Make America Date Again Part 2: Say Goodbye to ‘Courtship’

The modern world of dating apps and hook-ups is harmful — but so is the opposite extreme of premature commitment.

By Liberty McArtor Published on March 4, 2017

Growing up homeschooled, I was well acquainted with the brand of courtship born of Joshua Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I went to conference workshops and read devotionals that promoted it as the only biblical alternative to traditional dating — which would leave your heart torn in pieces and your body tainted when you did eventually marry (or so the message went).

While there are several basic guidelines covering this form of courtship (such as heavy paternal supervision and rigid rules regarding physical affection), the defining aspect is the premarital commitment. Since The Stream pointed out the harmful consequences of dating app culture earlier this week, it’s worth pointing out the harmful consequences of this relationship trend as well.

Shame and the Inability to Break Up

Courtship forces young adults to make a marriage-level commitment often before they are spiritually, emotionally or personally ready.

Abiding by courtship rules, two young people can’t even enter into a courting relationship unless their ultimate intention is to marry each other. But a lot can happen during the formative years of young adulthood. Tastes, interests and beliefs you used to have in common with someone may change. And that’s normal.

God is our redeemer. To imply that he can’t make one whole again after a serious relationship, a tough break up or even premarital sex is to deny the truth we find in His Word.

But since the point of courtship is to avoid traditional dating and break-ups, many young people (especially women, or so I’ve seen) feel  they can’t end things even when they need to. They’ve been raised to think that ending it now would be to betray their current S.O. (Significant Other) and present a torn-up heart to their future spouse.

If things have become at all physical this pressure to stay together doubles, since many of these young women were taught to feel ashamed to “give themselves” to their husbands if they’ve had any sort of physical (and not just sexual) relationship in the past. 

Common sense, however, says that if a woman (or man) feels that a relationship is wrong, they should be encouraged to break it off before sealing the deal. Additionally, God is our redeemer! To imply that He can’t make one’s body, mind and spirit whole again after a tough break up or even premarital sex is to deny the truth we find in His Word.

Aversion to Feelings

The “accountability” advocated by courtship culture involves the constant physical presence of parents, church leaders, friends and others. The argument for this is that 1) it’s easier to get to know someone for who they really are in a group setting and 2) being alone together heightens the chance that you’ll get caught up in your feelings and therefore get emotionally or physically attached (which would be a disaster if you ever did go separate ways, right? See the previous point). 

In reality, this approach is asking two young adults to view each other as future spouses but remain emotionally distant. How can this build any sort of foundation for a healthy relationship?

As I mentioned before, my husband and I met in college through mutual friends and group activities. But we enjoyed more and more “alone” time as our friendship progressed. Was there an emotional connection? Of course! That’s why our friendship kept progressing. But during those hours of long walks, cafeteria meals and Skype calls, our connection became so much more than emotional.

Imagine if we had held back every time we sensed our friendship growing deeper — or if we had been constantly surrounded by people that kept us from sharing with each other and building trust. We never would have made any progress toward a long-lasting love and a healthy marriage.

As Julia Shaw penned in this critique of Harris-style courtship for The Federalist, courtship and hook-ups have a fatal flaw in common: 

Beyond their commonalities about the role of sex, courtship and hooking up recognize a common enemy: feelings. To hook up or court successfully, men and women must guard their hearts from feelings. … In hooking up, couples have a physical encounter without emotional attachment. In courtship, couples engage in a non-physical relationship directed towards marriage but channel their emotions through third parties — parents, pastors or friends in the community.


After a generation of homeschooled and Christian conservative teens attempted to follow the rules in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, many grew up to see that courtship isn’t the best way to go about relationships. Among those having this realization? The author himself. 

Last summer Harris joined NPR for a radio interview and revealed his own changing views about courtship and dating:

… [M]y book was used as a rule book to say this is the only way to do it. I know that that’s not helpful. That was not my intention. But I think one of the things that I’m changing in my own thinking is I just think people — myself included — it’s so easy to latch on to a formula. You know, you do these things and you’ll be great. You’ll be safe and you’ll be protected and you’ll be whatever.

And I just don’t think that’s the way life works. I don’t think that’s the way the life of faith works. And so when we try to overly control our own lives or overly control other people’s lives, I think we end up harming people. And I’m — I think that that’s part of the problem with my book. …

[T]here are clear things in statements in Scripture about our sexuality being expressed within the covenant of marriage. But that doesn’t mean that dating is somehow wrong or a certain way of dating is the only way to do things.

Time to Kiss Dating Hello

Commitment in marriage is a beautiful and biblical covenant that represents Christ and his Church — and it should not be taken lightly. Which is exactly why it is harmful for young adults to adopt a mindset of marriage-level commitment to someone before they’re even engaged.

Those raised in the courtship culture need to know that there is no shame in having feelings for, interacting with and even going on a date with someone without the immediate expectation of marriage. That’s the great thing about traditional dating — it allows you to get to know someone in a respectful and mature way, without having to make a lifelong commitment before it’s time. 


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