courting a stranger


This week, the Duggars announced that their daughter, Jessa, had begun a “courtship” with Ben Seewald. News articles have been floating around in my facebook feed about this, and as I read a few of them . . . my heart sank. Many people are mocking the family, Jessa, Ben, her parents, for how they’ve chosen to handle this.

I can’t get behind the mocking. All I can feel right now is compassion for Jessa and Ben. It’s an emotion they might dismiss as completely unwarranted– from all appearances, they’re blissfully happy, and this courtship is what they’ve always envisioned for themselves. I don’t know about Ben, but everything I’ve seen from Jessa is familiar territory– she’s carefully “guarded her heart” so one day she could date with “intent and purpose.” The way she’s been taught to respond to romantic relationships probably feels very mature and sensible. It’s designed to be safe. Everything about it is carefully vetted, monitored, and controlled. There won’t be any unexpected surprises for them. This process will help ensure a happy, Spirit-filled marriage.

But, if I could sit down with Jessa over a cup of tea and talk with her, there’s a few stories I would share.


The eldest daughter of my “pastor,” Leah*, was in her early twenties when an evangelist that came to our church every year suggested a young man, Steve*, to her father. Over the next month or so, her father carefully vetted this young man. The first time Steve came to visit, he didn’t even meet Leah. Her father took him out to dinner, then they sat in his truck for hours while he grilled him from pages of notes and questions. Barely any stone was left unturned– but I remember my father commenting offhand that it’s not likely that Steve was really honest about most of those questions.

The next time Steve came, he and Leah were never given a moment’s privacy. They were never allowed to be more than a few feet away from another member of the family. When he left, they were not allowed to talk on the phone, and could only communicate through letters that were read, out loud, in front of the entire family.

They did, eventually, get married. But… they were complete strangers when they got married. They didn’t know anything about the other– the only person they had gotten to know had been the person her parents expected to see. Without any private moments, without the ability to talk without being constantly monitored, they didn’t really know anything real. They’d “courted” a performance, not a person.


When I was in college, one of my best friends got married. Their courtship story was perfect– charming, adorable, romantic in a Victorian sense. Her parents called him her “suitor” and his visits were “calls.” They had no physical contact– her father put the engagement ring on her finger when he proposed on the beach, in the moonlight– in front of their families. When they went through the wedding rehearsal, they held a handkerchief instead of holding hands. Their first kiss was at the altar, and Charity* looked like she was about to burst with happiness for the rest of the day.

It’s been a few years now, since they got married, and they’ve experienced some significant marital “bumps” in that time. There were a few moments when no one was sure if their marriage would make it. My mother was trying to give hers some comfort and advice during one of those hard times, and I remember hearing her start crying. “I don’t understand, I just don’t understand. We did everything right. None of this was supposed to happen.”


My own courtship experience was . . . ugly. We “talked,” getting to know each other strictly in group settings, just like we were supposed to. I asked my parents to come meet him, and we all went out to dinner. I made sure that my father had plenty of time to talk with him, to get to know him. John* asked their permission to “court” me, and we did under the supervision of both our parents. By the end of the summer, he laid out his plan for them, what he planned to do and how he planned to accomplish it, and asked their permission to marry me. When he proposed at a fancy restaurant, my parents were sitting at a table directly across the aisle. For the first six months, everything seemed perfect. It was all going exactly how I’d been taught it should.

But, after I had that ring on my finger and I was in the middle of planning a wedding, and after all our families were on board and we’d announced it to everyone we knew… that was when the abuse began in earnest. It was abuse he kept carefully concealed from anyone– abuse I was promised I was protected from, because, after all, we were courting. We’d done everything exactly how we were supposed to.

And I was trapped.

Because I’d been told to guard my heart, that once I give my heart away, I won’t have my whole heart to give to my husband.

Because I’d been taught that it was my duty, my responsibility, to make sure our relationship was perfectly chaste. He knew that– he sexually assaulted me, he raped me, and he used what I’d been taught against me. I was a cup full of spit. I was a half-eaten candybar. I was that rose with all the petals torn off. No one would want me, I wasn’t good enough for any other man.


That’s what I’d tell you, Jessa, if I could talk to you. I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually get to know that person. I’d tell you that yes, you have to know how a person interacts with people who aren’t you, but you also have to know how he’ll interact with you when no one is watching.

