Thursday, November 6, 2008

Courting vs. Dating, Part 1

The events of this past week have set my motherly mind to work, perhaps a little late, but not TOO late, on the best way to approach the impending dating career of my eldest child.

As many of you already know, the Beloved's got a neo-rad-trad contingent in his family that goes the "Cath-mish" route on everything from cloistering to clothing to courting. No unsupervised co-ed visitation, no touching, no impure thoughts allowed. (1)

That's a bit extreme and unwieldy for us. So is the common practice of my daughter's 14 year old peers being allowed to go out with any boy who asks, and/or to grab a sleeping bag and hop into cars full of slightly older kids whose driver's licenses are still warm from the laminator to head out to the post-football game bonfires....with beer and pot provided by the "cool" "hang out" with an older boy who invited them. No thanks. (2)

So the questions arise: how do you find a happy medium? And what's the difference between "courting" and "dating" anyway?

Here's my take:

Dating is what most of us did in high school - being asked out by/asking out your latest "crush" and heading out to movies, malls, school dances, parties, undisclosed parking areas (....!) without adult supervision, and peer attendance/participation becoming more and more optional as the dating couple progresses to full-on "going out" or exclusivity with one person. Not much has changed, except maybe that our kids are better versed in the various forms of VD (and institutionalized hands-on instruction in the importance of condom use to prevent it) than we were. (Ack!)

Courting is the "old fashioned" concept of a young man coming over in his best clothes, flowers in hand, to stay for dinner so he can see and spend time with the girl he's interested in, but just as importantly, the purpose is to meet the parents and extended family, befriend them, and to be considered as a potential future son in law. The couple is never unchaperoned or alone, and chastity of dress and behavior is expected at all times. No physical contact is considered - the point is to get to know the person, not to rate their comparative cup size or kissing prowess. The ultimate goal is selecting a future spouse. Courting, not surprisingly, is the preferred ritual among the very traditional, orthodox and/or the homeschooling set, for reasons that are self-evident.

From all that I've seen in person and from the reading I've done online and at home, I've extrapolated and would submit the following summary:

1. Dating celebrates the cultus of the body, while courting promotes the vocation, sacrament, and sanctity of marriage;

2. Dating emphasizes variety and quantity in discerning who the "ideal" mate is, while courting focuses on quality - the discernment of character before exploring physicality in a relationship; and

3. Dating puts control largely in the hands of the child, while courting emphasizes parental/family involvement.

There are good and bad points to both concepts, of course. On one side, yes, I want my daughters to meet and get to know any number of young men so they can develop their instincts about "good boys" and "bad boys" - who to avoid, and what qualities to look for in a young man who might one day be worthy of their time and attention. On the other, I'm not about to let them say yes to anyone who asks, or otherwise to engage in any activity that calls their good reputations into question.

As far as physicality goes, I think going to school dances, holding hands, and [low-impact] kissing are rites of passage in high school. Becoming a mother next summer after having too much fun at a football bonfire last fall, or being required to get Gardasil injections as a preemptive strike in your premarital sex life...not so much.

Unsupervised opportunities for physical contact and sexual activity in the dating context invites disaster. Period. But at the same time, completely excising the physicality from a budding relationship creates an artifice - not to mention encouraging your Juliet to sneak off with her Romeo - because physical attraction is an essential ingredient to a happy, healthy spiritual relationship with your marriage partner. Keeping that physicality in check, but not forbidding it outright...well there's the conundrum. (I was going to say "rub" but, well, let's not go there.) If someone can come up with a way to get those raging teen hormones under control, let me know - I'll help you get the patent if you can bottle it. I'm a mom looking for a miracle.

This brings up the next question: what is the parent's role in all of this?

As for that third prong of my summary, well, let's face it - my own experience has made me into the world's biggest hypocrite when it comes to the prospect of encouraging any child to live chastely and to imitate Christ - much less to follow my parental example. I have no grounds to lecture anyone. If I were my kid, I'd kill me! (3)

So I am not one to be doling out advice to my child on how to be modest and chaste in dating relationships - I never was, certainly - but I find the micromanagement of courting to be a bit oppressive, and its purpose premature at this stage of the game. At the same time, BECAUSE of the tender age involved in my case, I think supervision is absolutely necessary.

