“Courting? What’s that?” you might ask. “It sounds like something people did a couple of centuries ago.”
“Yeah, but dating is more trouble than it’s worth,” your friends might say. “You waste a lot of time with someone who’s not interested in any sort of commitment!”
Many young people, especially Christians, are evaluating the pros and cons of dating and investigating other options for finding a life-long spouse. Let’s examine what courting is, how it’s different from dating, and whether it might be a better option for you.
What is courting?
When you court someone, it’s not a casual flirtation or just finding someone to hang out with. It’s getting to know a person on many levels to determine if that’s the person you want to marry. Two people enter a courtship relationship with the understanding that it’s a prayerful and purposeful opportunity to determine if marriage is right for the two of you.
Therefore, what occurs during courting may differ from traditional dating. Courting involves a lot of talking about all sorts of things to determine if you share common goals, values, and lifestyles. Courting is intentional. Proponents of courting believe it’s neither healthy nor realistic just to let a relationship unfold on its own. Courting avoids getting emotionally involved until you know if the two of you can commit.
So, what do two courting people do when they’re together? They talk about everything: their spirituality, core values, goals, finances, love languages, having and raising children, and so on. They also get feedback from their parents and other godly advisors. Do they see any red flags? Do they feel the two of you are well suited?
A courting couple focuses on developing spiritually together. They pray together and study the Bible together.
Courtship isn’t just talking, praying, and Bible study. Courting couples should spend time having fun together, like playing board games or sports. That’s a great way to learn certain things about that person, like how competitive they are, how they deal with losing, and if they lose their temper quickly. Engaging with others in group activities – such as with your families or church groups – is a wonderful way to get to know each other on a different level.
What is dating?
The goal of dating can be different things for different people and sometimes different things for the same person. Many people date when they are too young to marry or not ready to settle down. For some people, the goal of dating is marriage, but for others, it’s simply a pleasant way to pass the time. Some people consider dating a way to hook up for sexual encounters. Of course, that shouldn’t be the case for Christians. Still, all too often, casual dating, even for Christians, ends up in sexual intimacy. Before they know it, they might be living with someone they’re not sure they want to marry.
Dating usually involves going out and doing things together – going to the movies, walking on the beach, eating out, etc. It is a way to get to know each other, but often the relationship is superficial because some dating couples don’t discuss important topics.
Dating can be confusing and hurtful because two people in a dating relationship might have different goals. One might be interested in commitment and marriage, while the other is simply a little lonely and bored and is looking for casual companionship. Another thing, dating isn’t necessarily exclusive. That person you go out with tonight might date another person next week and then call you to go out the week after.
Marriage is always the end goal of courtship. To this end, a young person doesn’t begin courting until he or she is old enough to marry and is ready to commit. Suppose your goal is to complete college before marriage or launch your career or ministry. In that case, that should be done before initiating courtship. Most courting relationships lead to marriage relatively quickly, generally within a year.
As a couple gets to know each other better, they may find some areas where they are not compatible – such as different goals or disagreements about having children or how to raise them. Some of these obstacles can be resolved after discussing them with their parents, pastor, or godly mentors. However, some issues can’t be fixed. For instance, if one person feels called to be a missionary in Asia and the other doesn’t, that marriage won’t work.
Because they haven’t gotten emotionally involved and are discussing stuff like this early on in the courtship, courting couples can agree to end the courtship on a friendly note. In a sense, courtship saves a lot of wasted time and trauma because it keeps things on an objective level until the couple has a good idea of whether they want to move forward or not. Marriages following courtship are more likely to endure because couples have hashed out a lot of topics before committing.
By contrast, marriage may or may not be the objective of dating. Many couples date with no sense of commitment. Even when marriage is the final objective, dating couples tend to segue from one stage of their relationship to another without being intentional about learning valuable information. Their time together might be focused on having fun doing something or getting physically involved.