I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. There’s no magical promise that is impossible for either one of you to break. Following all the courtship procedures and rules means nothing when you realize that life has changed around you, and you might not believe everything you always did– and he hasn’t changed with you. Courtship doesn’t automatically grant you the ability to communicate without fighting or to have patience with each other. Most of the things you need for a healthy marriage you don’t get through having your parents monitor all your texts and never touching each other longer than a 30-second side hug.

I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee you won’t get hurt. People are very capable of hiding. People can be very good at cloaking everything about themselves– especially when they are given an insanely precise checklist to follow. The roadmap, the rules, the procedure– they’re not going to shield you from a man using those rules to get close to you so that he can hurt you.

You might be getting to know this person on an honest, deep level– I don’t know. It’s possible that he’s a genuinely wonderful man and both of you are being completely, bluntly honest. It’s probable that you were raised with the understanding that you never hide anything from your parents– and up to this point, why should you? But, it’s also just as possible that you’re both innocently unaware that you’re not really getting to know each other.

Courtship, you’ve been told, promises a safe adolescent experience, free from the trauma and heartache of a thousand “crushes.” Courtship holds the sweet sanctuary of your parents’ blessing and God’s promises. Courtship is about commitment, and honor, and responsibility, and those are the things that will keep your marriage strong.

And maybe– maybe it will.

But, in the end, if you make it, it won’t be because you courted. It won’t be because of all the questions your father asked him or all the times you wanted to be alone but suppressed the desire. It won’t be because you kissed for the first time after the pastor said “you may.”

It’ll be because of who you are, Jessa, and who he is.

*edit: this post was updated on December 30, 2013.

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  • My heart is heavy for them, too. I love your ending here though 🙂

  • You are so wise! Your insights in this post are powerful and to the point. I am so sorry for your bad experience, but thanks for helping others understand the truth about courtship.

    • Once again, I agree with “jesuswithoutbaggage” here in the comment section. Thank you for pointing out the shady side of courtship.

  • I courted too, with my parents’ explicit permission. I hated every minute of it. it protected him and not me. it allowed him access to my body, my self, with no repercussions. and when I finally said ‘no’, it was a nightmare of accusation an threat.

    I’m glad you tell this other side of ‘safe’ that is peddled as the only way.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      “Safe(TM)” for the guy, you mean.

      Every time I hear “Christian Courtship”, I think “Patriarch-Arranged Marriage”.

      • oh, absolutely. I was not safe at all. he took and used and discarded me. under the guise of courting. I had no voice.

  • Despite coming from a “courtship” background, my wife and I decided to eschew that whole process and just date. If you want to read about it, I wrote a post just this week: http://fiddlrts.blogspot.com/2013/09/love-at-first-sight.html

    That who description of the FATHER placing the engagement ring on her finger is so creepy, I can’t even see straight. I’m thankful my father-in-law would never do something like that, because I would have been sorely tempted to hit him after he suggested it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      That who description of the FATHER placing the engagement ring on her finger is so creepy, I can’t even see straight.

      Can you say “Incestuous”? Because that’s the vibe I get. Straight from Craster’s Keep in North Westeros.

  • ….Who the heck are the Duggers, and why are they making announcements about their personal lives?

    • They’re the family from the reality television show on TLC: “19 Kids and Counting.”

      I don’t watch the show, but I’ve been aware of it since it started back when it was “17 Kids.”

      • Ah. Never heard of it. Then again, I don’t have cable.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      ….Who the heck are the Duggers, and why are they making announcements about their personal lives?

      In three words:

  • “That’s what I’d tell you, Jessa, if I could talk to you. I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually get to know that person. I’d tell you that yes, you have to know how a person interacts with people who aren’t you, but you also have to know how he’ll interact with you when no one is watching.”

    Yes, this. It’s funny, before I heard stories from people who grew up in fundamentalist settings, I would have called my relationship with my husband a courtship (we were already good friends, so we knew that we were probably going to get married, which we did a year later), but it was nothing like this. I cared what my parents thought of him and of our relationship, but neither us nor our parents felt the need for them to monitor all our interactions. We were adults, for Pete’s sake.

    Also, the not touching at all before marriage (even to put on the ring) is a new one for me. I didn’t realize that was a thing.

