My Courtship Story ~ Part 8: Courtship Is Not The Answer

by Young Mom @ Permission to Live

Looking back, I like many things about our story. I love that we were very honest about our needs and desires as we understood them at the time. I can imagine it would be more difficult to fall in love with someone and then find out afterwards they don’t want children and you do. I can see the benefits of being straightforward and asking the tough questions right away.

On the other hand, there were things that we could not talk about as well. Religious questions weren’t really that relevant, because we were so enmeshed in our families, we hardly had any beliefs that were truly ours, they were all dictated by our families. There are other tough issues that cannot come up when you have intense levels of parental control. Whatever is not safe to talk about in your family of origin, does not feel safe to bring up in the new relationship either.

I think that seeing our relationship as marriage focused was healthy. We weren’t dating just to date, we were discovering each other and searching each other to see if we could see ourselves together. (However I do feel that the marriage focus was taken to an extreme.) I also think that waiting to get involved in relationships until being old enough to start considering marriage makes sense.

I think that spending time together as families is a great idea. You have the opportunity to observe the persons interactions with their own family members and as well as yours. It helps you to learn how to interact with other people as a couple.

Respect for our bodies and sexuality was a good thing. I think it is healthy to have good boundaries in a relationship. Good communication about expectations and mutual respect for each other is pivotal.

The problem is, all of those things could have been implemented by my husband and I as adults in our own relationship. We could have (probably would have) been serious about marriage, boundaries and family relationships and involvement, without the parental control that the idea of Courtship is founded on.

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Actually I can’t think of a single benefit from the parental control and pressure we had throughout our relationship. Even after we were married, it took several years for us to truly “leave and cleave”. We had never been allowed to be our own persons, and old habits died very hard. We would consult our parents and make decisions (trivial or important) based on what they told us. Eventually we progressed to where we would make our own decisions and fret about how to tell our parents what we had decided. It took four years to get to the point that we made decisions and didn’t bother to tell them at all! We were both nearly twenty years old when we started our Courtship, and every decision was taken out of our hands as though we were fourteen year olds. I can only be grateful that my parents were not as extreme as some in the same mindset, such as this girl who was betrothed against her will and ran away from home to escape. Read her story in this order. ONE, TWO, THREE, and FOUR.)

My parents had a long set of rules we were expected to keep during our courtship. Looking back, it strikes me as pretty creepy. My parents were obsessed with controlling a fully grown child’s sex life. I was expected to ask them permission to do anything, and abide by their decision. It was none of their business what my boyfriend/fiancé and I were doing or not doing. The job of a parent entails teaching their children to respect their bodies and even passing on their religious beliefs if they wish too, NOT being the sexual purity police in another adult’s relationship.

In the end, every boundary I had wanted, stayed in place.

My fiancé and I respected the boundaries that each of us had set in place through evaluating our own values and convictions at the time. My parents rules simply did not stick. I was on my way out of their house and their control, and I had no incentive to follow their dictations any longer. (Other than attempting to keep them happy until the wedding day so that we could get married without having to elope.) I had broken out of the mind control enough to realize I would rather get married to my fiancé than live at home, and we did everything in our power to get that to happen smoothly. Other couples were not so lucky.

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There was so much emphasis on avoiding sin, and a major burden to get married quickly to “stay pure”. If you stayed in a relationship for a long period of time, it was assumed that you would fall into temptation and end up sleeping together before marriage, and then your marriage would be doomed to fail, or even worse you could end up not getting married to that person and then you would have sexual baggage and be considered “damaged goods”. If you did slip up and have sex before marriage, you pretty much had to get married if you wanted to “make the sin right”. I would rather have my children take as much time as they need to be sure of their choice, (even if that means they fall into temptation) than to rush things and get married prematurely to avoid premarital sex. Having sex outside of marriage may cause damage, but getting married to a person you do not love, or turns out to be abusive is a far more permanent mistake that is very difficult to remedy.

