Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.
In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).
This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).
Covenants and Romance
So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrashon Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).
Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more →
I have lots of thoughts about love. Am I a relationship expert? no. Do I have much experience with romantic relationships? not really. But I’ve read an awful lot of books on relationships, written romances, talked at length with people who’ve had successful (and otherwise) relationships, and thought about it a great deal. In short, I fit David Keirsey’s description of NF personality types as people who are “in love with love.”
So of course when a friend shared a talk on Facebook called “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person” by British philosopher and author Alain de Botton, I had to watch it. I think I skimmed de Botton’s article by the same name quite a while ago, but sitting down and listening to this talk prompted a whole lot of thoughts that I wanted to write about. Here’s the video:
“It is in fact hope that drives rage. … If we’re to get a little less angry about our love lives we will have to diminish some of our hopes.” — Alain de Botton
If you read the post from two days ago, then you know I already touched on unreasonable expectations in my post “5 Relationship Problems INFJs Often Struggle With.” Those of us (not just INFJ types) with particular romantic ideals and good imaginations might struggle with it more, but the issue of romantic hopes and dreams not matching reality affects everyone.
One of de Botton’s main points is that your will marry the wrong person because our idea of “the right person” doesn’t exist. By and large, we don’t have realistic ideas about what it means to find the right person or even how to love. We need to shift our expectations in the realm of romance. Maybe instead of looking for the ‘right’ or ‘perfect’ person, we should consider it a success when we, in de Botton’s words, “manage to find a good enough person.”
You Are Hard To Live With
“We are basically, psychologically quite strange. We don’t normally know very much about this strangeness. It takes us a long, long time before we’re really on top of the way in which we are hard to live with.” — Alain de Botton
As de Botton says, if you’re human you’re hard to live with. But he also says most of us are blind to the hows and whys. That might be true, but as someone who lives with anxiety I’m also quite certain I’m not easy to live with. I might not know everything that’s wrong with me. I’m probably missing some of the real reasons that I’m hard to live with and have blown other things out of proportion. But my anxiety tells me over and over again that there’s something wrong with me and people won’t, or shouldn’t, want to be around me.
“We tend to believe that true love means accepting the whole of us. It doesn’t. No one should accept the whole of us, we’re appalling.” — Alain de Botton
The way de Botton phrases this bothers me because I know that living with the idea “I’m appalling/ broken/ worthless” isn’t healthy, psychologically. I think the goal should be to arrive at a more balanced view of yourself. Maybe de Botton thought most of his audience needed to be told they’re appalling to help get them closer to balance, but I also think there are people who hear “you’re appalling” way too much (from self and others). What we really need to hear is that we’re worthy of love even though “in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness” (to quote C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves).
I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and love the work she does on shame and vulnerability. I know vulnerability is a vital part of human connection and I believe that it’s a good thing. Still, the part of de Botton’s talk where he discussed the vulnerability needed to create a good romantic relationship bothered me.
“We get into these patterns of not daring what we really need to do … [which is to say ] ‘I’m actually a small child inside and I need you.’ This is so humbling most of us refuse to make that step and therefore refuse the challenge of love.” — Alain de Botton
I’m not sure about this one. Yes, extreme vulnerability is needed to build relationships, but I’m also wondering isn’t it better to approach a relationship from a place of I could survive without you, but I really want you in my life rather than I desperately need you? Although, to be fair, he probably isn’t talking about the kind of “need you” that goes along with something like insecure attachment styles.
I also wonder if my qualms about this part of his talk might be more about some of my personal experiences and my fear of being seen as “clingy.” I don’t want to say ‘I need someone’ while I’m single because I don’t want to be that person who’s just all wrapped up in finding a relationship. Even in a relationship, though, I don’t want to say ‘I need you’ because it feels like weakness. I really do feel like I’m a small child inside and I need someone, but there’s also part of me that hates this side of myself.
