A question from a reader:
'Anna, I don't really understand the difference between courtship and dating. Is it that courting couples are more committed to purity than dating couples? Or that courting couples seek the approval of their parents? Can you explain?'
I think this was an excellent question, and even though I already answered it briefly by email, I thought it would be good to give a detailed response here. Also check out this great post by Kelly.
The most important difference between widespread secular dating and what I perceive as courtship (I understand definitions might be different), is the following: courtship is marriage-oriented. Dating isn't. How do dating relationships usually begin? 'Oh, there's a cute guy/girl. I feel there's chemistry between us. Why don't we start hanging out together and then see how it goes?'
I think this attitude is defined by its awful lack of seriousness. Why do people invest time in choosing the right university, the right career, the right place to live in – but not in thinking when they want to get married and how they envision their future family life? Marriage is something that will make a much more serious impact on our lives. I rarely hear someone saying, 'this house looks nice, so I'll just buy it and then we see what happens!'
Courtship means remaining marriage-focused; in the process of courtship, we look at the man or woman we are seeing, and try to find out if this person could be the right one for us as a potential spouse. There can be attraction and affection, but we always keep in mind this is a serious decision, not to be based on impulses. You are choosing a mate not for a month or a year, but for a lifetime; and the children you will have together will influence the future of humankind. Whatever you decide now, it will matter for eternity.
The other things typically associated with courtship stem from this crucial difference between courtship and secular dating. If you are serious about marriage and view the person you are seeing as a future spouse, you will not want to compromise their purity, physical or emotional. If you decide it won't work for you, well, then this person is someone else's soul mate, and merits respect and honor anyway. Personally I feel that the physical side in courtship should be minimized as much as possible, to prevent light-headedness and reliance on chemistry rather than good judgment. I know it might sound awfully pragmatic, but just look at Hollywood-style romance based marriages. Do they work? Do they last?
Involvement of parents works similarly. If we're marriage-minded and we take our relationship seriously, it's wise to seek the counsel of our parents, who have much more life experience and can sometimes notice things that we don't see in moments of excitement and elation. If parents can't be helpful, a good option would be to have a mentor – an older, more experienced person who knows you well. And if this isn't possible either, just turn to God and pour your heart to Him (which you should do anyway!)
I wish you wise guidance and I hope you will find the right person, in God's perfect timing!