Written by Rachel Lamey
“[I] started to see some challenges with making courtship work. Some of the specific challenges I identified were:
- Identification (Finding that other person)
- Interaction (Spending time with the other person)
- Initiation (Starting the relationship)”
This summarizes the problem that prompted Umstattd to write his post in the first place. Let me first point out that identifying challenges in making something work is not sufficient reason to throw it out. If Thomas Edison had espoused that philosophy, we’d still be reading by candlelight! If the thing isn’t working, we might just need to find solutions to those challenges! The primary purpose of this post is to suggest some options and open up discussion about them and other potential solutions to these challenges. But before I do that, I want to tackle one other significant concern.
“Realize that many of their rules were created out of fear.”
This is a legitimate concern. It is absolutely not true that every courtship-minded family has created its family culture out of fear. But when this is what has happened, it’s a problem. Parents reacting out of fear tend to be less reasonable and more overbearing, push their children away rather than drawing them close, and (often) fail to equip them for life. If you are a parent, it would be wise to ask yourself about every major decision, “Why am I doing this?” If the goal is to avoid something, rather than to achieve something (that is, if it’s negative rather than positive), in most cases that’s an indication that you’re acting out of fear rather than faith. Fix it quickly or you’re likely to alienate your kids! Now, on to (some of) the questions that calm, well-reasoned parents still need to answer…
The challenges mentioned above — identification, interaction, and initiation — aren’t really “challenges” so much as stages of a relationship. Exploring each one fully would be a whole different discussion, but we have to know how we intend to accomplish each stage, regardless of what we call our “systems.” Much of the practical application related to the first two overlaps, but the biggest challenge boils down to the question of what comes before courtship? Umstattd says that the courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing (essentially just jumping straight into engagement). This is a legitimate warning; we need to be sure we’re not doing that. In my opinion, our biggest underlying problem here is mixing up our terms.
“When my grandmother dated in middle school (yes, middle school) her parents had only one rule for her. The One Dating Rule: Don’t go out with the same guy twice in a row. So if she went out for soda with Bob on Tuesday, she had to go to a movie with Bill on Thursday before she could go to the school dance with Bob on Saturday. That sounded crazy to me. So, I asked her the rationale behind it. She explained that the lack of exclusivity helped them guard their hearts and kept things from getting too serious too quickly. The lack of exclusivity kept the interactions fun and casual. ‘The guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you!’ She said.”
I pointed out in part 4 that dating in the 30’s and dating in the 90’s or 2000’s are not the same. But using the term interchangeably causes confusion and gets us into trouble. If we look at the description of Umstattd’s Grandma’s experience, we can pick up a few clues: “fun” and “casual” and “guys wouldn’t even want to kiss you.” Romantic interaction and platonic interaction with the opposite sex are different. (I know, I know; we could argue all day over whether it’s truly possible to have a platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex. But I’m talking about the purpose of the interaction itself, not whether it could potentially go anywhere at some point.)
In my opinion – and do keep in mind, this is just that: my opinion – romantic relationships should not be entered into prior to courtship, but that does not necessarily preclude friendly interactions with the opposite sex. This is where it’s essential to exercise wisdom, pray for wisdom, and know our kids. How are we defining a “date”? It may well be that one guy friend can take one girl friend (not “girlfriend”) to Burger King after class for a burger, just because they enjoy hanging out together, but not have it “mean” anything. To them, it isn’t a “date”; it’s just two friends hanging out after class. The very same Burger King visit for a different combination of people or in a different scenario might present a problem for them or feel like a “date.” I would suggest that the progression should go something like this:
- Young people go about their lives, fulfilling their responsibilities as necessary, but also having fun when/where appropriate. They exercise wisdom – and Mom and Dad exercise oversight, since those right in the middle of a situation often can’t see the forest for the trees – but, within reason, hang out with those they enjoy hanging out with. Going out of their way to arrange a one-on-one occasion with a member of the opposite sex, in most cases is probably not going to preserve this platonic, “light” feel to things, but if a scenario just happens to arise that’s “one-on-one” (not compromising, but like the Burger King after class scenario), it’s probably more awkward to make an issue of avoiding it.
- If and when someone has a romantic inclination for a relationship, they’re no longer in the “stage one” scenario. If the relationship would not be appropriate to pursue, and the other person doesn’t know about the attraction, the best thing to do is find a way to tactfully distance yourself from those situations. If the other person does know, it’s probably best to agree together to avoid those situations. If the match is a reasonable one, with no biblical objections, and both individuals are in a position to be able to marry within a fairly short time, this is the stage where the man appeals to the girl’s father for permission to court her.
- At this point things diverge a little. Up ’til now, it has been the intention to guard hearts against emotional attachments, but now (assuming permission is given), that changes. Here, if permission is given, it becomes the young man’s intention to woo the young woman. Obviously, if the attraction is already mutual, the resulting courtship will be different than if it’s one-sided at the beginning. But this is the goal. If he’s successful in wooing her – and no giant red flags unexpectedly pop up during the process – they move on to engagement, and then of course marriage.
