It might be easy to say that the pursuit of marriage is the purpose of dating (aka courtship). But, that’s not how our culture views dating. Does viewing the person you’re dating as a potential spouse add unnecessary pressure on the relationship? In your opinion, is there a difference between dating and courtship? If so, what are those differences?
Ah, courtship. It’s one of those words that can be pretty divisive–probably because there’s a divide in the understanding of the word. There’s formal courtship, which from my understanding follows some general rules: the young man asks the father permission to court the young woman, they go on chaperoned dates, all the while both understanding that permeating their interactions are the discerning questions of “Can I marry this person?” A courtship can be successful if it ends in engagement and even if it ends with a break up–the two have decided they are not suited toward marriage.
Then there’s courtship as the non-dating dating. Basically, because a lot of the secular world has ruined actual dating (the meeting of two people to determine if a relationship should progress) by loading the word with connotations of hooking up, sleeping together, just being casual. The less-formal courtships are the ways in which people manage relationships seriously. Potential marriage is a question in the center of the relationship; the couple may have mentors or other adults to go to for advice, but they’re not supervisors. I don’t call that courtship. I call it discerning dating. This interesting article calls it practical courtship.
I don’t link to that article to say that I agree completely with the author (he’s pretty anti-formal-courtship), but to point out that courtship, dating, going steady, whatever you call it, has many considerations and even some positives and some flaws. Too often labeling something puts people in “camps”. I don’t want to be in a camp. I wanted to have a Christ-centered relationship, and I pursued that with advice from people I trust (sometimes my parents), took it seriously, and did what works for my life.
Perhaps if I were 18, living at home, and had parents who were in the courtship cultural climate, I might have been open to something a little more formal–and I certainly don’t knock the young women who choose this route and have the community and family’s support. But when I was 18, I moved 300 miles away for college, spending no more than 2.5 months at home a year. And then I moved 1500 miles away for grad school. I had bank accounts, loans, rent, bills, thoughts of home ownership, and 24, then 26, then 28 years on this earth—it just didn’t make sense for me and for my parents to have some similarly aged guy call him up (or drive or fly) just to ask if I can go on a date with him.
I do see the appeal of courtship: there’s structure, support, mentoring, external mechanisms to aid chaste behavior. So in my “dating” years, I took all those great elements that work for helping people understand if they should possibly enter into the sacrament of matrimony with one another, and just removed the element that didn’t work and in my view, not necessary–permission. And I understand the problems of “dating” as most of the world sees it–pressure to sleep with or around, a too-casual attitude, a fear of missing out, increasing inducement to push the bounds of chastity. But how you embark on pursuing the type of relationship you want is what’s important–not what it’s called or what people presume about it. If you want courtship, define it, explain it to the guy (I hypothesize very few 24+-year-old guys in ever-moderning cities know about formal courtship), and see if he steps up to be the man you deserve.
To answer another one of the questions–I did not feel any undue pressure from thinking that Mr. Sweet was a potential husband. If I’m honest with myself, he’s the first boyfriend/guy I dated that I genuinely saw that way and let our discernment permeate our relationship. It wasn’t pressure; it was actually a pretty helpful, and dare I say, responsible thing to do. I might have saved a lot of heartache–mine and the guys’–had I taken the relationship for what it is supposed to be: a period of discernment. So date if you want. Enter into a kind of courtship if you so desire. Just remember to discern.