(it's from the movie Emma. And has nothing to do with the rest of the post really.)
noun1. the act or art of seeking the affections of a woman; wooing
2. the period during which such wooing takes place
All those things may be named courtship, but to me, courtship is really only one thing: a relationship between a man and woman seeking to determine God's will in their future, while protecting each other and honoring their parents. It's really about the principles, because every courtship is different.
When my sister started a courtship, it was new ground for us. Sure, we'd read tons of books about courting and watched sermons about purity – goodness, we'd even listen to long tapes during car trips on the topic – but then we would hear “every courtship is different,” leaving us basically on our own to create this thing called courtship for our own family.
We thought the rules applied to everyone. Rules about timing, stages, and even as specific as physical boundaries. But we learned that the most important thing about courtship is that it is very different for every couple. Everything is different because the people are different.
Some last a couple months, some a couple years. Some involve heavy parental oversight, some little. Some couples know each other for years before-hand, while some hardly at all when the courtship begins.
I cannot place enough importance on being willing to make adjustments to your picture of the “perfect courtship” because of your situation. It's really okay! Still there are basic essentials. Here are the basic Principles of courtship. (I capitalized the P because the 3 essentials start with Ps... clever, I know...)
- Purposeful intent
- Purity valued
- Parental involvement
So first, purposeful intent. This is mostly to shield against the culture-condoned practice of dating for fun, or to “just get to know” without serious interest in marriage. Because this is done in a environment that promotes romantic feelings, the fear is that it leads to emotional attachment (which is usually true) and then to heartbreak. Yes, we know heartbreak isn't the end of the world, and it can be a great growth process, but it's generally way more efficient to get to know people outside of a romantic context. A courtship is always looking toward marriage as a hopeful goal. (Not a definite goal. That's called “engagement.” And yes, that was sarcastic.)
Purposeful also means you wait until the young people are ready to begin a courtship. It is not an easy out for two infatuated young people to have a romantic relationship even though they're not anywhere near marriage – but oh, it's okay because we're courting. Shall I quote Song of Solomon? Don't start things until the two people are ready for things to be started.
I tend to put prominence on maturity. Yes, a job is important; yes, knowledge of house-keeping is important; but knowing how to sacrifice and be vulnerable and being ready to enter the extremely hard puzzle that marriage is: this is most crucial. At least to me.
Now, with each of these principles, some people go overboard. For instance: Waiting until they're ready, to some people, means the man must already be ready to support a wife and three children before he asks to court anyone. (I only exaggerated a little, actually. Sadly.) While financial stability is important, it may not be a reason for delaying courtship. Neither may age be. Usually, a courtship of two 17-year-olds isn't the wisest thing, but sometimes it works! It is different for everyone. I know of a couple who had a long but blessed courtship that began when they were about that age. They are married now and so glad they could do all of those years of growing side by side. It definitely does not work for everyone, but don't rule it out as impossible. Please.
Now on to number 2. Purity valued. Purity is probably the most enormous focus in courtship talks/books. It doesn't just mean physical. Emotional purity is one of the most-talked-about topics for young women. "Emotional purity" actually isn't the best wording (discretion would be better) because it implies it is something that can be lost and never regained (more on that later). But emotional discretion is really important, especially for girls, and especially when they're young. Do not be reckless with your love, or foolish with your thoughts. Remember, the heart determines the course of the life. (Psalm 4:23, NLT) And as far as physical purity, God commands it.
Now, how some go overboard. Does it surprise you that the day I realized kissing before marriage isn't a sin was not very long ago? Okay, it's not as if I consciously thought it was, but my subculture so valued “saving” your kiss for your wedding day that I was secretly judging anyone who didn't. Until I realized it wasn't actually any kind of moral failing – it was just a wise idea. First kiss at the altar is a very good idea for keeping physical purity. But please remember that it's not a sin to decide not to. (Decide being an important word. “It just happened” when you planned to save it for the big day is a different issue. Set your boundaries and keep them.)
And on the emotional side of things... oh boy. Ladies, please hear me out. If you fall in love with a man, and end up not marrying him, it is okay. It will not make you less pure, leaving you partially defiled on your wedding day. You do not leave a part of your heart with that first man that you can never give to your husband. Yes, you might always remember him, perhaps with regret – but no matter how many times you fall in love, you will always have all your heart to give your true love.