I want to know exactly who the boy is, what his interests are, who his family and friends are, because if there's anything or anyone questionable, as a parent it is my OBLIGATION to protect and educate my child about the occasion of sin and how to avoid it. And while I have absolutely no problem doing so, I don't want to do it in such a Draconian manner that my children cannot feel comfortable discussing things with me, try to hide information...or sneak off like I did!

CCC Section 1632 states:

"It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own."
[Emphasis mine]

So back to the main issue. The problem is walking the fine line between the two - dating vs courting - and that's what I'm dealing with when it comes to this senior boy and his crush on my freshman daughter. He seems to be instinctively following the courting route, changing his tactics once he realized that dating this younger girl was not an option. (See (2) below). He gets high marks for figuring this out on his own and for offering to forego the end-of-season blowout bonfire bash with his friends to come over and talk with a younger girl and her parents.

I just have to spend some time with him trying to discern whether his intentions are truly good, or if it's all for show. I also want to be there to promote the possibility of having fun and innocence within the relationship to try and avoid the inevitable drama and hurt feelings on either side. Wish me luck. I'll continue to post on this topic as I'm in the process of forming my own, better understanding along the way. Maybe I'll write a book and call it "How to Date in a Courtly Manner" ( read it here first, so let's call it a copyright) ;-)

Here are a few articles by Catholics and non-Catholics that I found to be interesting and helpful:

Family Life Center resource page here

A Catholic Critique of a Current Notion of Courtship (by an FUS alumna, Shell!)

Catholic Online - article from the Arlington Catholic Herald

A non-Catholic Christian perspective here

I've got some book recommendations, and will share them once I've actually done the work myself.

End Notes:

(1) We are not like that, thus we are unworthy of full communion with them, lest we or our school-going children foul the waters. But that's for another time and another post.

(2) To give credit where it is due, without even asking me first, she has refused her older Cheerleader friends' invitations to these gatherings. The Football Player asked her to the movies in lieu of attending this weekend's post-playoff-game bonfire bash - the last one of his HS football career at that. Good kid. But she's not going out anywhere with him, and she's told him so. He has now asked me if he might come over to meet us instead. I want to adopt him like a little puppy, he's so darn cute. But all puppies eventually pee on your carpet, so I'm keeping a close eye on him.

(3) Major CINO, no catechism growing up, parents who divorced and explored their - ahem - SELVES in the mid '70's and were so wrapped up in the "ME generation"/disco decadence culture that my siblings and I had ZERO supervision, were asked little and told even less about what we were up to. Me, well, I was an honor student and never got in trouble, mainly because I was too smart to get caught. Adult me grieves for teen-aged me, because even then I knew something was missing - I craved my mother's notice, but got little (beyond derision) when I screwed up, and even less when I did well. And that was just high school. Then I was a Big 10 school-going sorority queen in the late '80's, had a blast, had no rules and even less inhibitions - as long as I paid my own way, I could go off on whatever Spring-break bacchanalia I wanted. I'm striving to do the opposite as a mother. So far, so good...but we're just starting to hit the big stuff. I pray to St. Anne, but then I've got St. Monica for backup.


Larry Denninger said...

Kit - by addressing these issues now and seeking good sources to assist you already puts you ahead of about 98% of other parents out there, so kudos to you.

Take a look at some of Jason Evert's stuff - I think he and his wife have put out some materials. There's also Dr. Colleen Kelly Mast, of Catholic radio fame, who has published "Sex Respect", which is a parent-child program. I've heard it to be pretty good.

And pray pray pray. Pray especially to your daughter's guardian angel and the archangels (and for this 18 year old's angel too!).

Or you dress your daughter up ugly. that might help too! :-)

Anonymous said...

Kit, just wrote you a pretty long comment telling you how wonderful you are . And it went.
Anyway- keep at it.

All I can say is keep talking. I spend quite a bit of time with my kids over a cuppa. Sadly they have to walk a bit of a minefield in the prospective dating/courtship scene. Few people share their values about chastity, drink and drugs. It's very hard.

Mine have chosen to wear chastity rings btw. Don't know how helpful that will be in a tight space-but I am hoping the message they carry means something-just as a wedding ring should.

It's a scary business being a parent sometimes.
Keep at it.
God bless
{{fellow mum hug}}

Anonymous said...

Kit I have awarded you

ignorant redneck said...

1. You seem to be doing better than I did.

2. The boy might not be what I was. He did skip a bonfire party to be around her.

3. You can get a cattle prod at Tractor Supply Coperation or Farm Bureau.

Larry Denninger said...

IR - #3....LOLOL!!!