    • Liz

      I’m the same. My husband and I didn’t do casual dating, and we also cared what our parents thought of our relationship. We talked a lot about purity, and were pretty restrained in that area. But because we were away at college and were both adults, we ran our own relationship, made our own decisions, spent time together alone and with friends. At some point parents have to just trust their kids, especially when those children are grown up and making adult life choices.

      One thing which I wonder about is this: do these families realise that having the same view of marriage doesn’t mean that you actually have anything else in common? I imagine it’s relatively rare to meet someone like the Duggars, who hold that view of courtship and marriage, so when a family like that meets another family with the same belief they must feel like they have a lot in common. You homeschool, you believe in courtship, so compared to the rest of the world you are super-compatible, but in reality the people in question might have totally different interests, passions, personalities etc, and if it weren’t for the whole courtship thing they wouldn’t look twice at each other.

      Also, the whole father-putting-on-the-engagement-ring majorly creeped me out too!

  • Saywhat?!

    What is a “courtship” anyway? I feel like maybe I haven’t watched enough reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” or something?

    • The best explanation of what it is in mainstream American evangelical thought is the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris.

      In families like the Duggars, which follow ideologies called “Christian Patriarchy” and “Quiverful,” “Courtship” could be described as:

      “Dating” where your boyfriend/girlfriend might be hand-selected by your parents; at the very least, they are explicitly vetted and approved by the parents.
      “Dating” where you know you’ll most likely marry the person sometime in the next year or so.
      “Dating” while being strictly monitored the entire time. You are never, ever alone. Ever.
      “Dating” while having limited opportunities for private, one-on-one conversations.
      “Dating” with strictly limited physical contact– if you are allowed to touch at all.

      That about sums it up.

      • ClothedInHisGrace

        That does not exactly define courtship. It just depends on who you talk to.

        For the Dugger’s, it is a way that Jessa and Ben have set up with her parents(since she is not yet married and still under her fathers authority) to make sure that her relationship until she is married remains pure and God honoring until he has out that ring on her finger and that authority passes to Ben, as her husband. It is God-centered, which if you have a relationship that God is not the foundation of on both sides, it will not be a lasting and fruitful marriage.

        Maybe the rule’s and guidelines are a little more strict than they should be, but it’s for protection.

        I, myself, have chosen to abstain from physical contact (other than the occasional holding of hands and hugs) because I want to make sure that I am giving everything I can to my husband and glorify God to the fullest! I want God to be our focus and how we can glorify Him and serve others through our relationship, not on our fleshly, and selfish desires.

        From what I know of Jessa, I believe that is her mindset going into this relationship. Her brother and his girlfriend(now wife and mother of his 3 children) did pretty much the same thing and they are so happy because God is their focus.

        Just something to think on.

      • Liz

        It’s weird, though, that Josh Harris’ own experience of courtship, as detailed in Boy Meets Girl (the follow-up to I Kissed Dating Goodbye), was really not much like what you would see with the Duggars. Shannon was living away from home, as was Josh, and Shannon’s father wasn’t a Christian, so there wasn’t the kind of parental control that you see with other families. They did have self-imposed rules about physical contact, but Josh writes about how that was just what worked for them, and that the main point was trying to honour God in their relationship. And they certainly spent time alone together, getting a coffee and talking, things like that, that “normal” couples do. Having read that book, I get the feeling that certain sectors of the very very conservative Christian world have taken it as a hard-and-fast rule book, and taken many of the ideas to extremes, whereas the book itself I thought was fairly well-balanced. He even writes about how, although he and Shannon didn’t kiss until their wedding day, he thought it was okay to kiss before that, so long as it was meaningful and not leading too far!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      What is a “courtship” anyway?

      Christianese for “Arranged Marriage”.

  • I am astounded by this level of interference in the future happiness of grown people. Then again maybe I am not. This truly is no different than many cultures across the world that still arrange marriages where husband and wife meet at the alter, possibly having seen nothing but a picture of the other prior to the wedding. In the West, especially in the US we consider this barbaric, yet I read this and have to ask myself, “how is this standard of courtship any different?”

    Your wisdom and compassion shine through in this. Me? I think I could only sit down with the daughter after I shook the parents until their teeth rattled in their skulls.

  • Mel

    I married my husband after an apparently evil dating method. We met online, spent lots of time alone together and even had physical contact with each other before we agreed to be married. When he proposed, I knew that I was saying yes to a brave, true, loving man who loved me.