But shouldn’t asking for what we want and need feel like (and be) something that’s okay to do? I suppose I’m going to have to (somewhat reluctantly) agree with de Botton on this point.
Learning How To Love
I do really like de Botton’s description of love as a skill that needs to be learned. It’s a sad thing that in the world today we’re constantly told love just “happens” or that it’s all about emotion. If that were the case, romance should be pretty easy but it’s not. And because we don’t think of love as a skill or something that requires hard work, we keep trying to find love that “feels good” or where we’re magically compatible. It’s no wonder that we’re continually disappointed.
“To love ultimately is to have the willingness to interpret someone’s on the surface not very appealing behavior in order to find more benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding. In other words, to love someone is to provide charity and generosity of interpretation.” — Alain de Botton
“True psychological maturity … is the capacity to recognize that anyone you love is going to be a mixture of the good and the bad. Love is not just admiration for strength. It’s also tolerance for weakness and recognition of ambivalence.” — Alain de Botton
Love is about so much more than just how we feel. It is an action and a choice. This reminds me of one of the questions that comes up quite often in the personality type community: “Which type is a good fit for me romantically?” The often unsatisfying answer is “any of them.” Oh, there are some types that tend to get along better with each other but type really isn’t a good predictor of which relationships will work out. It’s much more important to find someone who will work to understand you and whom you’re willing to work to understand than to find someone of a “compatible” type.
What We’re Really Looking For
“Quite a lot about our early experiences of love are bound up with various kinds of suffering. … We think we’re out to find partners who will make us happy, but we’re not. We’re out to find partners who will feel familiar. And that may be a very different thing. Because familiarity may be bound up with particular kinds of torture. .. [We may reject people because they will] not be able to make us suffer in the way we need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.” — Alain de Botton
I’ve been pondering this part of de Botton’s talk for days. Is it true in general? Is it true for me? It reminds me of something my ex-boyfriend said about what I think I “deserve” in love, which I don’t want to go into detail about but has been bugging me since he brought it up. I don’t have an answer as to whether or not we’re looking for lovers who will hurt us in all the ways that feel familiar from other people we’ve loved.
However, I do think that as a general rule often times what we’re looking for romantically isn’t necessarily what would be best for us. This goes back to the idea that we’re looking for someone who will just accept and understand us, when in reality we all have parts of ourselves that are hard to live with. We should really be looking for someone who will help us become a better person and with whom we can build compatibility (more on that in a moment).
“You probably believe that when somebody tries to tell you something about yourself that’s a little ticklish and a little uncomfortable that they’re attacking us. They’re not; they’re trying to make you into a better person. And we don’t tend to believe this has a role in love.” — Alain de Botton
I think you should look for someone who loves who you are so much that they want you to grow into an even better version of yourself. They’ll also want you to do that for yourself as much (or more) than they want you to do it for them.
I want to make sure and note, though, that this is a very different thing than someone who tries to manipulate and/or change you “for your own good.” No other human being has the right to decide what’s good for you or mold you into something you’re not. Someone who really loves you will help you grow as yourself, not make you change into what they want.
This is my favorite quote from the whole talk:
“You cannot have perfection and company. To be in company with another person is to be negotiating imperfection every day. … We are all incompatible. But it is the work of love to make us graciously accommodate each other and ourselves to each others incompatibilities, and therefore compatibility is an achievement of love.” — Alain de Botton
“Compromise is noble. We compromise in every area of live, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t compromise in our love life. … Let’s look a bit more benevolently at the art of compromise. It’s a massive achievement in love.” — Alain de Botton
Today’s post is a bit different than usual. During my Tuesday morning Bible study, my cat looked so comfortable snuggled up on my lap that I spent some extra time meditating on the Word. I’d been in Genesis writing about our Creator, and a thought popped into my head. I want to share this idea with you today and ask for feedback. Please comment! Diving deeper into God’s mysteries shouldn’t be done in a void — I believe God wants us to grow together and “sharpen” each other (and also to call each other out if we notice someone studying something that’s not in line with scripture).
