Courtship: Dispelling the Myths

Courtship: Dispelling the Myths from @TrinaHolden at @YLCF

Myth #1

There is a misconception within conservative circles (and among anyone who is familiar with the term ‘courtship’) that, if the couple who is courting do not end up at the marriage altar together, the courtship was a failure.

I’d like to state right here, for the record, that there is no such thing as a “failed courtship”. A courtship that doesn’t end in marriage is not a failure. It is a myth that “courtship should always end with a couple becoming engaged”. Because courtship isn’t a commitment, it’s an acknowledgement. Or, at least, that’s the way it should be.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

The truth is that courtship should be viewed as a season of exploration. A courting couple acknowledges their relationship for the sake of accountability and counsel as they seek God’s will for their futures. They are not committed to each other, but rather toward the shared goal of discerning whether they want to spend the rest of their life together.

  • If, after getting to know each other on a deeper level, praying, seeking counsel, and observing how the other does life, a couple decides together to marry, then their courtship has been a success.
  • If, after the same focus and effort either of the individuals in the relationship realizes they don’t want to get married, their courtship has also been a success.

The latter situation is typically given the label of a “Failed Courtship”, though it is not. It is just as successful, though obviously not as fun. A courtship that doesn’t end in a wedding is a painful experience, but it’s not as tragic as a couple entering into a marriage heedless of factors that should have kept them apart. Because such experiences are painful and very personal, we don’t talk or write about them much, leading to…

Myth #2

This is the myth that “Courtship is a guaranteed, pain-free path to marriage”.  And here is where so many tears have been shed, so many broken hearts crumpled even more — from the expectation that a certain formula or style of dating will guard us from pain. This is based on the faulty idea that the goal in life is to avoid pain.

The truth is that we are on this earth to know God and to give Him glory. Sometimes pain is the most effective way that God has to draw us closer to Him and reveal His heart toward His children. Living our life with the goal of avoiding pain will bear little fruit. We may be safe, but we will never learn the joy of trusting in the Father when everything else we have leaned upon has washed away.

“Bring everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:7

How can I make such bold statements and speak so passionately about this subject? Because I’ve been there. I’ve experienced two successful courtships on my journey to becoming someone’s wife. The first ended abruptly right before the ring. My heart was broken, and the pain was mixed with shock that a courtship — pursuing a relationship with much prayer, counsel, accountability, and seeking to honor God — had not protected me from a broken heart. My pain was compounded because I had put so much trust in a system.

Myth #3

On top of the broken heart and shattered expectations, I also experienced a feeling of guilt — I thought I had done wrong because I gave my love to the wrong man. I felt like ‘used goods’ because I thought, “Who wants to marry a girl who’s already loved someone else?” This guilt came from the myth that “first love is something sacred that we should only give to the one we marry.”

The truth is, we as Christians are called to love each other deeply with a pure heart. The idea of only giving that love to one who who ‘qualifies’ is not loving the way Christ did. Yes, a young woman should have self-control and not commit herself emotionally to every guy who comes across her path. But telling her not to love someone until she’s got a ring on her finger would be like telling a woman visiting an orphanage, “Don’t love on any of these children until you decide which one you’re taking home.”

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” 1 Peter 1:22

Perhaps I can illustrate this truth with a glimpse into my first courtship. I was not initially attracted to the first man who came to court me. Yet, after truly seeking God’s heart for the situation, I felt He was calling me to love this man. So I said ‘yes’ to a ‘season of exploration’ — to a courtship. As the months passed, my choice to love selflessly bore fruit and I began to find great joy in our relationship. Then, suddenly, the Lord made it just as clear that He was calling me out of the relationship, to relinquish my desire for marital love, and to only love this man as a brother in Christ. For months I blamed myself for my broken heart, believing I’d been at fault to become emotionally attached to him before I was actually engaged. Until the day that I finally understood that my love for him had not been sin — my fault was in setting a standard higher than God’s.

God calls us to stay sexually pure before marriage. But this whole ‘guarding your heart’ thing, and only becoming emotionally attached to one man? We made that up. God has called His children to love each other. A pure, selfless, love. A love that does not shy away from the pain that may come down the road. A love that sometimes ends in a broken heart because a child dies, a spouse betrays, or a first love ends in the wisdom of not taking a relationship to the next level.