Is this possible? In my experience, yes. My sisters and I have all interacted with coed groups of varying sizes. We didn’t all fall in love with every guy in all of those groups! And I’m not sure about my sisters (I left home before they did, so I missed some of the details), but I definitely had some “one on one” visits with guys who were “just friends.”
In fact, my husband and I went to a local singles night “together” a few times, well before there was any romantic interaction present. He was interested in going; I was interested in going. Neither one of us wanted to show up and know no one, so we decided to ride together. We did that a few times, enjoyed each other’s company and had a good time – and learned some things about each other – but it didn’t “lead to” anything. (We didn’t even move into a romantically-inclined relationship from there. The singles café petered out or took a break or something – I forget what – and it was months later before there was ever any transition in our relationship.)One of the beautiful things, though, about having parents heavily involved in all this is that they know their children. They know how susceptible their children are (or aren’t) to developing unhealthy attachments. They can see if/when a relationship is progressing to a stage their child isn’t admitting to himself yet. They are a safeguard. This is true whether children are 16 or 36. Wise children will recognize this. Wise parents won’t abuse it.
Picky Dads; Pompous Suitors
“I know several godly, hardworking and attractive homeschool guys who have been rejected by as many as a dozen fathers. I respect their tenacity. Getting turned down by courtship fathers is tough on guys because the fathers are rarely gentle or kind. So if you are a courtship-minded girl wondering why the guys are not calling, you may want to ask your dad how many guys he has run off.”
There are two separate dangers represented here, and we need to be wary of both. On the one hand, we as parents (especially you dads!) need to be careful not to set the bar so high that no one can reach it. I’m not suggesting you “settle” or let some cad court your daughter. Just keep in mind that only Jesus was Jesus. The guy who marries your daughter will have flaws. Make sure they’re flaws you can both live with, but don’t try to find a guy who doesn’t have them. (If he seems not have them, be very concerned! There’s no way you’re seeing the “real him” if that’s the case.)
On the other hand, potential suitors need to take things sufficiently to heart and simultaneously, not too personally. “Huh?” Chances are that some of you, at some point, will be turned down because a daddy doesn’t believe you and his daughter are a good fit for each other – and it has nothing to do with whether he believes you would make a good husband for someone. Don’t take this as a personal affront. He’s doing you both a favor by not setting you up for heartbreak.
If you’re really confident he’s mistaken, pray about it. God can change hearts. I’ve seen it happen. If you feel you ought to, humbly and respectfully appeal. But don’t act all immature about it, throw a fit, and vilify his character. That’s a pretty good way to make sure you’ve slammed that door completely shut.
If her dad lets you know that he thinks you have some things to work on…pay attention. Maybe he really is just a control freak. There are a few out there. But maybe you really do have some things to work on. What a waste of a great opportunity if you don’t learn from it when you can! If a dad offers a very specific concern as a reason for turning you down, there’s also a very real possibility that once you’ve fixed that thing, he’d be open to saying yes.If you accept his counsel with humility and diligently work at addressing his concerns, that is going to go a long way toward increasing his confidence that you’d take good care of his little girl.But I get the sense that much of what I’m seeing is immature young men who were turned away for fully legitimate reasons, throwing fits that “her dad was controlling” when really, they just weren’t marriage material (at least at that point in time). It’s good advice for all of us to focus on fixing what we can fix – ourselves – rather than what we perceive someone else did wrong.
Getting to Know Each Other
Another legitimate concern Umstattd raised is that if you’re constantly being “watched,” you can’t really get to know each other the same way you otherwise would. The dynamics are different when you’re interacting with, say, your significant other, your parents, and your six brothers and sisters, than when you’re interacting with only your significant other. So if this is all you ever experience, and then you get married and suddenly it’s just the two of you, you can be pretty unprepared. I think that’s all true.
His recommendation here is good:
“Keep an eye out for public places where you can have private conversations.”
One-on-one does not equal alone.
Being literally alone, just the two of you, may fling the door wide open to temptation. It may also not be wise to go somewhere “public” that’s still more-or-less “isolated” (like a dark movie theater). But there are lots of opportunities to be public enough that it provides accountability while still having private conversations. A restaurant table might do this. The next room over from everyone else in the house. (I’m thinking of a scenario where you’re visible but not audible. I’m not talking about closing yourselves off in private room.) A walk down the neighborhood street. Off to the side at a party or social. Hopefully you get the idea. Telephone conversations can offer some of that, too – there’s no physical temptation if you’re not in the same physical location!
Modeling (and Mindset)
“Try to make marriage attractive to your children by loving and respecting your spouse the best you can. One reason that your children may not be getting married is because they don’t want what you have in your marriage. Start dating your spouse again. Do whatever you can to make your marriage a happy one.”
The most important purpose of marriage is to honor God. That’s one of the reasons divorce is so abhorrent to Him, I think – because it’s a pretty lousy reflection of who He is. But neither dating nor courtship is, in itself, enough to instill “sticking power” in our marriages.
