DISCLAIMER: This particular blog post is a work in progress, an unfinished pondering you could call it. I don't claim to have any answers and am definitely not an expert on this issue, by any stretch. As my children get older, and thoughts of the future are looming for them, I am seeking to find a way to support them in their journey to marriage and family.
I have been thinking about the whole dating-courtship-engagement-betrothal 'thing'. Surprisingly, in the midst of this pondering and discussion with close friends, I found my high school sweetheart on a favorite social utility. Strange turn of events, to be sure.
It seems to be the 'faddish' thing to not date. I have heard it mostly from parents of teens, all of which dated themselves. OK, so they obviously see the pitfalls of the dating scene and want to find a better way for the next generation - understandable. But it seems to me that it's not really the dating that is the issue, but the bonding of hearts together only to be torn apart later that is the problem.
Dating, at least in my definition, is a guy asking a girl out for dinner and a movie, or whatever. They enjoy each other's company and get to know each other a bit. I don't see a problem with that, to be honest. But what we used to call 'going steady' or 'going together' is more dangerous. Bonding your heart to another without any formal vows is setting both parties up for pain if it doesn't work out. And why would it work out? Without the motivation of vows, eventually feelings will be stepped on, personality flaws will become unbearable and then it's the break up. That's the part that mimics divorce, and it can happen over and over again, setting up a pattern for life. Attach, detach, attach, detach...that is not how HaShem intended at all.
I didn't really date when I was younger, I 'attached'. I didn't really mean to do that, it just sorta happened that way. My parents have a wonderful, close marriage and it was the only model I wanted to emulate. So, when I fell for someone, I fell hard, giving the usual 120% of my time and heart. Until, that is, I wasn't enjoying it anymore or it started getting too hard. Then it was break up time. Interestingly enough, I was never dumped, I was always the dump-er. And don't think that is the easiest side to be on, either. Pain abounds for both the dumped and the dumper, believe me. I was reminded of this in my exchange of chat messages with my old high school love; he, not so gently, reminded me that there is quite a bit of pain mixed in with those long-ago memories, even almost 30 years later. Yeah, that's what we want our kids to avoid, most certainly.
I'd like to suggest that the only way to ensure that our children will escape pain is by putting them in a bubble. OK, not really...but there is no way we can shelter them from getting their hearts broken, even if we are diligent and implore them to guard their hearts. Love is a tricky thing, and I don't think anyone leaves this earth without having their heart broken in some way. Even our most guarded teens could secretly have their eye on someone knowing full well that parents would not approve. The pain of longing, pondering the unknown, is sometimes just as poignant as the pain of a breakup.
So, what about the courtship idea? To be frank, I wish it were better defined. From what I have gathered, the young man approaches the father of a girl he has his eye on and asks if he can 'court' her. Do I have that right? In the ideal situation, I am assuming the father then talks to the daughter and gets a feel for what she is thinking. After this discussion, the father makes the decision and courting commences with the intent to wed...or not. That sure puts a lot of burden on the father to make the life-long choices for his daughter. What if the father makes his own choice and it doesn't happen to match the wishes of the daughter? I have witnessed this heartbreak and it is sad beyond belief. Everyone, all family members of both families, have to be completely in agreement with this type of arrangement for this to work with any success, I'm thinking.
At some point during the courtship, betrothal happens...right? Like I said, there doesn't seem to be any written 'rules' or guidelines for this. In pokin' around on the 'net, I found this on The History of Courtship:
That sounds acceptable and I like the fact that the young lady held the responsibility for the courtship. Interesting, also, is the the role of the mother (this is a new twist I had not heard previously). It all sounds so simple, doesn't it?
Back in the olden days it was different. A male suitor actually went a-wooing at the home of the woman he sought as his wife. He brought gifts, sat and listened to her play piano or sing, all under the watchful eye of other family members, usually her parents.
Women held the power over courtship. The mother would decide which men could call on her daughter, and later the daughter could invite men she had met at dinners and dances. After a time, the man would ask her father if he could marry her, and if agreed they would walk down the aisle together.
The same source talks about the history of dating, as well:
Hmmm...a shift in power. I guess that's the real question, now isn't it? Who holds the power to make life decisions and when? Is it the father? The parents together? The young adult who has to live it out? If so, when are they 'old enough' to make those types of decisions? When are the young adults considered adults and independent to make their own choices?
Dating began at the beginning of the 20th century, implemented by upper class women who were moving into academic and professional circles. They demanded the right to be able to dine out with a man and not damage their reputation. They also craved the freedom that going out on a date gave them, away from the prying eyes of their parents. They would sneak out to the dancehalls to meet who they wanted.
Lower class couples started to date rather than court for economical reasons - as people migrated from the countryside to the cities to work in factories rather than farms, they also had to cope with cramped living conditions or boarding houses, and without a parlour for the men to call to, going out was a more suitable option.
The shift from courting to dating also shifted the power in the relationships; as men were the ones who paid for the dates, they were the ones in control. Rather than women inviting men to call, men invited women out on dates. The whole etiquette had changed, and by the 1950s books told girls never to invite a man to her home, or elsewhere, as this would be breaking THE RULES.
And, I will just ask this about the thought that the daughter live under the 'protection' of the father until such time as she marries, then the 'protection' duties change hands to the husband; is there any difficulty with overlaying the cultural customs and requirements of the first century on our young ladies today? What about the fact that our young ladies are trained and raised differently than in the first century, with options not even considered in that male-centered society?
Unfortunately, I have no answers. Perhaps it's as simple as 'every situation is unique' and should be handled as such - meaning that there really isn't a way to institute 'rules'. What's good for one couple may not work for another. I certainly don't think we should hold up this couple or that as a 'model' just because it seemed to work for them. Their way may not work for another couple with different personalities or family circumstances. I suppose the bottom line is respect for all parties involved, but most especially for the ones that will have to live out the decisions being made. Communication is key, as is the case with every aspect of human relationship and parenting. I also feel strongly that, at some point, we need to trust that our young adults will do what they think is best according to the training we diligently tried to give them. After all, they are the ones that will have to live with the consequences of those decisions, whether good or bad.
I have obtained permission to add some interesting thoughts of a good friend of mine - we are always in the midst of a conversation about this sticky issue.
For those that think they have it nailed down, I ask:
In their conclusions, have they remembered that other families may arrive at different conclusions under the guidance of the same Spirit?
In their conclusions, have they recognized that there is no model, no game book, no blueprint, no manual, no formula given to them in the Scriptures? Principles, yes. Code, no.
In their conclusions, have they maintained attitudes of humility and grace, respect for their children, reliance upon the Holy Spirit, balance in their thinking . . . so much more . . . ?
To be continued...