Quirky Christian Courtship

“We told Ted he could court Mary.” My mother told me this as we were driving to dinner.

That didn’t make sense to me, so I asked, “Why would Ted need to ask your permission? It’s not like Mary’s your daughter.”

“Well you know Mary’s father; he would nod his head and say yes to anyone. So Mary gave me the responsibility of accepting or rejecting any man she might want to court.”

People not familiar with Christian fundamentalism may not know what courting is, so here’s a definition from a Christian: “Courting is young adults seeking each other under their parents’ supervision for the purpose of finding a spouse in the will of God.” Basically it’s formal dating without the physical intimacy and with more parental involvement.

Apologies to my mother, but having to grant Ted permission is weird. I feel sorry for him. It’s not even her parents — and he had to ask them too!

My mom continued: “We gave him a plan of things we want him to read to help him grow in Christ. We gave him a book a couple months ago on the will of God and he finished it. He’s a good kid.”

If I were him, I’d say screw this. This isn’t an engagement — it’s just permission to get to know someone more formally to see if they are a suitable candidate for marriage.

Oh, and did I mention they want to wait until marriage to kiss?

Yes, you read that right. They’re waiting for marriage, not only to have sex, but to kiss each other.

Poor, poor lovers.

As a Christian I would I have thought this was all very honorable. Now I see it as a little pathetic and a waste of time and guilt.

First, it’s demeaning. Mary is an adult. She’s 21 and doesn’t need a friend to tell her who she can and can’t have a relationship with. I would not let my mother tell me if  I could go out with a girl, and I don’t think she should be telling this girl whether she is allowed to “court” a guy. That is a decision she should make herself. Sure, my mom can give advice. But it’s Mary’s decision, not her parents’ decision and certainly not my parents’.

Second, it’s sexist. Ted has to ask Mary’s gatekeeper, but notice Ted doesn’t have a gatekeeper. There is an undercurrent here that women are weak; they cannot take care of themselves; they do not have the right to make an important relational decision by themselves. It’s insulting and misogynistic.

Third, it’s arrogant. My parents do not know who is the best match for this girl. Rarely do people really know how something will turn out for themselves much less someone else. Some people who seem perfect turn out to be rotters. Others who seem like jerks turn out to be loving, caring husbands. And we remember our hits (“I never did like him!”) and forget our misses.

Now of course we all have opinions, and sometimes there are clear indicators that someone might not be the best companion for someone (“Is that a body in your freezer, Ted?”). If we care for them we’ll probably make our opinion known — but it’s their life, and it’s their decision.

Christianity makes a big deal out of freedom, but these practices are a direct result of my mother’s Christianity. This is not freedom; it’s an oppression of rules and regulations. Some would say this is not “true Christianity” (which they define as whatever they believe), but virtually all forms of Christianity have core features of dogma that prey upon fear and guilt. Thus the concept of “sin” and “redemption.”

As I watch this overdramatization of Christian courtship, I wish I could say to Mary, “You don’t need my mother to approve of your relationship. If you love him, be with him. Screw the legalism.”

And to Ted, I’d say, “Run.”

Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
Meet The Wife
You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
  • http://foreverinhell.blogspot.com Personal Failure

    Must. Control. Feminist Fist of Death(tm).

    • Tobytwo

      Pro-tip: ALT-0153 makes a nice ™.

  • Question-I-Thority

    I was chaste as a fundamentalist Christian teenager — big mistake. For those questioning their sexual identity, sexual experimentation can be very important and worthwhile.

  • http://arkonbey.blogspot.com arkonbey

    What bothered me most was the fact that they weren’t even going to kiss until marriage. My wife and I firmly believe that sexual compatibility is one of the keys to a happy marriage. Not finding out if you’re sexually compatible with your partner is like buying a pair of shoes that you have to wear the rest of your life without trying them on.

  • yahweh

    “They’re waiting for marriage, not only to have sex, but to kiss each other.”

    The equilvalent of buying a pair of shoes without trying them on and declaring beforehand, I will never wear a different pair of shoes in my life.