Nothing is an absolute guarantee, but our best bets are good models and training a right mindset. Some of us grew up in households with strong marriages. Others didn’t. But whether you are in a position to tell your children to “do what we did” or to “definitely not do what we did,” they need to see what a godly marriage looks like. If it’s possible to make yours that, that’s the best place to start! If yours is rocky-but-whole, prioritize it! If it’s too late for that, make sure there are others in their lives who are modeling godly marriages for them. It’s better if it’s you, but it’s okay if it’s not. They just need to know what it is they’re aiming for.Closely related to this is mindset. We need to be training our children to believe that divorce is just not an option. We need to raise them knowing that marriage is, like any other relationship, work. Too many people nowadays seem to think that it either “works out” or it “doesn’t work out,” and as soon as things are difficult or it doesn’t “feel good” anymore, they just quit. Often, they then marry again thinking it will be better this time if they just picked the right person this time. But that’s not the way it works. Sometimes it “feels good” and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just hard. You simply choose not to give up, because you committed to this.
Remember the Sons and the Daughters
All too often, I think our sons get left out of the courtship conversation. We’re so busy telling our daughters what we’re doing to safeguard them, that we neglect to teach our sons about their role in all this. Umstattd suggests that we:
“Encourage your sons to ask girls out on dates.”
I get where he’s going with this, but I’m not sure this is the best way to address the issue. (Especially since a few sentences earlier he also encouraged the guys (our sons?) to ditch any girl whose dad requires that he spend two minutes talking to him first.) A better option would be to encourage our sons to be the kind of men a dad would have no qualms about entrusting his daughter to. This is a sound practice whether he ever talks to a dad or not. (We do need to make sure they’re bold, though, and not wimpy. If my son isn’t bold enough to ask for a date, I can’t imagine he has the backbone to lead a godly household in our inside-out culture.)
Consider Their Age
“As your children become adults, give advice instead of commands.”
I’ll be honest; I’m one of those who believe that daughters, as a norm, ought to live in their fathers’ households, under their fathers’ oversight unless and until they’re married. But that doesn’t mean you have to talk to your 30-year-old daughter as though she’s 16. I have a feeling this is one of those things that comes down to attitude more than actual words, but I think we need a good deal more discussion on the whole topic of young adult children living at home, and how that dynamic should work.
“Allow your daughters to say yes to first dates from Christian guys you don’t know.” “Don’t force your daughters to stay at home. Let them get out into the world where they can meet godly men. If you want to catch a fish you must first walk to the pond.”
We need to strike a balance. Reacting to one extreme by swinging to the other is not helpful.
I think the first suggestion here is, as a rule, awful. Now, if your daughter is physically separated from you – if she’s at college, staying with relatives, on the mission field, etc. – you may not be in a position to meet every guy who ever has an interest in her, in person. But you can – and should – make sure that someone is helping fill that gap where she is. It is irresponsible for parents to let completely unknown guys take their daughters out.
And anyone can say he’s a Christian; that doesn’t necessarily mean he is. He could be making that up to “play her.” Or he could be honestly confused regarding what it means to be a Christian. (Obviously, he could also be an honest-to-goodness Christian guy.) Accountability is a good thing.
(Some of this is probably going to hinge on the “what do you mean by ‘date'” thing, too. Walking her to the university cafeteria from class is a far cry from asking her out to dinner on Friday night. It would be a little ridiculous for him to have to call someone for an “interview” from campus before he could walk 100 yards to the next building in her company.)
On the other hand, we do need to let our daughters be people. If they’re being themselves and taking part in activities that use their gifts, skills, and passions, most of them will be meeting people in the course of these things. If your daughter is very introverted, you might have to nudge her a little to get out of the house somewhere or get a bit creative. (That does not mean push your painfully shy daughter into running the local Garden Club. It just means don’t let her confine herself to the house 24/7! Remember – balance.)
My little sister is a dance instructor. She met her husband in a ballroom dancing group. I’m a “thinker”; I met my husband at a Bible study. Neither of us went to any weird extremes to force meetings with people. If your own “natural” setting doesn’t involve a lot of people interaction, it might be worth praying about whether you should make a particular effort to get where there are more people.But keep in mind that God’s timing matters, too. When we got married, my husband was three days shy of 30. I was 20. If he’d gotten married at twenty, it’s safe to say it wouldn’t have been to me! There were some long, frustrating years in there for him, when he often felt as though God had forgotten him. In the end, it all made sense. Sometimes you haven’t met that other person yet because the time isn’t right, for whatever reason.
“Treat the person interested in your child as a fellow brother or sister in Christ.”
Honestly, this should go without saying. If this is not happening, we need to do some serious heart examination. Jesus told us to do to others whatever we would want them to do to us. If you have to tell a young man that you don’t believe it’s the right time, or the right match, or whatever, remember the New Testament admonition to “speak the truth in love.” There’s no need to be harsh, judgmental, or rude just because you have to say, “Sorry, but no.”
Don’t string him along. Don’t ask more of him than is reasonable. Don’t gossip about him. I’m sure you get the idea. (And yes, this goes for the sons’ parents, too, but I suspect it’s not so often an issue in this scenario.)