There’s an article that’s been floating around the Christian online community in the past week or so called “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed” by Thomas Umstattdt. Like many who read it, I had some interesting thoughts and I would like to share them with you.
While I don’t agree with 100% of what the article says, I thought there were some valid points. It brought to mind certain facets of my relationship with my wife that I find are relevant to the discussion. Namely, we didn’t court. Or at least, we never said, “Hey guys! Guess what! We’re courting!” We never went on a “court” to dinner and a movie, and we certainly didn’t have 24 hour supervision that seems to characterize many courting relationships in many circles. I think it’s important to realistically look at how a relationship works.
Doug Wilson responded to the original article and rightly pointed out that no matter what model people use, the fact still remains that the relationship is comprised of sinful people who live in a sinful world, and you’re going to have to deal with sin. That’s true, but I find the original article more persuasive. Thomas Umstattd also posted a follow up where he answered some of the questions that his original post brought up.
Exclusive Relationships Invite Temptation
One of the most important things that Umstattd pointed out is that the way his grandmother dated was by having mandatory dates with different boys in order to maintain a balance without getting too attached to one or the other. He pointed out that this helped his grandmother (at least when she was young) develop skills to interact with the opposite sex as well as give her an idea of what she wanted in a man. Furthermore, it helped to calm emotional ties with boys by not making it an exclusive relationship.
Courtship, in many of its forms, emphasizes emotional and physical purity and seeks to guard that by adding layers of security on it (which in some cases, is properly interpreted as legalism). As Umstattd points out, this really just exacerbates the problem of trying to stay pure because the hurdles of simply getting into the relationship elevates it to a level of exclusivity that is far above what it needs to be. It is rightly noted that for many guys, just asking to court a girl is tantamount to asking for her hand in marriage. I remember bringing up this very point with my friends when I was in high school and we all agreed courtship was something to be avoided.
When I actually met my wife and we were dating/courting/”going steady”, purity was hard. Duh. Whenever you get a guy and girl together and they’re in love, purity will be hard. Sin makes it hard. The more exclusive the relationship is, the harder it is to fight back. It’s not a defect of relationships; it’s just a fact. My beef is that courtship often accelerates exclusivity prematurely, which makes temptation more intense because of the emotional commitment involved. I recognize that accountability is also a strong part of courting, but accountability does not kill temptation.
Opposite Sex Relationships Are What is Important
My wife and I both have always had strong opposite sex friendships which I believe was key in us meeting and getting married so quickly. We already knew what we wanted, and when we found it, what was the point in waiting? Furthermore, we were friends for a solid two years before we became “official”. We didn’t have a relationship that was closely supervised, which would have made it hard to get to really know each other. Insofar as courtship is about pursuing marriage, then yes, we courted because we always knew we wanted to get married. So in a sense, when we made our relationship official, it was kind of like the start of a very long engagement because we knew nothing would break it down.
I believe that we were unique because we had a good sense of what to look for in a partner. That sense came from having strong opposite-sex relationships prior to meeting. This is what I believe courtship harms. There is often a sense of apprehension among guys about approaching a girl and getting to know her if you believe that she or her father may interpret that as a signal towards courtship (read: engagement). This is what I believe Umstattd was getting at. Don’t kill the relationship before it’s had a chance to grow.
Maybe the system of exclusivity inadvertently invite more temptation and accountability only goes so far. We are what is flawed, and maybe having a system that discourages opposite sex friendships by invoking the specter of marriage prematurely ain’t the greatest.
I highly recommend reading both the original article and the Q&A response that clarifies some issues from the original article. It’s an issue worth thinking about.
What do you think?
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