Dating and Courtship: Should There Be Only One Suitor?
We were very surprised to find that many parents who are teaching courtship to their children are expecting (and telling their children!) that there will only be one suitor in their future. We see some real problems with this.
Imagine this: Marc has a female friend he’s known for years. Recently, he’s begun to realize what a good wife she would make and how much he enjoys her friendship. He talks to his parents who agree this looks like a wise course, then he calls her dad and makes an appointment to talk to him. He tells her father how much he appreciates his friend and how he’d like an opportunity to try to win her heart.
“Son, I have the highest respect for you,” the dad replies. “You’re a good man and would make a great husband, but last night, Brent asked me for permission to court my daughter. Now, I don’t want her to be hurt or have any confusion, so I don’t want you to tell her about your interest. I’m sorry.”
Couldn’t happen? Well, it did. The young man was just stunned. He couldn’t even tell her! He was just heartbroken. It would have been bad enough just to be rejected, but to watch their courtship and never be able to share his own feelings? Brutal.
We worried about the girl, too. We wondered if she would have felt differently about Brent if she’d known Marc was interested, too. Maybe she was even interested in Marc herself, but assumed since he didn’t say anything when Brent started courting her, that he must not have been interested at all. Maybe she would have greatly preferred Marc, but she’s afraid if she says no to Brent, no one else may ever come along.
You see, many girls are being told to expect to only have a romantic relationship with one man–and by “romantic” we don’t mean, “a torrid love affair of burning passion,” but something along the wide range from “more than friends” to “married.” They’re told that one day their Prince Charming will come along, court them, and then they’ll marry.
Some are being told there will only be one courtship–ever. A girl who believes this may feel pressure to accept the first reasonable offer, for fear he’s “the only” and if she turns him down, she is committed to lifelong singleness. On the other hand, thinking there must only be one courtship ever, may mean the girl holds off anyone who isn’t an obvious dreamboat–and never get to know a shy or taciturn young man who would make a fantastic mate.
Related thought: Paul encouraged younger widows to remarry (1 Timothy 5:14). No romance for widows? Or is there permission for more than one romantic relationship in a lifetime, after all?
Others, like Marc’s friend, don’t admit that more than one young man may be interested at the same time. Why ever not? The courtship culture of our great-grandparents seemed open to the concept. if literature from the period is an indication. If more than one young man has noticed a young woman, why shouldn’t they make that fact open–and the young woman consider them all, up to a point?
We strongly believe that fathers, mothers, or other counselors should feel free to caution a young woman, “I question whether such-and-such a suitor actually knows the Lord, and if he doesn’t, I can’t recommend him.” But for a father to tell a potential suitor, “I think you’re a fine, godly young man, with a great future ahead of you and a good start on your way, but I just don’t think you’re ‘the one’ … so don’t talk to my daughter any more.” Wow — that looks like hubris to us. Are we parents that wise? Or just that arbitrary?
There are pitfalls to treating courtship or dating like it was engagement. Engagement comes when the decision has been made, the question asked, and a promise given. Courtship or dating, as we see it, is the longer time of consideration, a time when lots of other questions should be asked, when hearts may be drawn together, or when a couple may realize they are not suited for marriage to each other. That may lead to engagement–or it may not; and couples need to feel free to say, “No,” and look elsewhere for a mate.
And if the relationship progresses, whether there is one suitor or more, the time will soon come when the young woman chooses to consider one or the other or neither. But it should be her decision.
Ultimately, our adult children will be the one to live with their mates. Yes, we parent have lived longer and served the Lord longer, so we’ll tell them if we see any red flags in a potential relationship, but we don’t intend to choose their mates for them. We believe they can choose their own mates – and we can’t wait to meet them!
Other Posts on Finding a Mate:
What in the World is Courtship (not a cookie cutter approach)?
Honoring Your Parents
It’s Just Coffee!
Don’t Shut the Door Too Soon!
A Good Thing
Or, listen to our hourlong workshop, Dating, Courtship, and All That, for more on Christian liberty, common pitfalls, and practical encouragement.
Hal & Melanie
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