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Monday, March 23, 2015

Emotional Purity and Courtship: A Few Years Later

Four years ago, when I was beginning to process my life story and to critically think through the things I had been taught, believed, and practiced growing up in homeschool culture, I wrote a piece called “How TheTeachings of Emotional Purity and Courtship Damage Healthy Relationships”. It was just my thoughts on the courtship movement and teachings about emotional purity that had dominated mine and my friends’ teen years. I had no idea it would be my most popular post ever, that it would still be read 4 years later and re-posted by thousands of people. I’m glad it’s helped and given clarity to so many stuck in that system. I never dreamed it would be so popular or that my experience was shared by so many until the comments started rolling in with stories just like mine.

I read back over it today as it popped up yet again in my Facebook feed, remembering where I was when I wrote it. I still agree with some of what I wrote back then, but my journey has been so vast since that time. Covered so much space. I suppose blogging is much like journaling in that respect, only in public where you can all see my thoughts and the evolution of my soul.

In my original post, I argued three negative outcomes that often are the result of the teachings of emotional purity. I spoke from still inside the paradigm of Christianity, using scriptural ideas and assuming Christianity as a framework for my thoughts.

But, like most journeys, you never stay in the same place. You might come back around to it eventually or you might leave never to return. The me of 4 years ago that wrote about how God doesn’t do formulas is not the me of today.

The me of today doesn’t believe I need to use God to justify my choices.

I’ve done that my whole life....used scripture and God and “God’s will” to make decisions and defend them to everyone who thought I was wrong or had an opinion about me. And no matter what the choice was or how well I defended it “from scripture” someone always thought it was wrong. Because they too could defend their belief about my wrongness from scripture. It always turned into a “who has better hermeneutics” war, which I often won, given my upbringing steeped in knowledge of the Bible and Bible interpretation. But what I didn’t realize for so long is that all these mental and scriptural gymnastics were unnecessary. Even from a Christian stand-point, it really wasn’t anyone else’s business telling me what God wanted from me. In that belief system, we were supposed to “hear God for ourselves” and discern His will on our own (unless of course we were of the persuasion that our parents did that for us).

But the most important point and perspective comes now from outside that theoretical framework. From a more humanistic one that says that all people have value and innate human rights. Among those rights are right to live, to love, to choose, and to not be controlled and manipulated by others; our value not determined by them and how well we followed the rules. The same rights our parents took for themselves when they chose to go against the rules and the status quo and live their lives their way were denied to us. In the Name of their God. With Biblical justification.

I wrote my courtship story in brief for HomeschoolersAnonymous’ courtship series. My conclusion of that entire fiasco is also my thoughts on what I wrote four years ago on the subject:

“I read my journals and even the story I wrote out 6 years ago, and I am angered. I should not have had to use God to justify my choices. I should not have had to invoke His will for my life, to try to convince my parents that I knew my own mind and could “hear God for myself”. I should not have had to field emotional abuse and manipulation and spiritual control of my mind and heart and body. I should not have had to flee home just to get away from them and find peace. I was an adult, that should have been enough to make my own choices. But in our world, it was not. In the world for which courtship was invented, the ultimate sin was rebellion against God’s order of authority, against what your parents wanted for you, and choosing to walk on your own amid cries of “rebellion”. In this world, men could not be trusted and women were assets to be controlled, and the two could only meet under many layers of rules meant to keep us dependent on our authorities, despising of our own desires, and mistrusting of our own hearts and minds. It has always amazed me how two people who were declared not mature enough to conduct a relationship without supervision and under extreme outside constraint could somehow be mature enough to begin a marriage.

It took me until about 4 years ago to finally stop making spiritual-sounding excuses for why we conducted a secret relationship, why we rejected courtship, why we did everything “wrong” and against my parents’ will; to stop trying to get anyone listening to acknowledge the legitimacy of our choices by invoking God’s will.

To finally simply declare, “Because it was what we wanted and we had that right”.
Such a basic idea yet so foreign to those of us who are refugees from the homeschooling movement. We have that right....the right to love, to choose, to live. To not have our adult choices dictated by another, our autonomy robbed in the name of “because God says so”, coerced by ideologies that left us no real choice because “do this or suffer hell” is not a real choice. It was what we wanted. And that should have been enough.”

Do I still think that these teachings cause “pride, shame, and dysfunction”, as I wrote years ago? Sure. But I think those things are far less important than the idea that our human rights were violated. That we were taught to allow them to be violated from a very young age. That we were assets to be controlled and not people in our own right. That idea, far above all the rest, is far more damaging in my mind these days.

A loving relationship between two autonomous human beings, on our terms, was what we wanted. And that should have been enough. The teachings of courtship and emotional purity stole that from us and we let them because we had been convinced that “God wants this from you”. 

And that remains the biggest problem of all. 


  1. This comment is probably better suited towards your old courtship post, but since that was written a while ago, I'll post it here.

    While I agree with some of what you say, I wanted to (humbly) remind you that your circumstances may not be the same as everyone else's. Yes, many have not had a happily ever after from the courtship method, but some have. So, I wanted to point out that just because some have not had a great experience, doesn't mean we should disregard the idea altogether.

    I courted my husband. However, we didn't court like your family had the idea of or like the Duggars do. No, our idea for courtship was simply that our families should be somewhat involved and that we should have SOME standards. When we said we wanted our families somewhat involved, that meant for us that both sets knew us, we hug out with them some, and just got to know them. When I say we set standards, it meant that we did want to not be too out there. Does that make sense? We held hands, we hugged, etc. We had accountability, but we also were two young people madly in love. Instead of covering that up, we simply tried to set some boundaries. We went out to dinner alone, we went to the movies, etc. we didn't define courtship the way so many wrongly have. Courtship isn't always a big set of impossible rules and regulations. My husband and I now have three kids, and are still crazy about each other. I guess my point in telling you all of that is just to remind everyone that not all courtship is bad. Courtship was awesome for us! I think we just tend to paint with a broad brush and disregard something that can be a good thing.

    1. While some may have had great courtships, my point still stands that the very idea behind courtship is flawed. The whole reason it was invented and promoted are wrong. If you dated and called it courtship, you didn't court by anyone's definition of the word.

    2. By dating (going out to dinner and movies) and calling it courtship, what do you wish to achieve? It seems to be only so you can can look better and less worldy than people who date and call it dating.

    3. The actual definition of courtship is "A period in which a couple develop a romantic realtionship, especially with a view to marriage." By the actual definition, my husband and I did court. We both could see the other as a spouse and pursued our realtionship with the intention to marry if all went well. Therefore, we did court. Please don't tell me whether we dated or courted. Do we fit the Duggars' or your parents' or your own definitions of courtship? Probably not. But by the actual definition, and not everyone else's perception of the word, we courted. Courtship has been given many wrong definitions over he years. People make up their own meaning of what courtship is. If more people followed the definition of courtship instead of their own perceptions, I think courtship would become even more popular.

      While courtship was great for me, I understand it wasn't for everyone. I am SO sorry for the hurt and pain it caused you.

      I want to make clear that I am not against dating. I know many couples who dated and have had a thriving marriage. My own parents dated. I also know many courtships that turned into miserable relationships. Honestly, I don't think anyone has the perfect answer for this issue. It really depends on the individual couple. What worked for me may not work for the next couple. That's okay. I think couples should do what's best for their relationship. That could be courtship or it could be dating. Either way, they need to do what's right for them. Would you agree?

    4. Obviously we are talking about two different things. As someone who was raised in the Purity Culture that invented the concept and practice of "Biblical Courtship", I can tell you that what you did does not at all fit the requirements put forth by the people who taught, wrote books, and created entire seminars around the subject. I only bring this up because I feel that by claiming your dating relationship as "courtship" and saying it was wonderful, you are misrepresenting the teachings and not understanding the inherent awfulness that is "Biblical Courtship" and why people like me preach so hard against it.