    We had a rough first year. My best friend, who I’d known since grade school, died in a car accident on the way to help decorate the reception hall the day before the wedding. My husband contracted a rare surface sinus infection that caused him severe facial pain and headaches for 6 months before doctors could correctly diagnose and treat it. We were sick and grief-stricken. We got through it together because we had a previous relationship built that we could rely on.

    I don’t know that Jessa and Ben’s courtship provides enough bonding to survive such a hard first year.

  • Liz

    We were naive, sold a bill of goods, told every Sunday that if we did x,y.z to the letter our children would be pure and holy and happy.


    The only thing that will make you pure and holy and happy is to love Jesus with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and nothing in fundamentalist teachings teach you how to do that.

  • Kiser

    I’ve ceased to be shocked anymore when I hear of friends’ courtship induced marriages falling apart. They are built on the fluff of patriarchy infused fairy-tales, where sons and daughters know they have found ‘the one’ when God reveals it through ‘His will’, which is ultimately revealed to the parents. Raised to be submissive to their authorities, they continue to do so through a relationship steered by the parents, they say what they are expected to, claim to believe what they are expected to, and express their life goals to be those which are expected of them. Then they marry and realize for the first time that they no longer need to be what they were told all those years that they had to be. They realize they are unique and gifted in ways they were never allowed to express themselves as. And they realize they married someone they do not really know, who isn’t what they themselves thought they were in their submission fueled robotic-ism, and perhaps never actually loved. In the worst instances, they are abused, and feel they must stay because they are used goods now in a courtship/purity culture that calls crushes sins and kisses impurity. The bondage of Patriarchy and the teachings of courtship that so often attach to it now continue to chain down those no longer living under that authority.

  • I hope there is nothing terrible for them. I believe he is a local guy so maybe they all know more about him? I’m glad he’s close in age at least–not some much older “wiser” guy or something. It could be her brothers know him, too. I don’t happen to agree with the Duggars on much, but I’d say wait and see. We’ve certainly seen looks on their show that indicate all isn’t perfect (Josiah in particular) but I don’t think we need immediately think it will all be hellish.

  • Shay

    Thank you for sharing all of this. Really enjoyed reading this article until the part where she (you) (the writer) was attacked. I can’t but help but wonder- how in the world did that happen? If you weren’t supposed to ever be alone- how did he get a chance to hurt you? & really am wondering how you are doing now? Uhh! how heart wrenching! Was this monster ever prosecuted? Makes my blood boil just thinking about all of this!

  • Rachel

    I think there are different definitions of courtship. I ‘courted’ my husband, but all the decisions were ours. I wanted to keep physical contact to a minimum-no kissing until engaged. I wanted to be pure so we tried to stay away from situations where temptation could arise. We did spend time alone, but we were careful to be in semi-public place-walks, restaurants, movies, etc. I called it dating with commitment and didn’t even bother until I was old enough to marry and therefore more mature and knew what I was looking for in a spouse. I was very clear with my husband (then boyfriend) concerning my boundaries right from the beginning and he was very respectful of them and appreciated my desire to be pure. I believe that societies idea of dating is extreme, but these courtship stories seem extreme as well. We need to use common sense-I wanted my father to protect me, but I also wanted to protect myself as I knew how easy it would be for me to fall. Be wise. Be careful. Be pure.

    • Jamee

      I completely agree with you Rachel. My story is almost identical to yours. Our parents were involved, but mostly as prayer support and at our request. People need to be careful… I’ve seen parents go to the extreme and their kids end up going the opposite way. Yes be strict and have rules, but prayerfully be strict. There’s a fine line to being a good parent and being your child’s dictator. My 2 cents.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I believe that societies idea of dating is extreme, but these courtship stories seem extreme as well.

      Communism begets Objectivism.
      (Just as Intense, and just as Out-of-Balance in the opposite direction.)

      Be wise. Be careful. Be pure.

      Problem is, “Purity” has also been redefined like “Courtship”, and the two go together.

      I am reminded of Screwtape briefing Wormwood on “redefinition into diabolical meanings”.

