Courtship, Dating, and Regret

I was taught that if I dated someone and then broke up with him and married someone else, I would spend the rest of my life regretting that first relationship. I was taught that if I kissed someone and then married someone else, I would live with eternal regret. My parents did not want me to feel this kind of regret. They wanted to protect me and set me on a path where I could have a fantastic marriage with no regrets.

Well, I have news for them: I married the first guy I ever dated and I regret that. Okay, let me back up here and say that I do not regret that I married my wonderful awesome amazing husband. What I regret is that I did not date before meeting him.

I wish I had dated around in college, and maybe even in high school. I wish I had dated casually. I wish I had done double dates. I wish I had had a boyfriend or two. I wish I had had both the experiences and the knowledge that would come with this. I was taught that dating was practice for divorce. Actually, dating is practice for relationships. You learn things through dating.

My husband dated before he met me, and I have to say, he was a better boyfriend, and is today a better husband, because of it. I would not undo his previous relationships for the world. The truth is, when two young people who have never dated before are thrown together, they have no idea what they’re doing. Yet this is the ideal of the courtship movement. The expectations are high and the experience is low. If you ask me, this is a recipe for disaster. In contrast, when two people who have dated before meet each other and start to date, they have knowledge, skills, and experience they would not have had if they had not dated before. There is a maturity there that is not present in those who have never dated before.

When people date, they learn things about themselves and about what they want in a partner and about how relationships work and don’t work. Yes, sometimes there are mistakes, and yes, sometimes relationships end in disaster, but that is how we learn. We can’t learn without doing.

I can say today without a doubt that I would have been a better girlfriend, and perhaps I would even a better wife today, if I had dated before meeting the man who is now my husband. I would have known more about relationships and about myself. I would have been more mature and experienced. The truth is, when I first started dating my husband I had no frickin clue what I was doing. I was so green, so naive, so inexperienced. And so, I regret the fact that I didn’t date before meeting my husband. I’m not saying that dating is perfect and I well am aware that by not dating I skipped out on pain and possible heartbreak as well as experiences, knowledge, and self awareness. Still, I regret it. Strange, I don’t think my parents ever thought of this potential outcome!

The Modesty Rules---Not So Simple, Really
Evangelical Christianity's Patriarchal Alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey
What Courtship Was for Me
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    "I was taught that dating was practice for divorce. Actually, dating is practice for relationships. You learn things through dating."Exactly. You hit the nail on the head with that. I've always thought it was strange that those who favor courtship always say that dating causes divorce. The reasons for the increase in the divorce rate are complex (as are most things in life), and part of the reason for the increase may be because divorce isn't taboo anymore. Courtship is supposed to protect against broken hearts, but I think that that's a promise it can't and doesn't keep. There are no guarantees against broken hearts with dating, but people who support dating don't claim that there are. Whenever you love anyone in any possible way, the possibility of heartbreak is going to be there. That's just life. -J.B.

  • Jenna

    I definitely can see what you are saying. I did date a few people before my husband, but personally I regret premarital abstinence. (gasp!) No, not because I wish I had gotten more action when I had the chance. Instead of being desperate to be married from age 17-23, anticipating all the special, magical, sacredness of marriage, I could have actually had a life.

  • Libby Anne

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I feel the same way you do, Jenna. :) And for what it's worth, I'm not planning to teach my daughter to "save herself for marriage."

  • Jane

    I kissed a few frogs and one toad before I found my Prince. Apart from the toad, I have no regrets at all, fond memories of the frogs (still friends with one through the magic of Facebook), although they weren't the right men for me. Having had my heart broken a couple of times it made meeting my prince all the sweeter. I thought love was supposed to be infinite, not like a chocolate cake where you can give slices away but not get them back. It is a very very stupid doctrine.

  • Anonymous

    My husband is divorced and I'm actually grateful that he had a chance to learn at lot about marriage from that first marriage. It made him a better person in a lot of ways. I wouldn't take that experience away from him if I could and the fact that he loved someone else before me doesn't make him love me less. I don't regret my only serious relationship before my husband. (Well, other than the fact that I was inadvertly a total jerk to the poor guy and I know I ended up hurting him a lot. And yes, that had a lot to do with me not having a fricking clue about what was going on.) That relationship had a strong impact on my life and made me better person in the long run as well.

