“They’re courting,” she said.

I was at a large Christian convention, and was being introduced to a conservative Christian family.  All home schooled (I was too, so this is not a put down), all devout, and all very involved in different types of ministry.  The young man in question had a new girlfriend that was surely a keeper (it was just a matter of time, really).

The mother was clarifying to me me that they were courting, as if I needed to know that the relationship her son was in breathed the air of heaven and certainly enjoyed its blessing because it was not like all those unfortunate “dating” relationships.

I was nonplussed.

What did she mean by “courting”? There are so many definitions as to be almost useless.  I have been around the block and read lots of Christian relationship books.  I have read my Josh Harris, Elisabeth Elliot, Neil Clark Warren, and Gary Smalley.  I have listened to many relationship seminars. Yet I don’t know that if I gave my definition of courting, that it would be the same as that mother’s. Not to put her down, or to elevate myself, but courting has come to mean many things and nothing all at the same time.

Courting is a word often used by those seeking to live godly lives set apart from the world, but many would be hard pressed to define what it means to them, or to give a defendable answer as to why they are using that word instead of dating.

However, whatever people mean when they say they are courting, they want one thing to be clear: they are not dating.

What is dating?

Dating is that practice that gets 13 year old girls pregnant.  Dating is that mindset that prepares people for breakups, before and after marriage.  Dating is a lack of commitment to long-term relationships.  Dating is relationship for the sake of indulgence rather than a commitment examine whether we should get married or not.

Well, what is courting then?  Courting is a serious relationship where people only enter in when they feel that they have found someone they think they’ll probably get married to, but need to test it out for a while.  Courting is long walks and deep discussions to get to the bottom of serious matters.  Courting only wants to proceed with God’s blessing.

Honestly, neither of these processes is a place I would like to be exclusively.

I am at a place where I do not need to use certain words or phraseology to impress people with the level of my spirituality, so I want to step back and describe the type of relationship I both want and do not want.

I do not want a relationship for the sake of the emotional high.  I do want a relationship that, if it all works, can lead to marriage, and both people know that when they sign up.  However, I do not want to feel that I am proposing to a girl when I am just asking her out.  Do I need to ask your dad’s permission for a courtship when I am inviting you to a party when we barely know each other yet? I think not.

I have seen courting many times feel very much like a proposal, when both people do not even really know each other yet.  But they’re courting, and they’re supposed to be committed up front.

I want a relationship where God is leading, but often God leads based on principles that he has set, and the best way to get to know how those principles will work out is to actually be in a relationship with someone.  I’m not saying dating or courting necessarily, but I often feel that courting misses some of the preliminary steps that dating has where people are getting to know each other, and if it does not seem like it will work out in the early stages, that is OK.  The stakes are not high yet.  Courting tends to set the bar higher upon entry, and demands more personal investment up front, because you already suspect that this will work out, right?  There needs to be an opportunity to grow the relationship with low stakes before committing to it, and even then, commitment should grow over time.

I told a girl once that we were courting.  I had read the books, and I knew that was what I was supposed to do to be spiritual.  Her response was, “We’re what? No we aren’t. We’re dating.”  And she was right.  We were.  Her reason for objecting was valid: courtship was too far of a jump too soon.

Ultimately, I don’t think that dating and courting are mutually exclusive.  I think what people are looking for is a relationship that God would approve of based upon appropriate principles, where the individuals are looking for eventual commitment, rather than immediate emotional fulfillment.

Dating with a purpose it could be called.  Or simply dating.  I thought for myself for a long time that I would use dating or courting simply based on the crowd I was around, while having the same definition internally.  I have come to a place where I simply call it dating.  I have no need to spiritualize for anyone, nor to gather to myself unnecessary expectations that using the term ‘courting’ brings.

I wish the best for that young man who was courting his prospective, I hope they haven’t built unnecessary expectations into their relationships. As for myself, I think I can get there by simply dating with a purpose, or put simply, by dating.