Tasting that kind of love in my first courtship helped me gain a mature understanding of the unconditional love I now give and am blessed to receive from the man I married. That’s another reason I label my first courtship an success.

In the following months, YLCF team members and contributors will be sharing authentic stories of successful courtships that did not end in marriage. Our goal is not to inspire fear nor to throw blame. We seek to show the beauty that comes from brokenness, to share the glimpses we received of God’s heart even in the midst of pain, and the fruit that can come as we seek to love one another well…even when it hurts.  For more on the concept of ‘guarding your heart’, be sure to read Jessica Telian’s post “Emotional Purity?


  1. I am a little bothered this article is presented as “truth” with no Scripture to back up any of the “truth” presented.

    1. Jess, thanks for your comment. I added some verses to support the content, specifically the truths that a failed courtship doesn’t condemn us, that we were made for God’s glory, and that we are called to love our brothers and sisters earnestly. I appreciate your feedback to help this post be more clear!

  2. Excellent article!! I have always felt you could not protect your heart as it is taking a chance on another person. If you cared about the person, it’s going to hurt. Perhaps you even love this person, but marriage and spending the rest of your life with him/her is not God’s perfect will. HE knows more than us.

    Does it hurt? Yes, painfully so. I personally had a relationship a very long time ago for 2 years with a young man. We broke up. Yes, I cared about that person, but today I can say “Praise the Lord” I did not marry him! It just takes a while before you can see the path that the Lord has laid out for us!

  3. I am not trying to be ugly by any means. I see the point in which you were trying to make about loving as Jesus loved. I, however, was really bothered by your statement that ‘guarding our hearts’ is something we made up. It is scriptural. Proverbs 14 :13 And as someone who has been on the other end, who did not guard her heart, and the price that was paid was far too high, I must take note to that comment. We should always teach our children to guard their hearts while loving as Jesus did.

    1. Wrong scripture proverbs 4:23…the other scripture can be the consequences of not guarding your heart though.

  4. Thank you so much for being willing to be honest, bold, and truthful about what the Lord has taught you to be the Truth, not what man has prescribed. The sisters around me & I need this wisdom right now! Thank you!

  5. I loved this post. I followed YLCF about 7-9 years ago, then threw courtship and everything related to it out the window because of a “failed courtship” that ended in heartbreak. I’ve since married a wonderful man (been married almost 5 years) and can see how that courtship failed because it just wasn’t meant to be, God miraculously saved me from a life of pain. I still even hate the term courtship but I love seeing how God has been changing the hearts of young women on this website to SEE the truth in what is written in this post. This whole emotional purity and only loving one man and not giving your heart away and avoiding pain…it’s not what God intended…that’s man’s ideas. That’s perfection and idealism, in a very non-perfect-and-ideal world. So glad to see the growth in this website and the women here. What a change from 8 years ago!!!

  6. This brings so much clarity to “the courtship movement” and it’s “flaws.” I kept thinking about younger girls I know who should read this to gain a balanced perspective. Thanks, Trina!

  7. Wow!
    I have never heard that view on courting.
    I believed that people who coarted got married our it was considered a failure,but I don’t any more.
    I loved the point on how God has called us to be sexually poor before marriage,but he never said to love only one man.
    Thanks for the informative article.

  8. “Living our life with the goal of avoiding pain will bear little fruit.” <— True, true, truthy- truth, right there!

    Great article Trina!

  9. Hey !

    I’m French girl, so I don’t speak well english… But I want to try to explain why I think about your post. This a subject more taboo and I appreciate that here we can talk about this. I’m agree with you when you says : “The truth is, we as Christians are called to love each other deeply with a pure heart” and that a christian girl can court a christian boy without that at the end of this there is an marriage. But the real question is : to what extent this relation is possible ?
    I don’t want to accuse the girls who are experienced this case. But in my opinion we must say on our mind that when we are in courtship situation, that this is in order (if you get well with this of-couyrse), to get marry with this man. And not the contrary (I’am with him in the way of spending time). So my post it’s for complete your interessing article : ) !

