy. They’re all connected. One married friend of mine (male) put it this way: “Physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual intimacy in a relationship are like four sliders tied together with a rubber band. If one of them gets too far ahead of the others, the rubber band is stretched. And if it’s stretched too far, it’s in danger of breaking. The thing is, the other sliders have to be pushed, but the physical-intimacy one has a motor driving it forward.”

    There are many ways of dealing with that motor that tries to drive physical intimacy forward. Some of them involve putting very careful limits — chaperones and the like — on opportunities for any physical involvement at all. Others involve setting limits for yourself, and then getting good friends to check up on you every once in a while: “How are you doing with your boundaries?” Ultimately, though, the goal is that once you get married, you know your soon-to-be-spouse well enough on all levels — mental, emotional, spiritual, and yes, physical too. The physical should be held back some, but I think it would be a mistake to hold it back all the way down to “No physical intimacy whatsoever,” the way I’ve seen some people suggest. Shalit, in A Return to Modesty, mentions people who don’t even kiss until their wedding day — the kiss at the altar is their first kiss. Shalit makes that sound like an ideal to live up to, but another married friend of mine (actually, the wife of the person I mentioned in the previous paragraph) said, “That sounds like a supremely bad idea to me. Unless you want to wait a few weeks before you have sex, that is.” Expanding on her husband’s analogy of the sliders and rubber band, she explained that holding the physical back so much is going to put a lot of tension on your relationship, and pushing it forward all the way from “no kissing” to “sex is OK” in one day is also far too much change at once, and would put its own kind of stress on the relationship.

    So that’s what I think of courtship and dating. Basically, understand that physical intimacy will pretty much drive itself forward, and concentrate on pushing the other three — mental, emotional, and spiritual intimacy — forward in your time together. And figure out how you’re going to hold physical intimacy back to a proper pace: slow, but not completely stalled. Talk about your physical boundaries with each other, agree to respect each other and hold each other accountable for them, and then (because you’re both going to be strongly tempted at much the same time, so just holding each other accountable won’t always work) find a few good friends who can help. And then spend lots of time together, and talk a lot. And the last thing, which I haven’t mentioned yet although I really should have said so from the beginning, bathe the whole process in lots of prayer. If you do that, you probably won’t go too far wrong.

  2. I’ve been praying for my childrens’ future spouses since my kids were babies. It’s odd because I don’t have a clue who they will be, but I already have a tender spot in my heart for them. Hopefully that means I will be a good mother-in-law? I hope my future daughters-and-son-in-law have parents who are praying for *their* spouses. Wouldn’t it be great if all Christian parents prayed this way?

    Anyway, parents should take an active interest and role in helping their children find their spouses. It can be through prayer and modeling a good marriage relationship. It doesn’t have to go as far as parents chosing a spouse and a marriage date. In some families, that may be the ideal, but I can’t go that far…

    One of my college roommates was an immigrant from Korea and she had an arranged marriage. She was very happy about it and didn’t understand the hostility she found when she shared the arrangement with Americans. At first, I was skeptical too, but watching her and her intended interact changed my mind. I lost touch with her over the years and wonder how *they* are doing now.

  3. i am pretty astonished by not to kiss until marriage….i like the ideas….and is has logic…thanks from Panama city