The Dreaded “Courtship” Word

As members of the homeschooling community (eight year members, if we’re being specific), we knew people who subscribed to both ends of the spectrum when it came to dating and courtship.  Less conservative members of our circle were okay with dating, while the more conservative members pursued the courtship model, where daughters stayed home and potential suitors presented their cases to the fathers for consideration.   We fell somewhere in the middle — dating within boundaries, with the understanding that potentially serious contenders would spend time with us as well, so we could get to know them, too.  After all, there’s a lot of truth in the saying that you don’t just marry your spouse — you marry their family, too.  In addition, ultimately our girl would be the one living with whomever she married, so she needed to be the one to make that decision — not us.

Unfortunately, the word “courtship” can hold negative connotations to the young person who feels it’s simply a method of control, a way to keep him or her from growing up.  It’s so challenging as a parent to communicate what we’re really trying to do — help our children transition to adulthood with as little heartache as possible.  Maybe that’s a naive hope.  But it certainly doesn’t keep us from trying.

To my way of thinking, the extreme courtship model was an effort to combat the dating scene that is so prevalent:  the scene in which two people use each other more for entertainment and selfish desires than to get to know each other with the possibility of lifelong commitment.  The scene where young people struggle to differentiate between love and hormones.  And how can they not struggle, when the word “love” is thrown around so casually in every book, movie, song, and conversation that its meaning is diluted from overuse?  Seriously, we love pizza, we love that song, we love books, we love the way that girl cuts our hair, we love, we love, we love!  Thank you, English language for not giving us more specific words to really explain what we mean in each of these cases.

Perhaps it’s not so much that the word is diluted as it is misunderstood or misapplied, because more than one type of love exists.  Specifically, agape, phileo, and eros — and the confusion of these types of love can lead to difficult situations and great hurt.

Agape love is a selfless love that does not take into consideration one’s personal feelings.  It’s the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus Christ showed when he gave his life for us, even while we were still sinners.

Phileo love is the kind of affection that we have for our friends — brotherly love not necessarily rooted in sacrifice or service to another.

Finally, there’s eros — a sexual, erotic love that is rooted in desire for another.

While agape love can be considered the best of the three, because it’s when showing another person agape love that we come closest to emulating the Lord, each has its place in the proper context.  I think you can compare it to the old cliché about getting the cart before the horse.  When young people start to notice those of the opposite sex, they tend to skip straight to the eros kind of love — hormones are raging, the heart is racing, and all they can think about is how much they want the other person.  But why do they want the other person?  For the way the other person makes them feel.  It’s a selfish, not selfless, kind of love that makes demands and doesn’t consider what’s best for the other person.

However, when relationships are started and nurtured in the proper order, affection has time to grow into love and then desire, desire that is rooted in caring for each other rather than thinking about how to get what one wants from the relationship.

We were not big fans of either extreme courtship or casual dating.  I wish the article linked below had been around to help us explain our views a little more clearly whenever the subject came up in conversation, because I think it really comes close to what I believe:

5 Reasons Men Should Start Courting Women Again | James Michael Sama.

4 thoughts on “The Dreaded “Courtship” Word

  1. We’ve had to nip the hormone-driven infatuations in the bud a couple times when feelings for someone got carried away. Our view has probably been closer to the conservative side of things in that dating should’ve begin unless our children are actually ready to marry. We’ve taught them that it’s fine to have friends, even very close friends. But dating opens to doorway to giving away something, both physical and emotional, that should be reserved for a future spouse.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head as far as timing goes, for sure. Until the individuals are ready to actually begin a life together, all dating or courtship can do is lead to a great deal of impatient frustration. I would say this even applies to overly long engagements once two adults have decided to commit to each other in marriage.

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      1. Not saying this is true for all, but our daughter especially responds to attention. When someone pays her some attention, she mistakes it for something that it is not. I am guilty of not paying enough attention to my daughters which I constantly have to remember to do lest she looks for attention elsewhere.

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  2. Good post. IMO, another advantage of a courtship-type model is that the parents are there, watching carefully (one hopes), and willing to risk their child’s anger by telling that child about any concerns regarding the relationship, should there be any. The term ‘love goggles’ comes to mind, dovetailing with your comments about hormones and desire; a parent might catch red flags that are, at the moment, somewhat glossed over—character problems, concerns about the person’s career/planned-for path in life, extended family issues, et cetera.

    Knowing of my own intense desire to be a wife and maybe even mother, though I had my own place (at my parents’ insistence) by 23ish, I made a point of bringing men I was serious about to regularly see my parents, be it at church, for dinner, or a family picnic. Dad at least would always steer me aright, no matter how I may have initially bridled to hear him ‘nitpick’ a fellow; I’d weigh his remarks, and when it came to men, he was never wrong. Clearly God blessed me there, as evidenced by the results of Dad’s advice!

    Of course, not every child wants this (we all know everything at a certain age…ahem…), which is no doubt why anything even hinting at the courtship model will see them rebelling. In my experience some people are just…well, bullheaded. They race headlong into heartache, not seeing or, worse, ignoring the red flags all along the way. (This is where one hopes nagging parents—a parental prerogative!—save the day.)

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