Aside from rushing to get married in the interest of “staying pure”, there was also major pressure for the courtship to be “successful”. Any time spent with the opposite sex was seen as risky. I was not allowed to hang out with a group of young people without my parents present. Group dates were off limits, any sort of one-on-one dating was practically as bad as having sex. Everyone “knew” that the minute 2 young people were left to their own devices (somehow regardless of how well they knew each other) they would be engaging in inappropriate sexual activity. The risk of flirting, touching, or kissing someone who was not going to end up being your spouse was too high to allow young people to be around each other.

Pretty much any interaction between two people of the opposite sex was supposed to be reserved for marriage. The whole idea is pretty dysfunctional, because in the real world you really have to be able to interact with either sex on a regular basis. This type of gender separation leads to social disability as well as sexual issues in marriage. To this day I am instinctively suspicious of men and still find myself occasionally falling into old habits like avoiding eye contact with males, or obsessing over my neckline or how my hips are moving as I walk. It can take women (and me) a long time to get over the sexual messages too. It took several years for both my husband and I to loosen up and really communicate in the bedroom, body image and shame as well as messages about the roles each spouse is supposed to play in a “Christian” marriage, are terrible barriers to true intimacy and partnership. (Read Darcy’s excellent series on “How the Teachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships”, Part ONE, TWO, and THREE.)

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Parents want to protect their children from harm. Many parents are drawn to ideas like Courtship because they want to give their children the best, and they remember their own mistakes. The problem is, there is no way to control the choices of a grown child. Yes, you can teach them to respect themselves and others, you can explain your beliefs about marriage and sex, you can encourage them to wait on relationships until they are old enough to consider marriage. But in the end, their actions are up to them. I believe that parental control of adult children always goes badly. There is no way a parent can completely know the desires and priorities of their adult child. Will your child make less than wise choices over their lifetime? Yes. As a child and as an adult they will probably make choices you don’t agree with. That is not your fault. It is not your responsibility to keep your child from living.

As for my husband and I? It’s kind of like we were betrothed in the old world. Even though we love each other and consider ourselves blessed and fortunate, now that we have immigrated into the new world we wouldn’t want to put our kids through that process. We trust that our children will be ready to make their own decisions as adults when it comes to picking a mate. When I was talking to a counsellor recently, she had only heard a fraction of my story and she was amazed that I was still married and claimed to love my husband. My husband and I somehow fell in love very quickly, and we clung to each other through all of the craziness and change of our lives together. The fact that we were both around the same age, have much of the same background, and both became disillusioned with our pasts at around the same time, and were not afraid to talk about the issues and get help, have played a large part in the “success” of our marriage so far, and our marriage is still a work in progress. The reasons my husband and I are still together, are largely grounded in our own values and priorities. They have nothing to do with how our marriage was arranged and controlled by our parents.

Courtship is not the answer.

Even a perfectly planned, controlled and executed courtship will not protect your child from marriage conflict, or even a bad marriage.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum!  NOTE: Comments are also open below.

[Note: The "My Courtship Story" series is being crossposted from the blog: Permission to Live: Musings of a Young Mom.]

Read all posts by Young Mom!

  • http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_131741873558090&ap=1 Angie

    What does the fear look/smell/taste/sound/feel that drives this sort of behavioral pattern and choices?

    Where is it coming from, the root…

  • Jenny Islander

    One answer is the pervasive legalism of this movement: the assumption that if we can just find the exactly correct set of rules and follow it in every tiny detail, then our lives will be perfect. Of course, this doesn’t work. Some groups respond by breaking up (the healthiest response IMO, although many of the ex-members just go find another rules-corset to put on). Others invent increasingly elaborate and constricting rules in an effort to quell their anxiety. Some decide that the rules aren’t working because some member of the group is working against the group and and hunt for “the sin in the camp.” (This is a favorite tactic of Scientology, BTW, because it keeps cult members too busy and defensive to consider whether they are wasting their lives.)