  • Fina

    This isn't just true for relationships, but also for sex. Like everything else in live, sex is a skill – if you have done it before, you will have more experience with it and consequently be better at it.So much for the notion that sex is superspecialawesome if you wait with it until you meet "the one".Now with both relationships and sex you should be careful to avoid people who will be bad for you, so there is nothing wrong with being a bit picky. But there is nothing wrong if you had sex with a nice, gentle guy just because he is not the one who you will marry.In a way, you can compare this to jobs. I'd rather hire someone who already has work experience. Of course some bad habits might have been picked up along the way, but in general those will be overshadowed by the positive aspects of those experience.Likewise, i'd rather have a relationship with someone who already has experience with relationships, because that person will have experience – and will avoid errors that might otherwise damage our relationship.

  • DJ Pomegranate

    I was just talking about this last night with Mr. Pomegranate. I was raised in a "save yourself for marriage" environment and while my parents were definitely anti-courtship model (my mom had numerous boyfriends and thinks dating is a-ok), they are not pleased with the fact that Mr. Pomegranate and I are living together before marriage. But I've come to the same conclusions: by dating other people, loving other people, having sex, I haven't somehow given away a finite part of my heart or something. Love and sex are not zero-sum. I wouldn't have known that Mr. Pomegranate was "the one" unless I'd learned earlier that all those other guys WEREN'T "the one." When I started dating, I had no idea what's important and what's not, what's negotiable and what's not. I was mature, but I was inexperienced. I had no idea what it was like to be in a controlling relationship, or what personal habits were deal-breakers. I thought my "list" and the Bible would be sufficient to guide me, but it wasn't because I had no idea what should be on that list, and lists don't account for nuance. And because the Bible doesn't give dating guidelines. Sex is set up on such a pedestal, I think it can actually distract from having a healthy pre-marriage relationship. You're so preoccupied with "purity" and "crossing the line" that you 1. don't pay attention to other critical factors like IF YOU CAN EVEN COMMUNICATE and 2. you think that sex must be this magicalsuperdooper potion that makes relationships work and is inevitably a preoccupation in your living-together marriage relationship. Well it is a factor, of course. And sex is proccupying, because it's fun! But guess what? Other things are also defining, preoccupying factors. Like trust, communication, respect, financial responsibility…I feel so strongly about this because I feel like I was lied to. If they're going to teach kids not to have sex, at least tell them the real reasons for that teaching: because God wants it, or because the culture wants it, or because the Bible says so, or whatever. Don't lie about it ("leads to divorce" "emotional impurity" "your husband won't respect you…" etc.) to guilt/scare people into doing what you want. Sorry–long comment! Thanks for your honest blog.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    "I feel so strongly about this because I feel like I was lied to. If they're going to teach kids not to have sex, at least tell them the real reasons for that teaching: because God wants it, or because the culture wants it, or because the Bible says so, or whatever. Don't lie about it ("leads to divorce" "emotional impurity" "your husband won't respect you…" etc.) to guilt/scare people into doing what you want."YES YES YES!!! This is what I probably find most disturbing about the whole "purity" movement. Instead of simply coming clean and saying that these are religious strictures that should be followed (I don't agree but at least its an honest motive), the new approach seems to be to try to manipulate young people into being "pure" by exploiting their insecurities about being lonely or undesirable. "You will end up getting divorced", "you will be damaged goods and no man will want you" etc. It's emotionally abusive. And the "emotional purity" teachings are really disturbing to me too, for the same reasons–they are so manipulative. I work with teenagers and adolescence is time in life when people are experiencing lots of new emotions and often feeling very vulnerable and afraid getting hurt. And instead of telling kids "These are just growing pains, they are part of becoming an adult, YOU ARE NORMAL AND OKAY", this crowd wants to tell them that they will be compromised, damaged, never really whole again, unfit for true happiness if they actually experience some hurt–all the things that kids fear in their hearts. It's not just crazy, it's morally wrong.And yeah, "saving yourself for marriage"…I respect if people want to choose this for themselves and I know it ends up working out for some people but, honestly, I don't generally think it's a very good idea. Wanna know an ACTUAL cause of many divorces? Sexual incompatibility! Which is why I think it's a good idea to establish that before you marry someone, just like other kinds of compatibility. I even hate the expression "saving yourself." I am not married and I've had sex with a few guys and "myself" is fully intact, thanks. Whoever I do marry is going to get all of me because I would be vowing to commit the rest of my life to him. A woman's "self" is not determined by what she chooses to do with her vagina. Any man who would feel cheated because he doesn't get to live out some ridiculous macho fantasy of ushering me into womanhood with his manly, virile touch is not a man I'd spend an evening, let alone a lifetime, with.

