The Courtship Mask

I recently posted excerpts from an article written by Shoshanna Pearl, which began like this:

When I got married, I expected my husband to be that alpha male that my dad was; but he was not. We would be driving down the road and he would say, “Where do you want to eat?” I would smile and say, “Wherever you want to eat,” expecting him to quickly turn in to this or that place without hesitation. Instead, he would smile and say, “I don’t care. I want to take you where you want to go. Where would you like to go?” I wanted to be his Help Meet; I did not want him to be mine, so I would say, “I would like to go where you want to go. Where would you like to go? I am good with anything.” 

Many readers were surprised that Shoshanna would not know her husband’s temperament before they married. Wouldn’t you think she would know that the man she married wasn’t the kind to boss her around or make all the decisions without her input? How could she not understand something so basic about him? While I don’t know the story of how Shoshanna met and got to know James, I suspect the answer to these questions has a lot to do with courtship as practiced in Christian homeschooling circles.

Courtship can vary a lot in practice. However, in most cases the daughter lives at home and is only allowed to see her young man in chaperoned situations. Here are some of the rules from the Duggar girls’ courtships:

Parents Are CC’d on Texts: Yes, at 20 years old your mom and dad may be peeping your text messages. Once Ben Seewald jokingly wrote to fiancée Jessa, “Give me a ring.” Jim Bob’s reply? “No ring yet.” Oh, and his response was complete with smiley face emoticon. On the bright side…at least they don’t have to worry about naked selfies?

Dates Are Chaperoned: Parents accompany their children on dates in order to maintain their “accountability.” It “keeps things from going in the wrong direction,” explains Jim Bob. Likewise, the girls are comfortable with their parents’ presence, noting that being alone with men puts them in grave “moral danger.”

In this sort of courtship, there is literally no privacy. It is impossible for the courting couple to talk without someone else watching or listening in. This can make it really hard to have natural conversations or even act normal.

But even beyond the lack of privacy, courtship often offers an incentive to pretend to be something you aren’t. It becomes a sort of role play. You, the young woman, play the role you’re supposed to play, demure, good at homemaking, caring for your younger siblings, and he, the young man, plays the role he’s supposed to play, that of the upstanding, godly leader.

Now of course, this show would eventually collapse in a dating setting. The couple would gradually become more comfortable with each other and thus begin to act more normally, and to put on less of a face. But in a courtship setting, with someone always looking over your shoulder? This setting perpetuates the show and incentivizes the couple to keep up the act. When your mask slips in a dating setting, your significant other is better able to see who you are. Sometimes a relationship may end, but other times it simply grows. But when your mask slips in a courtship setting, your parents will call it quits and bar you two from seeing each other.

In other words, if you want a long-term relationship with the person you are courting, you need to fake it, and fake it, and fake it all the way to the alter, and then and only then will the parents take their hands off and let you actually get to know each other. When you’re courting, you can’t be vulnerable with each other, or real with each other. You have to keep your mask on.

And so, Shoshanna did not get to know her husband James until after they were married. I don’t find that surprising, but I do find it sad.


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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.