Why Almost Every Approach to Dating and Courtship Is Fundamentally Flawed2:17 PM
A slew of former homeschoolers filing for divorce left Thomas Umstattd Jr. disillusioned about courtship and intentional dating...those practices that led to the marriages of said homeschoolers. He wrote a long article on why courtship is fundamentally flawed and concluded by suggesting his grandmother's advice: never go out with the same person twice in a row. In this way, you date around, get to know what kind of variations of the opposite sex you click with, and never have the heartbreak and emotional attachment that both serial breakups and called off courtships entail. And then (I'm assuming), once you decide which of the many dates you enjoyed most, you go steady and then get married, never divorce, and live happily ever after? (He wasn't clear on that point.)
I can say many things in response to this. Like, I became best friends my boyfriend without even knowing he liked me. It's possible to interact with and have one-on-one conversations with the opposite sex without calling it a "date." Can we just call it being friendly and normal and human? Then you don't need to even worry about what to wear and who pays for dinner. (I suppose I'm thinking of a college setting, where you can say, "Let's grab coffee," walk five feet to the cafe, and just chat without much planning. You probably do need to be more intentional in "real life.") All that to say, his idea of dating doesn't resonate with what my boyfriend and I did, and we're doing just fine. Also, this approach still leaves open room for heartbreak if you "go steady" and find it doesn't work out. (Because if you've only gone on a handful of casual dates with this person, of course "going steady" might not work out -- how are you supposed to know a person who only ever puts on their polished, going-on-a-date gentleman or lady self?) And how do you even get from "never dating someone twice" to going steady? Do you start going on more and more dates with one person and then make a declaration of exclusivity? Because that gets into the frustrating waters of leaving one person hanging and confused about the nature of the relationship. Just how interested are you, anyway, if you go on two dates? Three? Four months?
This approach solves nothing. But I don't mean to single it out as the worst approach. The reasons listed above aren't the main reason I find it fundamentally flawed. Along with nearly every single other approach to snagging a mate for life and lowering the divorce rates, this approach is fundamentally flawed because it focuses on the method instead of the hearts and intentions of the individuals involved.
I finally decided that the how-when-where of finding a spouse means next to nothing when it comes to stable marriages. Think of the most loving, godly couples you know. Many of them got there by traditional dating. Some by courting. Lots with broken relationships. A few married their high school sweethearts. Many got married later in life, many when young, a few in college, some after. I know godly couples who didn't start out so godly -- got pregnant out of wedlock, married someone who wasn't truly a Christian at the time, lived together before marriage. All of them are people I admire and want to emulate when it comes time for me to say I do.
And when I ask them, "How did you do it? What's the secret to success?", they don't say, "Well, we intentionally courted" or "We rejected that stupid courtship idea altogether." (People say that when giving advice to young couples currently dating or courting, of course.) They say, "By the grace of God. We stuck with it. It was hard, but we chose to love each other, anyway. We loved each other, and we figured it out as we went along."
There is no method under the sun that guarantees divorce or long, healthy marriages. There is no mechanism for marriage that prevents selfishness and adultery and anger and bitterness. You know why those homeschool courtship marriages crumbled? Because they refused to love each other in the sacrificial way Christ did -- perhaps as big as committing adultery, perhaps as small as thinking only of one's own needs and not reaching out to get to know the other person. Their courtships, however good or bad, did not doom them to divorce. Their attitudes toward love and marriage and their everyday actions did.
The only thing that guarantees healthy relationships, dating, courting, or married, is when both people agree to love each other completely and sacrificially no matter how much they do not understand, like, or respect their partners.
Almost every approach to dating and courtship is fundamentally flawed because it believes the lie that if you get to know someone thoroughly enough, problems won't arise -- not problems big enough to wreck a marriage. That's why we need to date around, to know all our options. That's why we need to plan lists of future spousal traits so that we can match up our views and interests perfectly. As long as our spouse most perfectly suits us, fits with us, understands us, our relationship will go relatively smoothly. It's those people who fail to date long enough or don't live with each other or court with a chaperon who set up their marriages for disaster.
There's a grain of truth in this. Understanding and communication are absolutely imperative to making a relationship work -- marriages especially. Unfortunately, the full truth is that people change. Drastically. Not just that you marry someone and find out things you never knew. People change. They get depressed. Life knocks them down. They get tempted by something they never thought they'd struggle with. They get new opportunities and meet new people and hear new ideas that can radically shape the person you once knew into someone you don't even like.
At that point, it doesn't matter how little or well you knew your spouse while dating. What matters is if you grit your teeth, cry out to God, and get busy getting to know the person they are and the person they're becoming...even if you really liked the previous version of themselves. That is the only attitude that weathers marriage and indeed, that getting-to-know-you stage. And if your attempts at dating and courtship don't include that attitude and that determination, no method will bring you a happily ever after.
Exhibit A: Attitude over Method
Meet Bailey. She grew up homeschooled with the idea of courtship that morphed into intentional dating. She thought hard and prayed long about her future boyfriend -- what he would be like, what he would believe, how their relationship would pan out. She wrote several What I'm Looking for in a Man lists. She read all the courtship and emotional purity books.
Meet Erich. He was public schooled. His dad told him girls were expensive and don't you dare get a girl pregnant. He grew up with all boys, hung out with mostly boys, never really crushed on any girls, and never thought about intentionally dating or dating in general. He never heard the debates. He never developed a science on matchmaking.
Totally opposite views, opposite backgrounds, right? In fact, our relationship started out as absolutely accidental instead of intentional. He found he liked me because I was weird and different, and when I asked him point blank if we were just friends, he took a gamble and said, "No, I like you and want to date you" without actually even knowing if that's what he wanted.
And we did date. Which is to say, we loved each other and chose to love each other and keep trying to understand each other even though we came from opposite sides of literally everything. The main thing we had in common? Fierce loyalty and the unspoken belief that when you say, "I love you," you mean it for keeps and for reals. (He hates when I say "for reals.")
I guess this is why I facepalm whenever I hear someone talk about compatibility of interests and minor beliefs. Because Erich and I, we're opposite. And yet we're not anymore. We've changed, for good and for bad. We've dealt with each other's worst moments. We still love each other, anyway (and we still like each other too, surprisingly!). If we, fallible, clueless human beings who certainly make no claims to a perfect relationship, can stick with each other out of sheer determination and sacrifice, anybody can hang on through rough times. That's the beauty of love.
In sum, be the person and find the person who shares the same attitude of playing for keeps. Whatever method you use, find that person. That's the only thing that matters.