Okay, so we know that God has had a plan in mind since before creation and that plan involves building a family (Eph.1:3-6). We also know that the church is described as the bride of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:6-9) and we’re told that human marriage is a “great mystery” that points to the relationships between Christ and His church (Eph. 5:22-33).
What if God began revealing these aspects of His plan from the very beginning in the way He chose to create man and woman? or, to put it another way, what if the way God created man and woman teaches us that He didn’t want to be alone and that He’s fashioning a helper comparable to Him? Read more →
I love weddings. Smiling faces, happy tears, white dress, flowers, everywhere, dancing, true love … *sigh*. But even the best wedding I can imagine won’t be as wonderful as the heavenly wedding after Jesus Christ returns to claim His bride.
We’re fast approaching the fall holy day season. Yom Teruah/Feast of Trumpets is on Monday, September 14. It’s the day that pictures Christ’s triumphal return, which closely connects it with His marriage.
Building A House
In the marriage customs of Christ’s day, at least among the Jews, there were strong parallels with God’s plan. After a betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom went away to build a house. In the mean time, the bride got ready and watched carefully because she wasn’t sure when he’d show up again. The timing depended on the bridegroom’s father saying the house was complete and the bride’s father agreeing that the bride-price had been properly paid.
Jesus told His disciples He didn’t know when He was coming back — that was something only the Father could decide (Matt. 24:36; Mark 13:32). He did, however, tell us what He’d be doing in the mean time.
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (Jn. 14:1-3)
Christ’s house-building functions on two levels. One is mentioned here – His preparation of a dwelling place for us in His Father’s heavenly realm. Another involves us more directly.
For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God. And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. (Heb. 3:4-6)
having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2:20-22)
We are built on and in Jesus, by Jesus, so we can be fit dwellings for God. While He is preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to dwell with and be indwelt by Him and His Father. Still, He isn’t the only one working on getting the Bride ready.
Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)
This verse describing the bride as “ready” is in the future. Since that’s the case, the Bride today should have started preparations if she wants to be ready by the time this marriage takes place. Yet how can we possibly prepare to marry Jesus? How can we hope to be a suitable helper for Him? Well, we couldn’t if all this preparation was done on our own.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)
We have to work on ourselves, but that’s all made possible because God is working in us. Since He’s already adopted us into His family, He fills the Father-of-the-Bride role as well as being the Bridegroom’s Father.
Paul wrote to Timothy that if we purge ourselves form ungodliness and iniquity, then we’ll be “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21). That’s what we want to become — purified for use in the temple and prepared to do good works.
Claiming The Bride
The time between formal betrothal and when both fathers gave the go-ahead for the groom’s return could stretch into years. Like some of those ancient brides, the church has waited a long time for her groom to come back. We know He’s coming, and we’re working on getting ready, but are we waiting eagerly for Him? Do we anticipate His arrival?
But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ (Matt. 25:5-6)
Now we get to the part involving trumpet blasts — they signaled the bridegroom’s return in an unmistakable sign that he was close at hand. It’s enough to wake you up, but doesn’t give you enough time for panicked last-minute preparation. If you aren’t ready when the trumpet sounds, you miss His arrival.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51-52)
Once He’s here, we’re out of time. Either we’re ready to go with Jesus into the wedding feast, or we’re left outside like the five foolish virgins (Matt. 25:11-13).
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1Thes. 4:16-17)
This is what Yom Teruah — the Feast of shouting and trumpet-sounding — pictures. It’s a yearly reminder for the Bride of Messiah to get ready. Your Bridegroom is coming! Do you hear the trumpet?
Every girl who wants to be married has dreamed about what he will be like. Many of us have written lists of the traits our ideal man will have. Over the years, we’ve also heard various views on writing husband lists. Some people say you should have a list, so you know what you’re looking for. Others say that having a list makes your focus too narrow and that you’re “limiting God.”