There’s nothing wrong with having fun activities together, but if marriage is the end goal of dating, couples must sit down and talk about critical things. For instance, what about their commitment to God, career aspirations, financial habits, opinions about being in debt, and what they’re passionate about? Some dating couples fall hopelessly in love without knowing these things and then have unhappy marriages because they disagree on the essentials.
Courting almost always involves parental approval. Courting is usually done with the blessing, protection, and guidance of godly parents. Even if one’s parents aren’t believers, their approval is still essential, as they are more objective in character assessment than a young person is likely to be. However, suppose one doesn’t have Christian parents, or they’re not on board with the courting concept. In that case, it’s wise to seek out other older, godly mentors to monitor the relationship. Courting generally involves accountability with at least one parent or godly adult regarding sexual purity.
Dating may or may not involve parental approval. If a person is still in their teens, the parents might insist on meeting and approving their dates. But adult young people, especially if they aren’t living at home, rarely consult their parents on who they’re dating. If a dating relationship becomes serious, they might bring that person over to meet the folks. They may be interested in getting their parents’ opinion of the person, but a negative opinion isn’t necessarily a game changer. Dating couples rarely are accountable to their parents or anyone else regarding sexual activity.
The motive for courting is always marriage. It’s about getting to know the person before becoming emotionally involved to decide if this is the person you want to marry.
Dating can have multiple motives: sex, personal pleasure, fun, a sense of worth, companionship, and even getting back at a former lover who jilted you. Dating couples usually are seeking love, and some have the motive of marriage. However, marriage often isn’t the primary motive for most dating couples.
Most courting advocates frown on physical affection between two courting people – no holding hands, kissing, embracing, and most certainly no sexual relations. Why? Because when a couple gets physically involved, even if it doesn’t lead to sex, it affects their emotions and clouds objectivity. Objectivity and common sense are intrinsic to courting.
On the other hand, some Christians get physically involved very soon in a dating relationship and even have sexual relations. They might even live together out of wedlock. Other Christians are committed to purity before marriage but engage in kissing, hand-holding, and embracing. They may find it difficult to stop in the heat of the moment and get more sexually involved than they intended. Even if they don’t go all the way, if physical affection leads to sexual desire, this can create emotional bonds that override common sense.
Some courting couples only get together when at least one parent or some other godly adult family member is in the same room. The idea of having a chaperone is to be accountable regarding physical intimacy.
Other courting couples find that having one or more people listening in to their conversations can be awkward. They may find it hard to open up. Yet, because they are committed to purity, they avoid being alone in a private indoor place. They make a point of only meeting in a public place where they can still have private conversations. It might be the swing on the front porch, a park bench, a restaurant, or a walk on the beach. Each courtship is unique, and those who are courting take their maturity and circumstances into consideration.
In contrast, dating couples often seek out privacy. They may not have any reservations about getting physically involved or simply want to discuss things without other people listening in.
Courting is all about being candid and transparent about who you are and expecting the other person to do the same. It means openly sharing your past, frailties, views on a wide range of things, dreams, standards, and what makes you tick. Through conversations over an extended period, courting couples have a good idea about who the other person is.
Many dating couples find authenticity counterintuitive. They only want to present their best side and are terrified to open up. They wait until their partner expresses an opinion and then agree with it. They want to please the other person, so they tend to keep their views, faults, and goals to themselves.
If you’re only accustomed to dating, you might think that courting is like an inquisition or overthinking things. Many young people are too embarrassed or fearful of the other person’s opinion to initiate what might be awkward discussions. They might say, “Why not just enjoy hanging out and let the relationship take you wherever it wants? Even if you don’t agree on everything, can’t love find a way?”
If your objective is marriage, then communication is essential. Think about it. If you were going to climb Mount Everest, you wouldn’t just fly to Kathmandu and start hiking. Anyone committed to surviving a climb up Mount Everest spends months training and investigating everything they need to know – like what gear they need, the best time to go, how physically fit they need to be, and how to overcome issues on the mountain.
