Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Carry On a Successful Courtship?
“MY BIGGEST mistake was in getting attached affectionately to Andy before I allowed myself to see what he was like as a person,” reflected Louise, whose marriage was shattered by divorce. “Our courtship had been pretty much limited to one-on-one settings. I never saw how he reacted outside those ‘ideal’ situations.”
While Louise’s marriage lasted seven agonizing years, serious problems developed within weeks of the wedding. How can you avoid such mistakes and use courtship to prepare for a happy marriage?
“The prudent man [or woman],” according to the Bible, “looks and considers well where he [or she] is going.” (Proverbs 14:15, The Amplified Bible) Getting emotionally involved with someone you hardly know can lead to marriage to a person whose emotions and goals are light-years from yours. So first observe that one in a group, perhaps while enjoying some recreation.
“I knew that if I got too close at first, my emotions would cloud my judgment,” explained Dave, now happily married for ten years. “So I viewed Rose from a distance without her knowing I was interested. I could see how she treated others and that she was not a flirt. In casual talks, I found out her circumstances and goals.” It is also wise to talk with someone who knows the person well to find out what kind of reputation he or she has.—Compare Proverbs 31:31.
The First Dates
First of all, you should consider whether you (and any prospective partner) are of marriageable age and in a position to fulfill the responsibilities of marriage. Having decided that someone has possibilities as a marriage mate, you might approach the person and express a desire to get to know that one better.* Assuming there is a positive response, your first date need not be some elaborate affair. A lunch date, or even being part of a group date, will enable you to become better acquainted so as to decide whether you want to take the relationship any further. Keeping things somewhat informal eases the nervousness both might feel initially. And by avoiding premature expressions of commitment, you can minimize the feelings of rejection—or embarrassment—if one of you loses interest.
Regardless of the type of date planned, show up on time, neatly and appropriately dressed. Display the skills of a good conversationalist. Be an active listener.* Young men will want to follow what is considered locally to be good manners. This may include opening a door for the young lady or helping her to be seated. The young woman, while not expecting to be treated like a princess, should cooperate modestly with her date’s efforts. Though there are no hard rules in such matters, a young man can set a pattern of respect for the future, for a husband is commanded to ‘honor his wife as the weaker vessel.’—1 Peter 3:7.
Is holding hands, kissing, or embracing appropriate, and if so, when? When done as genuine expressions of endearment—not selfish passion—such actions can be viewed as clean in the eyes of God. The God-inspired Song of Solomon indicates that some fitting expressions of endearment had been exchanged between the Shulammite maiden and the shepherd boy she loved and would soon marry. (Song of Solomon 1:2; 2:6; 8:5) But as with that chaste couple, a couple would further take care that expressions of affection do not become unclean or lead to sexual immorality. (Galatians 5:19, 21) Expressions of endearment should be made only when the relationship has reached a point where mutual commitment has developed and marriage seems imminent. Doing so, you will not be distracted from a primary purpose of successful courtship—really getting to know the person.
“The Secret Person of the Heart”
After evaluating what led to strong relationships among 231 dating couples, a research team reported in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (May 1980): “Marriages seem more likely to survive and prosper if people enter them with relatively full knowledge of one another’s inner selves.” Yes, getting to know “the secret person of the heart” of your partner is essential.—1 Peter 3:4.
Yet, ‘drawing up’ the intentions of another’s heart takes effort. (Proverbs 20:5) Plan activities that will help you see your partner’s inner self. While going to a movie or a concert may do at the start, engaging in activities that lend themselves to conversation (such as skating, bowling, visiting zoos and museums) makes it easier to become better acquainted.
To get a glimpse of your partner’s feelings, use open-ended questions, such as, “How do you spend your free time?” “If money were no object, what would you like to do?” “What feature of our worship of God do you like the best? Why?” These allow in-depth responses so that you can learn what your partner treasures.
As the relationship deepens and a couple more seriously consider marriage, there is need for serious talk about important issues, such as where and how you will live, financial matters, whether both of you will work outside the home, concepts of each one’s role in marriage, children, birth control, and immediate and long-term goals and how you plan to achieve these. It is a time to reveal things, perhaps in one’s past, that may affect the marriage, including any major debts or obligations. Health matters, such as any serious disease, should also be discussed.
In such discussions, follow the example of Elihu, who said: “I talk straight from my heart and speak sincerely.” (Job 33:3, The Holy Bible in the Language of Today, by Beck) In explaining how her courtship prepared her for a happy marriage of now ten years, Esther said: “I never tried to ‘put on’ or say I agreed with Jaye when I felt differently. I still don’t. I try always to be honest.”
Do not evade sensitive subjects or gloss over them out of fear of putting your partner on the spot. Beth made this mistake during her courtship with John. Beth said she believed in saving for the future and not wasting money. John said he agreed. Beth probed no further, thinking they saw eye to eye. But it turned out that his idea of saving for the future meant saving for a new sports car! After marriage they continually argued about money.
Such misunderstandings can be prevented. Louise, mentioned previously, admitted: “I should have asked a lot more questions, such as, ‘What if I got pregnant and you didn’t want to have a baby?’ Or, ‘If we were in debt and I wanted to stay home and care for our child, what would you do?’ I would have carefully noted his reaction.” Such discussions can bring to the surface qualities of the heart that should best be seen before marriage.
See Him/Her in Action!
“A person can be very nice with you on a one-to-one basis,” explained Esther. “But when others are around, he may be put into an unexpected situation. One of your friends might say something to your partner that he may not like. Now you get to see how he reacts under pressure. Will he tell the person off or be sarcastic?” Thus, she concludes: “Being around each other’s friends and family during courtship helped tremendously.”
In addition to engaging in recreation, spend time working together. Share in Christian works, including the study of God’s Word and the Christian ministry. Also, take on some of the daily chores that after marriage will become a way of life—food shopping, preparing a meal, washing dishes, and housecleaning. By being together under real-life circumstances—when your partner may even be at his or her worst—you can see what he or she is really like.
The shepherd boy in the Song of Solomon saw how his girlfriend acted when she was disappointed or while laboring under the scorching sun—sweaty and tired. (Song of Solomon 1:5, 6; 2:15) After beholding her loyally resist the enticements of rich King Solomon, he said: “You are altogether beautiful, O girl companion of mine, and there is no defect in you.” (Song of Solomon 4:7) Surely he did not mean that she was perfect, but her physical beauty was enhanced by her moral strength. She had no basic moral defect or blemish. In his mind, her strengths outweighed any weaknesses.
By using courtship effectively, you will be able to make a similar assessment. With eyes wide open, you can enter marriage with the skills to work out disagreements. Successful courtship will have prepared both of you for a satisfying and happy marriage.
This applies in lands where dating is viewed as appropriate conduct for Christians. Usually the male takes the initiative, though there is no Scriptural reason to prevent a young woman from expressing her feelings in a modest way if a boy seems shy or hesitant.—Compare Song of Solomon 8:6.
See “‘But What Do I Say?’—Developing the Art of Conversation” in our January 22, 1982, issue.
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By observing a prospective mate in real-life circumstances, you really get to know that person