Both dating and courting will involve couples doing things together. A dating couple and a courting couple might go out to dinner, a movie theater, a sporting event or church event together. A dating and a courting couple might spend time together with their various friends and family members. A dating and a courting couple may be physically attracted to one another.
With all these similarities it understandable how some people might confuse dating with courting. But the differences between these two activities are a matter of WHY, WHEN and HOW.
WHY Dating and Courting Occur Is Different
The reason why men and women date is to enjoy one another’s company. For instance, if a couple goes on a date and either one or both do not enjoy the other’s company then they will not see each other again. Even if a couple has been dating for some time, if they cease to enjoy one another’s company then they simply “break up”.
The reason why men and women court is for the purpose of discovering if they are compatible for marriage. While courting couples may enjoy their time spent together as dating couples do they understand that this is only a happy byproduct of the courting process and not it’s core purpose. When one courts they are interviewed by the other’s parents, family and friends and they also interview their prospective spouse’s family and friends.
Courting is not about having fun, it is a fact-finding mission about a prospective spouse.
The purpose of courting is to find out the character of a potential spouse by asking them about what they believe about God and about life and then finding out from their family and friends if their life matches their beliefs.
While courtships are sometimes terminated like dating relationships are, the termination of a courtship does not happen easily and it a serious event for both families. Only if a serious incompatibly was found or if unfaithfulness was found on the part of either person would a courtship process be terminated. Another important reason why courtships are terminated far less often than dating relationships is because both families do a preliminary investigation of the potential spouse before a courtship arrangement is agreed upon.
WHEN Dating and Courting Happens is Different
In dating a man typically approaches a woman and “asks her out”. It might be to dinner, a school event, a church event or some other event. With courting a man does not ask the woman out. He asks her father’s permission to court his daughter.
And this brings us to another key difference between courting and dating. The man does not ask permission to court another man’s daughter until he is prepared to support a wife and family. Courtships unlike dating are not meant to be conducted over many years. They are meant to be a short time to see of the couple are compatible for marriage and then they marry. Typically, this process takes only a few months but usually does not go beyond a year.
From a courting perspective, it would be highly inappropriate for a young 16-year-old man in high school who is totally unprepared for marriage or unprepared to support a family to ask a young woman’s father if he may court her. But with the practice of dating, a man need not be mature enough for marriage or able to provide for a family to enter into an intimate relationship with a young woman.
One last thing about WHEN courting occurs. We have spoken about the prerequisites for a young man to be able to court someone’s daughter. So the next logical question would then be what about the young woman? What is the age for courtship for her? The age is when her father deems her ready. This may be before the legal age of adulthood which is 18 or after the legal age of adulthood. His primary concern would be to make the determination as to whether his daughter is spiritually and emotionally mature enough for marriage.
HOW Dating and Courting is Conducted is Different
When young men and women date they may kiss and hold hands on the very first date. In fact, some couples even have sex on the first date. Still for many teens they may not have sex for some time but they still become very intimate with each other in other emotional and physical ways.
For many young men and women dating is sort of like taking a drug. They experience the dopamine rush in their brains of being with a new person. Every text they receive from the other person gives them a rush. Every touch from that person gives them a rush. Then they need to go further and further with the touching. Even if some teens do not engage in full sexual intercourse, many dating teens are touching one another in other sexual ways. It is all about the rush, the thrill of being with that person.
And then for many teens when the rush and the thrill of the new relationship goes away they breakup and move on to the next teen to experience new thrills with that new person. And this cycle goes on and on throughout high school or college until they finally decide to settle down, get serious and get married.
When young men and women court they do NOT touch. Some courting couples may be allowed to hold hands when the wedding is very close. But beyond that there is no kissing or hugging or cuddling during courting. And while they definitely investigate one another for compatibility they are not as emotionally intimate as dating couples. The goal of courtship is to make sure a couple is compatible but at the same time not engage in the emotional and physical intimacy God meant for marriage. Courting couples experience that dopamine rush too, but they do not allow it to control their actions. They can finally and fully let go once they are married. And on their wedding night and during their honeymoon – physical and emotional intimacy is all new for them and as beautiful as God intended it to be.
To help courting couples avoid the temptation to touch or talk in ways that are reserved for marriage they are never allowed to be alone. They always have parents or siblings or other Christian elders with them at all times. Courting couples might go out to dinner, a movie theater, a sporting event or church event together but often they don’t even sit next to one another. Someone else is in-between whether it is a sibling or a parent. So, they experience the events together but they do not touch. This is a major difference between dating couples and courting couples.
Some people wrongly think that courting is just “dating for marriage”. But as we have shown here it is so much more than that. A core component of dating is physical intimacy even if the couple does not go all the way to intercourse. Another critical difference between dating and courting is the parental involvement. In dating the man asks the woman out, in courting the man asks the girl’s father for permission to court his daughter. With dating the ability of the young man to provide for a family and his overall readiness for marriage is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is if the young woman finds him attractive and fun to be around. In courting, the young man’s ability to provide for a family as well as his faith and overall maturity are critical prerequisites to him asking to court a man’s daughter.