Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Criticism of Courtship

***Anytime I talk about Courtship, I am talking about Joshua Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye/Boy Meets Girl and T. G. Morrow's Christian Courtship in an Oversexed World. These are the most popular and well-known contemporary books on the subject, and it's their work that I will be addressing.***

Yes. This is it. The oft-requested, long-awaited, sure-to-anger attack on Courtship. And I've been trying to write this damned thing for days.

My college roommate Benjamin used to make jokes about Ave Courtships. We'd sit some freshmen down in our room and slowly lead the conversation to women. Suddenly Ben and I would grow very serious. "It's sad," he'd say with fake solemnity, "How few people understand that pre-marital eye contact leads to pre-marital conversation. Because you know where that inevitably leads." He'd look to me with a gleam in his eye. "Pre-marital hand holding." The both of us would maintain perfect poker faces and slowly, sadly shake our heads and reflect on how far Catholic romances had fallen. "It used to be," I'd say, "that the brides wore decent full-body veils at the wedding. To prevent pre-marital sight of one another. Nowadays you even have pre-marital smiling. At the altar! In front of a priest!" Ben would lament with me: "There's no shame anymore, no shame whatsoever." And we'd drink to the olden days when men had never even heard of women before their wedding day - how much sacredness must have been preserved, back then. And after a little period of silence, we'd finally look at the completely confused freshmen and bust out laughing. It was awesome.

The joke worked so well because there is so much truth to it. Many Catholics seem to have a Slippery Slope argument tucked in the backs of their minds. To preserve the sacredness of marriage and of sex, they (over)react to the current hook-up culture by letting sacredness drip down into every act of intimacy between a man and a woman. And that is the basis for the current Courtship fad (and also the Muslim dress code, by the by). Before beginning my little criticism in earnest, I will say that I was once a staunch member - a leader, even - of the Courtship trend. Just ask my household brothers. They got sick of me really, really fast. But that is all behind me. I have engaged in pre-marital conversation at least once over break and and my New Year's resolution is to engage in prolonged and provocative pre-marital eye contact.

But let's be serious for just a second. Courtship does deserve a fair chance, and the people promoting it have done good - great - things for our teenage years. The guys who have been pushing Courtship (Jason Evert, Joshua Harris, Fr. Morrow, etc.) have also been behind the purity and chastity movements that have redirected huge portions of our youth away from the hook-up culture. Their service on that front has been absolutely invaluable for myself and for many of my closest friends, and for our generation. These guys are worthy of our respect and admiration, and I say that with all sincerity. They were the only people to stand up to a culture of use and abuse. And for that they should be lauded.

But let's look at this Courtship idea as a seperate entity than the purity and chastity concept. If you need Courtship to remain chaste, then stop reading now. In your case I have no problem with Courtship and I think it's good. You need to take things slow and you need to put the restrictions on. But in many cases, chastity isn't the issue. In many cases, it's just a matter of finding the right person.

And when it comes down to finding Mr. Right and Ms. Right, I think that Courtship has very little to offer. Why? Because Courtship asks you to take things slow. Very slow. Just slow enough for you to get close to that person and for it to hurt if you break up, but too slow to find out whether they are the one before the emotions are tied up. Maybe a few examples will help illustrate this point.

Let's say I go to a party, and I see a girl there. Let's call her Elvira. Let's say I know almost nothing about Elvira. I've only seen her once before. But it doesn't matter; it's love at first sight. I find Elvira extremely attractive. Maybe she is a gorgeous blonde with an amazing smile. Maybe I'm impressed that she likes beer. Maybe she is friendly, open, and seemingly more intelligent than I. Maybe she is confident and Catholic and single. Maybe I'm a little intimidated, but she's irresistable. I can't help but like her. What do I do?!?!

