Dating, Courtship, and the Whole Nine Yards

Yesterday I read a little blurb about courting, and today I got into a discussion with a friend about the same, which I took as a sign that everyone else would be interested in said topic–and considering that I’m writing about it now, I apparently am under the impression that I have something of “great doctrinal import*” to say with regard to the issue. You can judge the usefulness of said thoughts for yourself. My Christians readers will likely disagree. My non-Christian readers will laugh themselves silly over the antiquity of it all. In short, it’ll be a party.

Many moons ago, a 22-year-old kid named Joshua Harris decided to kiss dating goodbye, and tell the world about it.

The Christian world was enthralled. A book with kissing in the title that simultaneously sounded super holy? Consider it awesome.

In his book, Mr. Harris argues for the value of courtship over dating.

The Christian world was enthralled. It all sounded so biblical!

So the Christian world kissed dating goodbye.

Unfortunately, the Christian world doesn’t seem to be so hot at this kissing bidness, because the daters of the time promptly found themselves in a bit of a dilemma: they had mixed some of Mr. Harris’ concepts of courting with some of the world’s concepts of dating, and came out confused.

Dating, as defined by those in the Christian world who condemn it, is a process wherein a guy and girl get to know each other (and possibly other guys and girls) for fun. After several months of getting to know one another for fun, they may decide to move toward a more defined relationship, denoted primarily through a Facebook relationship status change. This relationship may or may not move toward marriage, and a person has the freedom to engage in as many of these relationships as desired before eventually settling down with The One. Or, in today’s world, The Two +.

As I understand it, courting is a process wherein two people carefully evaluate their marital compatibility with the mutual support of their families and communities. Caution and emotional boundaries are employed. I’m fine with the concepts therein, though I find them nebulous (ie: how am I supposed to get close enough to someone to evaluate his husband potential without achieving some level of emotional intimacy with him?).

Perhaps it is the very nebulousness of these concepts that has caused the Christian community at large to live out a whole new way of getting to know the opposite sex: an eclectic mixture of dating and courting that is as yet untitled (personally, I am partial to ‘dourting’).

In this model, dating is considered unwise at best, sinful at worst. Coffee dates and putt-putt are off the table. Girls issue mating calls by frantically marking Proverbs 31 in their ESV Bibles while they bake cookies and wear sweaters circa Vogue 1953 (Modest Edition). Boys usually respond with a resounding. . .well, I like to think that so many Christian boys are resoundingly passive because they are out searching for their spines, but that may just be the optimist in me.

Eventually, a boy and a girl begin to accidentally run into each other a lot. They chat about important things like–I don’t know, whatever a guy and girl who like each other but haven’t yet clarified this fact to each other talk about. Music. Food. Teletubbies. They are, at this point, just a few weeks (or, depending on the size of the guy’s self-confidence, months) away from leaping head-first into dourting.

Finally, one day, the guy gets up the guts to ask the girl to take a walk around campus. (Actually going out to a restaurant would look like dating, and Christians are supposed to avoid even the appearance of evil. Coffee shops are ok for the sort of edgy, rebellious kids, but an actual meal crosses all kinds of boundaries). As the two walk and talk, he broaches the subject of hanging out with purpose, and they spend the next 8 hours sitting on a picnic bench in the freezing cold, with only their love to warm them. I consider this a manipulation technique on the guy’s part to make the girl’s love grow exponentially. I’d fall in love with almost anyone if it meant my snot would unfreeze.

The guy and girl talk about everything from their sexual boundaries to the point of their relationship and, when the inevitable DTR is over, they each go their separate ways to change their relationship status on Facebook and watch the congratulations pour in.

So far, this probably doesn’t sound like a terrible experience, and I think it has its’ upsides–clear communication, for one thing, is often far-too-rare in baby relationships.

