90’s Dating Gone Bad #2: You Shouldn’t Date, You Should Only Court

My friend Jordan told me the other day that one of his coworkers who is unchurched read my blog via a link on Jordan’s facebook. I perked my ears, expecting Jordan to tell me that it changed his friend’s life. Not quite. In fact, what the coworker said was,“Jordan, that’s some weird crap on that blog. “

I started thinking about how foreign this entire blog would sound to unchurched people, about how very strange the Christian dating culture can be at times.  This is especially true about this latest series I’m writing exploring  “rules” that came out of our 90’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye culture. (see 90’s Dating Gone Bad #1: Dating Isn’t Biblical.) I think it’s time that we corporately admit that we have all believed some weird crap.

One of the weird things we believed was this rule: You shouldn’t date, you should only court.

When I was in college, I was with my first serious boyfriend, and was in the throes of first love. The same was true of two of my best friends.  One of the couples was on the verge of getting engaged.

One weekend, our boyfriends all went to a men’s retreat. The speaker announced that dating wasn’t biblical. Our passionate naïve men got together and decided that they should keep each other accountable to breaking up with us that very day.

One dumped woman is bad. But three simultaneously dumped women? That, my friends, is a nightmare.

Needless to say, the three of us gathered together after that horrible night and became a heaping pile of feminine despair. Our now x-boyfriends were shocked that we reacted so with so much emotion. I think they were expecting us to say “Oh thank you for being such Godly men and breaking up with us. That was so noble of you! “ Instead, we wanted to slash their tires.

The three men got together and discussed the issue again. They came back to us, saying that they didn’t have to break up with us if they could court us instead of date us. We were so relieved. There was only one problem: none of us knew what courting was.  Within a few weeks, our courting life looked pretty much exactly like our dating life. But at least we were socially acceptable now.

Here is the first irony involving this rule: the word “courting” is not in the Bible, just like the word “dating” is not in the Bible. Therefore, courting is not biblical, which was the initial argument for why we should not date. Most of us assumed that courting was the biblical model for eventually marrying someone. Not true. Marriage in biblical culture was almost always arranged.

After googling “the history of courting” many times and getting nowhere, I finally figured out that courting did not come from the Bible, but centuries later, from the Amish.

In Amish culture, young people get together most Sundays after church for “socials.” Aha! You say! Group dating! But that is not the end of the story. If two people are interested in getting to know each other, they can go in a “courting buggy” which is an open horse drawn carriage. They will ride in the buggy and talk, maybe hold hands. According to my research, going on a buggy ride does not mean that it is a sure thing that the Amish people are going to get married. It is much more casual than that.  It is simply a way to get to know someone. Often, the parents don’t even know who their kids are going on buggy rides with until it gets serious.

I actually think this Amish way of going about dating makes more sense than “courting” version that we were taught. Our strict 90’s Christian version said that we should not be alone and that we shouldn’t spend intentional time with someone unless we were pretty sure we were going to marry them. But how do you get to know someone enough to know that you will marry them if you are not allowed to spend time with them to get to know them? It doesn’t make much sense.

In the Amish courting buggying system,  they get good information to assess over time whether this is a good match, which I have said several times is a very wise way to date.There doesn’t seem to be a lot of pressure if you buggy with someone. You are just getting to know them. They have lots of alone time that focuses on conversing, on getting good information, rather than focusing too much on anything physical.

(The rare Amish community does accept the practice “bundling” or “bed courting” which involves a courting couple sleeping in the same bed as long as they are clothed and the woman has the sheet wrapped around her. I’m not sure if this rule is for me. My inner dragon might come out in that situation. And inner dragons are not often Amish.)

One of my readers the other day commented that we should start a revolution that is more realistic than courting but more committed than dating. I liked her idea of balance. Balance is a good answer to almost everything in life.

But then I pictured my book becoming a phenom like I Kissed Dating Goodbye where people started a revolution that was right in the middle of dating and courting like she suggested.

“Maybe they would call it dorting!” I thought. “Or catering! Oh wait that doesn’t work. Buggying! That’s it ! Buggying!

People will say ‘Hey I really don’t want to date you but I don’t really want to court you either. I want to be right in the middle. I want to buggy you. We could cruise around in my convertible with the top down so people can see us that way we are in a semi public place but still alone. What do you think?’”

Then I realized that I didn’t want that to happen. You know why?

Because that’s some weird crap, y’all.

Let’s just try to date well. How does that sound?

29 thoughts on “90’s Dating Gone Bad #2: You Shouldn’t Date, You Should Only Court

  1. It breaks my heart that this subject has been made to be so complicated and difficult when it was never meant to be that. We have pure hearts and pure motives. Religion is “do this, don’t do this, bunch of religious crap….that keeps us from living life in freedom and enjoyment. God wants us to live our life with enjoyment…not fear. We should trust the desires of our heart because God does.

  2. Yes! Kate I am Laughing “,Dating well! that’s it !” Thanks again for sharing ,I so enjoy the gift you have,every time I read your blogs,the word pictures you use create a Wonderful story!

