Monday, May 15, 2006

Matters Of Symantics--But More Importantly . . .

I have had many good ideas for posts in the past few days, and no ambition to write the posts. I may be up to it now, however. I'll give it a go.

Someone said something recently, that reminded me of the whole courtship v. dating phenomenon that has swept across the Christian and homeschooling communities for the past too-many-years. I realized that I've never addressed this issue on my blog.

So, raise your hand if someone you love made you read that book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris? I raised mine. I'm probably one of the few who reads my blog who has read that book, however. And his other book also. Which is almost as bad as the first one. Oh my gosh, did I say that out loud? Yes, I did. I put the title of the book in to get more hyper Christians who are into the whole courting idea to come to my blog and read this post. Common search terms, don't you know. Let me move on to the real post.

Yes, I've read them all, every book on courtship that gets talked about incessently by mothers and nice little boys and girls who want to do the right thing with their lives. What I have to say is that these books present an unrealistic picture and often keep people from understanding the truth about committed relationships. They present two general ideas of what finding one's future spouse is going to be like.

Picture # 1) You're standing there and you see a member of the opposite sex walk towards you. Suddenly, a beam from heaven shines down upon the person and a voice says, "Marry this person." Then you float on clouds for the rest of your life with this other person and nothing bad ever happens to you.

Picture #2) You meet someone interesting and after five years the one of you who is male asks the one who is female's dad if he can court the other one. In another five years he asks the dad if he can marry the other one. Dad says yes, or no, courtship or engagement continue or ensue. Eventually dad says yes . . . clouds.

In the first instance, things don't work like that, and in the second instance, things don't work like that. There is one thing of which I am sure. The way you expect to meet your future spouse will not be the way you meet him or her. That, however, is not important. The important thing is that people focus on what's not important: how they will meet their future spouse, how they will know he or she is the right one, how the clouds will look, what the rules of reaching marriage are, and ad nauseum. Life doesn't follow a bunch of rules. There is no formula for how things work. That's what people forget when they define these issues down into lists of what to do and what not to do. There are only two rules: 1) nothing happens the way you expect it to and 2) relationships take work. The latter is the most important.

People disagree with each other. Even people who are madly in love disagree with each other. This leads to arguments and arguments to division. Ignoring disagreements is a one way ticket to some sort of separation (emotional or physical). Disagreements, in a committed relationship, must be discussed or something bad will happen. The idea that clouds await you in the future is ridiculous. But if you want to believe that then consider clouds, they're made of water vapor and you cannot stand on them. Just so, you cannot stand on a relationship that denies the need to work, cooperate, discuss, question and generally pay attention to important matters. The idea that if you do things a certain way nothing bad will happen is absurd because you do not know what things will come up. What if you end up dating (excuse me, courting) someone who does not want to refer to it as "courting." Are you gonna refuse to go out with the person even if you think they're right for you?

Some people might think I'm being stupd with all this talk of clouds. But the truth is, I'm not. I've talked to people who are into courtship and I've read the books. They are completely unrealistic. I can remember being told that if you go through courtship it is impossible for you to end up with a broken heart. Hello, the only difference between dating and courtship is the name. One can have a difficult breakup in either, especially if one fails to work at the relationship. Sadly, many fans of courtship also believe that every person should marry his or her first girlfriend or boyfriend. That doesn't often happen. I'm sure the belief has pushed a lot of people into unhappy situations. Even if a breakup does occur, it can be just as painful, if not more so because the expectations on someone in a relationship referred to by all and sundry as "courting" are higher and often unrealistic. I'm not saying to date around because it's fun or indiscriminately break other people's hearts. Only don't place unrealistic expections on a relationship because you call it by an outdated, old fashioned name. Remember, that it is rare that anyone marries the first person they go out with, extremely rare.

Then there is the matter of overthinking. Courtship tends to be an overthought system that analyzes everything down to the bones. It says that you have to wait until you are ready to be married before you can even consider being around someone you might want to date. It leaves out the ability to learn and grow together through a long term dating relationship. Often, people obsessed with courtship time it out and think that a courtship should only take 1 or 2 years. I don't know why it's supposed to be so short, but it is! They also think you should get married really young, for whatever reason. Most people look at things very differently once they pass the age of 20 then they did as an 18 year old. You might choose someone on a whole new set of standards than you would have before. Furthermore, why all the conversations about whether or not you are spiritually ready? Why all the endless discussions about the deceptiveness of one's heart? Boys like girls, girls like boys (for the most part). What's wrong with a simpler idea where a person meets someone that he or she is attracted to in more than one way (i.e. personality and cuteness) and they go out! Why make such a mess of this? The overanalysis tends to make people refuse to go out with someone they like and start a "not dating" relationship (similar to being "not pregnant"). People second guess everything they do and become unhappy because they always believe they are doing the wrong thing, or they're not ready for a relationship, or they want to do something different. It continues in an endless cycle of pathetic emotions that lead nowhere.

In essence, rules and doctrines have only taken what used to be a fairly understandable concept and turned it into thousands of pages of crap and thousands of confused minds. Just remember, whether you call it courtship or dating, try to be realistic, relationships take work no matter what.


