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?

90’s Dating Gone Bad #1: Dating Isn’t Biblical

In my post “Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs,” I mentioned that for most of my adult life, I wanted God to make a decision for me about getting married rather than making a decision with Him. Why did I want God to make the decision for me? Because I was scared to death of dating. Why was I scared? I’ll tell you why I was scared: my prime dating years began in the 90’s.  A decade I would like to refer to as “Christian dater’s hell.”

This era started with a handful of well intentioned  books, the most popular one being written by a 21 year old, which is kind of sobering when you consider what happened next. The books turned into a Christian phenomenon that turned into a bunch of rules that turned into tsunami whose wake we are still recovering from.

Here is a brief summing up of the rules that came about in this era.

Rule #1: Dating isn’t biblical.

Rule #2: You should never date. You should only court.

Rule #3:  Families should be involved with picking the spouse.

Rule #4: If you do court, you should never ever be alone with the person. Because being alone leads to kissing. And kissing leads to sex. And sex leads to dancing. And we cannot have any dancing now, can we?

Rule #5: If you do court, you better darned well know you are going to marry the person from the first group date you go on. Because you can’t court and then break up. That goes against the very nature of courting.

Most of my single friends and I agree that this was the most detrimental decade to be a Christian  looking for love in the history of mankind.  (Let me add that I do think that most of these guidelines are actually a smart idea for teenagers. But for fully grown adults, they just don’t work well.)

In my next few posts, I am going to look at each of these guidelines and how there may be a few holes in them. I will also try to challenge us with ways to create a more healthy dating culture.

I will start with Rule #1: Dating isn’t biblical:

It is true that dating isn’t biblical. It’s not in the bible. So maybe we should try a marriage philosophy that is in the bible; polygamy. David had lots of wives.  Solomon was the wisest man on earth, and he pretty much had an entire motel full of them. That’s in the bible, so it must be biblical. Taking up this biblical marriage practice would solve a lot of problems. We all know that there are probably about fifteen Christian women for every one Chrstian man. If we just started practicing this tradition, voila! Problem solved!

Of course, we understand that this is not a good idea. We understand that this was a part of the Hebrew culture and surrounding cultures (mostly in the upper class), but that it was never necessarily God’s best. Just because it is in the Bible does not mean that it is right. And conversely, just because it is not in the Bible does not mean that it is wrong. Sometimes it just means that it was not yet a part of the culture.

Our culture is so different then the culture of the bible. When our father wants to buy some land, he doesn’t offer our hand in marriage along with twenty camels and a flock of sheep. Marriage is no longer a business proposition like it used to be. It is a search for a life companion.

Women have so many more rights than they used to that they now get to choose the man they spend their life with. They also are able to make enough money to live off of, and so it is not required of them to have a husband in order to survive. (Throughout history,  there were few alternatives to marriage for livelihood besides prostitution for women.) Women’s rights  have been one of the major factors in our society that brought us from a culture  of arranged marriages to a culture where we can date.  Therefore, dating is not necessarily a bad institution. It is an institution that has progressed as the marriage institution has changed. As we became more independent as a culture, we also became more independent in the way that we chose our mate.

People will argue that the way the western world dates now ends in a 50% divorce rate. I would absolutely agree with them. We live in a culture that is so set on having pleasure that sometimes we stomp on anyone we to get it. We sleep around as if sex was as much of a commitment as buying a cup of coffee in the morning. Some people seem to try spouses on and then throw them out like they are jeans that have gone out of style. Our popular culture has little or no value for covenant and often makes fun of the sacred institution of marriage. I know that this is not the best way. Jesus weeps when relationships are this broken, and so do I.

At the same time, I don’t want to go back to a culture where I am seen as a commodity, where I have no choice in something as important as a man I will live with the rest of my life and that will father my children. I do believe that dating is an institution that has been abused. But just because people around us abuse it or the media might abuse it doesn’t mean we have to.

Instead of seeing dating as unhealthy because it is not in the bible, or unhealthy because people around us have abused it, maybe we can use it as an effective tool in choosing a good partner. We can have good boundaries in our dating. We can learn a lot about ourselves and what match would make sense for us. We can make wise, educated decisions because we have spent good time with different people and ultimately the person we are going to be committed to. Dating can become very useful in our journey of marrying well if we use it the right way.

Maybe now we can come into a new era where we can side hug dating hello. (I would say kiss dating hello, but we need to have good boundaries now, don’t we?)

Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs

HEY EVERYONE! I HAVE A NEW FANPAGE! HIT THE BUTTON TO THE RIGHT AND SPREAD THE WORD!

About ten years ago, my boyfriend Ken and I were contemplating marriage. I was  as scared as a pregnant porcupine.

Back then, I was more of a “pray them up, knock em down, move em out” Christian, and I really put a lot of stock in signs. I would pray for them all the time. “God if you really want me to marry him, please have someone stand on their head in the middle of this convenience store.” Stuff like that.

I fasted several times for the relationship, begging for signs  from God. I did one especially long fast. I started out with water only. Soon, I was throwing cherry pie into the blender.  I was on the verge of trying steak smoothie when I finally got my answer in the middle of the night.

I had a dream that I opened my bible to Fourth Chronicles. That was the whole dream.

I woke up the next day, and being the astute Christian scholar that I am, realized that there was no Fourth Chronicles. So I looked up I Chronicles 4 instead.

These were the shocking words that I read that day:
“The sons of Judah: Judah begat Pharez, Hezron, and Carmi, and Hur, and Shobal. These are the families of the Zorathites.”

Bingo. That was it. I was supposed to marry him.

Okay, that’s not really what happened. I was more like “what the heck is this? Come on God. I wanted a sign and I got a bunch of begets?”

Almost as a joke, I said, “God, if I’m supposed to marry Ken, put a version of his name in here.”

I turned the page and there it was, clear as day.

“These are the men of Rechah. And these are the sons of Kenaz.”

Kenaz certainly sounded like the Hebrew version of Ken to me. I had my answer.

What happened next? I will give you one hint. I am still the sexy celibate and it is ten years later.

Many years passed. Another serious boyfriend and I, let’s call him Gavin, were praying about whether or not we should get married. During the course of our relationship, he had really struggled with whether he loved me or not. We had separated into different cities for a season, (you know, the whole “we’re taking a break to pray” deal that actually means “we’re freaking out.”)  We had met together to reevaluate and he said that he wanted to move to my town and pursue making a long term commitment. I was worried that he would still struggle with whether he loved me or not and was very hesitant for him to move.

Soon after, I went to visit my mom. She said “Kate, I saved this for you.” She handed me a game of boggle she had been playing. If you haven’t seen boggle before, there are little dice with letters on them that you shake and they randomly come up on the playing board. Then you compete to find short words. Clear as day, the words “Gavin is in love” were on the little squares. I mean, out  of 16  letters, those were the ones that happened to be rolled. I have the picture to prove it.

What are the odds of that?

I had my sign. And my mom had 20 more boggle points.

Gavin and I broke up three weeks later.

I have a new philosophy on dating now, one that makes a lot more sense to me.

Step 1: Dating is about getting good information on whether or not this is a good match. Try to get good information every day.

Step 2: As you get more information, be very conscious of “your truth”- what is going on inside of you emotionally and logically. Remember that it is very wise to try to look at the fruit of something when it is still a seed.

Step 3: Don’t ask yourself whether you should get married too fast. Just ask yourself whether it sounds fun to spend the next holiday with him or her.

Step 4: Over time, when you get enough good information, prayerfully make a decision about whether the best thing is to get married or to break up.

Marriage, my friends, is serious business. And many of us in the believing community have created a culture where we feel pressured to know if we should get married within the first few dates. (I will post more on this later.) This can be dangerous. A decision this important deserves respect and time.

The truth is, if you get a sign, that may be good information, but it is not even close to all the information you need. If you “just know” the minute you go on a date with someone, that is good information, but it is not all the information you need.

I do believe God can use signs as part of your journey towards a decision, but you should’t depend on them. You have to remember that He can use other means to speak to you as well.

Sometimes he can use answers to practical questions. How does your boyfriend treat his mother? How does your girlfriend handle stress? Is he kind to people even in difficult circumstances? Does he talk well about me in front of other people, even in private? Do we love each other even when our projections of each other have finally been lowered, a process that can take months or even years? Would she be a good mother?  Do we communicate well? Do we have fun together? Are we a good match?

These are questions that take time to answer. Do not rush answering them.

I have learned that the reason I asked God for signs is because I was scared. I wanted Him to make decisions for me. Now, I have grown up. I want to make decisions with Him.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you have your own stories of signs gone right or wrong? Do you think dating this way makes sense? Have you ever been as scared as a pregnant porcupine?