    Fundies are waaaaaaaay too easy to make fun of.

  • Jasowah

    I remember doing this (asking to date). I felt like I was being SO respectful. Like it meant something more. Although, at the same time, I remember thinking, “I don’t really care what you say, I’m just giving you the chance to be polite.”
    I’m actually still seeing that same girl whose parents I asked permission to date from. They had said yes, and we were Christian at the time. Now we are both atheist. Needless to say that family does not like me anymore.

    • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

      Nice! Lol! My first husband asked my parents if he could date me and they were quite happy with the external show of manners. It did not end well, so I definitely see it as a meaningless gesture.

      Did they think that you were God’s will for their daughter? Do they now think that they were wrong?

      • Jasowah

        Thanks! Lol, no. I think they were always a bit skeptical of me, but they were giving me a chance. They laid down a lot of rules and such (the obvious being “no touchy”) after I asked to date this sexy girl. I remember one time they tried testing me by asking me to pray at dinner. I swear, I could feel the tension. It was like stepping up to bat and everybody is paying attention. I did okay though.

        • http://painandpanic.wordpress.com/ painandpanic

          Did her parents think that you two were courting or dating (since they gave you so many rules)?

          • Jasowah

            Courting probably. Neither or us was interested in that though. Not that it was only physical. We did a lot of talking. I had to in the beginning. She was just so fierce! =P

            • http://painandpanic.wordpress.com/ painandpanic

              Fierce eh?

        • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

          Wow. Courtship, I have decided, is a parents last stand in the fight to control their kid.

      • http://painandpanic.wordpress.com/ painandpanic

        I always thought that the only people that were ‘God’s Will’ for each other were those people that were boring religious squares. I was Christian yes, but I was always more interested in the guy that didn’t follow the rules like a good little drone or that was devoid of personality. If I had gone for a guy that my parents thought was my ‘Godly Match’ I would probably have died of boredom.

  • Joe Agnost

    Is this really a story about your mother Daniel? If so, does she read your blog? What’s her reaction to stories like this?

    • Daniel Florien

      She doesn’t read my blog.

      • Joe Agnost

        She doesn’t read it ~on_purpose~, or doesn’t know about it. It must be hard ignoring your blog on purpose I would think. The curiousity would kill me!

        I’m just curious… ignore my questions if you’re not comfortable answering.

        • Daniel Florien

          Doesn’t know about it.

          • Joe Agnost

            That must make your life a LOT easier! ;)

            Do you worry that she’ll find out about it one day?

            • Daniel Florien

              Oh it’ll probably happen someday, and I’m not looking forward to it. ;)

            • Joe Agnost

              Is it cruel of me to say that I can’t wait for THAT blog post?!

              (sorry… ;) )

            • Revyloution

              You should have a conversation with the guy who runs our local atheist group. His dad is actually a pastor who worked in our town. He’s been an out atheist to friends, but closeted to his family for a couple of years now. I have no idea how he does it.

            • Molly

              See, this is really funny, because my dad recently announced to me, with pride, that his book is going to be published by a small Christian publishing company. It’s about how “all the major atheists” have “serious issues with their fathers”. Needless to say, we have a great relationship. And… I’m not “out” to my parents. Obviously. Haha.

      • Revyloution

        How in the hell did you ever escape that way of thinking.

        I try to imagine what it would take for me to go from being a science loving skeptic to evangelical Christian. The only scenario I can come up with involves massive brain trauma, and copious narcotics.

        It’s such a huge journey, and I am in awe of anyone who can move from either position to the other.

        • Ivan

          I’m sure you’ve noticed, though, that your hypothetical transition isn’t exactly symmetrical. :^) In some ways it’s always gonna be easier to make a transition from irrationality to rationality than vice versa. (Except for environmental factors, as you noted.)

          Also, the transition from science-loving xian to science-loving skeptic isn’t quite as large. <grin>

  • Francesco Orsenigo

    And don’t forget experience.
    Casual relationship can teach you a lot about yourself and the other sex, and actually give you the tools to choose the person you want for a fulfilling committed relationship.
    This behavior is so retarded it hurts.

