What's In A Name: Stepping out of the Courtship vs. Dating Box

Before we get too far and to avoid any misunderstandings, let me preface this by saying one thing: I am, in no way, stating that any way of going about relationships is wrong. I’m not here to rant about how conservatism “ruined my life”, or how I was “saved” from the liberal dating scene (neither of which is true). I’m not here to point fingers. I’m not even here to give you a brand new formula, or Ten Best Tips of How To Get Married. I’m only here to offer a perspective.

This perspective is mine, and may be something you’ve heard or thought or discussed already. You don’t have to agree. You don’t have disagree. I’m not bashing. I’m just talking.

So, now that we’ve got that taken care of.

History. I grew up conservative. I still am very conservative in many ways. Saying that I am liberal just wouldn’t seem to cut it, although I know some would label me as heading in that direction. When I was 13, my mom impressed upon me the idea of saving my first kiss for my wedding day. I liked the idea and decided to strive for that. None of the boys I knew ever tried to kiss me anyways, so things were cool. That’s more or less where my thinking about courtship, dating and marriage all started. From there it was slowly built as I read articles and stories, talked with people, and tried to find my place in a circle of home school graduates.

My parents never really gave us a set of rules or regulations. They never said “dating is bad and courtship/betrothal is the only way to go”. We talked about the differences and they encouraged us to do something different than the average American recipe for relationships. They encouraged us to not just date around for the fun of it, to refrain from flirting with members of the opposite sex, and to find someone to be committed to when the time was right.

There were times when friendships got out of hand and boundaries had to be set up. Ages 17 to 21 were some of the toughest, most aggravating years of my life, and I would never wish to go back to them. But looking back, I am glad I had the boundaries that I did and that my parents provided the guidance that they did.

By the time I reached 21, I had pretty much formulated in my head how my perfect courtship would go. Boy meets girl, preferably at church or home school convention. Boy and girl communicate through some public venue as friends. Boy talks to girl’s dad. Girl’s dad permits courtship. Boy and girl court for a few months, always chaperoned, not likely even holding hands, never alone, etc. Boy and girl get engaged and marry within a year. And they live happily ever after. Perfect, right?

Well, yes. And no.

A few guys came and went. Nothing was ever right. And then I met Kyle. In years before, if you had asked me if there was such a thing as love at first sight, I would have scoffed and told you it didn’t exist. I stand corrected.

Just a couple months after meeting, Kyle invited me to go to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball with him. My thought process went something like this: “Wow. That would be amazing. Man I would love to go with him. But who am I kidding? We’re not even in a relationship, and I don’t even know if he’s that interested in me. And not to mention, my dad would *never* let me go.”

My dad let me go. Encouraged me to go!

So in November, with my brother Charlie as my traveling buddy, financial support and intended chaperone, I flew down to North Carolina for an 8 day trip. And thus began my unconventional, non-conservatively conservative, sort of dating, sort of courting, sort of something way different, little bit of everything relationship with Kyle.

Nothing was as I had planned. Meeting Kyle and getting to know him, even more so falling in love with him, threw me for a complete loop. I never expected him. How could anyone ever expect someone like that? My relationship with him was completely different than anything I had ever imagined. I could have read a million books on courtship and dating, and hear a million more success stories, and none of it could have ever prepared me for REALITY.

We did things right and wrong to both sides of the spectrum. The hard core courtship/betrothal group would be shocked to hear how we left our chaperone and went off for walks by ourselves to discuss *us*. The liberal all-American dating group WAS shocked to hear we haven’t kissed yet. To be honest, even our families were shocked at some of the courses we chose! Both sides of the argument look at us with puzzled faces. Neither side can label us because we don’t fit into a label. I say “we’re dating” to some people and “we’re courting” to other just based on who I am talking to. Yes, I call him my boyfriend, but that too depends on who I’m talking to.

