“What is the difference between courting and dating,” a woman asked me on my last post. Courting has boundaries and accountability. Dating has no boundaries and no accountability. I decided to research the history of dating in America.
“As cultural historians Alan Carlson and Beth Bailey put it in the Mars Hill Audio Report, Wandering Toward the Altar: The Decline of American Courtship, prior to the early 20th century, courtship involved one man and one woman spending intentional time together to get to know each other with the expressed purpose of evaluating the other as a potential husband or wife. The man and the woman usually were members of the same community, and the courting usually was done in the woman’s home in the presence (and under the watchful eye) of her family, most often Mom and brothers.
“However, between the late 1800s and the first few decades of the 1900s the new system of ‘dating’ added new stages to courtship. One of the most obvious changes was that it multiplied the number of partners (from serious to casual) an individual was likely to have before marriage.
“Bailey observes that by the 1930s and ’40s, with the advent of the ‘date’ courtship increasingly took place in public spaces such as movie theaters and dance halls, removed by distance and by anonymity from the sheltering and controlling contexts of the home and local community. Keeping company in the family parlor was replaced by dining and dancing, movies, and ‘parking.’
“We see a change in sexual norms in the West. With the onset of the sexual revolution the question arose, ‘Why would a man court and woo a woman when he could gain a chief benefit of marriage, namely sexual gratification, for free with no commitment?’ (Friendship ‘with benefits’ is a contemporary example.)”
Birth control came onto the scene and separated having sex from being married. Courtship centered around the talk of home and family. Dating gave way to competition and consumption. “Instead, it was a ‘competitive game,’ a way for girls and boys to demonstrate their popularity…You had to rate in order to date, to date in order to rate. By successfully maintaining this cycle, you became popular. To stay popular, you competed. There was no end: popularity was a deceptive goal.” From here came the concept of “going steady” which was long-term sex without commitment. This has contributed to the present day divorce merry-go-round.
“Out of necessity, this cultural confusion has forced Christians to re-evaluate from where we are taking our cues — from the secular culture at-large or from a wise contemporary application of what is taught in Scripture. In many Christian communities, there seems to be movement toward rediscovering, or creating anew, some sort of script that conforms itself to the way God created man and woman to relate to each other. New types of courtship systems where family, friends, and church communities are involved in the relationship provide support and godly counsel to individuals in a relationship.”
A woman told Elisabeth Elliot that she was in a “relationship.” Elisabeth asked her what kind of a relationship. The woman just responded “a relationship.” Elisabeth told the young women that a relationship between a man and woman outside of marriage should only be referred to as brothers and sisters in Christ or engagement, meaning absolute purity before marriage. I agree with her.
We have come so far from biblical standards of relationships between men and women. Most Christians look no different than the world. The world stopped courting and went to dating and “parking” so the Church eventually followed. I admire those parents who are raising their children in the courtship style of accountability and boundaries. This is protection for their children. They are doing what they believe to be is biblical and upholding their children’s sexual purity. They should be applauded, not mocked as many in our fornicating culture are doing.
Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
1 Corinthians 6:18