    • I think the difference is the fact that you and your boyfriend made your decisions about how your relationship would take shape together- physical contact, thinking in terms of marriage, etc.- rather than the parent-controlling model. You two were able to negotiate and be honest with each other, because he was dealing with you and what you wanted, instead of trying to jump the hurdles put forward by your parents to be allowed to date you. It comes down again to “How honest is he likely to be?”- if he lies to you, he’s hurting himself too, but parents as gatekeepers encourages men to game the system because the girl becomes a prize instead of the other half of the relationship.

  • Annonymous

    While I really appreciated this post and agree with it. I find it very offensive that one assumes a couple would not consummate…
    In the fundy world it is the man’s “right” and often he will take it by force, or the woman gives it even “unwillingly” anyhow as her “duty”. Not really unwillingly because she believes it to be her wifely duty (I just heard about 30 women in a forum defend this….. how one should never ever refuse sex to their husband, that it was “unbiblical” to do so). Which just makes me mad, sex should always be consensual, even in marriage… and you are under no “obligation” otherwise marriage is another word for rape license. (And yes several claimed a husband couldn’t rape his wife). And I used to believe the same before I left, ATI, the church, fundyland… all of it (except God).

    But what I find offensive is because… vaginismus is actually pretty common in super conservative circles because of the teaching on sex, or lack thereof. Vaginismus is the involuntary spasm of the pelvic floor muscles that makes sex (as in intercourse) either excruciatingly painful or utterly impossible. It is the most common reason for “lack of consummation” in marriage. As one who had to fight very hard to be able to have sex with my husband it makes me wince and cringe… that people probably (since I have become vocal about it to raise awareness)… think it is crazy that it was years, yes years, before it was possible (I didn’t even think drs would believe me so it took me a while to be scene I was so scared, and ashamed, and frustrated). As I have become more vocal, trying to help others who grew up with the same background I found there are a lot of us… one of the reasons for vaginismus is extreme religious upbringing. It sucks. I hate it. It makes me very angry about my upbringing and how it made sex so difficult for me and my husband.

    Sooo when someone says something like a couple “spent x years not consummating” or “has never consummated”. it makes me angry. Please don’t judge what you don’t know… it is probably very painful for her. And the emotional “I am broken” sucks. and the judging, and assuming (which is why I didn’t want anyone to know for a long time… till I decided I didn’t want others to feel alone, so I started “coming out” about my troubles). HURTS.

    • Thank you for bringing this up, it needed to be said.

      In Leah’s case, I don’t think it was related to what you’ve described here. What she told people like my mother (and what I heard from her sister and mother) was that she and Steve decided that it was necessary for them to actually get to know each other first. They now seem to be happy.

      I won’t dismiss the possibility that she did not experience vaginismus, but she was always frank before and not shy about talking about sex.

      Discomfort and pain during sex is a huge problem for women with our backgrounds. Shining a light on it is a big deal, and I’m glad you did. I just wanted to make it clear that ignoring this was not my intent. I was attempting to be as non-specific as possible in order to protect her.

      *edit I’ve been contacted by Leah, and she says that she’s not a mother yet, which I had said in a previous version of this comment.

      • Annonymous

        Thanks for replying.
        Well… (not defending courtship AT ALL)… but then it is good for them that they waited. I’ve been musing a lot recently about sex, culture, fundy culture…etc and the “rape license” called marriage in fundy culture. Sex should be a part of a natural progression in a relationship, and I am not even sure it is ideal that it always come after a wedding…. The biggest point should be that it is always consensual, married or not, and a part of a bigger relationship. Neither one night stands, nor a “rape license” make for what is supposed to be a beautiful part of a loving relationship. This concept that a couple is “ready” because of an arbitrary date called marriage is ludicrous…. A couple is ready when they are ready (yes some jump the gun because of pressure etc and I am not sure how change ideas on sex). But… the idea of a couple being magically ready because they are married is crazy. Maybe they shouldn’t get engaged until they are ready, maybe… sex shouldn’t be tied to an arbitrary date. (what is really so bad about a couple in a committed non married relationship having sex if they are ready?). Just because a couple got married doesn’t mean they are ready and that is fine (though I’d really advise being ready before getting married… but to each his own). There is definitely expectations they should be…. but based on what? When women were property? Marriage is about so much more than sex. Putting an arbitrary date on sex (especially when you have had “no touching” “no kissing” etc as was the norm in my circles…) is simply ludicrous. Can a couple go from no kissing to sex in one or a few nights? sure. Is it actually healthy? IMO, just because it “worked” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Physical intimacy should parallel the emotional and relational intimacy of a relationship… not about arbitrary lines drawn in the sand.