Well, Courtship would direct me to ask her on something informal, something small, something easy. You all know what I'm talking about. Coffee. I never drink coffee so I'm already biased against this idea, but let's roll with it. This little get-together needs to be short. Real short. I'm talkin' 30 minutes, an hour short, by the Courtship standards. I'm not making any of this up, this is straight out of these books. And then, I won't see Elvira or really have any meaningful communication with her for another week or two. And then I get to have coffee again. A week later maybe lunch, for 45 minutes. So in a month's period I talk to her for about 4 hours total. 5 hours max. And during this time, we aren't anything. Yet.

And I say yet because Courtship goes straight from nuthin' to sumthin' BIG. I'm supposed to go from Hi My Name Is Daniel to Hi I'd Like To Consider Discerning Marriage With You in what feels like 2.5 seconds. You see, Courtiers don't mess around (except in those beginning weeks when they give no sign of how they feel). They jump straight into it. And when I say they jump straight into it...I mean they start moving towards intimacy at the pace of a molasses-covered sea snail.

It's right about here that I have to ask the question...and you know what I'm about to ask. How does ANYONE expect to learn ANYTHING about ANYBODY using a program like this!?!! I mean, if I'm out to get to know someone, I need some time, people! I can't stare into your coffee cup and read your soul in its reflection! Let's look at this commonsensically. You are trying to find a soul mate. Someone who is going to spend the rest of their life with you. I don't think that a 45 minute coffee conversation is going to reveal very much about your compatibility. Let's be honest - almost anyone reading this blog would have something entertaining to talk about for 45 minutes. I can hold a fart in for at least an hour! Elvira wouldn't even discover how much bad gas I have!

But what about 2 or 3 hours? A little harder, right? And a little more revealing, perhaps? I think so. In fact, I think that you need to make that first date long. Plan it long. Think it long. Because you ain't gonna have no neutral feelings after 2 hours. You are for sure going to feel something. Poor Elvira will probably have smelt something, too. She will have found out that I am a messy eater. That I'm not nearly as funny in real life as I think I am on paper. That I usually have to hit a serious subject if we are going to sit for that long. You will discover much more about a person much faster than you would if you had 3 coffee dates. Why? Because I can reload my jokes for each coffee date. I can plan out conversations for 3 coffee dates. But if we are 3 hours into our first date, guess what! Elvira is going to be seeing the true Monty, in all my akward vicious protective nerd glory. And I will be seeing the real Elvira, on her toes, thinking on her feet, interacting with me without a plan. It's what I call a Discovery Date. And it is extremely valuable because I want to know if we are really compatible. I don't want to know if we can be business partners. I want to know if we can be life partners.

And I'm not interested in building up to that Discovery Date. I don't want to ease into the 3-hour convo. I don't want to waste time with a person, only to find out a month or two later that once we just start being together without plans or preparation, we're bored out of our minds.

That's really what I am getting at: Courtship does not aim to discover the other person. It aims to hide the other person with the pretense of protecting both parties' hearts. I have an unfortunate revelation to give to all of you: when you put yourself out there for someone to like or dislike, there is a good chance they will dislike you. But there is no getting around that.

True romance needs to be frontloaded with Discovery Dates, not Coffee Conversations. At one point, I considered entitling this post "Courtship is for Cowards," though I decided against it since it's not entirely true. Like I said above, Courtship is useful where one or both parties have serious sexual histories (for example, Jason Evert and Joshua Harris, who both pointed out in their books that they needed to avoid putting themselves in certain situations). But if you do not have that history, then there is no need for Courtship. Dive in deep and find the other person. Don't waste your time and don't waste their time; don't hold back because you are afraid that you may be rejected. Courage is acknowledging a fear and deciding to ignore it - this is a chance for courage!!

So I reject the Courtship scenario in favor of Discovery Dates. My own theory is a practical one. It involves 3 dates, that's all. I'd take Elvira out on those 3 dates, and I'd have fun with them. They don't have to be extravagant, but I'd make 'em fun, long, and interesting. Most importantly, though, I'd make it personal. No double dates. No "hanging out" with friends. It'd be me and Elvira. And I bet by the end of those 3 dates, Elvira would have a very good idea of what I have to offer, and vice versa. See what happens. If those 3 dates go well, then guys, be classy and ask the dad to date the daughter. Why not before the first date? 'Cause it freaks the girl out if she has no idea who you are, buddy!!