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    Courtship, as practiced by Christians in the Western world anyways, is a terrible way to find a spouse. Terrible. Women aren’t allowed to make a first move. So what do you do? You sit around and wait. But what if the guy doesn’t like you? Do you sit around and wait longer or do you go with Guy #2, who you do like, but just a little bit less than Guy #1? It is more confusing than dating. It’s supposed to protect people from bad relationships, but you don’t have as good of an “out” as you do in dating. Because “dating is just practice for divorce” they say, whereas “courtship is practice for marriage” so if you are courting a good man that you have no feelings for, can you end the relationship? You are supposed to have a reason. So you either make one up or you stay with your partner. It’s way too serious too fast. Ugh! And don’t get me started on the kissing/abstinence thing. Really, what difference does it make if you kiss the day before your wedding or the day of? If kissing is going to cause you to lose all control and have sex, then I pity you. Tying so much guilt to sex in the context of a committed,loving relationship is sad and pathetic, too.

    Okay, I could go on, but I’ll stop now!

    • Jasowah

      “If kissing is going to cause you to lose all control and have sex, then I pity you.”

      I can’t help it! =(

      • Elemenope

        Besides, everyone knows the real killer is the impromptu back massage. Kissing ain’t nothin’ compared to that.

      • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

        Well, it’s okay if YOU lose all control, because you’re an atheist, right? :D

    • http://painandpanic.wordpress.com/ painandpanic

      The whole deal where it isn’t ‘proper’ for the woman in the relationship to make the first moves (to start dating or get married) really irks me. I never understood why people thought that men should do all the work? Yes, I admit that I do like being ‘chased’ so to speak, but to look down on a relationship because ‘she had to get things started’ is mean. My sister is so influence by this issue that she bugs her friend to propose to his girlfriend under the false assumption that ‘thats how things are supposed to go’ (also because she thinks that living together w/o being married is sinful).

  • Ivan

    And to Ted, I’d say, “Run.”

    Back when I was still Christian a few years ago, I attended a denominational conference at which a man and his wife asked me if I would be interested in courting their daughter (she was 23, I think, near my age at the time).

    I ran.

    I felt bad for the girl. Later I wondered if I should have at least gotten her email so I could try to give some helpful advice.

    • Sunny Day

      Thats disgusting and sad.

      Hello random stranger you look like you need my daughter, care to take her off my hand? She cooks real well and doesn’t require much food or many beatings to do what you want.

      • Ivan

        It wasn’t random, although we were strangers. The whole encounter was orchestrated by a pastor, through whom they knew my credentials, so to speak.

        • Jerdog

          A blind-date-once-removed! Creeeepy.

          • Janet Greene

            I was going to make a comment but got distracted….oh, that’s what eggs & toast look like partially digested……

  • http://lifeofdi.wordpress.com Di

    That is sooooo weird. I really can’t wrap my head around someone not only allowing others to give permission to date her, but asking someone to make those decisions. Totally bizarre.

  • Mark D

    Fundies believe their young children (between the ages of 2-5) are smart and mature enough to make the most important decision of their lives and get saved. But after that, their kids are too immature and foolish to make any decisions for themselves. Not only that, any ideas or suggestions that come from a child should not only be ignored, but the adults should do the opposite. “Children should be scene and not heard”.
    As a child I was a coin collector. One day at the local coin shop, there was a rare coin I wanted. It was selling for $200.00. I have about $1,000 in my college savings account. I told my parents I wanted to buy the coin and it would be a good investment. Even two deacons at my church agreed. But my parents would not listen. My mother even said that one day I might get hungry and spend the coin to buy ice cream. (I told them to put it in their safe deposit bank).
    By the time I graduated high school, the coin was worth about $3,000.
    My parents rarely accepted any input from my siblings or me. It was frustrating. Because according to both Calvinist and Fundie traditions of my parents, children are foolish beings devoid of wisdom.
    My unsaved friends did not have this problem. I had a friend whose parents would let him invest in the stock market. Another set of unsaved parents would ask for their children input on where their family should go on vacation. I was envious.

