The dating vs. courtship debate has existed within the homeschooling community for many years with proponents on both sides vehemently adhering to their positions. And as most of our family and friends know, we have always strongly advocated and planned to follow a traditional courtship model. And yet…we haven’t. People who have known us for years have been pretty shocked by our change in thinking. We were too. But time and circumstances often bring new revelation. So I’d like to share with you a few of the problems we encountered with courtship and why we have chosen intentional dating instead.
First, in many cases courtship relies heavily upon parental direction in the choice of a spouse. While parents may not actually force their child to choose a specific person to court, many parents make suggestions or strongly argue in favor of a specific young man or woman. As my children have grown into adults I’ve realized that I don’t want to be responsible for directing them towards one person or another. I want my kids to marry who they choose, not who I think they should choose. And while some argue that the Scriptural model of Abraham entrusting his servant to choose a bride for Isaac sets a precedent for parents choosing the spouse, I don’t see that as a Biblical mandate but rather a result of the culture of Biblical times. We have to recognize the difference between a principle given to teach us how we should live, as opposed to something that was done because it was a part of the culture. Slavery was a part of Old Testament culture, but I think we would all agree that slavery is deplorable. And I don’t feel comfortable taking something from a culture that existed several thousands of years ago and forcing it upon my children if I do not see a clear Biblical mandate.
My desire is that my children to be attracted to their spouses and to be “in love.” Yes, in love! I want them to walk into love (not heedlessly fall) with a good head on their shoulders, but to also have an emotional drawing to the people they are marrying because I fully believe attraction is important and that the head and the heart have to be united. I can help them with the head part, teaching them the character qualities they should look for in a spouse, but only they can determine the heart part. Ultimately, they have to be attracted to the person they choose to marry both emotionally and physically.
Another reason we abandoned traditional courtship is that chaperoned relationships are not comfortable or natural for either the chaperone or the chaperonees. When our son and his fiancé began their courtship (yes it began as a courtship) they started out having someone with them when they went out together. Often the responsibility fell to our daughter who absolutely hated her newfound position. She felt like a third wheel and would sit in the backseat of the car feeling guilty if she added a single sentence to the conversation. It was very awkward and took up a great deal of her time. It also caused my son and his fiancé to feel like they couldn’t really talk openly about their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings because they felt inhibited by another person listening to their conversation. So little by little they started spending time unchaperoned.
Those who hold fast to courtship might now gasp, “but they could fall into temptation and sin!” Yes, they could. And this leads me to my third reason for not adhering to the courtship model and that is that young people need to learn self-government. At some point in their lives our children are going to be tempted to sin and mom and dad and sister and brother are not going to be around to stop them. Part of raising children is giving them strong Biblical principles and training them to exercise self-control. And there will be many, many times in their lives when they will need to exercise self-control, even after they are married. They need to learn to govern their own behavior and desires. This doesn’t mean that we have abandoned them and let them go do whatever they want. We have a strong accountability system. I am continually talking to my children about their relationships and they are very open with me about what they do on their dates. It is not a 100% guarantee against sin but I’d hate to think (and this is key) that the only reason my children remain pure prior to marriage is solely based upon the lack of opportunity to sin. My desire is to see my children begin to make mature decisions on their own, based upon a desire to please God, leaning upon their parents as loving guides rather than as mere roadblocks to their sin natures.
Finally, courtship places too much expectation for marriage. That probably sounds strange since the whole point of either courtship or dating should be marriage. But there is something that feels so bonding when a couple starts “a courtship.” The young man goes to the father asking for permission to court the girl. Then the girl is asked if she has an interest. This is often followed by a family get together and then the courtship begins. But what happens when after 4 or 5 or 6 chaperoned outings one of the young people begins to realize that the person is not quite what he or she is looking for. With so much expectation and pomp put on the relationship the courtshipee feels that he has to make it work. So he hangs in there, giving it another chance and then another, but all the while secretly thinking, “I want out.” Ultimately, realizing that he can’t spend his life with a person he doesn’t believe he can love, he ends it. But then he has to talk with the father and the families, not to mention the other person in the relationship who has had a lot of expectations because it was “a courtship.” Had there been no formal courtship but just a few dates, just a few dinners or a couple of pizookies, then it could have ended easily. There would be no hoopla, just a realization that they weren’t right for each other. There would be disappointment, but not devastation.
Scripture does not give us one specific way for two young people to come together. It tells us not to be unequally yoked and to abstain from sexual immorality, but I see nowhere in the Bible where it says, “thou shalt not go out for pizookie with a member of the opposite sex unchaperoned.” Courtship or dating should simply be the vehicle for two young people to find out if they would work together in a marriage. And I believe God has given us leeway regarding the various ways that people can get to know each other.
We have definitely changed. But let me add that I am not opposed to courtship, I simply believe that there are some problems with many of the ideas involved with it and that we shouldn’t be so formulaic, trying to fit everyone into the same courtship shaped box. The traditional courtship model espoused my many Christians might work for some, but not for everyone. For us, and I think for other Christian parents, intentional dating, with lots of accountability, seems to be a better fit.