Real life isn’t always like the courtship books

Real life isn't always like the courtship books

During my teenage years, I read a lot of courtship books.  Joshua Harris.  Eric and Leslie Ludy.  Elisabeth Elliot.  You name it.  If it was about courtship, I probably read it.

In and of itself, reading those courtship books was not a bad thing.  Even though I already knew beforehand that I wasn’t going to “date” casually, and that any relationship I would get into would need to be moving the direction of marriage, reading and knowing that there were others out there who believed the same as I did was encouraging.

However, a steady diet of those type of books during the years when I wasn’t courting — and therefore had nothing to apply what I was reading to — ended up not being a good thing.  It essentially caused me to put God in a box in regard to what makes a relationship that is glorifying to Him.

My courtship was not at all typical.  When I was living in New Zealand, my husband, Aaron, came across my blog via a homeschoolers’ networking site.  He wrote me from California and we communicated online for two weeks before he officially asked to court me.  A month later, he flew to New Zealand, and we met in person for the first time.  He stayed ten days and flew back to the States.  Seven weeks later, I flew back to the States to spend several weeks getting to know him and his family.  About two weeks after my arrival, he proposed and I said yes (four times!).  We were married three months later.

Now, according to my little personal theory, after reading all those courtship books, I should have been ready and known how to handle any courtship that came my way.  However, by God’s wonderful and amazing grace, my courtship didn’t fall anywhere near the formulas I had planned out in my head.  Most courtship books don’t talk about what to do if you start to fall in love with the man courting you even though you haven’t even met face-to-face yet.  As Aaron told me when we were chatting online before he came to New Zealand, “This is not an emotional trajectory recommended in our circles!”

I’m not saying that all courtship books are bad, inaccurate, or entirely unhelpful.  I know of many cases where such books totally changed the way young men and women view their relationships, causing them submit that area of their life to God.  (And I still recommend Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity and Quest for Love to any young man or woman…for repeated readings.)

However, for this girl who had already decided to submit her romantic relationships to God and all that entails, reading book after book on courtship was not at all helpful.  I was not currently courting anyone and therefore had nothing to apply it to.  Yet in order to somehow process and store away what I was reading, I ended up subconsciously building ideas and formulas in my head of how a courtship should work.  Thankfully, by my Father’s mercy and grace, I recognized my courtship for the beautiful and God-glorifying process that it was and didn’t reject it just because it didn’t line up with my ideas.

But even though I didn’t reject it, I still struggled with the fact that my courtship wasn’t anything like the ones in the books.  Does that mean it’s wrong?  Not at all!  It just means that our Father has a much bigger imagination than any of us ever will…and He loves to use it!

From this vantage point, I wouldn’t have changed anything about  my courtship…in every way it was perfect  for us.  But I do wish that I hadn’t doubted that it was the Lord’s plan for us, just because it didn’t line up with the formula I had made up in my head.

Be careful.  Be careful that your efforts to “be prepared” for whenever God brings you into a courtship don’t leave you with a narrow view of how He will work.  Be careful not to construct a formula in your head as to how a courtship should look.  And above all, be careful to submit every aspect of future romantic relationships to our Father…including how you think they’ll look and play out.  Because as many courtship books remind us, God really does write the best love stories.

be careful that your efforts to be prepared...


  1. I really like this post. Along with reading books that create a narrow perspective, they also made me hungrier for it to happen already!! Nowadays, there are the various wedding blogs etc that can really cause one to make marriage an idol. I think I’ve read and seen enough for now, I’m happy to wait until I have someone to work with before going back to reading on those topics and worrying about my centre pieces!!!

    Yet, as you mentioned, I would still recommended Elisabeth Elliot’s books πŸ™‚


  2. This is something I had to face up to as well. I enjoyed reading the books as a teen but have recently had to realise it’s about principles, not strict ‘this is how to do it’s. Thank you for sharing. My courtship isn’t going according to the books but I love it for what it is. My God had an even bigger imagination than I realised and I am so grateful and so blessed by the man he brought into my life.

  3. On the ‘first kiss’ issue…my husband and I decided right from the start of our betrothal that we would save that kiss for our wedding day…and with God’s help we did that although it was a struggle at times! It added such a special element of excitement and joy to our wedding day. To share our first kiss as husband and wife was so sweet and tender and special that I can definitely say iit’s so worth the wait. Ultimately though, our goal as Christians working through relationships, should always be ‘what honors Christ’. Will kissing before marriage arouse passion and desires that cannot be righteously fulfilled yet? As a married woman, I know how beautifully God has designed a man and woman’s bodies to respond to each other…and kissing plays a big part! I’m so thankful that we were able to save that kiss for our wedding day.

  4. Thank you! Everyone that grew up with I Kissed Dating Goodbye, etc. I think are realizing that life is so different than how we idealized it. Relationship books have their place, and that place is not necessarily right next to our Bibles.

  5. I really needed this! I am struggling with the way my courtship is looking right now. I always dreamed of an Eric and Leslie Ludy/ Isaac and Rebekah courtship. That is not what mine is. Thank you so much!
    Our God is big, and His plans are not our plans!

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. If one’s love story didn’t follow all the rules and regulations suggested by the authors of those generally excellent courtship books, it’s easy to be made to feel like a lesser Christian within some circles. I find in my life that much of maturity is developing the *heart* of purity, rather than believing that staying within certain guidelines will guarantee holiness.

    This article was such an encouragement to me, I linked to it in my blog.

  7. Thank you for this good opinion piece on courtship.

    I believe–as far as courtship theory goes–that courtship follows three important principles:

    1) in a courtship the couple is still under the authority of their parents and must respect their wishes,

    2) the couple can get blinded by emotions and need their parent’s discerning accountability, and

    3) while they learn about each other and grow in love, the couple prepares for their future marriage and family.

    So yeah, within the bounds of those principles, a courting couple has a lot of leeway. Sometimes courting couples can do everything by the book as far as timetables and activities go, but in their hearts they are dating, getting away from their parent’s authority, and focusing on the emotional ride instead of on their future. Sometimes dating couples can have a really mature aim to their relationship. So I like principles rather than timetables.

    And your experience seems to back up my gut feeling. Thanks.

  8. Great post.
    One thing that bothers me very much about the ‘courtship-scene’ is the comparison between kissing and “i love you”. I see tons of oh-so-pure relationships where the couple is not kissing, but yet, they will tell each other that they love each other as often as they can.
    “I love you” is VERY special. It is one of the most important things to say to somebody. It surrenders you. It uncovers all of you, making you more vulnerable than ever. It goes from your lips, all the way back to your soul, your most hidden thoughts and feelings.
    Yes, I am very upset about this. If you tell somebody that you love him, you have done more than kissing. Kissing can express friendship, happiness, care, love, comfort. “I love you” is so deep and heartfelt… if you’re not going to give out kisses, don’t give out “i love you”s. It’s just the same.

    1. ummmmmmmmmmmmm telling my boyfriend that I love him is very different to kissing. Kissing is sexual between a man and woman (on the lips) which becomes a very real temptation. My older sister tells me that thats one thing she really regrets. She and her then fiance started kissing when they were engaged and she wishes they had never done that. Telling my man that I love him is not going to make him or I start thinking things that need to wait until marriage. My two cents worth!~

  9. For many, the whole courtship idea has become a sacred cow. And so it’s good to get a reality check and put things in their place. However, I would just say to this author (who I do not know and so can only go by what she posted), please don’t blame the books for what you went through. We all have a lot of growing up to do, and we would do well to much quicker put the blame on ourselves for misinterpreting or misapplying truths found in Christian books, than on the books themselves. We get zealous in our desire to apply truth, but then when we have to take a couple steps backward, who’s to blame— books or ourselves?

  10. ^someone^ up above spoke about the importance of the attitude of our hearts….so true! The important thing is that we submit ourselves to God and our parents (where that’s appropriate). My husband and I met at college so we spent most of the time getting to know each other 100s of miles away from either of our parents. But God sustained us and spoke to us, and was really gracious in how my husband led us to study the Bible together and get to know each other as friends. We got engaged fairly quickly but then waited until we had finished college to get married. Traditionally that’s the other way round, right?! but that suited our personalities I think.

    I read Josh Harris’ book right after I became a Christian, and that completely turned my view of relationships upside down. In fact my husband and I had our first kiss on our wedding day! But I found that Mr Harris’ book made me turn to the Bible more. We kissed when we did because of attitudes from past relationships, not because “Josh Harris says so!”

    All of which is a long and drawn out way of saying that God has our best interests at heart, no matter what happens. Even if a relationship ends, God is still working for the good of those who love Him!

  11. I keep coming back to this lesson in many areas of life – God cares about the heart far more than the appearance. In my own courtship, I was rather frustrated and confused that my dad didn’t lay down the rules and spell everything out like I thought he was “supposed to” for courtship. But I gradually realized the different attitude he had, which was respect for the man I was courting – and how important that attitude is! In my transition from father’s to husband’s authority, I (and Dad) needed to let my now-husband lead how our relationship would develop, learn to respect and follow his guidance, give him the opportunity to practice leadership, and see how responsible he would be in such a leadership role. I’m so glad now that Dad didn’t follow the books in this way! The books are good and I have a lot of respect for them, but they aren’t the whole picture. Many aspects of my courtship were exactly what we needed but would be bad for someone else. Only God knows what each of us needs to learn through our own experience.

    1. That’s a very good point Evelyn. Especially for those of us who have different sort of situations then the norm. Like mine, my husband is a mere four years younger than my dad.So they’re not really son and father in law. More like brothers in law.
      Respect is good to have all around. Especially between such important, lifelong relationships.
      Much Love

  12. I honestly never thought about it this way…I have been reading soo many courtship books as well and have made up rules of how Im going to act in front of a man, I’ve even studied what it means to become a Godly young lady that is described in Proverbs 31 and you just opened my eyes and made me see that it’s God’s story to write….He’s the author…Im just the actor of the best love story that will happen! Thanks that was very eye-opening!!!!

  13. Your timing is wonderful. I’m in the midst of reading Passion and Purity again but for the purpose of finding encouragement in this season of expectant waiting.
    I’m not courting nor is there any young man on the horizon. I had so many expectations of what would happen and the time frame/age it would occur. It was so easy for me to have the “plan” in my head on how we would meet and what would happen. Well, all those assumptions have blown away and now I’m looking forward to God’s plan trusting that while he knows the desires of my heart, his plan is best.

  14. I think I went for the courtship books because I needed to feel that my standards were valid. In today’s society it’s pretty hard to find people who are like-minded about dating and will hold you accountable, even within the church.

    For example, a lot of people thought I might want to give some hints and go after the guy I had feelings for. But I really felt convicted to wait for his initiative. It took 6 years, but it was worth waiting for him to take the lead.

    We had both struggled with feelings of guilt for having affection for a member of the opposite sex. I think what I needed to hear from the books is that it’s okay to feel affection for someone. Even if it hadn’t worked out, God allowed me to fall in love for a reason, and He would have healed me.

    There was the moment when he was trying to ask me out, and I thought, “Here is this godly man whom I love, and he believes in DATING??!” We had both avoided casual dating and neither of us was sure how to make the transition from friendship. But he was only trying to be casual about it because he was so nervous. In fact, he had marriage on the mind, and we got engaged a few months later.

    I read “Passion and Purity” dozens of times and it really comforted me. Not because it promised me a certain result, but because of how they depended on God.

    With that being said, a lot of the other books are almost written for non-believers in the way that they provide a lot of examples of “what not to do,” that I couldn’t really relate to.

  15. Great Post! I wish articles like this would be more widely circulated in courtship circles. My husband and I were brought together by God and were married within two months and have had a very happy and blessed marriage for the last two years.
    However… although we stayed pure in heart and saved our first kiss for the wedding and all that, (Not a requirement but definitely a recommendation) because we did everything so fast and became emotionally attached to each other before the wedding we’re still receiving flak from dear brothers and sisters who think that we did it all wrong because it wasn’t by the book. (Or some say that that may have been all well and good for us but there’s no way they’d allow THEIR daughter to do what I did.)
    I’m sorry to say I might have had the same attitude before the Lord worked on my heart and led me to my husband, so I’d like to encourage everybody to not only think outside the box, but refrain from judging others so harshly for being outside your box too. Sometimes I’ve cried over things other Christian people have said both in front of me and behind my back about our courtship. It gives me incentive to be more careful about what I say both to a courting couple, and allow others to say about them.
    Much Love!

  16. Wow! what an encouragement….I am currently in a courtship that is less than conventional. He is in the Army, stationed 2,000 miles away. It was a month into our relationship before we were able to actually see each other (His family lives 15 minutes away from me and we’ve known each other for several years; so it’s not like we hadn’t met before)

    This relationship is obviously headed to marriage, but that wont be until he’s finished with his enlistment. Therefore, our relationship will be a struggle — we will be apart for several months at a time, including his upcoming deployment overseas — but i know that the God who brought us together will also give us the strength that we need for each day πŸ™‚ He has been so faithful and so awesome through this journey so far.

    My “boyfriend” and I are looking forward to growing so much closer to Him and to each other over the next few years on our journey toward marraige.

    And to think that 4 months ago, he was just another guy friend….God loves to keep me on my toes….don’t put limitations on him, give Him room to work in an amazing way as he writes your love story!

    In Christ, Arielle

    P.S. Does anyone have a better term than “boyfriend”? its so overused πŸ™‚ We use the term but we always have to immediately follow it with a brief explanation of courtship. I really cant think of another term that doesn’t sound too old-fashioned.

    1. I had a friend who called her boyfriend her “Betrothed”. They called each other that actually… I thought it was unique and sweet, albeit very old fashioned – biblical even… πŸ˜‰

  17. Great article. Thanks for sharng your thoughts on this matter, I’m also pretty sure i’ve read at least a couple of the books you mentioned above, and i’m glad i did, thougt recently…let’s say, yesterday, i was full of doubts about a new even in my life. Last tuesday a very godly young man asked me if i would like him to ask my father permission to court me…well, that was shocking, i said yes and we continued talking about ministry things. Today we are traveling back home to the town were me and my parents live..he’s going to ask my father soon…I pray God wil be honored in all we do, i just want Him to have the glory, the first place in our lives. Until now, this story i’m living in does not look at all as the books i’ve read, but even thought that made me doubful, i trust that by submiting my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, He will work all things for our good, even if this courtship does not leads to marriage.
    If you can pray for this, i’ll appreciate it sister. πŸ™‚

    Thanks again for posting, the Lord knew that many of us needed were just on time.

      1. He has! this has been such an amazing experience..God is so good working things out so perfectly πŸ™‚ I’m amazed at His creativity and the unique ways He match his children together…there was no way i could find by my own a better boyfriend than the one He has chosen for me. Praise the Lord for all His blessings and signs of love.
        Thanks again for this article, i shared yesterday with my boyfriend, was very helpful for both of us in this new stage called courtship. πŸ™‚

    1. Hello Karen,

      Sorry that it took me awhile to respond to this…but I will definitely be praying for you and your boyfriend through this amazing, yet sometimes hard time! Keep your eyes on Jesus… πŸ™‚

  18. Wow. This is so spot on for me!!

    I was married 5 months ago, after nearly 2 years of courtship that was definitely NOT “by the books.” Even though my husband and I have always taken our relationship to God first (even when we were “just friends”) from the outset our courtship wasn’t anything like we (or his family) had expected.

    In fact, while we were both “committed to courtship” I’m not actually sure if we technically DID court!! (if the night you “enter into courtship” together you also “commit to marriage” with “no backing out” doesn’t that make it a proposal/engagement? Or at least some odd sort of betrothal?)

    I’m still not sure what the proper terminology is for our pre-marriage relationship, but that’s okay. what matters is that we faithfully followed GOD.

    Besides, Love is supposed to be an adventure, right? I think so. After all, if it is a love STORY, stories contain adventure. And Adventure isn’t adventure if it doesn’t contain an element of the unexpected. And if God, the greatest Storyteller of all time, is writing your love story, you can BET that, regardless of how well you have courtship “figured out,” there WILL BE some unexpected twists in yours.

    Which, I think, only makes the end result better. πŸ™‚

  19. This is interesting… I totally see where you’re coming from. I have found that reading various courtship stories on ylcf has helped me to see that there’s no one way to do things.

    1. That’s exactly what the courtship stories section is there for–to remind us all that God rarely works the same way twice, and it’s always outside our “box”!

  20. Thanks for sharing that. I totally agree and it was kind of the same for me as well. I started talking to my husband before I had even met him and felt almost bad for the way we started courting because it wasnt like the way any of the books I read talked about. But I wouldnt trade anything and I am really happy with the way God brought us together. Everyone is so different and situations really just depend on the person and circumstance

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this, Jessica. I still refer to my future relationship as a courtship, but I think the most important thing about the relationship I’m building a foundation for day by day is that it’s not about books and rules, but about God. If He’s leading me into a relationship He’ll work the details of the relationship out – I’m sure they’ll be unique! – and what’s important is following HIM into every bit of the romance He’s writing. Thank you again! πŸ™‚

  22. Thank you so very very much for this post! I’m pretty sure I’ve read all those books too and honestly, I’m glad I did. They really helped to change my perspective on relationships and helped me to realize the importance of following God in that area of my life. But like you, it took me a long time to realize that God doesn’t necessarily go “by the book”. The important thing is seeking and honoring God, not going by another person’s formula.

    About a year ago I met a very godly young man and we eventually began to feel that God had something more in mind for us than “just friends”. From the beginning we have sought to follow God and honor Him in our relationship and yet it has been NOTHING like any book I’ve ever read.

    People are constantly telling me that we aren’t doing things the right way and that we have “messed up” our relationship just because it isn’t like the book. It’s so very encouraging just to hear again that God looks at the heart, not the book.

  23. I really appreciate this post. I definitely agree that courtship books in and of themselves are not wrong but I was obsessed with them to the point of creating very legalistic rules for myself (all while I was not dating or even close) that I thought would make me more pure and essentially more holy. I was in one courtship relationship and we did it all by the books literally. And yet-all the rules did nothing to prevent my heart from being shattered when some very serious sin issues in his life came to light and my Dad (who is my hero for doing it) ended our courtship.
    I really struggled after that because we had done everything “right” and yet it had still failed and I still got hurt.
    Well, the Lord is gracious and he literally plopped me in front of the man that on May 21, 2011 will become my husband. We didn’t do things by the books and yet…the Lord blessed. He kissed me the day we got engaged and honestly I waited to feel guilty and yet-I didn’t. I realized that saving your first kiss for your husband does not necessarily mean that it will make you any less pure if it is not on your wedding day but before (even though I have the highest respect for those who do wait till their wedding day!). Our love story has been nothing like the books but oh our Father in Heaven has written us a beautiful love story! One that is a million times better then I ever could have imagined! For so long I tried to hold on to MY rules and the way I thought courtship should be…and in the end I realized my Jesus just wanted me to surrender my love story to Him so He could be in complete control and when I did-I realized that His ways truly ARE so much better than ours!

    1. Yeah….I’m honestly struggling with the kissing issue….i know that i most certainly want to wait until I’m engaged. And waiting until the wedding day has always sounded so sweet and perfect to me, but i’m wondering if i’m just putting up legalistic boundaries that are a little unfounded.

      I just keep praying about it !

      1. Arielle,

        Your struggles touched my heart very deeply. The “kiss issue” has become such a big one for so many girls and before I say anything else, I want to assure you that I don’t have an answer to your struggles. But I have a secret for you: I know the Person who DOES have the answer.

        And He has an answer *just for you*.