No one really understands. Not that I expect anyone to. Any way you label us is probably close, but still so far off the truth.

The thing is, we don’t need a label. We don’t need the pressure of a label.

We’re honestly doing just fine. We call it how we see it. We roll with the punches. We take things as they come. We don’t have a list of perfectly planned out rules, or a step-by-step guidelines as to how everything takes place. And we aren’t just in this for the fun of it or for the temporal pleasure of attraction.

Sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing, but its okay, because we’re figuring it out, one little step at a time. We’re growing together as friends and lovers.

Most importantly, what we are doing works for us.

If we could all just take about three steps backwards, and remove ourselves from the Courtship vs. Dating battle, we might see that there are more than two sides to the story. If couples would just do what works for them together, with the wisdom God gave them and for the glory of God alone, apart from any labels and outside any boxes, I think there’d be a lot more peace amongst the Body of Christ.

Of course, my phrase of “just doing what works for you”, I’m sure, can and will be taken the wrong way. In no way am I implying the condoning of premarital sexual relations just because “it works for you”. No way. Anyone that knows me, really knows me, will know how highly I value the fidelity of sex within marriage and within marriage alone, waiting for marriage to share that communion with each other and God, and the beauty of a husband and wife committed and faithful to each other.

My argument is for getting up to that point.

I am also not trying to imply that super conservative parents are “doing it wrong”, and need to give their kids some freedom. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you need to just turn your daughter loose at eighteen and say “Come what may.” On the contrary. We need good counsel. Freedom and trust is gained with age and every person is different.

I am merely trying to say that you need to take each situation as it comes and only ask “Is this right? Is this pure?” based on God’s Word, flee immorality and self-righteousness, and not strive to conform to a man-made set of rules or labels that declare one process “more holy” or “more Godly” than another.

Seriously, does it really matter what you call it? On your fiftieth wedding anniversary, is anyone going to remember, or really care, what you called your before-marriage-period?

There are a lot better things we would be worrying about. Instead of strapping ourselves to labels that are pulling us down, why aren’t we being a light to the world around us? Why aren’t we teaching kids about keeping their bodies special and pure and saving sex for marriage instead of defining our own self-righteous labels and boxes?

There’s a deeper meaning here than just a name for a relationship. We are slowing down the message.

Maybe its time we get out of the way.



  1. Yup. I agree. Terms are so limiting, and sometimes we just need to take it one step at a time and let the unique story take it's shape. As long as we're letting God lead, the rest doesn't matter. :)

  2. Courtships are as unique as the people in them. :)Each is different in the things they 'allow' and 'don't allow'. The main thing is doing it in a Godly way that puts the other person first. It isn't a list of do an don't! I think it is important to set up boundaries in the interest of protecting each other physically, emotionally and spiritually and these should be known at the beginning. I have a friend who preached NO KISSING UNTIL YOUR MARRIED. I heard it over and over. When I first heard her say it I was on the fence about the idea. I felt you should at least be engaged. After much thought on the issue I decided to wait until my wedding day. Eventually I met someone who felt the same and we waited. We did hold hands and exchange goodbye hugs after we were engaged. The friend with the big mouth (I am saying this to be funny- she is a dear, dear friend to me!) did not wait. She did wait until they were engaged, though! I had to laugh and give her a hard time since she had been so vocal about it! I think it is good to wait till your wedding, but I don't believe it is a SIN or wrong to kiss before you are married. I just think it makes things a bit harder in keeping your relationship pure. I have to admit that after the wedding rehearsal I was nervous and wished we could have done a 'kiss' rehearsal,too! LOL! I think it would have been quite safe by that time. ;) Anyway, I am starting to ramble!

  3. Thanks for sharing, Hannah! It was very refreshing to hear. :-)

  4. Good post. One small piece of advice. Who cares what people think who read this? You can't please everyone. Tell it like it is with no apology to those who will say you've gone off the deep end or you're hopelessly out of touch.


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