Bottom line: Courtship puts way too much pressure on the relationship by making it a serious commitment a la "We're Discerning Marriage Together," while at the same time allowing for very little real discovery of the other person. I have more problems with the second part than I do with the first because, really, we are looking for spouses. But I'm not really going to even consider that until I've gotten to know someone quite a bit better than a few coffee convos.

I could and probably will write much more at a later time (I really should just write a book and it, since I have about 20 paragraphs that I am not including in this post, plus much more I could say about it). I am sure this post seems scattered, but I hope that I have gotten my two main points across. I planned on adding a substantial amount of JPII's Fair Love principles from the Theology of the Body and his other works. And I wanted to bring in some classic literature to further make my point (do you know any great romances involving coffee dates and a fear of holding hands? No!). And I wanted to get further into my theory than just the 1st 3 dates...but I guess Elvira will have to wait to find out the theoretics beyond that.

I'm sorry I have not posted for so long. My poetry was held up by a Nativity poem that I reaaaally wanted to post by Christmas, and my regular posts have been held up by this monstrosity. I seriously wrote about twice as much as is on this page, but I was discussing too many things and realized that I was just not going to be able to say everything I wanted to say in one post. I am sure that there will be many questions and comments and I will respond to them either in the comments section here or in another post. Don't worry - it ain't over. And I am back for good. ;)

And for the D'Ambrosios: Advance Australia Fair!


  1. This was really, really interesting!

    I had no idea how extreme courtship had become. A lot of retreats I went on while in my teens briefly mentioned "courtship," but I think the trend was just starting. I had totally forgotten how frustrating I found those chastity talks until I read your post. The content must have drawn heavily from those books you mentioned, especially since the titles ring a bell. Anyway, I don't know what went on in the boys' sessions, but I found the girls' sessions pretty disturbing at times. (Obviously whenever they even MENTIONED chastity they needed to split by gender so there would be no premarital eye contact. I understand the goal of separate discussions because guys and girls are reacting to different hormones, but seriously, they wouldn't even mention sex in front of a mixed audience.)

    Back to my prolonged story. A lot of the youth groups and retreats I attended attached a serious taboo to any kind of physical contact, as a counter to the hook-up culture, and I found that really destructive. The physical aspect of relationships was the ONLY topic discussed -- any consideration of discovery was completely neglected. I didn't realize the first several times, but after maybe three or four I found those talks just exasperating. I'm just going to stop myself before I post a ridiculously lengthy comment.

    Welcome back to the blogging world!! :)

  2. Go on Netflix and watch the Dating/Courting episodes of 18 kids and counting. You will laugh.

  3. All fairly true, but when ideal scenarios have to become reality, don't forget that a lot of gals might not be up for becoming even just-friends that quickly. It might be a great idea to go out on a nice long date, but don't assume she's a cold fish or not-into-you or boring or has bought into the overreaction-courtship-mentality if she holds back a lot or doesn't want the date to last as long as you'd planned.

    I know this is a depressing way of looking at it, but revealing who you are to someone gives them a far greater ability to hurt because it reveals exactly HOW to best hurt you. It's not just giving them the opportunity, it's giving them the tools. Now, obviously, that's not something to dwell on too much, and it's a risk you have to take for any friendship whatsoever. My point is that you have to give the person a chance to learn to trust you a bit before you can expect them to give you all that.

    I do agree with the basic idea - just saying that it's going to pan out very differently depending on a person's temperament, how much they've been hurt, etc.

  4. Very interesting! It's definitely something else to think about!

    Fair love! Fair love! Fair love!

    Glad you're back!