    The legalism, IMO, is often rooted in magical thinking. If I wear the red shoelaces with the blue shoes, I’ll get an A on my spelling test! If I wish hard enough, Prince Charming will appear! It certainly nourishes magical thinking. A lot of the preaching connected with Quiverfull appears to be childish nonsense to outsiders because of the magical thinking involved. Cabbage Patch dolls have demons in them? Really?

    But it’s also rooted in love. I think that for every petty household tyrant or manipulative wannabe surrendered wife, there’s a couple who really love their kids and want them to be okay. They buy into courtship and other manifestations of extreme parental control because they want there to be some way to ensure that their children will not have lives of pain.

    Of course, that’s impossible.

  • Emily

    Thank you for sharing this. I am QF, but thankfully this extreme belief of courtship has not penetrated too far into the QF culture of my country. We seem far more willing to let our adult children go when the time comes in all things, including relationships.

    I have to say I agree with you for the most part. We call what we do courtship, because it’s still very different to conventional dating here, but it’s basically all the good bits you spoke about without the bad bits! My husband and I were marriage focused, set limits, and involved our families, seeing that as a priority. The freedom to ask the direct questions that couples who are dating rarely seem to ask was great, and we sought our parents advice and opinions (or at least he did, I could not). But our meetings were not chaperoned. We went out in groups sometimes, went out alone a lot, and went out with family regularly. We listened to our parents advice, but ultimately made our own choice (as proven by the fact we did not initially recieve my husbands fathers blessing). We made mistakes, and in our case we crossed a line, but that had far more to do with my issues and baggage from years of abuse than the simple fact we were young.

    I can relate to the desicion-making process as newlyweds, my husband felt as if he had to defer to his father for everything, and struggled terribly saying no to him, but it’s getting better, and it’s something we’ve learned from for our own children.

    I do think a shorter relationship is better, not because of sex entirely, but because I believe if you are marriage focused and it takes you two years to figure out if they’re ‘the one’ then they’re probably not the one. Though you did, kind of, take it to the extreme! (we courted 3 months, engaged for 7, would have been shorter but I needed to wait till I was 18).

    I’m so glad to hear you have made it through the trials of your parents extremeism together, and are still in love. This will have made you so much stronger as a couple. Thank you for showing the good parts of this system as well as the negatives instead of throwing it out altogether, because, while what you went through was not right, dating can still learn a lot from some of these values. Your story has given me much to consider.

  • LJ

    I’m glad things worked out for you, because your life growing up sounds like my idea of hell. I’d never want to be where you are now (married with children) but I think you are a very reasonable person. Kudos for the growth and adjustment you have made and shown…they are yours to be proud of.

    Another thing you may want to ponder: how far are you willing to go to let your children lead their own lives as adults? You mention giving them the reigns and hoping they pick a good marriage partner. What if they have no desire to be married? These are tough questions that I think are worth considering as a young mother, because if there is one constant in human relationships, it’s that children always disappoint their parents on some level, be it large or small. It is good to prepare to accept your children as grown adults with their own personalities, because that is what they will become.

    Our stories are very different. I grew up mainstream Lutheran to conservative but not overbearing parents. My mother has been almost pathologically focused on the importance of saving sex for marriage. I believe that sexual relationships are powerful and have a great capacity for damage…I have seen that damage in my relationship, due largely to the unwanted intrusion of one partner’s “past” into the current relationship.

    I agree that it is likely better and smarter to wait to engage in relationships with others until you are mature and ready to consider a permanent relationship. At the very least, you should be mature enough to discuss sex, birth control, and worst-case-scenarios with a potential sexual partner. I find myself very creeped out by your parents’ involvement in you and your future husband’s physical life. I don’t think that I would have tolerated it, but I didn’t grow up as you did, so there is no judgment on my part.

