“How in the world am I supposed to find someone to marry in this day and age?”
I posed this question, rather loudly, to my mother. My mother, the woman who has been married for over thirty years. The woman who was not only married by my age, but parenting already.
It was late at night and two of my sisters and I were surrounding my poor mom, bombarding her with life’s biggest questions while my dad worked a night shift. She sat on her bed, as if she mistakenly planned on sleeping, and we sat all about in chairs and on the carpet as my rant continued: “What in the world were we thinking when we threw out all the customs of the previous generations? The systems may have seemed restrictive, but at least there was a framework!”
I bemoaned the fact that men don’t “call” on women, that we use coffee shops instead of parlors, that my parents don’t have time, energy or the frame of mind to vet callers, that it’s socially awkward to involve your family in your new relationship, that dating websites and apps are a poor substitute for being casually set up by a good friend, that church is where good people go to worship, the bar is where they go to hook up, and there seems to be nothing in between. Heaven knows I’m not longing to live in the Victorian era, but there are few things I hate more than ambiguity, confusion, and the sensation of not knowing what to do with one’s hands, which is exactly how I feel about modern options of courtship and dating.
My mother and sisters nodded along to my ranting and put in their two cents when I calmed down, but there was really nothing to conclude on that night last year that couldn’t have been concluded any of those many other nights I had gone on such rants.
God has shown me time and again that He hasn’t let me slip through the cracks of fate. No societal failures can thwart His will. And yet, I was put in this day and age specifically to tackle its challenges of my era, and singleness is certainly among them.
I had a very eclectic upbringing, and remaining in the home of my youth (affectionately named Eyrie Park) brought its own set of unique challenges. My eight siblings and I were unschooled in many places before moving to Eyrie Park, including a ranch in south Texas, a Victorian home in a tiny town, a ribbon mill converted into an apartment in Manchester, Connecticut, and an orphanage in the mountains of Haiti
Alas, I didn’t find a suitable mate in Haiti, though I came back with four new siblings. I picked up a few exceptional friends everywhere we went, but one day I woke up and I was grown and I hadn’t found My Person. I looked around at the methods of my peers and I saw a lot of heartache in the wake of their route to marriage. Hurt feelings, wasted time, temptation, and a lot of confusion.
I looked at the methods recommended in Christian literature, both on and offline. My dad would never be the patriarch grilling young men on their budgets, plans, and minute theological differences. Besides, my family is too diverse to ever fit a certain mold, so we’ve never really run with the homeschooled crowd (or any crowd for that matter). Bandwagons were not our style and we wound up shying away from The Modern Courtship Movement. You could say that we were unschooled, even in the matter of romance.
I live in a college town where everyone dates. They go to dances or such things to which you bring a casual date. Waiting for someone to court me in this era, in my city, as a twenty-something, seems like waiting for someone to offer to give me a house or let me adopt their baby. Totally possible, but unlikely.
I cannot say courtship failed me, exactly, as I never really gave it a shot. But the whole philosophy definitely let me down. I am a try-hard, do-good, high-pressure person. I regularly struggle with unwarranted guilt. For someone with my personality and temperament, courtship felt like an invitation to fail.
For someone who already dealt with legalism and feeling like a religious let-down, Modern Courtship was a recipe for disaster. I already have to pray that God would help me break loose of a works-based theology. Studies have shown that kids who were raised in the “purity culture” are actually more likely to be promiscuous, presumably because of an “all or nothing” mentality. I knew this could be a slippery slope for me.
My Own Attempts
When I was a teenager, a guy friend told me that he “knew” I was The One and that we would one day be married. No pressure or anything! I felt like I could break his heart and we would both be lonely forever, or I could make a huge decision, as a teen, to marry this guy.
If faced with the same decision today, I would have a lot less fear and a lot more wisdom. However, the courtship philosophy had led me to believe that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I could go left or right, no other options. I was so devoted to the idea of marrying my first-ever boyfriend that I wanted to know if I was going to marry him before I ever let him call himself my boyfriend! So I kept that guy in relationship purgatory for far too long, before finally turning him down. Funny thing is, he is married to someone else today, so his prophecy, no matter how innocent it might have been, has been officially debunked!
