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.