This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations, and I think a certain expectation deserves to be fleshed out more.
Last week, I said that I expected to “meet someone, maybe hang out a couple of times. Then he’d talk to my parents, and we would decide to ‘court’ (but rebelliously call it ‘dating’) because we’d already know that we were headed toward marriage.”
In the words of the great Inigo Montoya: Let me ‘splain. No, ‘tis too much. Let me sum up.
I grew up in the “courtship culture” that has generated national buzz with the recent weddings of two Duggar daughters. This belief system is basically thus: man meets woman, man gets to know woman in a community setting (like a church or family outings), man asks woman’s father for permission to pursue her, man and woman never go on unchaperoned dates, man asks woman’s father for permission to marry her, man and woman get married and have many babies.
I have a lot to say about it, but since there are many, many, MANY blogs and books and otherwise published opinions and commentary on this subject, it took me a while to figure out if I have anything to add to the conversation. Well, I do.
The biggest help: setting up a support system
The best part about the courting culture (as I see it) is that people are not alone in deciding who and how to court/date/marry. Their families are there, helping to identify red flags in the partners and in the relationship. The man and woman always have someone to ask questions of, get advice from, and include in decision-making.
Honestly, when I moved away from home, and I thought about dating away from my parents, I felt a little scared, thinking that I wouldn’t have the support system. Luckily (or perhaps providentially), I found a church that is willing to be that support system – to give me feedback about someone if I’m interested, tell them to go away if I’m not, and offer advice on how to date in such a way that makes Jesus (instead of the other person) always be at the center of the relationship.
So my biggest takeaway value from the courting culture is that “no relationship is an island.”
The biggest harm: setting up expectations
However, the biggest problem with the courtship culture (as I see it) is that it sets up courting as
- A for-sure way to get a spouse
- The only way to get a spouse
While my parents always said, “God will bring along the right person, if it’s His will for you to get married,” the message I got from the books, the leaders at Awana and church, and the courting-culture kids around me was, “God’s will IS to bring you the right person, as long as you commit to virginity and courting.”
It was presented as a formula: obey your parents, never have a crush on anyone, never EVER go on dates, and don’t even THINK about holding hands until you’re engaged; if you’re a good girl and do all these things, God will give you a happy relationship and marriage.
Many times, that worked. Many times, it didn’t. Some people followed this formula and got bad relationships and unhappy marriages. Some people didn’t follow this formula and got what I’d been promised. Others, like me, are still waiting at 31 years old for someone to ask their dads for permission to court them.
The way courtship is/was presented set me up with certain expectations that I’ve just now – this year, with this blog – been able to identify and process. Those expectations over the years have led to disappointment, despair, and hopelessness. They’ve pointed me to something temporary, and each year I spent single reminded me that my hope and heart was for something other than Jesus.
So my biggest takeaway non-value from the courting culture is that, “it’s okay and good to expect to get a man.”
A side note
Courtship training didn’t prepare me for singleness. At all. As all my courting friends got married and started popping out babies, I waited expectantly for my turn. I’d determined to be a “good wife waiting to happen.” I knew how to craft, clean, and care for babies.
I didn’t know how to be single; it didn’t even occur to me until the end of my sophomore year in college that singleness might be my life for a while. None of the books or sermons or examples set before me had prepared me for a life with a career and roommates instead of a husband and kids.
I think the proponents of the courting culture mean well. The parents and pastors and leaders and authors want to protect their kids from heartbreak and wild oats and bad decisions. They identified this particular method as one in which they could be closely involved in the protection of their children, and sometimes it worked.
But it set us up with expectations and told us (or at least it told me) that the ultimate goal of my life is marriage, that I will be a complete person when I have a husband and a large, happy passel of kids. Instead of looking to a formula or a method, to a relationship or a wedding, to a person or to preparation for “’til death do we part,” I should have been looking to Jesus.
In Jesus, the only formula I need is “we love Him, because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).
In Jesus, the only relationship that will NEVER let me down is the one with my Heavenly Husband (II Cor 11:2).
In Jesus, the only person I need to please has already asked my Heavenly Father for my hand in marriage. He has already wooed me, utterly and completely, and ensured that death will never part us (Rev. 21:4).
I’m not saying that I was never pointed to Christ. Most of the message I got was filtered through the desires for wife-hood and mother-hood that I nurtured even before I ever picked up “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” – heck, before I could even read. Even Joshua Harris says in “Boy Meets Girl” that your relationship with God is more important than your relationship with a future spouse (though I distinctly remember the relationship with God being a means to the spouse in that book).
It’s possible I read into the formula an intention that wasn’t there – at least, it wasn’t one that my parents would have overtly promoted. But the formula was there in the culture all around me, and for yeeeeeeaarrrrrs, I chose to trust in that instead of in God’s plan which would have brought me hope and whatever the opposites of despair and disappointment are.
So if I ever get married, and if I ever have kids, I want their takeaways to be: I’m here for you until death parts us; and Jesus is here for you always, whether you find a spouse or not.
Come to think of it, that’s pretty much exactly what my parents have always told me. It just took me until my 30’s to get it.