  5. Yeah dude. I think some of the qualifications you put on this since the last time we talked makes it a lot easier to stomach. The paradox of absolute commitment without personal connection is definitely a very very very very dumb thing and I can't believe anyone buys it.


    Here is my theory. Only date in Australia, and you wont have to worry about any of this.
    Actually that's not totally true. When I was down there last weekend, some of them were making fun of the courtship phenomenon too. Turns out that not only Catholics read those books.

  6. You know, it's something I had never considered before, but I really think your most convincing argument against courtship is the one about you being able to hold in a fart for an hour. WHAT DECEIT!!!!

    Lol seriously though...I agree with Lisa. I think this "3 date" thing can definitely make some girls feel objectified, if the guy ONLY shows interest insofar as to date her, and as soon as he finds out he doesn't want to date her, he drops her like it's hot. I'd say it would probably be a better approach, in general, to at least spend SOME time getting to know her just as a friend, in groups. Not saying this has to be a super long time or anything, but I think there has to be some sort of basis of a friendship first. Then, you can do the 3 date thing to dig deeper and see if you are compatible to date.

    Just my two cents, but believe me, I have had PLENTY of conversations with PLENTY of girls about this!

  7. Allyson: Yeah, I remember the sex talks, and I agree that by the third or fourth, it became detrimental. I still think the first two were pretty good though. We weren't hearing it from anyone else, that's for sure!

    Rose: I laughed, and I cringed...especially when all 17 siblings were pressed up against the window watching for the incoming couple. *shudder*

    Lisa: You're probably right - it will be different based on the potential couples' past experiences as individuals. In the fantasy world where no one has been seriously hurt and there is no fear between the two parties, I still think my theory would be best. In the real world...well, things would have to change.

    K-Mo: Why would it make girls feel objectified!?! I think that's a little ridiculous. I don't think it's ridiculous to be trying to find The One in the easiest and best way possible.

  8. Well, girls sometimes feel when the guy uses that approach, all he cares about is finding "the one," and that he doesn't actually care about her as a person. Which may or may not be the case. And, I would say this was more the case at Ave (which we all know is sooo realistic) than it probably is in the real world, where girls aren't as sensitive and don't want THEIR time wasted either! Either way, though...I don't think some sort of base of friendship first would be a bad thing. Like Lisa said, the girl needs to have some reason to trust you before she'll just share everything with you.

  9. Do you agree that most people that break up end up not being friends afterwards? Because if you do, then I think it makes sense to just see if the romance will work or won't and just get it over with.

  10. I am finding myself in agreement with Karen and Lisa. Your post is very interesting and I must agree that the whole courtship thing has been taken a little too far! *understatement* Its also not just due to a fear of getting hurt thought that girls might not want to move that quickly. In the "real" world something to take into consideration is that safety is a real concern for girls, especially if you haven't really hung out in groups together before. Honestly, how is she supposed to know that you aren't some kind of creeper or won't make her uncomfortable? At this point you really haven't given her any reason to trust you with her person much less her heart! (All opening up includes an element of the heart/tools to hurt)Now it absolutely does not have to move as slowly as all those "painful" talks/books say. Having a base that allows for friendship/trust is NOT a bad thing, however. Honesty/Time = Trust - in other words - Honesty over Time equals Trust!

    Just something to think about!

  11. If safety is a concern (and I agree that it often is), then meet at a restaurant where there are plenty of other people. Eat. Hang out. Then go your seperate ways. If he is a creeper, or if he makes you uncomfortable, then guess what - just leave! And since you're not friends, and you haven't hung out together, you never have to see him or her again! lol.

    It's so funny to me that I see this from an entirely different angle than you girls. I don't WANT to bring a girl I don't know well to hang out with my friends! I'd much rather get to know them first, and if it works, bring 'em over.

