Monday, March 22, 2010

Courtship vs Dating, Our Story--pt 1

With the last post about sexuality and reading Razing Ruth's blog, I've wondered if it was time to do a post on the whole dating vs. courtship thing and our story. I am not sure how much detail to go into, or how much commentary I should add. As you know, I am comfortable sharing about myself, but I am not sure how much to share about other people. So, we'll see what ends up making it into this post. Feel free to ask any questions if you are interested!

As I mentioned before, my family was very heavily involved in all of the Bill Gothard teachings. There were some things, like TV, where my dad took the teachings with a grain of salt and we applied them according to our own conscience and discretion. The whole issue of courtship was one where we embraced those teachings much more fervently.

I first started attending the seminars for myself when I was twelve. Like most girls my age, I had guys that I had a crush on. However, Gothard's point of view made a lot of sense to me. He taught that instead of the typical dating cycle that begins fairly early here, it was better to not play around with relationships. Instead, he advocated courtship where the outcome was marriage (unless something very unexpected occurred) and that this should be an agreement between the guy and the girl's parents.

(A quick note: although courtship and dating are considered to be drastically different, I found that in real life the distinction was a bit blurrier. Also, the term courtship sounds so archaic that it is easier to use dating, even though we never did the casual dating according to definition. As I said, it wasn't always clear since we wound up not perfectly following the prescription for courting, either.)

I could already see kids around me going through emotional rollercoasters by getting involved with someone when there was no thought of marriage at all. The hurt feelings, rejection and jealousy they had to deal with, even without any physical involvement, made me sad for them. It seemed like a waste of time and inevitably brought heartache. I soaked up books like Elisabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity, and decided that I would guard my heart.

It worked out pretty well. For one thing, there weren't too many guys around me that would have tested my resolve. I was homeschooled, and there weren't many guys my age in our church, so my field of potential interest was limited, to say the least. There were some guys that I really liked, but they happened to live hundreds of miles away, so that wasn't too promising. I had a pretty active fantasy life, but that was it.

Then, my first semester in college, I met Carlos. I posted about that first meeting here: Um, yeah, I was knocked head over heels from the beginning. However, in spite of that, I still held on to the whole Gothardite view. While Carlos hadn't grown up with the Gothard seminars like I had, his family had the typically conservative Hispanic outlook. He hadn't dated much or had a girlfriend. We became friends, but I tried really hard not to read anything more than that into it. I got to know his family and we ran into each other often at school. He was an instructor (not mine), and that was yet another reason for me not to expect anything.

The first Valentine's Day after we met, it crossed my mind to get a card, but I decided that that would be definitely taking things out of the realm of friendship. Even if I hadn't been terrified of rejection and embarrassment, it was a big no-no for the girl to do anything that might seem to be initiating. Once we had talked very briefly and superficially about the whole courtship thing--the guy has to get permission from the dad, it is not about casual dating but done with the intention of marriage, etc.

Apparently, the talk was even briefer and more superficial than I had realized. He surprised me with a gorgeous bouquet of roses, some tapes that he knew I would love, an assortment of other beautiful, extravagant gifts, and a stunning ring. And I had thought even a card was too much!

I was totally shocked and overwhelmed. I had no idea how to respond and felt like I was in one of those weird dreams where you can't move or talk. The one clear thought in my head was that we were no where near ready for marriage--I still had several years of college left--and that this wasn't following the courtship script. I wound up giving it all back. Ouch. I had thought that this approach was supposed to save us from heartbreak and embarrassment! It felt as though we both had gotten enough of that to make up for all my smug years of following the Gothard approach.

The truth was that my heart was already involved, too. I was so scared that I had totally ruined any chance for any future whatsoever between us (not an unreasonable fear, you must admit). Thank God, Carlos was no wimp. While very respectful of my limits, he was still open to being my friend. Even more than that, we began to write letters to each other as a way of getting to know each other better, since most of out time at school was limited to saying hi in the hallways or the language lab.

Now, according to Bill, this was probably dating (he actually says that even thinking about the other person can be dating, which even back then I considered hilarious. Was the guy supposed to go the girl's father and say, "Excuse me, sir, but I would like your permission to think about your daughter?" :snickers: Any guy who asked that would be branded a weirdo by me right off the bat, and I would be a bit concerned about the type of thoughts he was having). Yet, we both tried to keep things on the same level that we would with any other friend.

We tried that for a few years, believe it or not. Looking back, it seems pretty ridiculous to me. However, our motives were pure, and we were truly trying to do the right thing. We wanted to be absolutely certain that God was leading us before moving our friendship to another level. I've since come to the conclusion that God's will isn't as hard to learn as we often make it. Back then, though, we agonized over the tiniest step.

Another tenet of the ATI teaching is about defrauding. Defrauding is defined as stirring up desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled. Women are specially cautioned against dressing in any way that might possibly provoke lust in a man; men are cautioned against leading a woman on more emotionally than they should; and of course, physical involvement is considered to defraud both. Our first kiss wasn't until we were officially dating/courting, three years into our relationship.

Those three years were difficult, needless to say. We wanted to always be honest with ourselves, each other, and every one else. It was blurry and confusing at times, though. Maintaining the delicate balance of holding a relationship to a good friendship when there was a romantic attraction on both sides was tricky, and caused both of us to pull back at times and occasionally to doubt the other.

After three years of that, we believed that changing from "just good friends" to dating/courting was both what God had in mind for our relationship and just being honest about where our hearts were. Carlos went to my dad, but my dad didn't want to commit himself one way or another. So we were dating/courting/whatever, but without official approval (or offical disapproval).

My mom had been for the relationship from the very beginning, and I have some doubts as to her full commitment to the whole Gothard courtship view. She agreed with things like the guy being the one to pursue the relationship, not the girl, and liked the idea that the parents would give their blessing and so on. Still, she believed that God would speak directly to the couple, not just through the girl's father.

I don't know exactly what to say about my dad's view, except that he aligned much more closely with Gothard in that God would reveal especially to him who I was supposed to court/marry.

Funnily enough, even though I had carefully considered the other parts of the courtship teachings, it had never occurred to me what would happen when I believed that God was leading me in one way but my dad didn't. As you would probably guess, it was painful and sticky for everyone.


Libby Anne said...
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dulce de leche said...

Me, too. (((Hug))) As you can imagine, I am still growing and gaining clarity on the whole thing, even compared to when I wrote this. I appreciate so much all that you have shared of your experiences.