How the Courtship vs Dating
Debate is Changing

If you were to ask me several years ago to give you a rundown of courtship vs dating I would have easily pulled out my notes and let it rip. But the more I read online, the more I’ve seen that (at least in Christian circles) courtship and dating mean different things to different people. Recently, after someone I’ve mentored finally decided to declare that they were in a relationship, they didn’t know if they should call it dating or courting. Both terms seem to have connotations that their belief system doesn’t represent.

Previously this is how I would have articulated the two paradigms of pursuing romance, the courtship vs dating debate:

Dating Paradigm

  1. Begins with romantic interest and curiosity as a foundation.

  2. Emotional attachments develop with no intention to marry. The goal is pleasure.

  3. Driven by feelings and impulse. Live in the moment mentality.  
  4. Dating builds experience with the opposite sex and develops maturity.

  5. Views sexual intimacy as something casual.

  6. Esteems one’s own opinion as a sufficient guide and often considers the counsel of others as meddling.

  7. Doesn’t see anything wrong with letting crushes and short term relationships distract you from school or other opportunities that can prepare you for the responsibilities of adult life.

  8. Is always looking for relationships to fill the loneliness and boredom of life.

  9. Uses artificial environments for evaluating a person’s character.

  10. Sees nothing wrong with flirting.

  11. Focus is on pleasing yourself – “God will understand” if moving in together saves money.

  12. Views relationships as the reason for living. Each couple takes from the other out of their emptiness.

Courtship Paradigm

  1. Begins with friendship and trust as a foundation.

  2. Only serious candidates for marriage are considered.  The goal is commitment.

  3. Driven by rational thinking, study and prayer. Long term mentality.

  4. It’s best to prevent numerous emotional attachments to avoid unnecessary heartbreak and regret.

  5. Esteems purity – there is a commitment to guard the sacredness of sex.

  6. Humbly embraces the counsel of parents and trusted mentors to help navigate the choice to marry or not.

  7. Waits until maturity and life preparedness is reached before pursuing a serious relationship with the opposite sex.

  8. Aims to be content while single and enjoy that time of life through deep fellowship with the Lord and personal growth.

  9. Intentionally looks for real life scenarios to hang out so that you can see who a person really is.

  10. Sees flirting as immoral because it trifles with hearts and develops habits that will be carried into married life.

  11. Focus is on pleasing the Lord – You don’t base your obedience to God’s word on feelings.

  12. Sees God as the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of their souls. Each couple gives out of their fullness.

Any spiritually minded, sincere person reading this courtship vs dating comparison would totally pick the courtship paradigm over the dating one. But the problem comes when you face the reality that the way some people actually implement courtship has been taken to extremes, and has painted "courtship" in a fanatical light. (Read that post here)

Debra Fileta, author of True Love Dates, comments about the courtship vs dating debate in an article posted in Relevant Magazine, “The world of dating can be hard to navigate for a young Christian. Dating in wider society is often portrayed as a feel-good experience. If you feel “right” together, if you’re having fun, if there’s passion and pleasure, then it must be a good relationship. But if this is the foundation of a relationship, commitment is often trumped by chemistry and loyalty is often replaced with lust. It’s a mentality that causes us to live in the moment, rather than building a future at the same time. It’s no wonder Christians tend to freak out about dating. Rather than trying to navigate through the world of dating in a healthy way, it’s easier to overcompensate for one extreme by simply developing another. So in the Christian community, models of courtship, no kissing until the altar, “God-told-me-to” break-up excuses and other confusing circumstances abound.”

Our struggle as human beings is maintaining balance. It’s common for people to swing from one side of the pendulum to the other. As a result of people going to extremes in how they do courtship I’ve begun to see more people feel uneasy about identifying with that word. This is what one blogger said concerning courtship: “To me, courting became an ideal in the same way that socialism is an ideal — and while I flirted briefly with socialism as a 13 year old (reading some of Marx’s own writings), it didn’t take me long to see that what sounded great in theory and on paper resulted in disaster and catastrophe when implemented in real life. Through observing the experiences of others, reading exhaustively, and studying Scripture, I have come to the same conclusion about “courting” as a philosophy” — it works much better on paper than it does in practice.”

How does it work out in practice? Read here see how some people have carried the idea to extremes and their implementation has given the name a bad rep. Read here to see how it worked out perfectly fine for others.

As I ponder the whole debate of courtship vs dating I recognize that it doesn’t really matter what you call it. It’s your life, not the label that counts.Your goal is to have a happy marriage and glorify God in the process. You know what? You can do that through arranged marriages, healthy dating or courtship.

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