        I regret the arbitrary “good girl/boy” lines we drew. I think it would have been so much more special if our first kiss… was because it was the natural next step not “okay we can kiss now, let’s kiss because it is now permissible to do so”

        • I love your perspective: “Sex should be a part of a natural progression in a relationship.” As a relationship develops, intimacy of all kinds gradually increases – at least if it is allowed to develop naturally.

          My wife and I rejected the whole courtship nonsense, and I worked hard to romance her gradually as we progressed toward marriage. I am still reaping the benefits of that approach.

        • Thank you for this post. It took me a long time to reach this understanding and it’s a relief to hear it from someone else and feel validated.

    • i needed to hear this, anonymous. i needed to hear this. i’m wordless.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      But what I find offensive is because… vaginismus is actually pretty common in super conservative circles because of the teaching on sex, or lack thereof.

      I have heard Purity Culture horror stories about Vaginismus on wedding nights. Including once when the new husband didn’t know anything about foreplay or warmup or taking the time to put his bride at ease and take it slow. Influenced by what he’d seen in media or heard in locker rooms, he thought you went for the Main Event immediately. Which brings up another problem with Chrsitianese Purity Culture from the guy’s side:

      Purity Culture often bribes Fundy boys to “save themselves for marriage” with expectations of Barn-Burning Swinging-from-the-Chandeliers 24/7/365 Dynamite Married S*E*X — just wait for your wedding night and ALL your sexual needs will be met and then some, all your built-up fantasies will be fulfilled and then some. And those sexual fantasies have been building and building and building and fermenting, with no reliable information or realistic expectation. (You have to be REALLY homeschool-isolated to NOT be exposed to some sort of locker-room bragging and porn these days, and that becomes a de facto sex education. WIth the sexual background radiation we have today from all sides, I am not sure it’s even possible these days to grow up without acquiring some sort of sexual paraphilia or kink.)

      As a result, Fundy boy is coming into his marriage expecting his bride to morph from Virgin Unto Death to his own Personal Porn Star, fulfilling EVERY one of those unrealistic built-up fantasies and/or paraphilias starting NOW. After all, he waited so long for this. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

      • Annonymous

        Isn’t it tragic when Christianity allows the world to hijack the most beautiful image God gave us of how He loves the church? By being afraid to talk about sex, usually motivated by a misguided desire to protect, the Church/Christian parents have sabotaged many marriages.
        I am so thankful that my brother-in-law gave my husband the book, “Intended for Pleasure” before we married, helping him curb his (yes, porn-influenced) expectations of the wedding night and put his focus on long-term intimacy rather than sex. I am also SOOOOO thankful that when I got engaged, my conservative, very protective father told me that he and my mother had trained me up to that point to be the Proverbs 31 woman but that it was time to forget about her for a while and focus on becoming the Song of Solomon bride (after all, Proverbs 31 is 1 chapter of practical homemaking advice. Song of Solomon is an entire book of erotica). That is the bit of advice that I pass on to gals I know who grew up in conservative backgrounds.
        Though we still have to work through things with our sex life (who doesn’t?), my husband was happily surprised that I wasn’t the “allergic to sex home-schooled girl” and I was delighted by his gentle patience and intentionality in putting our relationship above his pleasure. 2.5 years after marriage, we are reaping HUGE dividends because of both of these things. He has made sex so enjoyable and fulfilling for me that only in the most extreme situations have I told him “no” because I want it as much as he does.
        The way I see it, intimacy (spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical) is about 90% of my responsibility as his “helper”. The cooking, cleaning, child-rearing (all of the wonderful Proverbs 31 attributes) are just a minimal part of my job. Not at all saying that I am his “personal porn star”, just that companionship/relationship/intimacy are the reasons God created Eve for Adam. If I spent 90% of my time “helping” with the Proverbs 31 part and only had 10% intimacy, I would feel like a house-hold drudge. But with my husband’s love and a deep relationship on all levels (including a very happy sex life), I have security and strength to deal with the daily mundane.
        The gospel is about relationship with Christ. The check lists provide no satisfaction. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. How we portray Christ to the world (especially to our children) through our marriage relationships is perhaps more vital than most people think.