I had a nice long list when I was in my teens, then a short list of “must haves,” and now a more specific idea that’s not written down. Recently, though, a married friend encouraged me to write a new list to pray over. She had a list, and when she was in her 30s she met a man who fit every thing she’d been praying for (right down to the kind of car he drove) and married him 2 weeks after their first meeting (yes, you read that right. They’re still happily married and have two teenage kids). I know other girls who’ve been told their standards were “too high” yet found guys who matched everything on the list they were praying for, and there are also ladies like blogger Lucinda McDowell who prayed for 24 things in a husband, and God gave her 23. Writing a list doesn’t make you “too picky” — it means you have standards, and that’s a good thing.
So I started work on my new list. And I thought perhaps other girls might find it useful to read about how I decided what to include. There are articles out there offering lists of non-negotiables for you to base your list on, but even the essential qualities are going to look a bit different for everyone. For example, if you’re Christian, some form of “He’s a practicing believer” is probably at the top of your list, but what does “practicing believer” mean to you?
Just a quick note … guys can write “wife lists” too, and I suspect that much of what I talk about here might be useful for that as well. Since I’m a girl thinking about a future husband, though, that’s what I’m going to focus on for this post.
I’ll be honest — I actually didn’t start with this step, but I think now I should have. You want your list to reflect the things you feel like you “should want” as well as what you truly desire, and so there’s often a feeling of not being able to ask for “little thing” or mention appearance at all. But if we’re honest, things that might seem shallow at first glance are still there in the back of our minds, which means they do matter on some level. Starting with free writing gives us a chance to put those little dreams on paper without feeling bad about them.
Grab a piece of paper and just start writing the first phrases and descriptions that pop into your head when you think about what kind of guy you would like to marry. Think about guys (real and fictional) you’ve had crushes on and list the things about them you found attractive. Think about guys you’ve dated and list things that you liked about them, and the opposite of the reason you broke up with him (i.e., if you’re boyfriend didn’t respect your boundaries, you might add “respects my boundaries”). Think about happily married couples you know and list things you want to see in your own marriage. Write down literally anything that you think of, no matter how unrealistic it sounds.
Now look back over your list. Circle anything that 1: doesn’t have to do with physical appearance and 2: you consider absolutely essential in a relationship. You’re looking for things that have to do with who he is as a person, like “loves God,” “good communicator,” and “we worship together.”
Next, look at the things you haven’t circled yet. Cross-out anything that you know is 1: not essential for you in a relationship (I crossed out “rich singing voice”), 2: only related to physical appearance (such as “taller than me), and/or 3: completely unrealistic. While you’re doing this, you might find that you can replace an unrealistic goal with a related realistic goal. For example, instead of “rich as Mr. Darcy” you might list, “able to provide financially for a family.” I would encourage you to pray about the things you want but know are unrealistic. Sometimes, we use unrealistic expectations to push other people away and shield ourselves from being vulnerable in relationships.
Now you have a sheet of paper with things crossed out, things circled, and a few things that are neither. For now, set this list aside.
Red, Yellow, Green
There’s a book called True Love Dates by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta that recommends writing three separate lists, and that’s where we’re going to start. Before you spend any more time writing down the things you want in a relationship, we’re going to write a list of things that are never okay.
“Stop” and “Slow”
The first thing you’re going to write is a Red list of traits that always mean “stop” when you notice them in a relationship. If a guy has any characteristic from your Red list, you do not pursue a relationship with him (no matter how many good traits he has). My Red list includes things like “does not believe in God/won’t respect my belief” and “refusal to communicate,” along with others like the examples Debra Fileta gives in her book:
Abusiveness (physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual)
Dangerous and uncontrolled temper or displays of aggression
Pattern of dishonesty or betrayal
The next step is writing a Yellow list. This is for things you’re not sure about and would need serious consideration and discussion before moving forward in a relationship. They give you pause, but don’t mean the relationship can’t work. A few on my list are “previously married” and “trouble handling money.” Here are more examples from True Love Dates:
Family of origin issues and problems
Unhealthy habits or behaviors
Lacks motivation, goals, and dreams
“Go” For It!