  • Fina

    The idea of "saving yourself for marriage" and womens purity in general mostly originated with pregnancy.Before we had reliable birth control (and genetic testing), a woman could sneak another mans baby into a marriage.And of course having a baby before marriage would reduce your marriage prospects severely – many men would not want to take care of another mans child.That's why most traditional/religious laws had severe punishments for women who had sex out of wedlock, but none or lesser ones for men doing the same.Thankfully this is much less of an issue today.By the way, you almost have to give credit to religious fundamentalists for enforcing gender equality here and making premarital sex equally bad for men ;)

  • Anonymous

    "That's why most traditional/religious laws had severe punishments for women who had sex out of wedlock, but none or lesser ones for men doing the same.Thankfully this is much less of an issue today."Takes two to tango, honey. A man could just as easily put a child into someone else's monogamous relationship, just as easily as a woman can. But women still get all the blame in "traditional/religious" laws? Sounds like a load of expletives, to me. Why would a woman want her husband to be fathering children in another family? If you turn all of your points and put them in the woman's perspective, everything is STILL wrong from a monogamous standpoint. I understand that some communities have different laws for different behavior, but posting them somewhere doesn't give this hurtful law legitimacy. The laws you describe from a "traditional/religious" standpoint are terrible and sexist. I would definitely not want to be raised or raise anyone else with these kinds of expectations. What would you do, living in a "traditional/religious" community, if you found out that your husband cheated on you? These "traditional/religious laws" seem to set marriage up for disaster. Why not cheat if there are no repercussions? Clearly monogamy is not for everyone."By the way, you almost have to give credit to religious fundamentalists for enforcing gender equality here and making premarital sex equally bad for men ;)"Also, I wouldn't say that religious fundamentalists helped anything. Lies and guilt shroud any sex practices not supported by a religious fundamentalist community, which damages both men AND women. Many young people grow up to be ashamed of who they are and how they like sex due to rigid religious fundamentalist views on the subject. To me, this is very unhealthy, and goes against any sexual freedom a person could choose to have. Any community where there is ONE standard for sex will always be a community that purposefully damages others' lives (and THAT is completely unacceptable). According to you, gender equality = denying sexual freedom to EVERYONE.

  • Libby Anne

    Anonymous of 1:01 – In the Old Testament Law, men were only punished for having extramarital sex with women owned by another man – for example, another man's daughter or another man's wife. Men were not punished for having sex with their slaves, or with prisoners taken captive in war. So in the Law, men having extramarital sex was not considered a problem; only men having extramarital sex with some other man's property was. Well, and men having sex with other men, prostitutes at pagan temples, or female relatives. But again, slaves or captives, no big deal. In contrast women were expected to be completely monogomous. I think this is the sort of thing Fina is referring to.

  • Chatterbox

    Keep wanting to post a comment on this post but struggling with the wording! But i regret NOT having sex with the first person i fell madly in love with when i was 17 – he was 18 and we were both strong christians and were together for just over 2 years – wow the sparks!! But we only ever kissed and cuddled – the thought of anything else never crossed my mind as of course i would be saving all that for marriage.I feel like NOT having sex with him was not the right thing to do – with him it would have been absolutely right and natural and normal and i would have experienced first time sex how it would ideally be – 2 innocents fumbling about wondering what on earth to do but loving it anyway cos they were so into each other. Its too complicated to go into details but i think missing out on this experience, combined with the religious indoctrination i had always been subjected to around sex has caused me huge problems some of which i dont think will ever be able to be fully resolved.I can forgive christianity many things but this is one area i really struggle with and makes me deeply sad and angry – i'm working on it ;0)

  • Anonymous

    I was a virgin up until I was 25 . . . I left home at 21 to go to college, which had always been forbidden. People always ask me what I did after high school and before college – "Did you work?" – nope, wasn't allowed to do that either. They just couldn't understand staying home and taking care of babies and cooking and homeschooling six younger siblings. I ached for something more, and I didn't want to get married (gasp!).I really didn't have moral problems with premarital sex after I left home – God and I were hardly on the best of terms – but I was so indoctrinated that for a long time I felt I couldn't kiss a guy unless I was planning on marrying him (a few guys did try, though . . .) I was still such a prude! I finally got my first boyfriend my senior year and had my first kiss and lost my virginity all in the same first month we were dating. I thought that was ironic …

  • Anonymous

    This is all so true. I was another of those who was indoctrinated with all the lines about having sex (or any physical contact) with anyone before the wedding day is cheating your future spouse/ruining yourself/causing everyone endless hurt, etc., etc.I was a virgin when I got married, and I wish I had not been! Hubby wasn't, and I have never cared in the slightest, even when we were first together and I was more conservative and felt like I *should* care. Hell, we're both very glad for what relationships we had before we got married, and are on good terms with previous boyfriends/girlfriends.

