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Volume 15, Issue 1: Femina

Courtship Blues

Nancy Wilson

So it isn't a fairy tale world after all. You read the courtship book(s), and you thought it sounded so easy. And maybe it was at first. But then came the crash. The whole thing fell through, blew up, unraveled, and came to a screeching halt. And whether you are the mother or the daughter, you still feel devastated and embarrassed that what seemed to be a good idea at the time obviously wasn't. And there goes your idea of the perfect couple and the perfect courtship. But before you give up on the whole idea, consider a few things first.

Courtship is supposed to be the time to find out if you are right for this person. It is not the wedding planning segment of the relationship. That is called "engagement." Courtship is a time for two people to get acquainted in a non-threatening manner, with parental oversight. It is a time for getting to know each other. It is a time for finding out. If after a few weeks of "finding out," you find you are not interested, it is not a disgrace. It is not a sign of failure. It is not even a huge deal. Unless of course, you have made it a huge deal by making courtship more than it ought to have been.
One of the first ways to wreck a courtship is to start acting like it is an engagement. Parents can do this by running ahead when they should be exercising wisdom and caution, checking to see how their daughter is doing with it all, and getting to know the young man who is doing the courting. Well-meaning friends do the same thing when they start congratulating the couple and asking about the honeymoon. All of this exerts undue and unkind pressure on the couple. It changes the tone of the relationship from low key to high pressure. It makes the two people involved feel like they must resolve all their issues immediately. And often this is not possible, so one or the other asks to please be excused. So ends the courtship.
Another creative way to trash a courtship is for the couple to get too physically involved too fast (as in, at all). Some dads allow no physical contact; some dads allow some. Some dads aren't watching. When it finally comes to light that there has been way too much going on, someone usually blows the whistle and calls the whole thing off. And because of the physical intimacy, there is much emotional damage. This is more often the case when the courtship has been allowed to drag on far too long. This sometimes comes from parents wanting their sixteen-year old to be in a courtship, even though they will not consider marriage for several years, and such an arrangement increases all the hazards.
Some parents think courtship is simply a form of entertainment for their offspring, so they allow (or encourage) their daughters to be "courted" by several men over several years. None of these ends in marriage for various reasons, but it sounds great on the resume to say you have courtship "experience." Why not just go back to recreational dating? At least in the dating system no one expects you to be "serious" about the relationship, and no one is surprised at the break up.
Some courtships fail because of too many idealistic assumptions from the outset. Daughter visualizes her own personal dream relationship, and when this solid Christian man doesn't sweep her off her feet or swing her up onto his horse as he rides by, she calls it off. She wants more fireworks, or she wishes he were more like some man in her imagination. This unfortunate scenario can be caused by indulging in too much cheap fiction or by simply being too immature to handle a serious relationship.
As long as I am venting about this, I may as well include the over-eager parents who thrust their daughter into a courtship that she is not ready for. She may be a submissive daughter who is striving to please her parents, but as the relationship continues, she may buckle under the pressure. Parents should not cause such misery. They are supposed to be the means God uses to protect their daughters, not the means of inflicting suffering. A daughter who is marrying for no other reason than to please her parents is in grave danger indeed. Who wants a martyr for a wife?
And of course, sometimes even when the courtship is conducted in an honorable fashion from start to finish, it still doesn't end with a wedding. If courtship really is a time for "finding out," then sometimes the couple will find out that they just don't click or jive. So a courtship can end with good feelings all around, even if there is a bit of disappointment. That's not a big disgrace. It's just a bump in the road and can be easily overcome. If you haven't made it to be a huge deal, it won't be a huge deal.
In spite of all these sad and miserable endings, courtship does have a lot going for it. Consider, for instance, that when all cylinders are running, Dad keeps daughter from having to do the dirty work. He says "no" for her whenever it is appropriate. She doesn't have to fend the guys off; Dad does it. If the courtship ends, Dad can do the breaking up for his daughter. She doesn't have to explain or defend. Dad does. This is a glorious aspect of courtship that can protect not only the daughter, but also the fine fellow who has been behaving like a gentleman. It's far easier for a young man to deal with another male, even if he is telling him to get lost. And it's funny how dads understand the issues and can communicate them squarely. Of course, I have to admit here that I know there are exceptions. I know there are dads who cannot be trusted. But let's hope here that we are not dealing with that sort.

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