Raised Quiverfull: Courtship

Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?

Joe:

Heck no!  I had escaped my mother’s imprisonment by the time I met Kristine, my wife.  Her parents were so happy that their daughter had found such a godly young man who wanted lots of babies and would guide her spiritually.  I put an end to all that by having sex with her before we were married.  We were pregnant at our wedding.  I carried that guilt around with me for almost a decade.

Latebloomer:

My dad was skeptical about following Biblical courtship, but I still believed that it was God’s way of protecting my heart and my purity.  I also secretly felt that I didn’t have the confidence, social skills, or experience to find a husband myself without the support of the courtship system.  I hoped that if I played my role correctly, God would let everything work out for me even though my dad wasn’t excited about his role.  However, I did not have the opportunity to be courted because no one was interested in me, and I don’t blame them!

I did have the unfortunate opportunity to see an arranged marriage unfold at church between two adult children.  Their parents held a meeting and decided that their son and daughter would be good for each other, so they allowed them begin communicating through monitored emails.  I remember hearing the mothers talking at church about how cute the first set of emails was, since they only said, “How are you?” and “Fine, thanks.”  It was disturbing to me, even back then.

I also witnessed a failed courtship attempt between a young man and one of Reb Bradley’s daughters.  The courtship was broken off with a lot of drama, heartbreak, and severed friendships, and it made me realize that courtship was not very effective at protecting the girl’s heart like Reb Bradley had taught.  It seemed like it was even more damaging than dating because there was so much pressure and attention on the couple.

Libby Anne:

While I always thought I would participate in a parent-guided courtship, I actually didn’t. By the time I was in my first ever guy/girl relationship, I had already begun breaking away from my parents’ beliefs to the extent that I refused to let them control my relationship, though they tried really hard to do so. In the end, marrying my husband was my decision, and my father refused to grant his approval or walk me down the aisle at my wedding. To be honest, though, at that point, after everything that had happened between my parents and I, it was important for me to say adamantly that this was my decision, that I was my own person, and that I could choose my own life partner, so I wouldn’t have wanted my father to walk me down the aisle anyway. I was lucky, though: my parents and siblings did come to my wedding.

Lisa:

I have been in a courtship, yes. My experience was pretty negative. My parents picked the young man. I don’t know if there were any other men interested in me before him, but it could be. My Dad had tested him before even telling me that somebody was interested. When they told me he had feelings for me, he had already been approved by my Dad. I wasn’t really given the chance to say no to this. This has a variety of reasons, one being that a man cleaves his wife (not vice versa) and that I needed to trust my parents and listen to my Dad. I was told to take a look at him because my Dad thought he was the one for me. It doesn’t sound like forcing, but believe me, you don’t get to say no to that without being labeled rebellious.

My courtship was heavily chaperoned and we didn’t see each other very often. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for weeks, or even months – his family lived far away and due to the many children they had, trips were expensive. We also weren’t allowed to do things dating and some courting couples do, like going out for dinner or seeing a movie together. Most interaction was kept inside the house. Even conversation was chaperoned, especially in the first year of courtship. I had a pretty long courtship, for one because the man who was courting me still needed to prepare to provide for a family, because I was needed by my parents (so I figure my Dad didn’t allow him to propose for a long time) and also because we couldn’t have regular meet ups. I broke off my courtship the day the man proposed to me, which ultimately caused me to be shunned by my entire family.

Mattie:

I began to shy away from the rigorous courtship “plan” that I initially had when I got to school and had a few guys who were interested in me and went to my dad for approval without discussing anything with me first. This was horribly awkward and frustrating, and I began to want more control over my relationships with guys. When I fell for my husband, it was quite a surprise to me and happened fairly quickly during my sophomore year. We hung out all the time and were best friends, and so eventually he decided to approach my dad. But since he didn’t meet all the standards that my parents and I had initially laid out for “a prospective suitor,” my dad told him that we couldn’t court/date. A few months later, I decided that this wasn’t realistic or right, and told my dad this. But since I still wanted his approval, we walked through a process of getting my dad’s blessing on our relationship, and even hashed out an understanding where we were going to “call it dating” but still have my parents involved.