After that rather traumatic experience, which led to the loss of a dear friendship, I began my wait for the “other fish” I had been promised were in the sea. I rotated between seasons of putting my best foot forward and being proactive (a.k.a. wearing lipstick, learning to cook, and saying “hi” to people) and of resolving myself to a lifetime of singleness (wearing an invisible nun’s habit, reverting to shyness in public, and reading missionary diaries).
In general, I was happy, but every once in a while I would wake up and feel old and unwanted. My role at Eyrie Park was diminishing. Gone were the days of bathing the babies two at a time. Gone were the days of homeschooling at the kitchen table and working in the garden with the entire family. I felt like Alice, head curled over and giant arms and legs protruding from the tiny house. I was changing and aging and growing and learning and I wasn’t able to apply my grown-up-ness. I was supposed to have my own home and family by now, but I didn’t and that made me frustrated. Which is why I went downstairs late at night and complained loudly to my mother. Line in or line out, it seemed there were no other fish in the sea. I thought that staying pure and marrying young was holy and Godly, so why had I completely failed?
Courtship in Crisis
Fast-forward a few months and I regained my composure once more. If society can’t help me find a spouse, I will just have to just be happy as a single woman, I said to myself for the thousandth time. I became very busy at church and with my writing. I invested in my female friends, both married and single. And then I did something I had never done before. I went on a blind date! Now, I should tell you right now that this is not my love story you are reading. I am not married now or engaged or even in a relationship! I still have no idea who I am going to marry or when or even if. But the same month I went on the blind date, I wound up with a copy of Courtship in Crisis by Thomas Umstattd, Jr. The subtitle is “a case for traditional dating” and that piqued my interest.
Thomas Umstattd used to be a die-hard Modern Courtship advocate. He even started an extremely successful website based on the philosophy. That is to say, the website was successful, not necessarily the philosophy it promoted. As Thomas matured, he realized many, if not most of the members of his movement were facing the same predicament he was: they were still single! His thought process did a 180 as he began to interview his grandmother, the woman who had warned him about the cons of his courtship mindset years before. His book makes a case, not for Modern Dating, but for Traditional Dating…the kind of dating my grandparents used in the 1950s. It’s not particularly rule-bound and it’s not rocket science, plus it was extremely effective, playing a part in the post-World War II marriage boom. The kind of marriage boom our generation could sorely use.
Courtship in Crisis was really refreshing because it does not bash courtship, kissing dating goodbye, “true love waits,” purity rings or the other things many of us held dear in our growing-up years and even continue to promote. It is simply asking a question: is modern courtship effective? And if not, what would be better?
Traditional Dating, as Thomas calls it, in no way promotes promiscuity or reckless behavior. The focus is still to find someone to marry and then to marry them. Where it differs from courtship is in the methodology, not the morals. It isn’t to say there aren’t many happy couples who met and were matched through Modern Courtship. Some of those happy couples are represented on Kindred Grace’s own writing team! Courtship in Crisis merely presents a fresh perspective on an age-old question. We know that a man and woman standing at an altar and vowing to be faithful is a God-honoring thing. So now the only question is, how will you get there?
Moving Forward with a Changed Perspective
Courtship in Crisis really connected the dots I had been struggling to connect for so long. It put into words why neither Modern Dating nor Modern Courtship have worked for me. Yes, I am single because God is allowing or intending me to be single today. But perhaps He is also allowing me to see things differently, to see the men I meet differently, and see the future differently. Perhaps, though my dreams of marriage and children and my own home are not going anywhere, though a lifetime of singleness could very well still be His will for me, and my standards and ideals have not altered an inch, I can admit that my perspective has changed. There might just be a way for a quirky girl like me with a kooky family, complicated background, a little baggage, high standards, and almost no experience to meet, befriend, and marry Her Person after all.
Modern Courtship and Modern Dating have both proven simply to be ill-fitted for my personality and situation. But where once I had only seen a fork in the road, now I see a small trail going between the two paths, leading to something that makes much more sense for me.
Related Post: Culture in Crisis
Photography: JenniMarie Photography