  • bigjohn756

    To see what can happen to kids like this read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Oh, my…

  • Verimius

    Who’s Ted? Who’s Mary? What is Mary’s and her father’s relationship with your mother?

  • lilybird

    The site from which you got your definition, in addition to being super creepy and extremely patronizing, is hilarious: Christian young ladies need to understand that certain sensual dress and frizzy hairstyles say to a boy, “Try me, I might.” They are a subtle offer of sex.

    Frizzy hairstyles? Really?

    • Daniel Florien

      I wish someone had told me that before… I never knew the frizzy hairstyle sex symbol!

    • Michael

      I’m sure this inevitably leads to rape, too.

    • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

      Bill Gothard advocates that even a bit of lace at the collar for a woman is wrong in his Advanced Seminar. Too sexy!

      And an A Beka book talks about the horror of some women taking the word “obey” out of their wedding vows. We wouldn’t want a woman to get a mind of her own and wonder why the hell she can’t frizz her hair or wear some lace now, would we?

      • Molly

        So, since my hair’s straight, I’m in the clear? Good to know :)

    • Sabrina

      Well, shit. Apparently, I’m always begging to be courted, since I have naturally (and completely unmanageable) frizzy hair. It must call out to every boy I pass “Oh, please sleep with me! I have frizzy hair and thus am wild and crazy in bed!”

      Either that, or I just have smegging frizzy hair.

      • yahweh

        You have frizzy hair? Nice. Can I try you?

        • Janet Greene

          I think you need to ask her parents first.

          • yahweh

            What if her mom has frizzy hair? I may be in!

            • Sabrina

              My mother, does, in fact have frizzy hair. When it rains, I turn into a giant frizzball with eyes.

              The last time a guy asked my parents about dating, it didn’t go so well. I say we skip the formalities and go straight to the fun bits :)

    • Janet Greene

      I knew there was a reason I had a good time in the ’80′s!!!

  • Nelly

    when I was “worshiping” in the pentecostal church (a 15 year old girl looking for boys…………hmmmm), we attended summer camp in which the boys had to go into their dorm and pull the curtains so we girls could go swimming in the pond. We had to wear robes over our bathing suits to and from the pond. Same went for the boys without the robes. We had to pull the shades when they were swimming, but they didn’t have to cover when not swimming………………right

    ok, now the segregation thing was in full force (including meals), but the one place where we could mingle was at worship in the chapel. I can tell you from experience, there was a whole lot of “lovin” going on in the pews, from the elbows down……..

    which tells me that no matter how much you try to control the raging hormones….

    they will find a way

    praise Geebuz

    • Nelly

      oh, and I had frizzy hair

      which explains a lot

      • Sabrina

        Aye, I think that shall be my new excuse for anything ‘sinful.’ “I have frizzy hair, I couldn’t help myself.”

  • http://lonewolfsden.net/ Lone Wolf

    I’d bet good money that, that marriage will end in divorce.
    How do they know they are actually compatible with each other? They don’t, they don’t know each other enough to know.

  • Meanie

    Why don’t they just skip all the pretension and embrace arranged marriages? Seems like that’s what they’re going for in the end anyway.

  • Janet Greene

    I grew up in a major-creepy fundy home (I use the word “home” loosely). Sex was a terrible sin unless you were married. This included masturbation (my mother would slip pamphlet under my door with advice on how to avoid temptation to masturbate – I think there was something about praising jesus, reading the bible or a christian novel, or other exciting endeavors like that), kissing, dancing (definitely leads to sex), and, of course, sex itself. The emphasis on sex in my household was, well, totally icky. Because there was no healthy outlet, there was all kinds of weird things. When there is religious oppression of sex, it often leads to deviance. My pastor dad would “accidentally” need something in the bathroom while I was taking a bath; and for some reason, when I was a teenager, the trim on my door was never completed so there was about a 1/2 inch crack through which my dad could gaze. Starting from when I was about 11 years old (I developed early), my parents would talk about this guy who came to my house for counselling with my dad – he was about 25 years old – and they would talk about how he was “waiting for me to grow up”, and would comment proudly about how he looked at me. They talked about this for years, and I felt terribly revolted and violated every time. Parents should never sexualize their children. This undue influence of parents in children’s sexual lives is completely inappropriate. This includes “purity balls” where fathers take their daughters to purity dances (the daughters promising not to have sex until they are married). My dad would not have taken me to a purity ball because it involved dancing, but it’s the same idea. The way my parents treated me was like pedophilia, and it made me wonder how many other girls growing up in “nice christians homes” are being violated by their parents making these kinds of decisions. The message was “don’t do it” but people thought about it constantly – sex (including dating) issues seemed to be on people’s minds all the time. It was obsessive and sick. It’s hard to believe this crap is still going on in fundy homes. I wish I could protect other teenage girls from the destructive influence of fundamentalist xtianity.