Now for the fun part — the Green list or “husband list” of things you want to have in your relationship. If Red means stop and Yellow means slow down and reevaluate, Green means you can feel good about going forward with a relationship. Here’s where we get to go back to the free writing exercise.
I sorted my list into four categories: “Personal Values,” “Family and Relationships,” “Makes Me Feel …” and “Personality.” The circled phrases from my free writing exercise ended up in the first three categories, and many of the phrases that were neither circled nor crossed out ended up in one of the last two categories (you might even list a couple of the ones you crossed-out if they are still important to you). I saw the “Personality” category as representing things I want, but some of which could be negotiable. Here’s a few specific items from each list, so you can see what I’m talking about without me sharing a copy of the whole thing:
follows God and Christ first
uses his gifts to serve in some way
demonstrates integrity, commitment, faithfulness
Family and Relationships
respects and helps set boundaries
hospitable; welcomes guests and visitors to our home
Makes Me Feel …
protected and cherished
listened to and understood
like I’m valuable and contributing to his life
slow to anger
enjoys discussing ideas
Looking At Yourself
Now that you have your list, turn it back on yourself and ask if you have those qualities. Would the guy you’ve written about want to date, or marry, you? Some of this should match pretty easily — you wouldn’t list a guy who wants 6 kids if you didn’t want 6 kids.
Others might be harder. If you listed a man who spends time with God every day, will he want to marry you if you regularly forget to study? Or if you ask for a guy who will never cheat on you, are you prepared to be faithful to him? If you want an Ephesians 5 husband, will you be an Ephesians 5 wife?
I hope this post was helpful to you — writing the list that inspired it has certainly helped me. While we know that God knows exactly what we need without us telling Him, I think it is helpful for us to have something more to ask Him than “please give me a good husband.” You’re putting effort into pursuing a relationship by figuring out what it is you’re looking for. God bless you, my dear readers.
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)
If you grew up in a conservative Christian setting or the home-school community of the late 1990s and early 2000s, you mostly likely read I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. After its release in 1997, it quickly became the go-to book in the courtship-vs-dating debate. If your friends didn’t hand it to you with an enthusiastic, “You have to read this book,” your mom probably thought it “would be good for you.” Or maybe you just picked it up on your own because of that suave guy on the cover tipping his hat (you know what I’m talking about, girls).
When I first read this book as a very “Christian” never-been-kissed teenager, all this courtship stuff seemed like a good idea. I mean, who doesn’t want a relationship guaranteed to lead to true love while keeping both God and your parent’s happy? The problem is, courtship doesn’t reliably work, and it gives you some pretty weird ideas to carry around if you eventually start trying to date like a semi-normal person.
Never Be Alone With A Guy
After reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, my teenage self wrote up a list of things I would and wouldn’t do now that I knew the “right” way to interact with guys. Number 4 on my list was “ I will not put myself in a potentially compromising situation by being alone with a guy unless there are other people in the near vicinity.”
For us girls, this idea makes interacting with both married and single men awkward because you just know if you’re alone with them for any length of time you’re practically forcing them to have impure thoughts about you. This simply isn’t true, but having that idea in the back of your mind makes you feel guilty even in completely innocent situations. There are other concerns, though, such as what other people will think and the fact that you really don’t want to be alone with some people, so just use some common sense.
Brothers, Not Boyfriends
That cute guy or girl you walked past at the supermarket? the coworker who smiles at you every morning? They are not potential dating material. Girls, you’re are supposed to treat every man you meet just like you would your brother. If you even think about him as a potential boyfriend, you need to get your thoughts under control because you’re defrauding him and his future wife (who probably won’t be you). The reverse advice is considered true for guys.
