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Volume 17, Issue 5: Childer

Courtship Blunders

Douglas Wilson

Taking one thing with another, the courtship model offers biblical protections for a young couple in the formative stages of their relationship. But it does not provide automatic protection. Bible verses woodenly applied or biblical methods taught by biblical teachers applied the same way are no substitute for wisdom.

Put another way, parents are sinners too. And parents can be foolish, just as their kids can be. If the parents are not guarding themselves, watching their own hearts, they can turn what ought to be an exciting and enjoyable time into a catastrophe.
Abdication: This of course is a sin that commonly exists outside courtship circles (in the very nature of the case), but it can also exist where parents say that they are commited to the courtship model. If a father meets and approves a suitor for his daughter in a perfunctory way, he is abdicating responsibility, even if he technically has done what he needs to have done.
Micromanagement: This blunder is the result of parents taking their responsibilities in this way too seriously. While an abdicating father may not ask certain important questions ("Do you have a problem with pornography?"), micromanaging parents will, for no good reason, pry into the arcana of the suitor's past. ("What was your favorite color in the third grade?") Micromanaging parents will also dictate other aspects of the courtship that they should best leave alone. "And the fifth time he comes over, you will be allowed to sit alone together in the living room for ten minutes."
Vicarious living: Parents frequently have to resist the temptation of reliving their own youth (or, worse, going for a "do over") through the lives of their children. Mom enjoyed the prom so much when she went, that she wants to ensure that her daughter has the same experience. And Dad did not make the football team, and so his son has to try out. The way it applies to courtship is that parents want their kid to get the cute girl or guy, and then they can bask in the reflected glory. But a "courtship triumph" that makes everybody talk for a few days is not necessarily headed for a godly marriage. In other words, a bad marriage can have had a courtship that provided the vicarious thrill. Parents need to have other criteria in mind.
Dibbies: Sometimes courtships are launched prematurely because the girl or guy is really cute, not to mention really young. Those parents who are trying to set something up understand that if such a cute human being is allowed to make her way through life unattended for the next eight years, the chances are excellent to outstanding that somebody else is going to get in on the act. And so what they try to do is get dibbies, without actually getting a courtship going. Everybody is too young to start something now, and so the trick is to get things tied up (so others can't get in on the action) without actually getting anything started. This can be done by various means—the parents on both sides coming to an "understanding," some kind of a secret courtship, or institutionalized flirtation.
Power tripping: Sometimes a father says no to a suitor just to prove that he can. Or another set of parents pressure their daughter to be "interested" in somebody that she is not at all interested in. One indication of power tripping is that a father, for example, changes the terms and conditions of the courtship, and then blames the suitor for the misunderstandings. The suitor is not in a strong bargaining position. The father has control over what he wants, and he is afraid that if he calls him on it, then the father will tell him to get lost for good. And this is what lies behind some suitors just keeping their head down, quietly complying, getting married—and then getting lost for good.
Poor communication: Husbands and wives who do not communicate well in ordinary circumstances are not suddenly going to be able to communicate well just because someone has shown an interest in their daughter. And what happens here is that the father talks to the suitor about something (say, any previous relationships he was in), and yet cannot talk with his wife about the details of what they talked about. He can't do it because he can't talk to her about such things in the best of times, and if he told her what they talked about, she would flip out. And then when she has a conservation with the suitor, she is assuming a wildly different circumstance than what the suitor knew he told the father just two nights before. Not surprisingly, he starts drawing conclusions about the state of communication between Mr. and Mrs.
In short, the time of courtship is a challenging time for parents. It is not the time to start up your attempts at wisdom. This is the time in your life when wisdom should be coming to fruition. It is not the time to throw the familial equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

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