    Look, this is what I'm trying to point out: these things that protect you (hanging out in groups, going on little coffee dates, being friends first) are also things that stop you from asking the most central questions (what are your dreams? what are your most central beliefs? what motivates your daily life?) which are the ones that will most likely affect your ability to BE with this person. I hate having to use this sentence, but I will: PERSONALLY, I don't want to wait to find out the answers to those questions. I want those answers ASAP. And I do not want to find out through intermediaries - I want it straight from the persons' mouth. Others may be willing to "feel out" a person's answers slowly and over the course of time, and they may then retain many of those protections. But I'd rather lean towards Discovery than towards Safety, because I think that there is more safety in earlier discovery than later.

  12. Nicely said! I understand what you are saying. First of all it isn't as easy to see it that way. I would say that in general most girls just don't want to become a statistic so that is constantly in the back of their minds. Its just something that you should be mindful of. That element, whether silly in your sight or not, is there. So when you ask her out you better do it in away that makes her feel like its not stupid to say yes. Lol!

    Here's the thing, lots of girls don't want to play around/take forever to "feel out" what in the heck the guys intentions are. Straight up, straight forward, honesty is absolutely, %100 refreshing! I know I prefer a guy that will let me know whats up instead of playing around with me and wasting my time, as you so bluntly put it. Its just that becoming friends with a person and laying that as a foundation does show you what kind of a person they are, and allows for an "assessment" of your ability to BE with said person. The time it takes for that is different for each situation and you can hinder or help it with what you do/how you go about it. Question: 1) at the end of your "discovery dates" do you plan on remaining friends with "elvira" if things don't work out romantically? 2) how do you see being friends as preventing you from asking those questions?

    And btw, who said ANYTHING about using intermediaries to find out that deep stuff!! You should always hear that from their lips in my opinion!! Otherwise there could be problems!

  13. As a girl - I have a few notes (mostly regarding things said in the comments)

    Monty - you are right, who wants to take someone they don't really know to meet their friends? How about if the guy I like turns out to be a total loser? Then I've not only wasted my evening, but I've annoyed my friends.

    If women are afraid to go on a first date alone, then maybe they shouldn't be going on the date at all. It's very easy to meet somewhere public and leave by yourself.

    Finally, please do not ask my dad if you can date me. I am a grown woman and can decide for myself. I am not my father's property and the idea of asking for permission is outdated. If I found out that after 3 dates a guy asked my dad if he could 'date me', that would be the end of the relationship.

  14. Dear Anonymous,
    I like your style. So much that I think we should seriously enter into a marriage discernment process.
    Don't worry, I have gotten your fathers permission and have four or five friends who have agreed to hang out with us so that we don't have to be alone.

  15. I couldn't agree more with everything you said. In the real world, there is no shelter from getting hurt. It's called life. It's crazy how many girls at Ave live in this fantasy land where everything is perfect and relationships are perfect. Reality is not always nice. Keep it up!

  16. The maturity level of the people involved will determine how you apply many of these truths. The fact is that most couples early on are so fogged by romance that there ability to discover is not possible. They are on their best behavior and are not truly honest in their responses. They are going to tend to say what you want to hear. Until there are neutral emotions the integrity of the relationship cannot be discovered and hence it is not a safe guide.

    So how do you know you are seeing the real side of a person? That is the question to ask.
    The truth is that many key issues and conflicting traits can be hidden for a long time. If you are not identifying disagreements and things you do not like....Trust me, you are not there yet.
    "The One" mentality is both dangerous and reckless when approaching mate selection. The longer you can keep a question mark on it, the more open you will be to the discovery process.

  17. Its really interesting to hear another opinion on courtship! As a homeschooled girl, this has been a reality check...not that I agree with everything you've said...just that I think you have addressed some crucial points!
    Also, its too bad, Anonymous, that you don't respect or accept your dad's protection...ya, it totally sounds outdated and all...but if you can't respect your dad's protection, how can you respect your future husbands? Just saying...

  18. I Kissed Dating Goodbye is not necessarily about dating vs. courtship as much as it is not pursuing romantic relationships until the proper time. Whatever your views on dating/courting, and whether you are currently dating or not, there are many helpful tips to be found in this book.


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