Those who find something a stumbling block tend to assume everyone else does, too. Often, someone who has at one point found himself in a proverbial ditch finds that he cannot walk too near that side of the road without falling in. But that doesn’t make the road evil. It makes him prone to temptation in that particular area.
Even if he isn’t prone to falling in, he may be so hyper-aware of the danger of the ditch that he panics when anyone gets too close, warning them away from the road altogether. We’ve seen it before, with regard to the “purity movement.” That seems to be the kind of overreaction I’m hearing in Thomas Umstattd, Jr.’s post, Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.
I believe that post is fundamentally flawed and, as a result, promotes some highly unbiblical thinking. However, it raises some very important points and opens up a discussion that desperately needs to be had. There is a legitimate need to avoid the danger of the ditch! But let’s find out where the ditch actually lies, so we may walk safely along the path instead of diving to “take cover” in the other ditch.
It’s a really long post, with many points, and with many flaws as well as a good deal of call for rational, balanced discussion. So rather than trying to tackle it all at once, I’m going to take it a piece at a time, in a series. (If you want the overview, you can read my novella of a comment on the original post.) In this post, let’s just start with the underlying assumption made:
“[My grandmother] had predicted the failure of courtship back in the 90s…”
“A commitment to courtship is often a commitment to lifelong singleness.”
“Recently I have seen a spike in divorces amongst couples who courted.”
Okay, Let’s Tackle This. First let’s look at the singleness issue. I do not take this lightly. I was single for a very brief time after graduating high school and at the time, it felt like forever. I got just enough of a taste to know that I can’t begin to imagine what those who have been single for 5, 10, 15, 20 or more years wrestle with. I have some dear, sweet family members and friends I ache right along with because of their loneliness, so if something is broken, we need to fix it! But I am not convinced that the evidence (at least, not as presented in Umstattd’s blog post) points to the embracing of courtship as a direct cause.
According to this 2013 article, “The average age of first marriage in the United States is 27 for women and 29 for men, up from 23 for women and 26 for men in 1990 and 20 and 22 (!) in 1960.” Given that courtship is not remotely close to the norm in this country, I highly doubt it’s the cause for this upward trend. Apart from this general trend toward marrying later, there are other factors that may be at play.
One is what, exactly, individuals are looking for in potential mates. I heard on the radio not long ago about a recent study (sorry; I was listening in the car so couldn’t write it down, but it was done by a big-name university) which showed that one of the most important factors for young men in a potential bride is that she have a high-paying job. So if the option to stay home and raise children is important to a young woman, it seems there’s slim pickin’s.
Of course (at risk of sounding as if people are a commodity), “scarcity” is an issue in more general terms, too. Never mind real, life-changing faith; classic Judeo-Christian values are becoming less and less common in our culture. That means those of us who embrace a certain set of values are getting fewer and farther between. The fewer of us there are, the less likely it is you’ll “bump into” someone in your area who shares those values – and happens to be available and of the opposite gender. (Then figure in personality styles, attraction, etc….) The sheer statistics are less and less promising.
(Perhaps the truly amazing thing is not that so many don’t get married, but that so many do! It’s a good thing for all believers that God is not limited by geography!)
But What About Divorce?That’s a multifaceted issue, as well. I’d guess that different issues are at play in different situations.
It may be true that some couples who married via courtship were unprepared. That may have been because of the process, or it may have just been happenstance. (I’m sure there’s some of both.) Not everyone gets good marriage preparation, unfortunately. And some may come from families of legitimately controlling men who raised up controlling men and the new generation wanted out. But that’s not necessarily the case when we see a couple who courted getting divorced.
Divorce is much easier to come by now. And our culture is all about embracing the “easy way out.” Many couples in years past may not have been “happily married”; they simply stayed together anyway. Even some in abusive situations may have stuck it out because divorce was frowned upon or hard to come by. (Please note that I am NOT advocating for staying in an abusive situation. I’m just saying we can’t compare sheer numbers from past decades and now, and assume they tell the whole story.)
Ultimately, this is a matter (in the vast majority of instances, anyway) of a problem with our view of marriage, not of how we get there. In many times and cultures, completely arranged marriages have been the norm – and couples make it work. It’s a choice. We just have a culture that embraces ease, personal comfort, and quick fixes rather than hard work and commitment.
But That’s Not AllThese unhappy courtship-minded people (referenced in the original post) are only a piece of the picture. The post addresses singles and divorcées among the “courtship” community, and the implied happily married among the “dating” community but, taken alone, this is a lopsided view.
There are, as we mentioned earlier, plenty of singles who are okay with dating. There are those who dated and are now divorced. And there are those who courted and are happily (or at least contentedly – marriage isn’t always sunshine and rainbows!) married. (Less than a month ’til fourteen years, at my house!)
Bottom line: there is not some direct 1:1 correlation between courtship and singleness, courtship and divorce, or dating and marriage, as Umstattd seems to imply.
Next: Part 2 On Authority