Dating or Courtship?
By: Jeffrey A. Klick, Ph.D.
Jeff Klick with the grandchildren!
What do you do with crushes, rejection, flirtation, and hormones? If you are even barely involved as a parent, you will notice that your children will be attracted to someone of the opposite sex beginning at a young age. This is a God-given desire and the primary reason most folks end up getting married. The attraction issue is not the problem for most parents, but what do you do with it, and when. In my opinion, allowing a child to become involved with someone of the opposite sex before they are ready to get married, is a tragedy waiting to happen.
Parents need to begin the discussion about what your goals are with your children in this critical area while they are young. We had two goals-- moral purity, and parental involvement. We began very early to tell our children that it is perfectly normal to feel attracted to someone, or to like them, but it is not okay to go anywhere with it. If God wants you to marry that person then the desire will remain and that person will return it in the proper time. The key here is parental involvement --knowing what your child is going through, and understanding what struggles they are having, will assist you in helping them to process it all.
We often discussed the importance of not allowing yourself to be in a place of temptation, for I believe it is easier to avoid temptation then to overcome it. We had many family friends when our children were growing up that had children of the opposite sex. Many enjoyable evenings were spent with coed activities. The main way we dealt with the boy-girl issue when our children were still at home, was to usually do whatever we were doing together as a family, thus allowing under close parental supervision. “Good children” still want to explore sexually and they come equipped with hormones. Leaving boys and girls alone for extended periods of time is unwise no matter how innocent you think they are.
One key to many of these difficult issues is communication. No amount of religious activity will replace the necessity of talking with your children for hours on end. In order for there to be effective relationships, vast amounts of time must be spent in discussion. There are no shortcuts to this process. If you want good fruit, you cannot get it any other way than to invest the time required.
As our children age, it becomes necessary to determine which philosophical view we will use in finding a marriage partner. The Scripture is not clear as to the preferred method of finding a spouse. Using historical narrative to base your understanding or preference on is potentially dangerous. The Benjaminites in Judges 21 captured dancing girls at a religious festival and ran off with them. Rich men would buy slaves, and many times parents would select the mate. Wives could be gained as “plunder” from war, or bartered over between fathers or older brothers. Any of the above methods could be considered “Biblical,” however, I would not recommend them.
The two primary choices we face in our day are dating, verses some sort of courtship, and both require a bit of explanation.
Dating typical involves a young man and woman spending time together paired up with no long term commitment or view towards marriage. A different guy or girl could pair up each night or weekend and go to a movie or out to eat for the sheer fun of it. Perhaps it will lead to a deeper commitment or maybe not. The point is to enjoy the time together and see what happens. After dating for a time, marriage may become the goal of the relationship, but it is not the initial one.
Courtship typically involves a couple not pairing up unless marriage is the ultimate goal. There are as many understandings of courtship as there are dating. Some parents are very involved and others are not. Some lean to prearranged marriages and some to a more flexible system. The main difference between courtship and dating is the end goal of the pairing of the couple.
For our family, we chose a courtship understanding in light of our two goals stated previously – moral purity and parental involvement. All three of our children married and we actually had five courtship experiences. All five worked to varying degrees, and we learned a great deal through each of them.
Our first born was subjected to a very strict, narrow understanding of courtship. Her husband practically had to sign a document stating that he intended to marry our daughter before I would let him even meet her! It seems like many parents experiment on our firstborns, and I am sure there is a special reward in heaven for all of them!
The young man’s father called me one day and asked if I would be willing to have lunch with him and his son. The son was away at college and could not find a girl that wanted to stay at home and be a mom. All the girls at college were very forward and not what he was interested in at all. His dad told him he knew of such a girl that might just work. We had a great lunch lasting about three hours and began the process of interviewing. I really did not know what I was doing, but I knew it was my job to “screen” out undesirable young men.
For months Brian and I wrote back and forth and I was able to get to know him at a deep level. I had always told my daughters to look for two qualities in a young man – teachableness and kindness. Good looks and muscles will fade, but these two traits will only get better as the years pass. Brian had both of them in abundance! Of course, he was not too bad looking either! Over the next year or so, they fell in love and married. We attempted to provide encouragement, supervision, and assistance as they entered into the engagement process.