    • Kodie

      I don’t mean to belittle your experience, because it sounds horrific and definitely creepy, but I just have to say “purity balls” makes me laugh like an idiot.

      • yahweh

        I did have to read purity balls twice. It sounded painful the 1st time I read it.

        • Janet Greene

          @yahweh – I thought you attend a purity ball – I didn’t know you could read one….

      • Ivan

        Purity balls: what a sexually repressed young fundie male gets after a long makeout session with his girlfriend.

        Been there, done that.

        • Janet Greene


          • yossarian

            Purity balls: blue balls with a side of guilt

            • Ivan


              Though I never felt nearly as guilty as I was supposed to!

            • Janet Greene

              Me too – for some reason, the sexual guilt thing never stuck with me. I pretty much slid out from under that one. I think my two older sisters got the brunt of that – and i’m incredibly grateful for that. And my boyfriend considers himself a christian, but he had a very wild past so his balls were never that pure either :)

      • Ivan
    • Ivan

      Now I can see why you might have especially good reasons to retch at my story above… wow. ick. Ick. ICK.

      The part about your mother leaving you a pamphlet to read is the least terrible part, but… wow. I guess I should be glad that at least I got most of my inducements to sexual guilt in person. And then there were the sermons at youth retreats…

      • Janet Greene

        Yeah – thanks for saying that. The more the craziness of my fundy past is acknowledged by others, the easier it is to put behind me.

        • Ivan

          Glad to help acknowledge your crazy past. It sounds significantly crazier than my own– my parents started out fairly fundie (I think they even read that Tim LaHaye book that Wayne mentions below!) and transitioned to a more intellectual (but very conservative) denomination when I was quite young– but I went to a private xian school that was kinda nondenominational yet heavily influenced by fundies. They would scare the shit out of us in chapel services by showing those Thief in the Night movies, the bastards. At least my parents could reassure me that we didn’t believe in such nonsense. (We only believed that Jesus would send you off to be roasted after you died. LOL.)

          Rambling now. I should probably join the forum or something.

          • Janet Greene

            Yeah – thief in the night. Apparently, that was the only movie that wasn’t from the devil because we were allowed to see it, and it was shown *gasp* in church (movies were sinful until I was about 16, then suddenly they weren’t anymore). But I think maybe they got it backwards, because that stupid movie haunted me. Unfortunately, my parents bought the whole schtick. Weirdly, that was emphasized even more than hell in my household. I guess whatever gets the brainwashing job done, right?

    • http://camelswithhammers.com Camels With Hammers

      What a terrible story.

  • http://brgulker.wordpress.com brgulker

    This post is baffling to me, Daniel. You rail against fundamentalists for pushing their morality on others regularly. But in this post, you’re doing exactly the same thing.

    Who are you to tell other people how or who they should and shouldn’t date and marry? Honestly, Daniel, take your own advice:

    If we care for them we’ll probably make our opinion known — but it’s their life, and it’s their decision.

    It’s their life. If they want their parents’ supervision, let them have it and get over it. Don’t read your hatred of Christianity onto their lives. That’s arrogant and demeaning.

    • Roger

      False equivalence here, bgrulker. This blog post is a criticism of a certain sexual morality–if Daniel had the ability to, say, codify his morality and enforce it upon children and small communities, then your argument might be right.