There is a dark side, however, to ‘dourting.’ You see, if I remember Kissing Dating Goodbye correctly (and it’s possible I don’t), Joshua Harris was encouraging courting as an alternative to dating because it kept people from being emotionally involved with and romantically injured by many people before finding their One True Love. Unfortunately, Christians appear to have confused the idea of “Marriage as relational goal” with “Marriage as relational inevitability.”

I have no problem with the idea of dating for the purpose of evaluating the datee’s marriage potential. I’m too inept at small talk to have much use for just-for-fun first dates. But I see massive potential for problems when people leap into a new relationship with the assumption that this person must be the one!

The point of this courting craze is to prevent exactly the kind of hurt that occurs when people get relationally intimate at the speed of light, but my fear is that Christian kids are just using their act of having kissed dating goodbye as an excuse to tear down any and all natural emotional barriers that should exist between themselves and their not-yet-committed significant others. Obviously the longer two people are dating/courting/dourting, the closer they will become emotionally, but that emotional engagement should be earned over a period of time, relative to the levels of trust developed in the relationship. I’ve seen people who were ‘courting’ for no more than a few weeks (after having known each other for an equally short time) start referring to each other as future husband/wife. There are very few situations where that’s appropriate. Or healthy. Or non-pathological.

So my plea to dourters everywhere is: For goodness’ sake, be reasonable!!! The occasional casual date will not send you to hell. (Neither will the act of leaping head-first into an enmeshed romantic relationship, but it will likely isolate you from your friends and make you look like a wackjob, not to mention biting you really badly if you end up breaking up with The (First) One. By all means, evaluate boyfriends and girlfriends for ‘future mate’ potential, but don’t let them attain the status of ‘spouse’ immediately following the initial eval. Halfway houses should not be pickier regarding their residents than you are about the person with whom you anticipate spending the rest of your life.

L-Wie, over and out.

*Name that movie, earn yourself a lifelong friend.


7 thoughts on “Dating, Courtship, and the Whole Nine Yards

  1. I laughed so hard at the “mating calls”. I plead guilty, at least for a few young, silly teenage years when I tried desperately to attract Mr. Boy Scout Church Guy with my amazing desserts, “gentle demeanor” and child-corralling skills. Unfortunately it didn’t work at all and I’ve since given up in disgust — ratty jeans and singing in public and laughing too loud and general dorkiness, hooray!

    (I still have awesome child-corralling skills, though. I case you were wondering.)

  2. Very thought-provoking–and funny, as always. In the spirit of “Do as I say, not as I did,” for “dourting” to serve a useful purpose and be potentially non-injurious, it seems like it ought to take place between two people with a long-standing friendship who already have a fairly in depth, long term (at least a year, maybe more) knowledge of the other person–perhaps resulting from shared values, activities (like working together) and concerns and be kind of like a final confirmation. Just a thought from an old biddy.

    1. Touche, dear brother o’ mine. I made adjustments above to convey the meaning I intended. Thanks for keeping me on the literary straight and narrow.

  3. there is a little more involved than what you have pointed out. One purpose of courtship would be to help 18 year olds to focus and grow up instead of dating when they are not ready for marriage. More power to you…in trusting God to bring Mr. Right into your life…increase your faith in God by waiting on him…I am sure you will not miss out in finding Mr right…no how your method…in the mean time, enjoy loving God with all your heart!

  4. Oh please put “writing a book on ‘dourting'” on your list of things to do!! I know of a man who’s theory is “You Americans want to marry the person you fall in love with. We fall in love with the person we marry.” It worked for him. Though I do not believe you can find an ideal method, I have seen relationships ‘work’ from family arranged marriages, others arranged by matchmakers, courting, modern day dating and some that might even be considered ‘dourting’. I’d say in all of it, you find the problems resulting from ‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ but that one key that helps unlock the door to relationship bliss is not being selfish. Kissing is another story, part of the story … my pastor once opened up a dating seminar saying, “I didn’t kiss my wife ’til I married her!” The room of teens went DEAD silent. Then with a twinkle in his eye he said, “She wasn’t my ‘wife’ until I married her.”

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