In addition to looking for certain character qualities, like teachableness and kindness, I encouraged my children to observe their perspective mate interaction with their family. How does the young man or woman interact with their parents and siblings? Are they respectful or rebellious? Are they inclusive and loving with their siblings or nasty and hateful? The parents and children are this person’s family. After you say, “I do” you become their family as well. The way they treat their family is a good indication of how they will treat you after you become family. Choose wisely.
My son actually had two courtship experiences. One was with a wonderful girl that we had known for many years. They entered into the courtship to determine if marriage was what God had for them. After a period of time, it became clear that this was not God’s will for either of them. While painful, the courtship was ended. Both ended up marrying others that were more suitable. Even though the courtship did not end in marriage, the goal of the relationship was not simply pleasure oriented, but an honest evaluation of marriage suitability.
My middle daughter also had two courtship experiences. One ended similarly to our sons, and the other resulted in an excellent marriage with a delightful young man. Sarah, was 28 when she married and this provided her many opportunities to travel and serve before becoming a wife. As Sarah watched her older sister and younger brother marry, the natural questions were asked, “What is wrong with me? Why am I not married?” Our counsel to her was to follow Paul’s instructions to singles in 1 Corinthians 7 – be wholly devoted to the Lord and be concerned with investing in others while you wait.
Our daughter did this wonderfully, and we were extremely proud of her. It was not always easy, but she decided to spend her time serving. She travelled to China to teach and assist a missionary. She became a cosmetologist so she could provide a necessary service to families that didn’t have a lot of money. And, she invested in the young girls in our church. Sarah became “Auntie Sarah” to about 40 young girls. These same girls all were invited to sing as a choir in her wedding when the day finally arrived. It was quite a sight, and brought tears to just about everyone’s eyes. Only God knows the eternal impact made by one older daughter being willing to invest in the lives of young girls!
Courtship is not a magic solution and is no guarantee that your children will not have struggles morally or have a successful marriage. Every child grows up and becomes an adult that is fully capable of making foolish, sinful decisions. Only Jesus is perfect and only He lived a sinless life. Adult children can and do fall. As parents of adult children, we must be there to help them recover and pick up the pieces as God supplies the grace.
We chose courtship over dating because my wife and I were products of the dating system. From our perspective, dating prepares a person for divorce, not marriage. The selfish, pleasure seeking aspect of dating does not properly prepare someone for the death-to-self traits necessary for marriage. Spending time with someone and becoming emotionally and/or physically entangled, then simply walking away for another, does not produce stability or the commitment necessary to survive in our world. Divorce is rampant in the Church and perhaps one reason is that we are following the world’s method of casual partner swapping. Marriage is hard work and takes deep commitment in order to succeed.
Whatever method you choose to follow, parental involvement should be the goal, and of course, moral purity. Many marriage issues that require years of counseling to overcome begin during the pre-marriage relationship. Sexual exploration and experimentation, while pleasurable for the couple, often leads to long term problems. Sexual sin is the one sin that we are told to run from and the reason is obvious, it is extremely difficult to resist in the heat of the moment. One sure way to avoid sexual failure is to take along a younger sibling or never allow yourself to be in a place where you cannot be interrupted. Pulling off on a side road and getting into the back seat of a car will not help you avoid sexual failure, unless your younger brother is back there!
Sometimes young people fall in love and press ahead in marrying their choice regardless of parental cautions or objections. In regards to selection of a life partner for marriage I have yet to meet anyone that did not sooner or later regret their decision to rebel against their parents, and if they could do it over again, they would not have done so. I have worked with hundreds of people that do regret their foolish choice and they wished they could go back and change it. Even if their marriage is successful, they live with a nagging regret that they did not have their parents blessing on the union. Often though, their marriages are riddled with guilt and difficulties stemming from the pride and arrogance of not properly dealing with parent’s objections. Many times parents have God-given insight into the difficulties that the marriage will encounter and any couple that is trying to follow the Lord will want their parents blessing on that marriage. Pushing ahead without their consent will dishonor them and make for a very rocky marriage. The demanding of my own way, over the objections of the parents, also is a confession of unbelief. In essence, this action is stating that God is simply unable to change the parental authority to agree with your direction, so then you must take action. It is far better to pray and allow God to change your parent’s (or your!) heart, than to press on with the marriage.
Choosing a life partner is a momentous decision. I have often stated, “It is far better to be happily married for forty years, then to be miserably married for fifty.” If it takes ten years to find the right mate, you will not regret the time spent in waiting.
Questions To Pray About: