Amanda Barber

Stories, songs, and thoughts on life.

I am currently accepting voice, piano, and violin students. Learn more or

Courtship Schmortzship

20 August 2014

As you might have noticed, there’s an article making the rounds on Facebook called “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” I read it sometime last week and found it to be quite interesting, though I didn’t agree with most of it. It did, however, hit a nerve, and judging from the reaction I’ve seen from many of my friends, I was not the only one. If you have not read this article, you should before reading any further.

I’m a single girl in the last year of my twenties. I have one failed relationship to my name and two instances where guys have been interested in me and I could not return the favor. For the longest time before all of that, I thought I must be ugly because no one ever seemed interested and no one ever asked for me. I have since then discovered that I am not ugly and am actually quite attractive. At least the failed relationship I mentioned was good for that realization. Not only that, but every parent of marriageable young men with a five mile radius of me wants me for a daughter-in-law. If only their sons were so enthused. So, what’s the problem? According to the article above, girls like me stay single year after year after year because either courtship requires a guy to want to marry you before he gets to know you or your dad is an overbearing control-freak. The author of the article recommends a return to good “old-fashioned” dating. Hmmm. I sent the article to my brother-in-law to get his perspective. Jason is always good for a rational, non-reactionary, Biblical response to such things. He did respond, and I asked his permission to share his comments here. They are as follows:

Bottom line, I thought that the article was poor and unhelpful. We need good conversations on topics like this in order to gain wisdom, but this kind of article doesn’t promote wisdom. Here’s why I think this.

The problems begin with the title, “Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.” That’s a big claim, and if one is going to make such a claim, one needs to have something to back it up. This is what the article fails to provide. It would have been much better if the author had titled his article “Why We Need to Improve on Courtship” or “Suggestions for Courting Christians” or even “Why I Believe Dating Is Better than Courtship,” or something along those lines. That kind of humility in the title (and the article) would have gone a long way toward making this a vehicle for gaining wisdom instead of a reactionary exercise.

I suspect, though I could not verify it simply by reading this article, that some of the underlying problem prompting this kind of reaction is embodied in the sentence, “Each year I waited for courtship to start working….” If the trust was placed in this methodology, then that was a problem to begin with. It reminds me very much of reactions against Christian schools. Back in the 1970’s, starting Christian schools became very popular, even though many Christian schools had a weak basis. In the past ten years, we hear all the reactionary comments about Christian schools not working. I think people had misplaced expectations to begin with. A good biblical understanding of sanctification would be a great help at this point. The distorted understanding comes through loudly in this statement, “The deal was that if we put up with the rules and awkwardness of courtship now we could avoid the pain of divorce later.” When I read that, I wanted to exclaim, “What???” If this is really the way the author thought about courtship, then it is no wonder that courtship is a disaster. It was practically guaranteed to be a disaster if it was built on such an unbiblical foundation.

The author uses his grandparents’ generation and their dating practices as a foil for courtship. The unspoken assumption is “It worked for them.” But, with all historical integrity, we can ask, “Did it really?” Actual statistics don’t bear out the author’s paradigm. The entire twentieth century was a progression of getting worse and worse in the marriage and divorce departments. The “greatest generation” was pretty morally confused, in my opinion, and it showed in all kinds of ways, including relationships.

Another burr in my saddle regarding this article was that it was not well informed historically. The author makes unfounded generalizations, even in terminology like “traditional dating.” What was “traditional” about the way his grandparents dated? Actually, the way they dated was fairly “new-fangled” when they did it. The author also fails to take into account current sociological trends in general, like the fact that all Americans are waiting longer to get married these days and more and more of them are staying single, including the ones who date around like crazy. This is not an issue that can be compartmentalized as a courtship issue. Thus his entire cause-effect paradigm is open to serious doubt. For example, he puts in bold the statement, “a commitment to courtship is often a commitment to lifelong singleness.” Really? How does he know this? Anecdotes? What does he have to say to all the young women who have pursued dating with gusto but end up single?

So, by the time I got to the bold headline “Why the Courtship Divorce Rate Is So High,” I was about ready to stop reading this article. This is written by someone who seems to want to get lots of shares on Facebook by using shrill rhetoric. He goes on in the text to admit that there is little research on courtship divorce rates. So why put in bold what you admit you do not know?

At any rate, without interacting with every point he makes, I would have liked to see much better interaction with Scripture. Again, if he is going to claim a “fundamental” flaw in courtship, then he needs to demonstrate why it contradicts Scripture. He actually doesn’t even attempt to show that it contradicts Scripture (which, again, would be fine if he had made a more modest claim about his argument). I would have also liked to see much more rigorous moral reasoning, anchored in permanent moral truths, demonstrated in the broad expanse of human experience. If this article passes for good moral reasoning, may God help us all.

Now that I have given my unvarnished opinion about the article, I’d like to also say that I think the problems he reacts against are real problems. They need to be addressed. But articles like this just perpetuate the problem by adding more mess. Surely if the courtship groupies were spewing out simplistic, sloppy moralism, then throwing simplistic, sloppy, pro-dating moralism into the mix will help, right? Well, it will help create more mess. It won’t help people become more like Christ, which is what we are really after.

So much for that. Since reading Thomas Umstattd’s article, I have come across some articles on the subject that I found to be far more balanced and helpful. Top of the list is an article by Jesse Jost, “Saving the Baby: An Alternative to Courtship.” Here’s another good one, “Courtship: It’s Just Coffee,” by Hal and Melanie Young.