      • HUG, your post reminds me of a story I read earlier this year from a pastor in which a pair of newlyweds came in for counseling less than a full week after he’d just performed their wedding. Reason? The new bride (most likely a virgin) wasn’t performing like a porn star (this is almost exactly how the pastor phrased it). New husband was considerably disappointed and didn’t understand what was going on. The marriage ended in less than a year. Very sad, but I can’t help thinking that with better premarital communication this might have been avoided.

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  • joyousnerd

    I have an acquaintance (we used to be friends, but I have backed off since this developed) whose 16 yo daughter is being “courted” by a 25 yo man. According to the story I was told, God told the young man that the young lady was the one for him, he appproached her family, and that was it – now she is essentially promised to him. She had already been told that if she wanted to go to college it could only be to become a nurse, teacher, or midwife. Now she has no option to go to college at all, since her husband has been found. They are just waiting for her to turn 18.

    The irony – the girl’s parents are divorced, largely because of abuse by the husband. I have heard both parties say on multiple occasions that they married, not because of love, but because “God told [them] to.” I find it incomprehensible that this woman has been through that pain with her own marriage, then throw her daughter into the same situation.

    • this is, to me, akin to being sold. ):

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Can’t remember which blog I read it on, Shade, but one woman related how her parents arranged a Courtship(TM) with a guy well over twice her age. When she bailed on the whole arrangement (and everyone involved), said arranged husband demanded back the $20,000 bride-price he’d paid to her father. Much ugliness and uproar.

        Twenty Grand. Cash.

        • i think the other word i’m looking for here is slave.

          slavery is where one person has no aegis of her own (using her since we are talking of arranged bondage). we own our bodies, we have the right to our own skin, our futures, our dreams.

          i remain disgusted, and determined to speak out against it as much as possible.

    • Momofmany

      Don’t leave your friend. There may be more to the story. One of my daughters began courting at 16 and married at 17 1/2 to a man ten years older than she. Yes, God told all of us and they have been happily married for seven years and have two happy, healthly children. They did wait for five years beforing starting a family to ground their marriage even more and to allow her to become stronger and healthier (she had some illness to recover from). We had known him for seven years before they awakened to the idea that they were very close friends, very compatible, and called to become husband and wife. We knew him very well as he was a close friend of her older brothers and we knew his extended family very well. All I’m saying is there is a unique story to every situation and we must be careful not to accuse and judge.

  • Purple

    I was also saddened at the very public announcement of Jessa Duggar’s courtship. I think it puts way too much pressure on her. I know what that is like.

    When I was a freshman in college, I entered a serious relationship that was similar to a courtship, although our parents were not involved. We fell for each other quickly when we met each other and decided to enter a serious dating relationship. We didn’t know each other very well. We fell in love and dated for about 8 months. All our friends were happy for us.

    Eventually I realized that we were not compatible long-term. I was in love with him, and he was my best friend. BUT we had some significant differences. He did not feel the same way. It was very traumatic to end the relationship.

    Looking back on it, I wish that we had just observed each other as friends for a while before deciding to date. I would have realized that we were not compatible long-term. Or I wish we would have dated more casually, without all the high expectations of being so serious so quickly. Then it wouldn’t have been so bad when we broke up.

    I worry for others who are in courtships. What happens when you realize that the other person is is not compatible with you? The expectations are already so high. You are almost already expected to marry the person. I wish that Jessa would have been able to court someone without it being announced to the entire world. That way, if she decides this guy is not for her, she would not feel so much pressure to stay in the relationship.

    • The high pressure of “courtship” certainly causes extra pain when there is a breakup. From my personal observation of a broken “courtship” and a broken engagement within my own extended family, I can say that it isn’t pretty. I’m glad that the relationships ended. (One was starting to look abusive, the other was mere incompatibility.) But they sure ended in a lot of unnecessary ugliness.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        It’s like a RL version of why you can’t write a realistic romance in Christianese Fiction. Because EVERYTHING from initial introduction of the two protagonists is solely to bums-rush them down the aisle for the Wedding at the end ASAP. Go to the Wedding, Go Directly to the Wedding, Do not pass Go, do not collect $500. Amish Bonnet optional. It’s like the generic Altar Call Ending, except with two rings and wedding vows instead of the Four Spiritual Laws and Sinner’s Prayer.

