Much has been made of in the Catholic blogosphere about dating vs courting. 19 Kids and Counting has brought courting and courtship to the forefront of culture and many less fundamentalist Protestants and many Catholics are singing the praises.
First of all, what is courting? Well, essentially it boils down to seriously dating only one person, someone you intend to marry. Obviously that is something that many people will not be doing as teenagers. If you watch the Duggars, Josh and Anna had a courtship that involved hand holding only and a chaperone on all “dates.” As one Catholic mommy online pointed out, there may be some difficulties in the reality of that for many families, but it worked for them.
I have read many a blog post about forbidding dating until one is over 18. An article a few months back in our local paper detailed the courtship of one such couple. Somewhere in the middle of the article one of the members in the couple pretty much came right out and said that this was essentially an arranged marriage. It made me think if there might not be a few parents who forbid dating out there who might not also be in favor of this. My mother has worked with many, many doctors from other parts of the world who are in arranged marriages. So, why not?
Well, as Catholics, we have this doctrine called “free will.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. While there is much temptation for many parents to believe that they would know better than their child who would make an appropriate spouse, ultimately, it is best for a child to make that decision his or herself whether dating or courting.
There are several reasons for this:
1) Marriage in a Catholic church is a sacrament. It is forever. And ultimately, mom and dad, you are not the one who has to deal with this spouse’s refusal to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom or roll the toilet paper under instead of over. But, more seriously, most kids are out to impress parents. Remember Eddie Haskell from Leave it To Beaver, a real cut-up but totally polite to the parents? Well, more than one man or woman has put on a good act for parents only to become a nightmare spouse and, unfortunately, the only one who saw it coming, was the person who married him or her. We should be encouraging our children to seek out all parts of the person they intend to marry’s personality because this is a sacrament. It’s serious.
2) Marriage is a vocation. It’s like the military except you re-up every day not every four years. If there is any doubt in a person’s mind that they might not be up to this, they need to stop before they start. If that person mom or dad loves isn’t calling you to marriage, it might not be right. That’s not to say things can’t change over time, but if they aren’t changing and are staying the same, it might be time to move on.
3) One of the chief reasons for marriage is children. And children should be able to see the love of one parent for another. If this is a grudging marriage of convenience or one that was done to please one’s parents, there is a likelihood that the love between husband and wife might be missing. Marriage is the foundation of the family, children learn to love by observing love. If this foundation is in any way uncertain, it is best not to proceed.
Now, obviously there are cultures that still practice arranged marriages and many have much success, but, if one grows up in that culture with that expectation, than the likelihood of success is much greater.
So, is there a Catholic way to date? I would have to say yes. I would say it involves dating primarily to find a spouse. I also believe that prayer should be a healthy part of any Catholic dating. Not just prayer with the prospective partner, but prayers of discernment and guidance on the part of ourselves. We should include our families, but, parents especially, families should not put undue pressures on a couple. (I watched as my brother-in-law refused to introduce girlfriends to his parents after they became particularly attached to a girl he broke up with to the point that they insisted this girl be invited to our wedding. He continued in that relationship long after it was essentially over because he didn’t want to hear his mother’s questions.) If someone chooses to date casually, they should remember limits on casual behaviors. If you know you have no intention of marrying this person, make that clear.
I don’t think that where courting or dating are concerned one is necessarily better than the other. I think that is a decision for each individual and family to make on their own.