Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Courtship vs. dating

courtship: A man's courting of a woman; seeking the affections of a woman (usually with the hope of marriage)

I tried to look up the word "dating" so I could compare the two, but all I could come up with was a different definition for every website/person. There appear to be two levels to this.

First is dating, which can be anywhere from "casual" to "serious". The idea of dating is to go someplace to "have fun" together (eating, bowling, biking, visiting museums, that sort of thing) to see if you are "compatible" with the other person. At this stage, you can date any number of people you want. If you find that you are "compatible" with someone, then you can move on to the next stage.

The second stage is "relationship" or "going steady". These terms mean that you have committed yourself to the other person in a "more serious" way. This is when you start thinking "long-term". You are going to stop "seeing" other people and give yourself exclusively to the one person chosen.

There are two problems with the dating-relationship scenario. The first problem, acknowledged by almost everyone you might ask, is that it is hard to tell when you stop "dating" and start "having a relationship". The two people involved may have different opinions about this with one thinking they are still in the "casual dating" stage, and the other thinking they are "in a relationship". This confusion obviously can lead to many misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

The second problem, which almost nobody recognizes, is that there is no third stage called "marriage". Whatever "rules" there may be for either stage do not exclude bedding down together at any point, although most people seem to agree that this is not something you do until you've been on at least three "dates" together.

Courtship, on the other hand, has one goal in mind: marriage for life. But just as dating has many definitions in the worldly setting, so courtship has many definitions in the Christian setting. On one end of the spectrum, you have the matchmaker(s), sometimes hired by the parents, sometimes the parents themselves, deciding who should marry whom, and setting it all up before the "couple" even get to meet. The "couple" in this case may or may not have veto rights.

At the other end of the spectrum, the couple get together on their own, with or without outside encouragement, with the definite attitude that they are looking for a marriage partner, not a "relationship" or mere friendship. Once they have settled the fact that they will marry, they are expected to get parental permission at least from the woman's family.

All along the courtship spectrum there are varying degrees of family involvement. One thing is constant though: the woman NEVER takes the initiative. Whether there are matchmakers, parents, or the man himself doing the choosing, the woman always is waiting (hoping?) to be chosen.

As mother of four teenagers (including one who is about to leave his teen years), two "tweeners", two preschoolers, one toddler, and one still-in-development infant, I am very much interested in this important subject. My next post will attempt to define my personal thoughts about this.


zorg said...

I am looking forward to your personal thoughts on this. The whole dating vs. courtship thing is something that I don't understand as well as I should. That was a interesting post.

Joseph said...

Same here. I thought it would sound pretty funny to go and ask you though.

Anonymous said...

I am in the process of courting someone. Our goal is a strong lasting marriage. We grew up together but am learning new things about him everyday. I am currently in another section of the country from him. This has given God an opportunity to mold each of us separately, yet still ahve the same end point in mind. There is no pressure physically in our relationship. We both agreed that we would not kiss each ohter of this Christmas break, but that it is an option, with perameters, later on before marriage. I am learning everyday that God is my true groom though and that as much as it is great to have a man in my life, God will be the one who truely fulfill me. He his my Prince and i'm sorry fellas but others just can't compare to the love he gives me :)

Cathy said...

Hi, Anonymous! I had a head's up on who you are, and I hope you'll come back sometimes.

I remember once telling someone in college that all I wanted was to be married and have a family. She told me that Christ needed to be all to me first, before I could find real fulfillment in marriage. I found the hard way that she was right.

Cathy said...

By the way, the physical side of things is also something I plan to discuss in this series. I think you are wise to not get into that at this point.