        (And as fictional characters, the romance novel ends there, before they ever have to live with the results. I don’t think it ends there IRL.)

  • Purple

    Samantha, I am curious about your college fiance…I wonder where he learned his abusive behavior? I wonder where he learned his foul language if you all were in such a closed environment (churches and a college that prohibited movies beyond G ratings). I’m guessing he had been abused himself or that he was imitating behavior of others he knew well? I would be interested to read a post about what makes someone an abuser if this isn’t too traumatic for you.

    • Simply put, I believe that he is a sociopath. He displayed many sociopathic behaviors, at the very least.

      As for where he picked up these habits and tactics, well, he did go to public school. I imagine he had the opportunity to learn swear words there. 🙂

      I don’t know if he was abused. It is certainly possible. I don’t think either of his parents were abusive, but if they were as good at hiding abuse as he was, I probably would never have known.

      The worst of what he knew and believed came from a culture that teaches that women are less valuable than men. He had been taught, all his life, that women only exist to serve men. Give “biblical” (gag) teachings like that to a sociopath, and voila: abuser.

  • Purple

    Samantha, have you read Natalie Trust’s blog? It has been extremely helpful for me.

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  • Lucille

    I am happily married to a wonderful man who calls me his treasure and treats me like that too. Every day together gets sweeter and sweeter. It takes three to make a marriage work, and God is at the center.

    Our courtship was pure, and we spent much time in a group setting, but we also took long walks alone together and shared our hearts between many, many private letters, emails, texts, and phone calls. We both knew that despite all of our getting to know one another, there would still be some surprises after marriage, but we both had our hearts set on glorifying God, and blessing each other.

    My dad was vigilant to protect my honor, but then so was my young man. I never experienced a moment’s fear when alone with him, and he always was kind and gentle.

    Since we’ve been married he has never raised his voice or a hand to me, in fact I have to apologize way more often than he!

    I agree with your statement though, our story was amazing not because we did the whole “courtship” thing, but because we both were determined to honor God, and God is good, so very good.

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  • Janine

    “Without any private moments, without the ability to talk without being constantly monitored, they didn’t really know anything real. They’d “courted” a performance, not a person.”

    My husband and I have been married for 8 years. We courted – I was 19 and he was 23. It was the worst 10 months of my life. There was so much pressure from parents, our church and pastor. We had no say in much of anything. Everything was monitored and we truly did not know each other very well when we got married. Of course, as soon as we said “I do” and shared our awkward kiss, we were bombarded by our Christian peers urging us to begin having children right away. “Perhaps a honeymoon baby!” we were told. I remember when we got into the car to drive off to our honeymoon, I felt so strange sitting there. I was finally completely, 100% alone with my new husband – and I hadn’t a clue as to what to do next. After being babysat for almost a year and treated like children, we were now supposed to have it all together. Starting our own household, having our own children and everything was supposed to fall right into place. Not so easy. I did get pregnant 2 months later which turned into a extremely complicated and high risk pregnancy. Thankfully, the baby made it and everything was ok. Our first year was a long hard road with being very poor, a very scary pregnancy (which included us moving back in with my family for 4 months due to strict bed rest), and big hospital bills. I did get very lucky by marrying a wonderful guy who has never raised his voice at me and treats me like gold. However, I know of other courtships that have not ended like ours, and because divorce is forbidden, they are still stuck in bad marriages.

    On our 1 year anniversary, we were in the car driving when my husband reached across to me and took my hand. He told me that after being with me for 1 year and finally getting to know me, he had truly fallen in love with me for the 1st time. I remember crying because it felt so good to know that he truly felt love towards me, I had fallen in love with him much earlier. On the other hand, I felt cheated and robbed that we didn’t experience falling in love before we said “I do”. We were taught to guard our hearts and that love was a choice and not a feeling.

    Two years later, we left the fundamentalist Christian circle and have never looked back. I spent 23 years in strict fundamentalism and after being a good girl for 19 years, never getting into trouble and always listening to my Christian authority, I was rewarded with being treated as a child who couldn’t be trusted. I was told that when it came to love and romance, I wouldn’t be able to control myself. I hate courtship. I hate fundamentalism. It stole what was supposed to be one of the most important times of our lives, and belittled it to choices made by others and non-emotional attachments. We have 2 boys now, and we will never subject them to what we went through.