    I never want to marry, ever. I do want to be with my boyfriend (I jokingly call him my partner-in-sin) for the rest of my life, but for some reason I feel repulsed by the idea of marriage. I also would never want children, and were I to fall pregnant, would absolutely abort without a second thought. I am not religious, but I do consider myself a decent human being. Our educations are very different as well…I have multiple degrees and am currently pursuing a doctorate, while it sounds like you were homeschooled through high school.

    What if one of your children grows up to be like me? What if one of your children grows up to marry a same-sex partner, or rejoins the extremist fold that your parents belong to? Will you still love them? Will you still feel proud of them, and support them, and maintain that their lives as adults are their own?

    My own mother considers me a failure and a disappointment. I hope for your childrens’ sake that you are a bigger person. And although I have not spent time on your personal blog, I hope that you get the time and opportunity to further your education, because an intelligent, inquisitive, sensitive mind like yours deserves to fulfill its greatest potential.

    Best wishes,
    LJ

  • LJ

    *You mention giving them the reins

    I misused a word; just wanted to fix it :)

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    In my family, I think it was my parents belief that there was one way to please.serve God, and if you stepped outside of those boundaries you were dooming yourself to a life of misery in every way. They were so afraid of their kids stepping outside of those lines.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I’m not sure what you mean by “good parts of the system”. I feel that there are good aspects of our relationship, but I don’t see them as tied to the over idealized parent controlled courtship model. In fact I don’t see a whole lot of positives in Patriarchy in general.
    This movement preys on people who have abusive backgrounds, because they can make their insanity seem more stable and safe because of the extremely defined roles and definitions in every area of life. There really is a better happier life that can be lived without fear.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I’m sorry about your mom rejecting you. As you may have gathered, from my writing, I have some sense of that experience. I will never be good enough for my parents. Having that experience makes me that much more motivated to love and accept my children whoever they may be single or married, gay or straight, religious or non-religious. Because I know what judgement and rejection is.

  • LJ

    I think one of the most difficult and yet most noble things a human can do is to consciously, continuously practice acceptance and love for their fellow humans. It is very hard to do, even when the sting of rejection is there to serve as teacher.

    You have my respect for your dedication to love and living in a nonjudgmental fashion – your children will reap a great reward. I find it difficult to put myself in others’ places and to see the world through their eyes…but I am learning, in fits and starts.

    I wish all the best for you and yours, and am glad you have found happiness despite some of the stranger or more difficult aspects of your younger life. I hope that at least one of your many siblings loves you for who you are…I have many siblings as well (not as many as you, likely, though I too am the oldest daughter) and they are a great solace when I feel especially down about my mother. My mom told me all the right things about being a believer, but she taught me to think for myself; I chose what she taught me over what she told me and now we have a very strained relationship. Maybe one day we will both grow to the point where we can be close again. I sense that you may have similar experiences, at least in a general way.

    I know your byline is Young Mom. Being a mom can feel all-consuming, and it’s a road that takes a lot of dedication. It seems like you were a young mom in all but body from a very young age (taking care of your young sister, for example), and of course you were a young bride. Besides a young bride, young mom, and young wife to a young man, who are you? Have you ever had any time for yourself?

    Some parts of your life remind me of my mother’s…she lived at home until she married and left to live with my father. I sometimes wonder how never having lived alone or pursued goals that were not tied to someone else’s affected her and made her who she is. Sometimes she feels very sad that she never lived alone, took care of all her own bills, did independent things. I feel sad about many things too, but not those.

    This is probably too much to put in a simple comment on another person’s story on another person’s blog. I read this blog because I am so curious about how living so legalistically affects people. It is hard for me to imagine, going through some of the things people write about here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand what puts people in situations and movements like these. I just don’t know how I would have handled it. It is hard to believe that there is a pretty way out or a happy ending for anyone who has been touched by this type of life.