There are several problems with this idea. 1) Even after being told how “wrong” this is, you still wonder (even briefly) if every attractive man or woman you meet is “the one.” The only difference is you feel guilty about it. 2) I’m perfectly comfortable leaning against my brother’s shoulder, looping my arm through his, going to him when I need help with something, and laughing and talking freely with him. That’s okay, because he actually is my brother. If I treat another guy like that, he’ll think I’m flirting and people will ask if we’re dating. 3) if you really do succeed in thinking of all your friends in a completely unromantic way, you’re less likely to pursue a romance.
Daddy Has To Approve
Ideally in courtship, a man will decide he wants to pursue a relationship with a girl he is friends with, and then he will ask her father for permission to court her. As a young teen, having parental approval before you go out on a date makes sense when you have involved, caring parents. But courtship extends this principle to any age, and it becomes more and more impractical as you get older. If a girl plans to move out of her parent’s house, go to school, or work outside their home, she’ll end up interacting with men who’ve never even met her parents and who haven’t heard of courtship. Have fun trying to explain to a really great guy who just asked you out for coffee that he needs to talk with your dad first because there’s no such thing as a casual date.
Personally, I have a good relationship with both my parents and I want them to approve any man I marry or even seriously date. However, they haven’t met all the guys I know, and I’d be comfortable going out with a guy who hasn’t met my parents but is respected by our mutual friends. Other girls don’t have a good relationship — or any relationship — with their parents. Courtship gives the impression that if her father is not in the picture, the guy better hope there’s a male authority figure in her life to talk to because heaven forbid she make up her own mind about something like this.
First Comes Courtship, Then Comes Marriage
Up until a couple is officially courting, they aren’t supposed to be alone or interact romantically in any way. Groups outings are the rule. Then as soon as they’re courting, they are set on the fast-track to marriage (it’s basically like an engagement, which makes proposals almost a moot point). Either you’re “just friends,” or you’re “exploring the possibility of marriage.” There’s no in between.
This brings us to a problem with courtship that underlies all the ones we’ve talked about already — courtship assumes that every interaction between men and women is extremely weighty. You can’t go on a casual date hoping to get to know someone better because courtship tells you there’s no such thing as a “casual date.” You’re either friends, or you’re on the road to marriage.
Most people I know who’ve bought into the idea of courtship don’t actually get to the courtship part. It’s too intimidating of a commitment. When you leave courtship and try to date normally, though, you still have this idea that if a guy asks a girl out, that must mean he’s thinking of marrying her someday.
Courtship rules say absolutely no physical intimacy before you’re married. Depending on who you talk to, this even includes hand holding, hugs, or a quick kiss. Also, they add in the idea of “emotional sex” so that even having feelings for someone becomes wrong. Now, I do believe that God intends His people to save sex until marriage, but going to this extreme is a recipe for – you guessed it – more guilt.
People have written whole articles about how the teachings of physical and emotional purity from courtship books like I Kissed Dating Goodbyeactually damage healthy relationships. You second-guess every hand-hold and shoulder touch, wondering if you’re sending the “wrong message.” You’re scared to fall in love because you don’t want to give pieces of your heart away to someone you might not marry, as if caring about someone leaves you with less capacity to care about someone else later (I wrote a whole post addressing this idea).
So what’s the alternative? The Christian community ran away from worldly dating for a reason, and those problems (like shallow short-term relationships and accelerated intimacy) are still there. But courtship didn’t give us a viable alternative. Instead, I rather like the idea of going back to a more old-fashioned version of dating (as suggested by Thomas Umstattd, whom I also linked to in the intro). Debra Fileta supports a similar idea in her book and website True Love Dates. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think relationships will every be easy, but at least it sounds better than courtship!