Hands Off: A Discussion of Courtship

Can you imagine falling in love with someone, planning a marriage and family, yet not ever having touched the one you love? In some Christian families, the process of courtship is being practiced. I first became interested in the practice of courtship when I saw an educational television program about a young couple who met and were eventually married through courtship. Courtship is a method used mostly by Christians. It involves a thorough process that includes the families, especially the parents, of two individuals who are interested in marrying one another. The process is described as a system to eliminate and protect against the problems of contemporary dating. A supporter of courtship states, "Since dating has no protective or guidance mechanisms, it is wide open to abuse by financial, physical, sexual, or emotional predators. Courtship is the process of getting to know someone with marriage in mind." Courtship, as a substitute for dating, involves a set of requirements and a step-by-step process, all having advantages and disadvantages.
There are preliminary requirements that are expected of the people involved in the courtship process. The couple involved is expected and encouraged to fulfill certain standards. For instance, a young man should not seek out a marriage partner until both individuals are emotionally, spiritually, and materially prepared for marriage. Most certainly the young man should be prepared financially for marriage, holding a steady job and having savings. The young lady should also be completely prepared for marriage. She would be expected to have occupational skills and a strong educational background in a chosen field. Together, the couple should have the skills necessary to manage a household. Some families suggest that a father and his daughter share a heart-shaped locket as a symbol of the father holding his daughter\'s heart for safekeeping until marriage. Youth are encouraged to make written or public vows of fidelity and chastity in waiting for marriage. They are also encouraged to avoid exposure to contamination and temptation for evil, for example, romance novels or peers who date. All aspects of the courtship process are justified through bible scripture ("The Modern Courtship Process"). Requirements are expected to be fulfilled before the courtship process may begin.
An unwritten step-by-step process structures the process of courtship. Though there is no widely used manual for courtship, the people involved all follow the same basic steps. The courtship process is always initiated by the young man. When a young man finds himself interested in a particular girl, he would consult his father for counsel. Parents may give advice and offer suggestions as to a possible match. Very rarely does the young lady take the initiative. This serves to prevent her from making a hasty decision that may conflict with the beliefs of her parents and to prevent undue emotional stress on her part if she suspects someone is seriously interested in her. Expected to get to know her well, the young man speaks with her within a public setting before committing himself to courtship. He would try to discover if the feelings he has about her are mutual by casually speaking with her after church or over the telephone. Then the young man would go to the girl\'s father to request permission to court. Her father then has a serious discussion with him to see if he is ready for marriage and then speaks with his daughter to find out how she feels about the boy. If the father and the daughter agree that the young man is suitable, the permission is given to court. The parents then provide a protective environment for the couple to court. For example, they will have dinner with the family or a rare chaperoned meal at a restaurant. Group activities are available for the couple to engage in through church. Private conversations are strongly encouraged. Telephones are often used for privacy, but the couple can usually only speak face to face when someone else is present. Physical touching in any way is not acceptable. Letter writing is strongly encouraged. If the couple decides to marry, the young man would again approach the father of the young lady to ask for her hand in marriage. It is suggested that the engagement be no longer than a few