I’m not sure how many non-Christians read this blog, but those who are not familiar with the evangelical subculture of America will find its attempts at romance rather fascinating. In the culture at large, people seem to come together through a variety of means–on-and-off dating, meeting at parties, living together, being part of a group of friends/dating friends, and so on. The evangelical world, or the conservative evangelical world to which I belong, offers two main systems through which romance may be carried out: 1) courtship and 2) dating. I’m going to take a few days and look at the intricacies of each system, giving them an honest and slightly satirical evaluation as I do so.
What is courtship? Ah, the age-old question. Courtship is a relationship conducted with marriage in mind that includes several formalized steps which are designed to allow a couple to consider one another for marriage. It is led by the man and is intended to keep couples accountable, responsible, and centered on whether the other person is marriage-able. The courting couple spends minimal time alone, particularly at night, and strives to get to know one another in group settings. The process is usually kicked off by the man talking to the girl’s parents. If given permission, he then “initiates” with the girl, asking her to begin a formal courtship in which both parties will consider the other for marriage. If she says yes, they’ll likely start hanging out in groups of their friends, spend some time together alone, and with the help of a book, talk through serious issues of life, marriage, theology, and the like together. If all goes well, the man will ask the woman’s father for her hand in marriage. If permission is given, he’ll then ask her himself. The whole process is generally fairly quick, especially relative to secular relationships, with some couples completing the process in under six months.
The courtship model is quite old, and is usually associated with the Victorian era. Of course, it’s often given the stamp of this period and is called “prudish” and “rigid” by its detractors. Certainly it is an old-fashioned model, with a formalized system of interaction, a deference toward parental opinion, and an emphasis on holiness and decorum. Expectations for the relationship are stated up front, and neither party waits for hidden signals from the other to evaluate the relationship. Courtship is an honest process, with the couple sharing thoughts on life, their future plans, and vision for the family. It often involves friends and uses group settings as one of the primary forums for the couple to interact.
As one can see, courtship in many ways flies in the face of modern relational philosophy. Gone are the ill-defined “steps” of the relationship, the hiding of aspirations and opinions, and the physical intimacy that comes so easily and quickly with romance. In fact, many courting couples make it their business not to touch, and certainly not in romantic ways. Present are the role of the family, the involvement of friends, and close adherence to standards of conduct. Courtship is clearly an interesting system, with its own ideosyncracies, strengths, and challenges. Tomorrow I’ll give an honest evaluation of it. Yes, that is a formal initation, or invitation, to you the reader to read on.