  • Anonymous

    I believe this model that the conservative Christians are pushing about never dating around, and also the courtship model pushed in the "I kissed dating goodbye" books, set young people up for abusive marriages of all varieties. Not to mention the male privilege endowed in these extreme Christian religious circles.Thank you for speaking out in the blog.I'm currently married to the first guy I ever dated, and I've gone through abuse, and abuse counseling and its only been through this extremely painful experience in my life did I realize where all these insane teaching went wrong and WHY I thought the way I did and WHY I endured phsyical abuse and didn't go to the police, and the church members I went to (a quiverfull family with over 12 children, who I trusted and was friends with) encouraged me to come home to the man who beat and strangled me to "make it all better" the next day.After a LOT counseling, restraining orders etc. is my life even now liveable. BUT I blame this sort of teaching and the "breaking up is a horrible thing" indoctrination I had received as a teenager on the fact that I married the man.I wasn't taught to break up with a guy who displayed red flags, and who had a male-privilege and entitled attitude. I was taught that men DID have male-privilege and WERE entitled to RULE their households as the heads.What gets me now, is, I'm still a Christian, and when I read the Bible now….I see Proverbs 31, where the wife runs her own business, sells her own property, makes her own decisions, and the husband is only mentioned in his praise and admiration of her. The Christianity proliferated by these extreme circles (that I was raised in) would NEVER condone a woman running her own business, on her own knowledge, and making her own decisions and being absolutely AMAZING BY HERSELF without her husband micromanaging her life and suppressing her intellect and business instincts. How is it this passage is so misread and misinterpreted? Or Debra the Judge of Israel in the Old Testament? Why are they overlooked and the message behind those stories changed in favor of cultural stigmatism and interpretations of New Testament "Have No Life/Have No Choices" women described by Paul?And they don't care that they're setting their girls up to be abused and dominated?I feel my situation is probably slightly more extreme. EXCEPT that after I made a bigger deal about it a year or so later, my husband stayed with the church family, who sided with him against me, and they explained to him that their marriage too, was violent in the beginning. But they worked things out (and she's at home with tons of children!) and they felt we could too.Well…thats a VERY good reason not to send a young woman to the police when she comes to you for help after her husband beat and attempted to strangle her the night before.I'm very grateful that I found help outside my church "family" for my situation. But if only I had been taught to date around, to see what other young men were like, to practice being in a relationship, to practice learning how to interact with the opposite sex, to expect to be treated with respect…..If I had more experience and had been taught COMMON SENSE….I don't think I would have had to experience what I did, and I don't think I would currently be in this marriage that I'm in. Consequently, I've abandoned the mainstream evangalical Christians myself.

  • asmallcontempt

    "When people date, they learn things about themselves and about what they want in a partner and about how relationships work and don't work. Yes, sometimes there are mistakes, and yes, sometimes relationships end in disaster, but that is how we learn. We can't learn without doing."rAMEN, SISTER, rAMEN. This. concept. drives. me. nuts. Although my family wasn't CP/QF like yours, a lot of the beliefs under the hood are the same. I kept a diary my entire childhood, and while most of the entries are laughably immature, it's incredibly insightful to look back to my childhood self and discover things about my parents sometimes-logically-incompatible parenting beliefs.Here's an excerpt. I was in the 6th grade and a few months into "dating" (read: writing notes to each other and nervously handing them back and forth during passing periods – pre-cellphones, it was "cool" in my middle school to express your devotion by delivering elaborately folded notes) my first boyfriend:"I asked mom if Boyfriend could come over and she said I was 'too old to play with boys and too young to date'. Well what am I supposed to do with them then?"Lol. Even in 6th grade I knew this stuff was a crock of BS…In the summer before I went to college, I decided to date a boy on my soccer team (yes, decided to date. At 18. I was afraid that I didn't know what I wanted in a guy because my perspective on sex and sexuality was so warped and inconsistent with reality – I knew that, so I figured the best way to work it out was to date a guy.). The kid was really energetic and fun and we had a lot of good dates: movies, 4-wheeling excursions, jam sessions. He was also immature, annoying, and rude to his mother, so I knew that once the movies and jam sessions ended, so would the relationship.I was in it for the fun and for the learning experience. The relationship delivered both.To this day, though, my dad berates me about how "stupid" "that boy" was and how that summer had been such a waste for me. To him, I wasted valuable time participating in dating "just like a non-believer would", and the fact that I viewed dating as an experience to be had is something deserving of mockery and scorn.(I jokingly tell my husband all the time that that kid helped me re-evaluate my standards in men and set the bar nice and low for him.)At any rate, I call BS on the idea that dating takes something AWAY from you. Thank YOU for doing so as well.

