Relationships, A Series: Part One — What is Courtship?

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HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate Truth. Part One of this series was originally published on January 8, 2013.


Also in this series: Part One: What Is Courtship? | Part Two: We Were Best Friends | Part Three: The Calm Before The Storm | Part Four: To Lose One’s Best Friend | Part Five: To My Darling Clementine | Part Six: The Storm Starts Brewing | Part Seven: The Five-Year Relationship Plan | Part Eight: The Means To An End | Part Nine: We Made It | Part Ten: I Am A Phoenix | Part Eleven: Conclusion, Don’t Brush Off the Next Generation


Part One — What is Courtship?

My dad once told me that he wasn’t going to let me get married until I was 30. I was probably about 12 or 13 when I first remember hearing him say that, but I couldn’t figure out whether he was joking or not at the time. I knew that there was some reality behind his joke because he is deeply under the courtship culture that I grew up in.

I grew up “broken.” Some normal girlish part of me has never quite worked. I never had any dreams about getting married, nor did I have any idea of what a relationship for me would look like. About 6 years later, I found myself in a relationship, and it was going a heck of a lot differently than any of the “courtship” books said a relationship was supposed to go. I read all of the courtship books I could get my hands onto.  I found any book that had to do with emotional purity, courtship, dating or not to date, and I devoured the advice.

I even read a book by someone I used to know way back when all this was called “Emotional Purity.”  I read almost all of Josh Harris’ books, and used to daydream about having a relationship that played out just like the couples in the books, or how the authors of all of these books said a courtship should be played out. Ironically, my daydreams usually included very complicated messed up situations where I was the maiden in distress where I almost died and the man who loved me saved me. Who knew that the relationship with my husband would actually turn out a lot like my daydreams, minus the almost dying part?

I have hated the word Courtship. I hated it because of what it stood for, what I have been through in the name of “courtship,” and what I have watched others face. But, I discovered something; it is not courtship in and of itself that I have been burned by, it is the twisted version of the word, act, that over the past decade or so it has become. I had a long conversation once with a friend about labels. We talked about how so many people have made up meanings for things such as courtship, family, fatherhood, denominations of churches, and whatnot and the original definitions have been lost. I used to cringe every time someone used “courtship” to describe their relationship. That was until I finally looked up the original definition of the word. According to the dictionary, Courtship is defined as thus:

1. the wooing of one person by another
2. the period during which such wooing takes place
3. solicitation of favors, applause, etc.

There is nothing in this definition that says that the man seeking to win a woman’s heart must first “court” the dad and the parents rule the relationship. There is nothing in here that indicates that this is a strictly biblical, family based process. In fact, I find myself having flashbacks to a certain Jack Sparrow egging a certain Will Turner on about wooing said lady. This definition brings up memories of a sincere “I want to get to know you” relationship. This reminds me of a man and woman falling in love and choosing to marry.

This is my definition of Courtship: It is simply the wooing of one person by another.

[I have been asked multiple times to share my story about how Phil and I met and how our relationship played out. Let me just say this. I will never write that story under my real name. I consider some of the relationships that I have now with some involved in the story more important than what they used to be, no matter how messed up things were. Things were rough, parents controlled our relationship and forgiveness has been asked on all sides as has been needed, and that is all you need to know for now. ]

I found this story recently and it brought to light a pretty significant problem that I have with courtship as it is played out today. Even though this is a very radical (and true as much as I can tell) story, it shows how much the Patriarchal/Quiverfull/Fundamentalist Christian movements have gone back to the Old Testament for their rules. They believe that the father [of the woman] is in complete control of the relationship, and that father is holding the only key to his daughter’s purity. They believe that the man should ask the father to court/get to know his daughter, ask his blessing for marriage, and to give the daughter over to the man at the altar. Again, a very clear picture of how much control the father has in the entire relationship. Even though the purity culture within these movements believe that the women are to be cherished, that is roughly translated into these women are the men’s slaves and they have no voice. The women’s only responsibility is to keep house and spit out babies.

On the surface, these are all, for the most part, not all that bad. Underneath, it’s the legalism, control, and authoritarian structure that causes problems. It is not a bad thing for a father to want to protect his daughter, but her purity is not his to keep. It is not his to manipulate and flaunt about so that he can catch the man he wants his daughter to marry.

There comes a certain point in any child’s life when the parents truly have to let go and let their child figure out life for themselves. It is not a bad thing for a man to ask a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It is just not a biblical commandment or principle. It is cultural. It is not a bad thing for the family to be involved and around while a couple is working through their relationship. It goes south very quickly when it becomes an obligation for the couple to always be in sight of the family, and never have any time for themselves to talk, and to get to know each other without little siblings acting as spies for the parents, ultimately the father. It is not a bad thing for a couple to seek advice for their relationship from their parents, or others they respect, especially if they are serious about marriage. But that again, is not a biblical commandment or principle, and taken too far to say that the father has ultimate control is really wrong.

[ I am not a parent yet, and most likely when I reach this point with our children, I will probably have different ideas. But for now, this is simply what I am seeing, what I have pondered long and hard about, and what I am now ready to share. ]

Courtship isn’t about a man overcoming a woman and designing her life with her father’s consent but without her consent. Courtship isn’t about a man pressuring a woman to marry him because God told him so. [Read more about that here from my dear friend Hännah @ Wine and Marble.] Courtship does not have to be a deeply serious thing. It can simply become a man really liking a girl, she liking him back, and they take the step from being friends to something deeper.

Normally, in normal cultures, this step happens naturally. If there is something more in a friendship, usually it manifests itself and becomes clear as the friendship becomes deeper. Courtship is two people loving spending time together and enjoying each other while their friendship deepens. If they, as a couple, without parents pressuring them, or controlling the relationship, feel like it’s time to move closer to getting married, then by all means, it is up to them, and them alone. Courtship should be two people deciding for themselves that they are ready for a relationship.

The purity culture and the courtship culture (basically those both go hand in hand) have taken good things and turned them into extra-biblical commands that are expected for every couple, family, and parents to do.

Phil and I have had many conversations about what we are going to do when we have children old enough to decide for themselves. We will not try to control them, nor will we force them to date, court, marry someone we want and not who they want. I want to see my daughters truly wooed and my sons wooing their ladies. I want to rejoice in that, not feel concerned that our children aren’t obeying us. We will raise our children to make good decisions. By doing so, when they reach the age when they are interested in the opposite sex, then we want to give them the freedom to make those good decisions.

Courtship is the wooing of one person to another.


To be continued.


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