Framework: Dating and Courtship Models

The Traditional Courtship Model

When I refer to the “Traditional” courtship model, I don’t mean that it is necessarily normal, and I certainly don’t mean that it is somehow better or more Scriptural than any other brand of courtship.  I do mean that it is the model I was raised in and that many of the people I grew up with were raised in. However, even among us, I use the term “traditional” very loosely, because there are varying degrees at which it plays out.

At its most basic, this model teaches that the father is the keeper and protector of his daughter’s heart until she marries, at which time those duties are passed to her husband.  For this reason, any young man (or maybe old man, I don’t know) expressing interest in the daughter must be sent to the father. The father ascertains the man’s suitability for his daughter on the basis of maturity – spiritual, emotional, physical. If he passes the father’s inspection, and the daughter agrees, the man and  the daughter get to know each other within predetermined (by the father and sometimes the couple) boundaries. Again, it can work a little differently depending on the family or even the daughter.

I have been blessed to see my two older sisters have successful courtships and marriages based on this model. I even have a handful of friends who have courted and married. For me personally, there is something hopelessly romantic about a guy who talks to my dad about getting to know me, mostly because if you don’t know him well, talking to my dad takes courage. (And I value courage). And I certainly prefer this model to the commitmentless dating games that go on in secular relationships.

But I’m not completely sold on this model. (Shocking, I know).

My Reservations About the Traditional Courtship Model

Despite what some people believe (yes, even in my circle), the “Traditional” courtship model is not commanded in God’s Word. Trust me, I’ve been asking and looking for years. Nor can I find a shred of evidence to support the principle on which this model is based – that of the father being keeper and protector of the daughter’s heart. Don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I like the idea of courtship. I am so thankful to have a dad who is willing to look out for me, who desires to know who and what I am involved with, who prays with me and for me. But. The Bible is clear: I am responsible for my own heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” The command to keep one’s heart falls to the individual, not her parents, I think for obvious reasons.

The other thing I have noticed (and it sort of goes hand in hand) is a really subtle, but harmful message being sent to some Christian young women because of the execution of this model in some circles. I was reading the courtship story of a woman from a prominent homeschooling family. She said was not equipped to discern God’s will for a husband because of her gullibility. And I just about cried. Who gave her this view of herself? This view that she cannot be trusted to know what God’s will is for her, what is good and necessary for her? Again, please don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t think it’s the “Traditional” courtship model sending this message. I think it’s the courtship model in the hands of an enemy using a fallen race to destroy each other. Still, I think it’s an issue worth considering.

Women were created in the image of God, just as much as men. He created women for a high purpose: to be helpers and companions of men.  On top of that, I am a redeemed woman. That is the blood of Christ covers my sin just as much as it covers the sin of any man. The Holy Spirit indwells and seals me, just as much as redeemed men. And as He leads and guides, I am able to discern His will, His heart for me, what I really need. Oh sure, I make mistakes, but it’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because I’m a sinful human being.

My Personal Preference

Basically, the way I want to go about a relationship involves balancing a watched-over heart with vulnerability, getting to know a guy to see if there is marriage potential, and seeking out godly counsel and accountability for the relationship. It doesn’t necessarily involve a guy getting my dad’s permission to get to know me, or letting a guy do all of the “work”, or letting someone else set up the boundaries.

Guarding my heart and being vulnerable. In terms of relationships, this is the ultimate tight rope walk for me. On one hand, I don’t want my heart to be broken by developing an emotional attachment before anything official happens, and on the other hand, I want to be the kind of girl who is approachable and vulnerable with any godly man who wants to pursue me.

I think for women it is important to know our emotional triggers so we can better watch what is going on in our hearts. There is nothing I like or respect more than when a guy takes the time to draw me out, or to ask for and listen to my opinion on something. Since it means so much to me, I have to be careful not to make more of his consideration than it actually is. If I end up developing feelings for or an attraction to him because of this trigger, I know I’m in dangerous territory. Not because my feelings are bad (because I typically am attracted to good things), but because these feelings can quickly develop into lust for me – where I get possessive and protective of someone who isn’t mine. The other option I have is being aware of my feelings, bringing them before God whenever they arise, and resting that if He thinks this is a good thing, He can make it happen, or otherwise take care of my feelings.

My other struggle is that I’m sort of unapproachable. I’m not intentionally this way, I’m just quiet until I’m comfortable. I’ve been praying about being more approachable in general, and last week, God convicted me to smile more. So simple.  I’m also not very good about initiating vulnerability. I will share when I’m asked, but I typically don’t volunteer information. Sometimes, I’m pretty self-centered and don’t think of other people’s needs to be vulnerable. Availability is important.

The objective of marriage. For the record, I do want to get married. I believe that someday I will be married. If I didn’t want to get married, and I wasn’t ready to be married, I wouldn’t be interested in being in a relationship right now.

So what does an objective of marriage mean to me? It means that throughout the relationship, we will get to know each other within the context of, “Could I be married for the rest of my life to this person?” If yes, we will go from there. If no, the purpose of the relationship has been fulfilled and we can hopefully move away from it amicably. Obviously, a lot of prayer will go into it.

Godly counsel and accountability. I want to have an open relationship. Not just openness between the guy and I, but an openness that makes people feel comfortable giving us advice and keeping us accountable. These people include parents. I think our parents typically know us well, and can offer insights that our feelings may be blocking. And older siblings who have been there before. And other couples who have relationship experience. Proverbs says, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” And I believe that.

And this is the approach I will use when discussing dating and relationships from this point forward on my blog.

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