  3. I am so glad you are writing these posts! I read Joshua Harris’ dating and courting books and got very confused as to how I was meant to go about a relationship. Most of my (Christian) friends who are now married went out for at least a year or two during university before getting engaged, which would be a big no-no if you follow the ‘rules’. I don’t think one size fits all. Christian culture is not the same in the UK and among my Christian friends no-one has ever mentioned the word ‘courting’! I definitely think dating with good boundaries and good intentions works.

  4. cracking up!!! so great and soo (scarily) true. it is so embarassing to think back to all of the stupid things i did and said in relationships while under heavy doses of “i kissed dating goodbye”. and i agree that “i want to ‘buggy’ you sounds pretty dirty” 😉

  5. We have, indeed, believed some weird crap, y’all. And I appreciate your point that we are in danger of doing it again whenever we try to turn it all into the perfect system (dorting…). We don’t like the old law, but we try to create a new one because it’s so much easier than dealing with how messy life really is.

  6. love it friend! You crack me up! And as I read, I hear your voice talking 🙂 Great points. Way to keep people thinking out of the box!

  7. “That’s some weird crap y’all” Oh my goodness I was laughing my behind off! It’s nice to know there are other people out there that feel the same way I do about dating…well that is.

  8. Love it! Thanks for sharing more of the history of courting – very insightful. And like others said, your post (this one and others) always make me laugh. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Also – have you ever heard of the book “I Gave Dating a Chance”? It came out about a year after the kissed dating goodbye one, and I really like it. Granted, I haven’t read it in 10 years, but I remember thinking it presented a healthier view of “dating well.”

  9. I like this. Very sensible! (…so, now,…where are the guys we’re supposed to practice this on?) LOL! 😛

    Spending time alone in a public place was actually more the definition of courtship I grew up with. I never heard anyone teach it had to be in a group. Different eras, different interpretations, I guess. Anyway, I like the idea of alone time to get to know someone, but with strong boundaries. It may take some maturity to be able to hold to your boundaries, though. As you said in an earlier blog, I’m pretty sure I could not have manged that when I was a teenager (or even early 20’s for that matter). I guess it depends on the person’s upbringing, inner strength, and commitment to their values. It might also help to have a bit of life experience, specifically the kind that enlightens us to just how fragile we humans are when left to our own devices. I have to applaud you, Kate, this is a really good topic for discussion. I think it’s something people need to think and talk about – especially in this day of high divorce rates. 🙂

  10. Kris…You are so right. .Finding out how delicate we are as human beings requires getting messy. And that’s just life. There is no safe path to a great marriage… every path has risk. Especially in a world where you can’t just make it to 20 and married and think there won’t be any more messiness.
    Most of our world acts like teenagers or they are on THE Bachelor until they are 80. So, finding
    someone who is healthy and wanting to commit for life is a rare, rare find!

  11. I agree. Weirdness and all, I find it rather interesting that courting came from the Amish, and the whole bundling thing is rather hilarious. I don’t think I could do that!!!
    I think dating well is definitely the better way to go. We might actually get somewhere, in a healthy, not killing each other way. 😉

  12. Kate – thank you for writing these! You make it fun to read. The Christian dating scene in the 90’s was messed up! Balance is crucial.

    I remember my bible college days in the 90’s – we were forbidden to date! Forget the ‘ring by spring or your money back’ mantra… What we WERE allowed to do was to go out in “social units” which is to say “group dating” as long as there was an unequal ratio of men to women. AWKWARD! We were prohibited from “pairing off” and were held accountable by the “odd man out” lol.

    Now THAT is some weird crap.

  13. What I can’t believe nobody is saying is that for every opinion people voice about whats so screwed-up there are a bunch of people who REALLY REALLY NEED IT THAT WAY! And when they couldn’t find it, disaster ensued.

    Perhaps Josh’s only mistake was making sound like his way was the only right way, but what he had to say totally worked for him. And – in the middle of a seriously screwed up culture (perhaps for nowhere near a majority of people, but for some) ditching the “weird crap” of our culture like flirting and ambiguity and instead only acting serious if you’re serious was dead-on and made everything click. Sure, there are lots of ways to foul it up, but I’ve SEEN “courting” work.

    And… I know of at least one couple who wouldn’t have worked without the “social unit” method (we’re talking 30’s here, not just freshmen going with the program) and it was perfect for them. Some of the friends who helped round-out those social units thought it was just as silly as some of you do, but they were happy to bite their tongues and do it for a friend. It was a favor that turned out to be a make-or-break detail.

    Put simply we need not to be afraid of rules. No matter how causal or formal, we need them.

    And above all else we need to be respectful and ACTIVELY supportive of friends who simply need a different set of rules. (…As opposed to spouting one’s own two cents and declaring everyone else to be nuts.) To do anything else is all too often like grabbing the steering wheel when someone else is driving. It doesn’t matter if you’re right, you’re still wrong and destruction is likely.

  14. Imagine being the token odd man/woman out that was invited along to keep all those couples ‘honest’. That would suck something awful.

