What is the difference between courting and dating?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Can You Follow the Courtship Model Without the Support of Christian Parents?

While Christian churches and civil governments have usurped authority over marriage for many centuries, the fact is God did not give either of these spheres any authority over people entering into marriage.  You will not find one passage of the Scriptures granting authority over marriage to either civil or church leaders. Not one.

You will however, find passages like the Exodus 22:16-17, giving fathers authority over their daughters in marriage:

“16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.”

Exodus 22:16-17 proves that God gave authority over marriage not to the civil government or the Church but to the family, and specifically to fathers.

God instituted the family as his first human authority structure.  And he never ever took away any authority he gave to husbands and fathers when he later instituted the spheres of civil government and church government.

While the Bible does not require men to have the approval of their parents for marriage the Scriptures do tell sons this regarding their parents:

“My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother”

Proverbs 1:8 (KJV)

“A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.”

Proverbs 15:20 (KJV)

“Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old.”

Proverbs 23:22 (KJV)

So, I think it is Biblical to say that men should also seek the advice of their parents in seeking the spouse God has for them in the courtship process.

My point thus far in all the Scriptures I have shown is this.  God meant for the courtship process to be a family affair on both sides.  He wants the parents of the man and woman who are courting to be on the same page and comparing notes about their children.  This is not just a man and woman coming together in marriage, but it is also two families coming together.

Sin Sometimes Poisons the Courtship Process

Sin has infected every part of this world.  It has infected our bodies and natures as individuals.  It has also infected God’s institutions of marriage, family, civil government and even his institution of the Church.  Husbands physically abuse or abandon their wives.  Parents sometimes horribly abuse their children through physical abuse or neglect.  Civil authorities abuse their God given power, usurp authority over areas God did not give them and violate the natural property rights of individuals.  And church authorities are no less guilty of allowing sin to run rampant and abandoning the Word of God.

So, there will be times when a young person will not have the support in the courtship process God meant for them to have from their parents.

What happened with my grandparents is a prime example.

My paternal grandmother came from a home where her mother did not have a normal relationship with her children.  She was one of three children.  She had two brothers.  My paternal great grandmother was the matriarch of her family.   Her husband did whatever she said without question.

While it is not unheard of for wives to dominate their husbands and children (although it is sinful for them to do so) it is rare for a parent to forbid their children from ever marrying. That is what my paternal great grandmother did with her three children.  She expressly forbade them from seeking out marriage and insisted that her three children live with her and their father for the remainder of their lives.

She made her children feel that if they loved anyone other than her, their father or their siblings that they would be betraying their family in doing so.

We know when looking at the Bible that such parenting is against God’s design. God gave this command to parents regarding their children:

“Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.”

Jeremiah 29:6 (KJV)

And this command from Jeremiah is based on God’s first command to mankind when he created man and woman:

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Genesis 1:28 (KJV)

Well you can probably guess that my grandmother went against her mother’s wishes for her to remain unmarried and live with her mother for life, else I would not be here.

Unfortunately, her brothers did not seek out marriage and they remained with their mother for the remainder of her life.  One son died in his thirties before his mother died and the other died single many decades after his mother died.  It is interesting to note that while these men never married they were both extremely sexually immoral and had sex with many women.  But they hid it from their mother, never brought any of these women home and never married so they kept their mother happy.

My grandmother was the polar opposite of her brothers.  She was not a loose girl.  She was a strong believing Catholic and she believed sex was strictly reserved for marriage.

No, my grandmother and grandfather did not court. This new “dating” thing was all the rage and that is what my grandparents did.  They dated in secret in the mid 1930’s a little more than a decade after woman’s suffrage was passed.

And just as I have warned people here about dating, my grandfather was trying to entice my grandmother into premarital sex while they were secretly dating.  But my grandmother held to her Christian faith and she insisted that my grandfather convert to Catholicism and marry her before he could have sex with her.

My grandmother not only insisted that they be married first before sex, but that they also be married by a Catholic priest.  They could not go to her Catholic church as her priest would have told her parents.  So they went further away from where she lived to a different Catholic church and even used different names and were married by the priest under different names as the church would report the marriage to local newspapers.