      Courtship is, by all the books and accounts:

      1. Parent-led. To varying degrees, but still initiated and led and allowed or not by the parents. Submission to parents/authority and therefore to God is one of the biggest tenants of Biblical Courtship.

      2. VERY gender-based and complementarian with the girl on the bottom, no matter how it's done. The father and the future husband are the leaders in the situation. Sometimes the daughter has veto power, sometimes she doesn't. her wishes are said to be "considered" by the men in her life, but she is not a free agent.

      3. No alone time because, temptation. Some parents lift this ban at engagement, some not until the wedding day. This is a huge part of courtship, that they are "protected" and "accountable" and "no chance for Satan to ruin the relationship by sex".

      4. Always with the purpose of marriage. You don't start a courtship to "see how it goes". It can only be broken off in the more dire of circumstances because it can only be started with gravity and intention to marry. Some took this further and initiated "biblical betrothal" wherein you would have to get a biblical divorce to break off the betrothal (think Lindvall and Co.)

      5. Never go on dates. It's not dating. Dinner and a movie is a date. Not courting. It's like the antithesis of courting. It's what worldly people do.

      6. No emotional attachment until engagement. This is what we called "guarding your heart". Because the idea of emotional purity was that if you gave someone a piece of your heart, they owned it and you could never gain that piece back. This is inherent in the teachings of Biblical Courtship.

      Biblical Courtship was intended to be the very opposite of "dating" and not supposed to look like "dating" or it was considered a failure. (though it can easily be argued that they set up strawmen and made up their own definitions of "dating" then shot those down.)

      So, yes. If you are going to come onto my blog and say you courted and courtship is great, then describe to me an awesome dating relationship that was the opposite of all the tenants of Biblical Courtship, I'm going to say that's not courtship. Obviously you can call it whatever you want, but if you're going to use that here as an argument against what I wrote, I will challenge it.

    5. Thanks for the clarification, Darcy. When I tried to explain how some of my relationship anxieties stemmed from my exposure to courtship teachings, a friend responded that she and her husband courted and thought it worked well. What she meant was they dated because they thought they might want to marry each other, instead of dating just for fun. I meant the system you outline above. The two are so different! People can't do one and think that they understand the other.

  2. So long as you are "choosing" courtship and not having it held over you as a demand by your parents, yeah, courtship can be great. Sounds like Darcy is combating the idea that grown children (adults) were forced into a set of standards which didn't allow for adult autonomy in life's decisions. I think that is a valid point. I'd be interested in knowing, Darcy,if you have forgiven your parents for their choices in childrearing and have the same open attitude towards them (and those of the far-out homeshcool movement) that you have on other sectors of extreme beliefs? Not making assumptions either way, just curious on how your open mind influences your attitude towards the very ones you disagree with. What does forgiveness or open mindedness look like to you in regards to the very ones you disagree with? Also curious, did your parents ever apologize to you for their wrongs and if not, do you think it would affect your struggle with the past if they were to make that step?

    1. My personal relationships are really no one's business except what I wish to share. I find that people that ask me such personal questions aren't interested in learning anything but in trying to discredit everything I write by pointing at any perceived flaws I might have.

    2. Not every Christian parent takes this stand in who or how their kids date or who they marry. So sorry you had to go through all this!

  3. I don't really understand the forgiveness argument. It seems to me that somedays we quite forgive, otherdays we don't. Some days we forgive and still hurt. Other days we dont' forgive but don't feel hurt. It's off the point. The point is that courtship sucks, and parents telling their kids who they can and cannot date sucks. I completely agree that we should not have to justify who we want to date/how we want to date/what we do with partner by our parents rules or by the Bible.