Marriage is the commitment of a lifetime. You don’t want to jump in without really knowing each other. You need to ask and answer the right questions. Many people have thought they were in an ideal relationship with the perfect person, only to realize after marriage that certain discussions never came up – it just didn’t occur to them. You need to explore the topics that need to be explored with honest dialog if you want a whole and happy marriage.
The objective of courting is not to get emotionally involved until you know you can commit to marrying that person. One reason courting couples avoid physical intimacy is that it drags emotions into the relationship. Obviously, you’ll have some emotions in any relationship, but the point of courting is maintaining objectivity.
Our emotions can blind us to reality, and we might confuse lust with love. Even if it is “love,” our feelings might cloud our judgment, causing us to overlook red flags like abusive tendencies, self-destructive behaviors, or financial irresponsibility.
God’s purpose for relationships
God wants all our relationships to point to Him! Marriage is an example of Christ and the church. That’s why it’s imperative that you marry someone on the same page spiritually and that the two of you spur each other into a deeper relationship with God.
In Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:24, we read that God created Eve so that Adam would not be alone and so he could have a relationship with someone that was his counterpart. The purpose of courting is marriage, and God’s purpose for marriage is to advance His Kingdom by modeling the relationship between Christ and the church.
Are you ready for a relationship?
Many people jump into dating when they’re not really ready for a relationship. Courting doesn’t begin until a person is ready for a relationship that will lead to marriage shortly.
How do you know when you’re ready? Age is probably a factor, and you might want to finish college or job training and get financially secure first. You also need a healthy self-identity – you need to know who you really are, whether you have unhealthy traits or unhealed scars which require your attention first.
You need to understand your core values regarding God, family, stewarding your finances, and basic morality. Are your relationships with other people healthy, such as with your family, friends, workmates, and roommates? You aren’t ready for a romantic relationship if you haven’t built healthy relationship skills with these people.
Advice for Christian dating and courting
The Bible informs us of who God is, of our identity in Him, and His purpose for us. He is a good and loving Father who wants the best for us. He created us to live in a loving and deeply satisfying relationship with Him and with other people – especially our spouse.
As believers, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit; thus, we don’t want to do anything to defile that temple and grieve the Holy Spirit. This includes sexual relationships outside of marriage. The body is not intended for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body (1 Corinthians 6:13). As temples of the Holy Spirit, our dating or courting relationships should be built on the pillar of faith: putting God first and listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
When you are dating or courting, you may or may not marry that person. Yet, in any relationship, we must value that person’s well-being, allowing them a safe space to share their feelings, dreams, and opinions. We need to honor that person, empower that person, and bring out their best. We need to exercise self-control sexually and avoid manipulative and passive-aggressive tendencies. Whether or not you marry the person, you want to have a healthy, God-honoring relationship.
Which one should you choose?
Is he or she the one? How do you know? You need to seek God’s guidance, first and foremost. Then seek the counsel of your parents, pastor, or other godly mentor. They might see things you haven’t noticed.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are both of you walking in a dynamic relationship with God? Is the Bible your final authority for faith and life? Are you actively serving in the church?
- Do both of you clearly understand the God-ordained roles and instructions for husbands and wives?
- Are you in agreement regarding having children, such as how many and what your individual roles will be in child-rearing? Are you in accord regarding child discipline, chores, and guidelines?
- Are either of you in debt? If so, do you have a clear plan for paying off that debt as soon as possible? Do both of you have responsible spending habits and live within your means? Do you have a plan for major purchases like a car or home?
- Are the two of you currently tithing and committed to supporting worthy ministries?
- Do both of you have healthy relationships with the other people in your lives? What are their thoughts about the two of you getting married?
- Do you have shared goals and dreams?
This isn’t a complete list, but a springboard to get you thinking about the right person to marry. May God guide you on your journey!