People Will Say We’re in Love

I went out to eat with a guy friend the other night, and as we sat across from each other we talked about our classes at the college, and our lives, and what we were doing in our spare time… all the things we aren’t able to catch up on when the business of the day intrudes.  I explained to him a few things that had happened in my own life, people I was interacting with and situations that I had been in, and he gave me some advice in those areas.  His perspective as a guy involved things I never would have thought of if he hadn’t spoken.  “Do you really think that?”  I asked him, somewhat indignant since the topic was one that I held dear.  “Well, I’m just telling it to you as a friend and as a guy,” he said.  “That’s how it seems to be to me.”

As I thought about the things he said over the next few days, the more true they seemed.  I had never thought of my situation from a guy’s perspective before — other than my father’s — and it was interesting to see it through the eyes of my friend, whose genuine concern for my well being and happiness guided what he told me. 

Now that’s a friendship.  As I sat poking at my salad before heading off to a night class, I looked at my table companion and smiled.  How wonderful to have a friend like this, who would tell me the truth out of care — but would never deceive me about his feelings.  He has never been ambiguous when it comes to our relationship – or lack thereof.  “Phylicia,” he had said.  “We’re friends, and both our families know that, so we should be able to do things together on that basis.  There’s no pressure for anything more — and I like it that way.” 

I like it that way too.  The stability of our friendship lies in the fact that both of us have obligations elsewhere — to family, work, church and studies.  We have no obligations to each other.  We have no pressures and emotions to deal with.  We have no jealousies over each other’s friends of the opposite sex.  When we meet, we enjoy the time that we have together — and the rest of our lives aren’t spent pining! 

This is the kind of freedom I have spoken of in previous posts.  In the Victorian era, we would have been out of line to go to the cafe’ for our dinner without a chaperone.  Yet in the mid-1800’s, we would have been perfectly acceptable!  Because we are not in a relationship the guidelines for our interaction our less stringent than they may be in that situation.  This, of course, depends on the family.  However, my friend and I are in no dire straits to gain each others’ attention — and thus, we have no motivation to attain it.  Without motivation, there is no temptation.

If anything, my friend has given me great insight into how young men think, feel, and react.  He tells me honestly his opinion of certain character traits in girls, if I ask.  This in turn helps me in my view of myself and in what femininity is in regard to masculinity.  We never go too deep:  we don’t share feelings, emotions, and establish connections that belong within a committed relationship; but we do have a mutual friendship that transcends opinion, gossip and pressure.

Often “what people think” colors our reactions to the opposite sex, and can limit us in our friendships and interaction with girls or boys.  I call it “People Will Say We’re In Love Syndrome”.  Part of this is rooted in pride — concern over others’ opinons — and part is rooted in fear, but there are really only two causes:  Guilt or Pride. Guilt comes when a ‘friendship’ is not actually a friendship but an ‘illegitimate’ relationship (one not authorized or supervised by parents).  Pride instigates PSWLS when we walk around in fear of what people are thinking or saying about us. 

How do you build an immunity to PSWLS?  Two steps:  first, evaluate if you are above reproach in your parents’ and God’s eyes.  If you are, you can eliminate guilt as the cause.  Second, evaluate yourself for prideful intent.  Are you in the friendship to make it look like you’re in a relationship?  Are you so obsessed with yourself that your utmost concern is what people say and think about you?  Why can’t you enjoy the friendship for what it is?  If you work at keeping yourself in line on these two fronts your friendship should be pain and pressure free.

Immunities are built up over time.  They aren’t pills that you pop, although vitamins help in the long run (in regard to PSWLS, I suggest taking Humility, Patience, and Self-Control; write 1 Cor. 13:4-8 on the prescription and Celestial Pharmacy should hand it over  pre-paid).  If you wait until you’re love-sick, emotionally distraught, or fearful of friendships (all symptoms of advanced PSWLS) you will have to take some bitter pills to get back on track, and continue with that medicine until your weakened state is strong again.  Build an immunity now, and you won’t have to take the bitterness later.