  • local dating websites

    I would like to add my view on this hot topic is that arrange marriages are more succesful because our parents finds partners for us. So they think this is their responsibility to support it. But if someone is doing love marriage and parents are not giving permission for it but if we still od it then they just accept it unwillingly but they still don't support it. Here the causes start for missunderstandiings which leads to big issues in future life. This is a fact no one can deny this. Another thing for successsing arrange marrriages is the expextation. If we loved sumone then we expext alot from each other. But with time priorities also changess. So our partner thinks we are changing and we are not fulfilling our promises. Its create differences. While in arrange marriage their was not so many promises so partner accept everything easily that work is also necessary with love. Love can't be eat or wearr. So if sumone is concentrating in carrier its not mean that luv is diminshing. It means we are caring our partner and for better life and future just putting our hundred percent. Thank you.Its not easy to go for a love marriage. You need to first fall in love with someone and that person should like you as well. It takes time to know each other and both of you should feel comfortable with each other. Decide to get married to a person who loves you more than you love that person. In many cases I have seen that one person is badly in love with the other person, but not vise versa.

  • Anonymous

    I nearly married into an arranged marriage, and from my experience, having daddy chose for me was a bad idea. Just so give some background, I was homeschooled from a QF-type background that taught me I was worthless as a woman. My dad was trying to become a pastor at the time, so he basically bartered me off to an influential church man who could get the church to give my dad his license to do legal weddings and funerals. Unfortunately, the man he picked had issues with alcohol and was extremely abusive. When I told my dad I wanted to break up, I was told to stay with the relationship because "the license would come through in a few months and ____________ probably wouldn't kill me in that time period." Looking back on it now, it makes me mad that I actually stayed with that arranged relationship and almost saw it through to marriage – fortunately, I came to my senses or I would probably be dead! Nearly 10 years later, I still have trouble dating because I always feel guilty that my dad didn't pick the man out for me.

  • Annie

    I heard from a Christian friend that relationships prior to marriage give you "baggage." I told him that "baggage" is just another word for experience, and like other posters said, experience is a good thing! I met my future husband when I was 25, and we got married when I was 30. I'd had four somewhat serious boyfriends before (relationships over a year) and several other flings/relationships as well. From each person and each relationship I learned something valuable, that has only made my relationship with my husband better and smoother. It's almost as if from 16 to 25 I was practicing for marriage. I'm so, so glad that I was able to fully explore what I had with the other guys, and so glad that I didn't end up marrying the guy I was with when I was 18, 21, or 23- it would have been a big mistake!

  • AJ

    I’m so glad to have found this and realize I’m not the only one. I started dating my husband at 14; no prior boyfriend, obviously no sexual experience either. We married out of college – no breaks, no open relationship (I though I did ask for one once and he said “no” and I just accepted it). Now I find myself dwelling in regret. My husband is also a wonderful man and a great father to our young daughter. We have a lot in common and a lot of shared life experiences. I still always wish I had dated more when I was younger so I wouldn’t have these lingering doubts of “is he really the one or am I ignorant?” I know it’s my fault that I feel that way – I should have asserted myself before we got married, but it already felt too late then. I care for my husband a lot and I don’t want to hurt him, but I hate lingering over these feelings.

  • Elisia

    I was raised with the old courtship ideas too. My parents “picked” my first husband for me when I was 20. It turned out to be a disaster. Deep down, I felt that my parents didn’t think much of me to pick a guy that I thought so low of. I didn’t want to marry him, but they told me that no one else would love me like he did, and being young, I believed them. Less than a year later, I divorced him and my family didn’t speak to me for 6 months. Fast forward to 10 years later, and I’m now engaged to my dream man. I found him my own way, through dating around and even getting my heart seriously broken once. Regardless of all the loves that I lost in those 10 years, they were worth it a thousand times over again because without them, I would have never met “the one” and would have settled for a guy I never loved. Getting your heart broken is infinitely better than being in a loveless marriage.