  15. I love it, buggying 🙂 I do know folks who courted and got married and it’s working for them but I am totally with you on the whole situation. The rules we come up with on our own are often what push folks away from wanting a relationship with Christ. I love your honesty with all of this. It is some weird crap 🙂

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  16. Hey Kate, Tim here from the Healing House. Remember ” THINGS ON FIRE !!! THINGS ON FIRE!!! ”

    I read ” I kissed dating goodbye” and found it very helpful. In America, and yes even in the church there is a pattern of serial dating. It fallows a pattern of get together break up, finpd someone else get together break up… and on and on…

    I found that the idea of being so committed and involved to someone you are not married to is not biblical, very stresful and mostly comes from our desire to be validated. We look around and that’s what the rest of the world is doing. Well I can say that its something that I haven’t done for years now. It has been amazingly difficult but it has totally transformed my

  17. Whoops sorry. It has transformed my perspective of myself, what I am looking for in a mate….and most of kept me and others from a lot of heart ache and frustration.
    I am still trying to figure out how to do this whole thing, but I am commited to not repeating the same mistakes and not being governed by my emotions.

    Thank you for your openness. And I’m really bummed that I missed you in Oregon!!!

    • Ha ha! Things on fire! I couldn’t remember the word towel in that moment since it was on fire. That was so funny.

      In my opinion, serial dating is absolutely not the answer. But I also think that feeling like you have to know you’re going to marry someone before you date them has created a culture where dating is very scary. I think it is really good to get to know someone before you marry them, and dating seems to be the way to do that. And there should be the freedom to break up once you get enough information to feel like it might not be a good match. So it is a hard balance. I am glad that you have a different perspective than me though, as I need to know how other people feel as well. Thanks for writing!

  18. When that Kissed Dating Goodbye wind blew through my group of friends in the 90’s I jumped on board only to realize a few years later that it just made us paranoid, judgemental, and mostly…lonely. We seriously need to learn to trust God to lead us in relationships and stop adding to the ten commandments.

    I really like your blog Kate! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Pingback: Why I’m Not A ‘Courter’ « Mistylb’s Weblog

  20. Well written, more common sense breakdown on the matter. It has indeed been a source of confusion for many people.

    The simplest way to carry this out, I believe, is no exclusive dating until engagement (ie no boyfriend/girlfriend exclusivity)..that’s when you know that’s the person you want to marry and you have had a chance to date several people and filter appropriately.It allows you the ability to be more objective and not get hung up on one person and lose time, then have to start over.

    I found a treasure trove of insights when looking for info on chaste dating a few years ago when I stumbled across the blog for A Guy Maligned at http://wwnh.wordpress.com/

    I recommend his blog for anyone looking for an older, Christian gentleman’s perspective on the issue of What Women Never Hear. He has also just published a book:”Where Did All the Good Men Go?” http://www.xulonpress.com/bookstore/bookdetail.php?PB_ISBN=9781619968349&HC_ISBN=

    • I don’t usually reply negatively to comments made, but that blog was very strange to me. It just felt it had a lot of undertones that were negative towards women. I might be wrong as I only read it for a while, but I had really negative feelings while reading it.

      Also, I have to say that I disagree with the no exclusive dating until engagement idea. My approach to dating is that it is incredibly important to really get to know someone well before you decide to marry them, and that requires a season of exclusivity.

      Of course you can have your own opinion on this, but I just wanted to state mine.


      • Thank you for replying back so quickly! I know the blog is not the norm, trust me I thought it was strange too, but not so much, as it actually matched with a lot of the science and history that I had researched,and still do. Much of it hearkens back to an earlier time. It does come across as a blunt and even brutally honest at times, but it is also a man’s perspective….hence, “What Women Never Hear.” I’d rather hear it now before I make more critical mistakes, knowing how men think about things. He shows that women need to be accountable for what they are doing and how their bad decisions have impacted everyone. He talks about the negatives, but also gives positive information and ways to counter them. It, among other things, have worked wonders in my life and I have drastically changed many of my actions because of it, and certainly for the better. I don’t agree with absolutely everything he says, though I do with most of it. The way the info is presented won’t appeal to everyone though, I understand.

        I suppose the only part I disagree on as far as the second para, is on the season of exclusivity or rather, when, and I would say its not required before the engagement,but is the engagement, as you can still change your mind.

        That said, everyone is different, and what works for one is not the same as what works for someone else. I totally respect and appreciate your thoughts and opinions,and your desire to state your different stance.

        Your words on, “Today, I am Lonely,” were especially touching and helpful for me.

        Thank you for your contributions 🙂

  21. It’s realy interesting to see how different are things like “dating” in different countries.
    Here in Spain, the “christian subculture” voice says you need to “know” the boy/girl you like, and stay some time “praying about it”. And then you go out with this person and then you get married. All this, if the “things” goes well.
    But I’m not agree with this time of “know each other and pray” because it’s more like a time you are a couple but it’s not official. I prefer datting with someone and be serious and mature to know how the relation needs to go, as good as possible, to a final (not be with this person, o marry them, cause it’s not normal be “datting” with then for 5-6 years)…
    But I like your point about “crappy” formulas… Let’s gonna date well 🙂

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