Once we were dating, this system didn’t work out very well, because my dad felt that he had the final responsibility for the health of the relationship and was overly involved, and I was making decisions with my boyfriend (like deciding to kiss, without consulting my dad for approval) that he didn’t like.  There was also a big to-do over the fact that my boyfriend had student loans and I didn’t, and my dad saw these loans as sinful debt that would have to be paid off if we were to get his permission to marry.

I finally put my foot down and told my dad that I was an adult and that I was going to do what I believed to be right and appropriate, and that we’d ask his blessing if we decided to get married, but that he was not “in charge” of this relationship. This didn’t go over so well, but time and physical distance made this transition easier. My boyfriend also sat down with my dad and told him that he saw me as an equal and an adult, and that neither of them had the right to try to control my decisions.

We did get married with my parents blessing, respecting their preference for a short engagement, and tried to the best of our ability to keep them satisfied that we were making thoughtful decisions and being mature. But this was mostly because I wanted to respect my parents and not cause a scene that would make my siblings question my parents’ authority.

Melissa:

Yes. My spouse had to ask permission to court me and get approved my father. We were not allowed to be alone without a sibling or adult chaperone. We avoided all physical contact until my father gave permission for us to hold hands. I was very self-conscious about being an example of purity for my siblings. Neither I or my spouse had ever been intimate with anyone else, and my father had told me that we should not kiss until our wedding day. This appealed to me romantically, and so I kept the rule for some time. We were allowed to be alone on walks outside or in an adjoining room after we were engaged. Eventually we did kiss shortly before the wedding, although we felt ashamed of the minimal physical contact we had during our engagement.

Sarah:

It was always expected that I would participate in a parent guided courtship, but I was rebelling secretly by the time I was 17. When I escaped to a hyper conservative Christian college, I started dating and eventually met my husband. I didn’t tell my parents anything about him. When I eventually brought him home to meet the family, my dad absolutely flipped out. We continued to date at school without any supervision. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents, lying to reassure them that I was still obeying their wishes.

Sierra:

I did not court. My “intended” (how scandalous!) was not allowed to court until he graduated from college. By the time he did, I had left the church and cut off contact with him.

Tricia:

Yep, I played the courtship game to a T. It “worked” in the sense that I got married and my marriage has been mostly happy, but other than that my courtship experience was a time of trial and disappointment. Libby Ann has done a great job of explaining how emotional and religious abuse, enmeshment, and fuzzy boundaries are common problems in CP families. I would further note that many young adults from these homes are frightened of their own emotions and of making decisions for themselves. Courtship has a way of bringing all of this to the surface, and it was during my courtship that I first began to have an inkling of how messed up things were for me.

I became emotionally and psychologically symptomatic– anxious, depressed, and dissociative. I didn’t know what was wrong with me or what to do about it, but I felt that I was going crazy. I was happy about my suitor, a childhood friend whom I had been secretly crushing on for years (in spite of emotional purity dogma), and frankly I was also happy to be on the way to leaving my family and starting a life of my own. I dimly concluded that the problem was that in courtship, I was being swept into an artificial role in a contrived system, and that maybe this wasn’t good for a person. Now I believe that many latent problems in my family and in the CP/QF system were being manifested as I engaged in the process of detaching from my parents for the first time, while also navigating my first romantic relationship. Of course it was tough, but I naively thought that if I just pushed through things would be magically better when I got married.

Surprisingly, I turned out to be partially right. Once the courtship was over and I was out of my parents’ house and safely married my symptoms went away for a time and I felt very happy. However, during my first pregnancy and especially after the birth of my child the crippling anxiety and dark depression began to return. You can only run for so long. Since mental health treatment was covered by our insurance, and since my husband didn’t have the extreme dislike of “ungodly psychology” that my parents had, I began a bit nervously to consider trying secular talk therapy. Seeing what a nut I was becoming (I’m saying this tongue in cheek, although sadly there is some truth to it), my husband encouraged me in this, and now nine months later I can say it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. My therapist has helped me to identify and work through so much that I sensed was wrong but couldn’t quite identify. My husband has been supportive of the changes we’ve needed to make. My symptoms have decreased, my confidence has grown, I’m happier about life, and much more insightful and aware about my past and its problems.

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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.


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