        Boundaries are important and though many will call them legalistic, never be afraid to seek the Lord and set boundaries in accordance with what He has told YOU. I firmly believe that God brings two souls together for marriage and yes, it’s not “perfect” and there will be disagreements, but God knows the patterns of behaviour and boundaries that HE has planted in your heart and I believe that He will honour them by planting them in your guy’s heart, or at least making that special guy open to hearing why you feel God has placed those boundaries in your heart – and respecting God’s call on your life in those areas (all areas, but that’s another story!).

        The Lord knows what He desires for your relationship – or future relationship, depending on your current status πŸ™‚ – and if you truly seek Him with your whole heart, I know He wants to share those desires with you. It sounds like He’s already bringing you towards them.

        So, let me encourage you with the lesson that the Lord has taught me. It’s not about “to kiss or not to kiss”. It’s all about Him. It’s about seeking Him with my whole heart, whatever my relationship status. It’s about desiring His will and His best plans for my life and the life of the guy He plans for me to marry one day. It’s all about having God at the centre of my life and seeking to be ENTIRELY in-tune with the beat of His heart. So for me, that means that He has placed His desire to wait until I’m “Mrs” to kiss that guy whose wife I’ll be. For Meritt and Gretchen, God had other plans – right, Gretchen? Don’t be afraid to seek the LORD’S plan for YOU. What other people think it should be – the girls who are still waiting, the married ladies – is of secondary importance to what the Lord thinks … and don’t forget that He likes to use our parents to reveal His will to us! πŸ™‚

        I hope that helps you some and that you will soon reach a place of peace before the Lord about this issue, Arielle. And may you have the courage to stand by the Lord’s will, come what may.

        In Him,

      2. Hello Arielle,

        Sorry that it has taken me so long to reply to this…but it looks like, in my absence, you got some great answers from others! πŸ™‚

        I too really recommend the link that Katie shared…Gretchen does a great job of showing how saving the first kiss for the altar is not what God has in mind for every couple and how it’s not more holy than those who kiss before the wedding day.

        And I agree with everything that Arielle said…she summed it up so perfectly that the focus shouldn’t become the kiss, but honouring God in every aspect of your relationship should be…and that will look different for each couple. The point is to make sure that you are truly seeking HIM in everything…and He will work all the details out.

        I have a post in the works that talks about this, but I wanted to mention something regarding what you said about how “waiting until the wedding day has always sounded so sweet and perfect”. My husband and I did wait until our wedding day to kiss, and we were very glad that we did because it saved us from a lot of temptations. HOWEVER, kissing for the first time in front of hundreds of people is not all that it’s cracked up to be! πŸ™‚ Contrary to popular belief about first kisses, because I was so nervous, I didn’t “feel” anything much at our first kiss (though my husband assures me that he definitely “felt” something! :)). Obviously that changed very quickly once we were finally alone, but I just thought I’d mention it. Even though I’m still glad we waited, make sure that you don’t have a overly-rose-coloured view of saving your first kiss for your wedding day. If it’s something that you feel the Lord really wants you to do, then by all means, wait…but it’s not the perfect answer for everyone. πŸ™‚ I hope that made some sense!

  24. I’ve read many of the books you mentioned. And developed many of the same ideals about what a courtship would look like. But I’ve also learned through the experiences of my best friend who has now endured 2 broken courtships. I always used to say I would pursue courtship rather than have my heart broken repeatedly through dating as a young teen. But I am here to tell you it’s not foolproof. At all.

    Just because he asks your dad and everything is according to the book does not mean you will end up marrying. It’s still a trial. One of my friends relationships even went as far as engagement. She was engaged to him for 3 months before they recently broke it off. And still I know that she was in the will of God every step of the way. God is using this to teach her, to teach me, to teach all of us… Yes, it’s painful, but He is faithful.

  25. this is SO true. I hesitated based on man’s opinions… rather than seeking the heart of the matter, pleasing Christ. πŸ™‚ I encourage my fellow sisters to keep your eyes on the One who shepherds your soul and lights your path. If you hide in His presence, His counsel will surround you. You will *not* be led astray. πŸ™‚ And God will have His perfect way in your life… as He is having in mine. And it is beautiful.

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