  4. Courtship can be defined in various ways. Darcy's definition isn't necessarily the ONLY definition. I have seen courting couples succeed in happy marriages; some had a lot of parental oversight and some just had a little oversight. Mainly, they all had higher moral standards than those who are just casually dating. All courting couples had marriage as the end goal, of course. As for me, my 'courting' standards help me to stay away from temptation of going "too far".... this could mean not being alone for extended periods of time and never going on overnight trips alone.
    Also, I've never met a courting couple where the man was the only one who had a say in the relationship. The girl always had the right and say to walk away from the relationship if she wanted to or didn't like that it was God's will for her to be in that relationship anymore.
    And yes, I have known courting couples who went out to dinner and a movie.... sometimes with chaperones and sometimes not. It would depend on the situation.

  5. I married the "good Christian" man. The man whom I met through bible quizzing, my parents approved, was from the same church denomination, his friends and family vouching for his goodness. Our engagement was long distance, we married just over a year after we met. I did everything the "right way." And 2 months later the mental abuse, sexual and physical neglect started, and I brushed it all aside because of the patriarchal way I was raised. Women were supposed to keep the peace, and never have physical desires. 4 years later the hitting started, I was scared to be alone with him, and after being threatened with a metal pole, I had enough. When I told my parents he had hit me, and I was going to get a divorce, my father's first reply was "Was it with his fist, or open hand? Did it leave a bruise?" Really??? H.O.W. he hit me was of importance on whether or not I should remain married to an abusive, neglectful man???
    I'm now with a kind, loving, generous man. A man who is going on the same spiritual search I am, and I learned who he was through spending time with him, not by taking the word of a church reputation. A man whom I am not afraid to argue and voice my opinions, with whom I can be my true self in safety, with whom I never have to repress desires, in fact it's encouraged (lol). It took a long time to fully trust him not to hurt me, I had to get counseling and work through ptsd. We did things backwards, and had 2 beautiful miracle babies, out of wedlock (oh, the shame!) After 4 years together we are finally engaged. My family all but disowned me, outright lie to their friends (many of whom never knew I got a divorce) and tell the shameful tale of their eldest daughter along the lines of "We're praying for her."
    I have learned, at least in my case, that the courtship method does. not. work. It didn't work for me, it didn't work for my sister (who is miserably married to a man who treats her and their kids like chattel, and never has any desire to be with her unless they're trying to get pregnant. She's "praying for my soul" too.)
    Life is too short to be miserable, abused, and stuck with someone forever in order to keep your parents happy. Find the one who makes your heart happy, treats you with respect and love, and spend your life with them in whatever way works for you. You don't have to be a "christian" in order to be in a wonderful relationship, with a wonderful person, for the rest of your life.

  6. Rachel, beautifully expressed!

  7. Courtship, as defined above by Darcy, is not dating. Rachel (1st commenter) calls her dating courtship and technically, I agree with her but must say that she is blurring the point of the blog by calling it what it technically is by definition. But fundamentalist evangelicals skew definitions. The point, Darcy's point is that courtship as practiced in the extreme, would never allow young people to be alone together and be given over to the devil. The very idea is foolish. Pastor (sic) Doug Wilson demonstrates this by blaming Natalie Greenfield's family for creating a situation where rape happened. This IFB Baptist does hold the rapist accountable to some extent but is always talking about Natalie's responsibility as a 13 year old being raped. This is patriarchal religion. If Natalie's parents had run Natalie's life exactly by Doug Wilson's rules, he insinuates that she never would have been in this kind of danger. (You can google the whole sad story if you are not already aware of it.)
    My point is that courtship as practiced in extreme religion is not dating. It has built-in destruction of personal boundaries so the young people are not free to be but are puppets in a system of abusive controls. This kind of bullying is not done in freedom and love but in deep fear and much harm is done this way. Rachel plays the denial card, saying you can't use a brush so broadly because it just doesn't show the truth but the truth has to do with lack of freedom and choice for youngsters, especially women. Sure, Rachel, some marriages work out famously when they are put together by others. We see it in the Muslim world too, women claiming that their arranged marriages are just wonderful. That human beings can survive all kinds of abuse and come out smiling is a testament to humankind. The courtship practiced by control freak religious people is plan and simple abuse.