    When I was young, I had a friend in my church whose family was good friends with my family. They were “normal” secular Christians, but over time they got stranger and more removed, at the insistence of the mother. They became more legalistic, wore long jumpers, grew their own food, homeschooled. Their last two children were homebirthed, I think…I know for sure the last one was. He was born needing immediate medical attention, but he was at home and not in a hospital. His brain was starved of oxygen for a few minutes…only a few, but the profound mental damage was irreversible. He could not even chew but was fed through a stomach tube, and the family’s desire to stay away from secular medicine by homebirthing was turned on its head. He required constant medical attention, and they were always at the hospital in their long skirts and braids. I don’t know if he’s even alive anymore. I haven’t seen them since I was a teenager, probably more than ten years ago, but a few years ago their oldest daughter was married after courting someone. My mother went to the wedding and was the only woman not in a floorlength jumper. Their daughter was pretty young at the time, twenty or so, and I remember feeling repulsed and finding it very weird and creepy. But then, I can’t stand anyone intruding in my love life…the idea of a wedding and a marriage makes me ill. I could never do it, and don’t see any reason to. But it seems to make a lot of people happy, so that is good for them.

    Again, this is too long, and it’s a little weird to be writing all of this here. Congrats on your perspective…you deserve a great deal of credit.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Young Mom

    I have some who I relate closely to, and they are a great comfort to me. Other siblings are still heavily controlled by my parents, and that is hard to watch. I have not been able to have much time to myself, and that is something I hope to continue working on. Figuring out who I am outside of what I was told to be is an ongoing journey.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It was none of their business what my boyfriend/fiancé and I were doing or not doing. The job of a parent entails teaching their children to respect their bodies and even passing on their religious beliefs if they wish too, NOT being the sexual purity police in another adult’s relationship.

    Being “sexual purity police” always struck me as having an undercurrent of voyeurism. Like they’re forbidden to do it, so they take a lot of interest in you doing it so they can enjoy it stealthily. Like public “Testimony Night” confessions — shame the slut, stone the whore, but let’s all get off on her Juicy testimony/confession (as long as nobody else notices).

  • Sibyl

    My deep respect and admiration for making it through of all of that and still coming out with a good marriage and the ability to think for yourself!
    Although I’m a preacher’s daughter and my father names himself a “conservative Lutheran”, this all sounds totally strange to me. The rule “no sex before the marriage” wasn’t even followed by my parents – my brother was born only seven months after they married and the parents never made a secret out of the fact that they started to sleep together as soon as they were engaged. Obviously it didn’t hurt their marriage: It was a very happy one which lasted for 54 years until my mother died this year in January.
    I was brought up by my parents with the firm believe (which I keep until today) that I have to be responsible with my body and that sex is gift given to us by God to be handled with care. Yet my parents left it to me how to be “careful”. I got education on contraception as I started to ask for such things,but even while I lived at home my parents never asked me about the “nature” of my relationships with my male friends. My mother used to say: “Either we’ve brought you up to live up to being a responsible adult or we’ve failed. But if we have failed, it’s too late to change it now with you’re being adult.”
    As I was 25 and had already some sexual experience I met the man who obviously is the “love of my life”, but circumstances and a big age difference (he’s 35 years my senior) hindered us from getting together. Three years later I married another man, but the marriage failed after eight years. A few years later I met my great love again and after a few rather rocky years we married and are now, six years later, still very happy and very much in love with each other.
    It was my mother (who’d married her first and only love and had never been with another man for all of her life) who asked me once if I would have wanted my husband to be the only one. I really thought long about it,but I still have to say: No. I don’t think it would have worked the way it does now because my experience with other men (and I’d lie if I’d say they had been bad. Obviously my parent’s teaching had worked in so far that I never was with a man I feel ashamed of today) taught me to appreciate my husband probably even more as I’d do if I’d never known another man. When I say today that he’s the best what ever happened to me then I do so on remembering other relationships to compare ours with.
    So when my step-granddaughters who’re now in the age to become interested in boys ask me about relationships and sex and all this jazz, I tell them what my parents once told me.


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