My father told me that when his father died when he was eleven his mother had a horrible time getting social security because her and my grandfathers’s names did not match on the wedding certificate.  She had to prove through the birth records of my father and his three older siblings and other church records that they had in fact married and she finally got her social security.

After they were married my grandmother let my grandfather start having sex with her but no one knew they were married.  She stayed with her mother and would secretly meet with my grandfather.  She asked my grandfather for time to break the news to her mother as she was still scared to death of her mother.  Eventually my grandmother and grandfather were overheard on a party line (people shared phone lines with their neighbors back then) and the secret was out and she left to live my grandfather as husband and wife.

Did my grandmother do everything right? No.  She dated a non-Christian man (He was actually raised Mormon). Also she did not immediately move in with her husband after they consummated their marriage.

But from a Biblical perspective, my grandmother was not sinning by seeking out a husband in direct disobedience to her mother.

Her father and mother were derelict in their duty as parents to encourage their children to marry and prepare them for marriage.   It would have been disobedience on my grandmother’s part to God’s marriage mandate if she did not seek marriage unless God had providentially call her to a life of celibacy in his service.

Conclusion

God’s ideal is that the seeking out of one’s spouse should be family affair. The courtship model reflects God’s ideal.  Ideally a man should seek out the approval and permission of a woman’s father to court her.  And ideally a woman should follow her father’s advice in whom she marries.  She sould seek out his blessing and approval.  But due to sin’s corruption in this world not everyone can fully follow all the aspects of the courtship model.

Father’s die leaving fatherless daughters.  Fathers or mothers refuse to allow their children to marry.  Some parents may not discourage their children from marriage, but they refuse to participate in the courtship process.

So, what is a young person to do in these situations where parents are derelict in their duties in the courtship process?  The answer is that you are only responsible for your own behavior.  You are not responsible for your parent’s bad behavior.

That means if you have no father or mother or you have parents but they want nothing to do with the courtship process then you do what you can.

As a man that means even if your parents think otherwise – you do not court until you are financially prepared to provide for a family.  And when you do court, you never allow yourself to be alone with the women you court.  If her father wants to participate in the courtship process then ask his permission.  And ask for his wisdom in knowing and understanding his daughter.  Guard your heart and keep physical and emotional intimacy for marriage.  Yes, it will be harder without parents to support you, but you can still do it with God’s strength and help.  It is a vast understatement that this entire courtship process, with or without parental participation, should be bathed in prayer.

As a woman that means when you are an adult even if you have parents that were derelict in their duty like my maternal grandparents you should seek out marriage.  It will be a must greater challenge for you as a woman than it is for a man as it was for my grandmother.  But you still need to have high standards.  Don’t just look for the first man who comes along.  Pray hard as you seek the man God would have for you.  It is sad that you as a woman are in this position, but you are here.

In a way this is similar to when a woman’s husband dies. A widow is the position of having to lead her children and provide for them as her husband did.  She has to carry a load God never designed women to carry.  But death in this world occurs because of sin in this world.

So, what does a widow have to do? She has to go out and get a job to support herself and her children.  In the same way if a young woman has parents who are sinning against God’s calling for parents to encourage and prepare their children for marriage then she should attempt to get a job and then leave their home.  Another option would be for her to move out of her parent’s house as an adult and move in with another Christian family.  Perhaps she can even see if another Christian father will stand in as her spiritual father and help her in the courtship process.

I do think though that Christian young men and women as a general rule should commit to honoring the wishes of the woman’s father in courtship.  Yes there will be exceptions like the one I have painted here and others.  But whenever possible, the father’s wishes regarding his daughter should be honored – especially if he is a Christian man who is fully engaged in helping his daughter to find the man God has for her.

Update 9/30/2018 – I let my Dad read this since a I published this a few days ago and he wanted to me to correct and add a few details of his mother and father’s dating and marriage story.  My great grandmother did not know about her two son’s whoring around – only my grandmother(their sister) knew.  Also I did not know the details of how they were married whether by a judge or a priest.  They were married by a priest at my grandmother’s insistence but they went to a different Catholic church than my grandmother attended regularly and they change their names so when the wedding announcements went out to news papers.