    I look forward to hearing you !

  10. “Yes, a young woman should have self-control and not commit herself emotionally to every guy who comes across her path. ”

    Amen to that!

  11. While my husband is the first and only man I ever dated, he certainly wasn’t the first guy that I ever had a crush on or liked. But having had feelings for others and being {unfortunately and very often} mistreated by them helped me to know and appreciate the love my husband has for me and I for him. The pain gave me a much greater joy in knowing how good what I have now is.

    Great post. So often we’re raised to think if we follow the “rules” that things will be painfree and perfect. That, however, is not God’s plan.

  12. Thank you so very much for sharing this! I have not yet been courted, but am just about at the age where I may soon. 🙂 This was so inspiring and motivating for me to read. I have always been concerned that I may “give my heart away” to someone and then what if it doesn’t come to marriage? Now I realize that it is really not realistic to think that you can save yourself from the love that will come between you and someone who is courting you, before it is an engagement. Thank you for dispelling the myths about courtship that I have been turning over in my mind so often!

  13. This was such a blessing. {even though I have never been courted, but getting very close to the age that I can} My mom has ALWAYS told me to make for certain that the person you marry is the one GOD wants you to have.. If you follow the Lord, He won’t lead you in the wrong direction:) Thanks again, Mrs. Trina!:)

  14. [I’m 18.] I was feeling so depressed due to a “failed” courtship. He had no interest in commiting to a relationship, let alone a marriage. Unfortunately, he let his past experiences dictate his future ones, and I had to pay for his ex’s mistakes. I felt as if I had sinned because of how I instantly “loved” him; but it wasn’t love, it was just the idea of having someone (my previous boyfriend passed away, leaving me lonely and very vurnerable). I now realized that it wasn’t a failed courtship, but a learning experience. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Thank you so much for this Trina! I’ve been wanting to try and put my thoughts together on this so I could write it down, but now I don’t need to. =) You’ve echoed my heart so well, especially with #3. The courtship movement has a good thing with encouraging young people to not “date around”, but I’m afraid that it’s made marriage the goal of male/female relationships rather than encouraging each other towards Jesus, following the Lord, and glorifying Him. It’s a mentality of fear, rather than of trust in the Healer of broken hearts. Looking forward to hearing more on this!

  16. Thank you for this! I am 29 and have courted twice to two wonderful men.
    My first, I learned SO much. I learned how to reshape my standards and way of thinking to match God’s plans for me, not what I had in mind for myself. He ended it over a silly argument, and I realized I was so childish! I thank God for his goodness and mercy towards me!
    My second, the guy backed out after seventeen months of wonderful growth and deep relationship with eachother before the Lord. He lost his faith when his sister died and decided he didn’t want a “Christian wife”. I still don’t know why God led me to the spot where I am, but I know it has caused a lot of good to come! “Your best ministry comes out of deep hurt.”
    I am looking forward to reading this series. I know at least 8 other girls locally that have been through as many as 3 or 4 so called “failed” courtships. I am going to send them here so they know they are NOT alone.

  17. Thank you for this post, Trina, and especially for what you said about Myth 3. While I do believe in restraining from dumping all your emotions on a man from the get-go, I don’t see anything wrong with a gradual blossoming of feeling for a man one is courting. Affection grows for anyone else we know – brothers, sisters, friends – and it seems unreasonable to stifle this beautiful good in our humanity with the one person we’re thinking of marrying.

    God bless you!

    1. Clair, you are so right. Opening our hearts in a relationship is essential in getting to know each other well enough to make a decision to commit to marriage. And yes, that must be balanced with wisdom about when one should bestow emotion. Which is why I so much enjoyed the counsel of parents and my pastor in both my courtships. 🙂

      1. I agree with you on opening our hearts and yet balancing it with wisdom when it comes to emotions…and enjoying the counsel of parents and pastors… you were wise!

  18. Oh, WOW. I needed so much to read this today!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing truth and light where painful misconceptions exist. I have identified throughout my two courtships with so much of the confusion-caused pain you described, and it is so joyful and freeing to acknowledge love not ever as a failed experience, but always as something God-given and beautiful.

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