      • Sunny Day

        It’s his persecution complex acting up again.

    • Siberia

      Funny you say that, considering this part of the post:

      As I watch this overdramatization of Christian courtship, I wish I could say to Mary, “You don’t need my mother to approve of your relationship. If you love him, be with him. Screw the legalism.”

      Emphasis mine.

      I don’t see Daniel advocating the end of courtship. I don’t see him even telling this girl that what she’s doing is silly and demeaning. I see him stating an opinion that it is so, in his personal blog. The day he does those things, I’ll agree with you wholeheartedly.

      Too subtle a difference, I suppose.

    • Kodie

      If they want their parents’ supervision, let them have it and get over it.

      What they want and what they’re urged to want may be two different things. I read the stuff on the link about the unequal yoke, and for parents to insist on courtships rather than let their children date, because there is no model for dating in the bible. That’s that, people left on their own will rather have privacy and maybe kiss a little at least, but children are children until they get married. Only married people have the decision-making skills to size up a suitable husband for their daughter, and because love comes and goes, it is an unreliable measure for pairing two people up.

      Does that sound good at all to you? It’s one thing to say it’s a cultural difference and let them be, but you are essentially saying it’s ok to raise a girl at home to have no trust in her own decisions. Once she is grown, she doesn’t even think she can deal with a major decision without the “real” grown-ups picking out someone she has to have sex with for the rest of her life. It’s been drummed into her head that she has to be a wife at all, and that she is not responsible enough to pick a good man to marry. In Daniel’s story, it seems as though there is some reason Mary wants help with this that she is not able to get from her own parents, but as per that link, parents are charged with the responsibility of treating their daughters as horny idiots, even well into their twenties, should they still be unmarried by then. That’s probably because, due to their cultural difference, premarital sex and information about birth control is considered heresy.

      To some extent, young people are horny idiots, after all, but their protection is the Lord here. While young girls are still socialized to see marriage and babies as a goal and achievement in life, horny idiots in the Lord’s teaching are going to probably MARRY the first guy who doesn’t smell really bad or have gross teeth because you have your parents’ permission. That makes a marriage strong, you see, rather than seeing a few people and having sex with some of them. The danger here is that some people might actually want to have sex with someone before they get a chance to marry – for life! Get them married ASAP! They don’t need to know each other very well. Scare them with Jesus!

      That’s really not just a cultural difference, or what the young lady chooses. Have you ever said, “if I knew then what I know now…”?

  • claidheamh mor


    This isn’t an engagement — it’s just permission to get to know someone more formally to see if they are a suitable candidate for marriage.

    Well, yeah!

    I am in vehement agreement with you. It’s just that it’s just… so… obvious. So transparent.

    And so inadequate for going into a legal and emotional chokehold like marriage.
    (I say that because I’ve had the sense not to go into it yet. Relating to other people is a lifetime learning. Note that I said people. That’s, like, plural.)

  • Wayne

    Happened to me. I was a 33 year old veteran who had a masters degree; the lady I was dating was 35 years old, an RN and had travel on her own in Europe. Our courtship was under the guidance of the elders. I was given a Tim Lahay book to read (“The Act of Marriage”) that told the man the technique for satisfying the woman.

    About 20 years later, we were still involved with this group and my son who was in college and no longer living at home went through the same process. The difference was that he didn’t put up with the invasion of privacy. When they wanted to know how many times he had kissed the girl he was courting, he told them, “None of your business.” He and his future wife withdrew from the group, lived together in sin, got married, and have given us two wonderful grandchildren.

    • Janet Greene

      Wayne – you obviously did something right with your son! And Tim LaHaye wrecked my life too – his obsession with end times & the rapture gave me years of night terrors – I barely slept as a child because this scared me so much (courtesy of a good christian upbringing). If only there was a hell……

      • Janet Greene

        I just re-read some of my posts on this thread, and I’ve been whining quite a lot – thank you for putting up with me. I really am not as negative as this would indicate, but I think this one triggered me.