I say this not to encourage you to fall in love, but to hearten those who have done so, wisely or not. Too much pressure on guarding your heart will make you afraid of taking the steps needed to create that deep relationship vital in a courtship. I am writing a post about my own experience facing that choice of vulnerability, and what I discovered about keeping my heart in a courtship. Stay tuned for that.
So that's all I can say for now without being utterly-way-too-long. Guarding your heart is good, very good, but please don't take it overboard. It's damaging to your relationship with your future husband.
Last but not least, number 3: Parental involvement. This is probably the principle you will have the hardest time finding in the dating world. In fact, you don't even find it much in engagement. But courtshipers (I think I made up that word) find it very important. Basically, this includes the woman's father “checking out” the young man, setting boundaries for the courtship, and just being involved in the whole process.
I love this. I really love it. First, it gives the father the honor he deserves. Second, it deepens and strengthens relationships between parent and child, as you talk openly about this very personal issue. And third, O young ones, your parents aren't perfect, but they've got some great advice. They've been through this. While you may feel like you know way more about this situation, take a humility pill and realize that you've got a lot to learn. Besides, you're probably not quite in your right mind as there is some amazing person interested in you. Just sayin'.
And the best part about giving your parents authority in your relationship is that they just might hand it back. Say hello to the power of trust. This has been one of the biggest blessings in my own courtship. My man and I have been given a lot of trust in some areas, and as a result, we have an even greater desire to prove trustworthy! There is an incredible empowerment that comes with being trusted, and it is a great maturity-builder for young adults who may or may not deserve it, but will strive to earn it.
How do some go overboard with this? By making the rules too strict. By closing the gate too tight. By not trusting the couple enough, so that they jump over the gate, because they felt it would never open. Enough said.
Also, it is difficult to say what the level of authority a father should have on rejecting a suitor. This is one I can't say a black and white answer on, because the situation is always different.
However, in almost every situation I can say that is very important to give the couple time alone. I used to think in courtship, there was always someone right there, watching and listening. Wow. What a way to develop a relationship. In all seriousness, third wheels are great – but to have a truly real and deep relationship, some things must be between 2 people only, and not shared with the parents or anyone else. That is the nature of relationships, and especially one as intimate as this one is meant to become.
...Please forgive me, I'm going to say just a little bit more about rules (even though I said "Enough said.") Don't misunderstand me - rules are wonderful things. They can often be legalistic or too harsh, but in general they are great. My whole life, we always had the rule: "No riding in the car alone with a guy." Even when neither of us were remotely interested in each other and it was just for convenience - it didn't matter. We had a rule, and we kept it. Did this get annoying sometimes? Yes. Did it hurt me? No. Really, it's okay to put up with rules that don't always make sense. Better to be safe than sorry.
So those are the 3 principles that I believe make courtship different from dating. Before I'm finished though, I must state something rather important. And that is this: dating can be God-glorifying.
This should be obvious, but to those in my circle, it's not. People, listen: Dating couples actually aren't stupid. (Gasp!) They oftentimes date with purpose, and in some form or other, value purity. It's true. And on the other hand, some don't. Those types are so scandalous that we decide all dating is like that and therefore “bad.” It is unfortunately common to find pro-courtship-ers making generalizations about daters, because the large percentage of them are all one way. Check out this quote from Stacey McDonald.
“Dating is random, while courtship is deliberate; in dating, the goal is romance, while with courtship, the goal is marriage; dating leaves the couple unprotected, while courtship protects the young couple; dating is an unnatural setting of perpetual recreation, but courtship creates a natural setting of real life and family...”
Do you see the stereotyping? Courting couples can be very unprotected if they make unwise choices, while dating couples can choose to put up boundaries for themselves. It's about the principles, not the name. Let me say it again. It is the principles within the relationship that determine whether it glorifies God or not. Dating can be totally fine.
And what do I mean by “dating?” Going on dates. Spending time one-on-one developing a deeper relationship. Doing fun things together. Doing hard things together. Dating doesn't have to equal fornication and broken hearts. Just as courtship doesn't have to equal purity and protection. Whichever way you go, if you make the Bible the core of your relationship's principles, you're good to go. It's okay to do things different than the next guy. It really is.
Thanks for reading. Sorry this ended up so long, but hopefully it's been somewhat helpful. Go date/court to the glory of God!