I recently read an enlightening discussion on GentleChristianMothers (GCM), in which people were trying to define courting vs. dating and talk about what they'd like for their own kids. What's interesting to me is that courtship is supposed to be entered into with the intention of choosing a life partner, a marriage partner, and this is supposed to protect the teenagers heart from being broken over and over again in dating relationships. Other aspects of courtship, of course, included being chaperoned or in groups or in public, spending time with the whole family, and knowing each other first before diving into a relationship. Interestingly, I came out of the discussion wondering just what to call the relationship between Vespera & Novio. Honestly, the semantics don't matter. It seems to me that their relationship has been healthy, honest, and beneficial for both of them.
As many of you know, Vespera has been dating the same guy for about a year now. The two of them knew each other from a multicultural teen group for over a year before they started dating. He escorted her home from the group several times (they rode their bikes to the park where the group meets) before they were dating. He stopped to chat with us on the porch on those occasions. Eventually he asked her if we'd let them go biking together over spring break. She came home & talked it over with us. They went biking & he told her he liked her. They've been "dating" ever since. Dating means that they bike & rollerblade together when the weather is warm. They meet up here on Friday nights and draw, play music, dance, read, do homework, and talk either in her bedroom (which is right off the living room), on the porch, or in the living room. Many evenings he's here for dinner, especially in the summer.
So, they got to know each other in a group setting first, then they started spending time just the two of them in public places & chaperoned by us. This has been a time of having fun together, getting to know each other well, and making decision about whether this is a relationship they wanted to stick with or not. I have to say that their hearts have been protected along the way. They did not jump into this with the intention of getting too serious too soon. They started dating because they were attracted to each other, they saw things they liked & admired in each other, and they wanted to build a deeper friendship to see where it may lead. They didn't start using the word "love" for a long time. More recently they've worked through some conflicts & misunderstandings, and they've begun to talk of love...and the word "marriage" has entered the conversation.
It seems like, in some ways, this *looks* like courting, and in other ways it's definitely dating. I actually think if they'd been courting with the intention of deciding whether the other person was potential marriage material, they wouldn't have started dating in the first place...because it's too scary to commit to something like that at the outset. It seems to me that their hearts would be less protected if they have marriage in mind from the very beginning. Then it's like they're committing to something they don't even know very well yet. I understand that courting isn't *supposed* to mean that you've committed yourself from the outset, but, honestly, to even bring the word marriage into the equation at first is to put pressure on the relationship and make it carry more weight than it might otherwise. It, in fact, makes the heart more vulnerable.
Yet, this relationship between Vespera & Novio also looks a lot different from a typical high school dating relationship. It's almost entirely in their maturity, though. They see each other as real people, as honest friends. What distinguishes their relationship from other relationship is not just that they hold hands and kiss. They *know* each other. They've taken the time to hear each other, to keep each other's secrets, to talk about the things that matter. I don't see that a whole lot among teenagers. I think when people say they don't want their kids to date, they're talking about dating that is mostly based on a physical relationship. Why can't we teach kids that dating is something different without the pressure of courting?
And, it seems to me that if we expected teens to treat each other in a more mature way in dating relationship, they just might. The very fact that we don't have very high expectation from "dating" may just be what leads to the problem.