Amber said...

Thanks, Esther :)

I remember the first time I heard of this whole thing at the dale, and yes, I think I even read the book when I found it at a publisher's warehouse. But for the life of me, I couldn't see how the two are exclusive of each other at all. They're really the same thing...

Perhaps you know he or she is 'the right one' when you do realize that it's gonna take work to be together, but it's worth it; in contrast to some of the happy, fluffy ideals of romantic love that are out there.

Isaac, The Rookie said...


Rock on! Even in the Bible, just waiting a long time and asking Dad's permission wasn't a guarantee of rightness; just look at Jacob! And to counter the clouds, read Hosea; God told him to marry a hooker and keep on taking her back when she went back to work time after time.

This horrible book I once paid actual money for had a chart in the front cover to guide a relationship; it spelled out in minutes the amount of time the two courting people were allowed to spend in each other's company and on the phone, and what subjects they were allowed to talk about, at each stage of the relationship. It was legalism the whole way, as is most of the literature on courtship.

Xana Ender said...

Jeremiah and I want to write a satire on courtship called X-treme Courtship. But we're afraid people will take us seriously. Sample: "If you are interested in a girl that is a sign from God that He wants you to marry her. Girls are meant to be pursued, so she will come around to your way of thinking sooner or later. If she thinks you're creepy or gets a restraining order - take hope! She just wants to test you to make sure you are a worthy pursuer. Try harder and she'll give in and you will have the picure-perfect romance you've always dreamed of."

PS no one steal our idea. We want to make our $10s.

Xana Ender said...

PPS Jeremiah wants our children marriage - ready by mid-teens. He thinks our culture keeps kids immature long after historically they would be ready to enter into adulthood. I told him we would be screwing them over because if they were marriage ready and none of their peers were they'd just feel frustrated:-)

Steven said...

A lot of those relationship books are insane. Pity I read them at a vaguely impressionable age.

In your opinion, is it alright for two Christians who don't know each other very well to start going out?

Esther said...

Amber: You're welcome. I like your definition of the "right one," it makes sense.

Isaac: I know what you mean. I'm glad I never paid money for the books I've read on courtship. ;oP

Alex: Don't worry, I won't steal your idea. I think it would be a hilarious read. It's too bad some people are crazy . . .

Steven: I think it just depends on the situation. Some people are able to understand others quickly, so I think it would depend on the person or persons. I do tend to rely a lot on my intuition, so I could be completely wrong here. I am also all for long-ish dating relationships. I think it helps to know a lot about another person before getting engaged and married, but I don't think you have to spend all of the time getting to know the other person in a friendship as opposed to a dating relationship.

kr pdx said...

Hi Esther :). Popped over from LC to see what's up over here. Thought I'd drop a counterpoint comment on this post (didn't want to get into the informality post, although being Catholic is was tempting ;). )

I've heard some programs on the Courtship movement but haven't done any reading. The programs I heard were all on Catholic Answers Live, so they will tend to be different from the (generally more reactionary) conservative Protestant thinking.

The main thing that struck me about the courtship concept vs modern "dating" is the removal of the physical/sexual aspect in the getting-to-know, and sometimes the entire pre-marriage, stage. From observation (yes, some of which is unfortunately personal) and reading, this would improve the chances that the couple would gain worthwhile verbal communication skills. Not being a man ( ;) ), I can only speak through hearsay and research about them, but it seems that they are particularly prone to assuming everything is "alright" if the(ir) physical relationship is "alright." (This would be another example of the evil "patriarchal" Christian establishment making life particularly more difficult, and less instinctual, for ... men!)

I actually agree with the nutcases that removing the physical aspects (yes, all of them) until after the wedding is probably the Wisest Choice. I also see that that is hardly normative, and not at all easy. Given the ridiculously heavy focus on sex/sexual pleasure in our society, and an almost complete lack of coherent teaching from anyone encouraging chastity of any sort, a specific "road map" is not quite as ridiculous an attempt as it might be in a less monofocused moral environment; the teachers are probably speaking from sorry experience themselves rather than from joyous cultural tradition ...

Esther said...

KR PDX: Your thoughts are ones I had not considered in writing my post. I guess I didn't think about them because my husband and I managed very well to remove the sexual from our dating relationship, although we did have a physical relationship with strict boundaries and limits. I guess this is one area where I agree that purity before marriage is the best way, but I tend to let people make their own decisions on it. I do not think that no physical contact is the best way to go, but I definitely think certain things should be off limits in the interests of not going too far. Perhaps the purity issue is something that should be emphasized more in dating and courtship.

I'm also a fan of long distance relationships, at least for a little while, during the dating stage. It helps people figure out communication because when you're away from your significan other the only thing you have is communication.

dianne_lone said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dianne_lone said...

I never was a fan of long distance relationships. Until I met Adam in He became a good friend of mine. And he showed me love. I never though I'd meet somebody like him online. I'm glad I tried out Even on a distance, I admire him and love him.