My cell phone beeped 5:45 — time to head to class.  My friend was devouring a turkey sandwich and watching the news over my shoulder.  We’d been quite quiet for a while.  “We’re probably the only people who can go out and say nothing and still have a good time,” I laughed, gathering my coat and purse together.  “You know what they say,” he smiled with a twinkle in his eye.  “‘You say it best when you say nothing at all’…” 

Friends don’t have to say anything to know where they stand.  They just know.  And in that knowledge, they’re content.

The Victorian Deception

Somewhere in the past twenty-five years, as the purity movement was developing, there came into play an idea… or rather, an ideal.  This ideal begain to slowly influence the purity movement, in the name of ‘Good Old Days’ and courtship, and eventually has risen to be one of the major contributors to the purity perspective today.  This is the ideal of the Victorian courtship.

I have heard numerous girls chatter about this span of time in history, enamored with the dresses and courtly love of the people involved.  They see the flowers, lawn bowling, and walks; the lazy summer days and mint juleps; and the carraiges with  matching bays.  It was a day when men courted ladies with impeccable manners and propriety, not so much as speaking inappropriately in their presence.  It was a day of the family and the home, when women’s rights had not yet made its impact on society and the world was resting between war and depression. 

My dears, it is a delusion.

Partly because of the state of relationships today, I think the Victorian era has been colored to be more wonderful than it actually was.  Yet in truth, this period of time was nothing to be admired, and even more truthfully, it is nothing to be attained.  The Victorian time came after decades of war and uprising.  It was the eye of the storm between the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th Century — the most tumultuous century yet.  These years are presented as a time of leisure and love — a love that to many innocent girls is viewed as ‘ideal’.

Before the 1890’s there was an entire century of relationships.  There were generations of couples courting each other.  Before the Victorian times, men and women went for walks, had friendships, took carriage rides (unchaperoned) and danced together.  The culture was not the over-sexualized one we see today, but our ancestors had the same desires that you do.  Friendship did not cause them to give in to them.  They controlled themselves.

Sweeping in came the Victorian era.  No longer was it proper for a man and woman to spend time together unsupervised.  No longer was it appropriate for courtship to be fun.  It became a career move for men, and for women it was a game of love.  It became rules and stifled emotions… resulting in hidden sins and smouldering hearts.  What used to be in freedom became regulated and constantly under suspicion. 

Have you ever watched Pride and Prejudice?  I bet you have!  Notice that there is not always present a parent or an adult in every walk between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.  Notice that they exchanged letters and there was no one to bash them with a wooden spoon.  They were free, and in their freedom they chose to operate in propriety.  It is under pressure that many choose to rebel. 

The age of Emma and Elizabeth ended in the Victorian era, but while times change, desires do not.  It became unacceptable to have those desires when they are a real part of human nature — so rather than going away, emotions flamed higher in the dark, where no one could see.  Courtship in the Victorian era was not ideal… it was simply a facade. 

Transferring the Victorian model of courtship from its time to ours is not only difficult but also foolish.  This model reinforces the false pretense that  human beings do not have emotions, or that those emotions are still to be stifled even when we reach marriageble age.  I am not saying that we give full vent to our desires — no one should doubt my commitment to purity throughout my lifetime.  However, we need to understand that who we are in Christ rules our every action if we obey Him, and that letting fear and pride regulate our emotions and desires leads to our own destruction.

The generation following the Victorian era is a perfect example of the results of such a mentality.  The Roaring 20’s came whirling out of the stiff, unrealistic love of its parent decade.  The children of the Victorians rejected the entire method of courtship that their parents perpetuated and instead began the downward spiral into where we are today.  It didn’t come out of nowhere.  Dating didn’t just pop into someone’s head one day.  It resulted partly from the Victorian deception that love is a method, not a liberty.

Bottled and Shelved

I’ve seen it happen. 

A girl, pure and committed, living by every rule and guideline in the ‘book’, yet confused, afraid, and guilty over her own natural emotions.  If feelings arose for someone she tamped them down, stifled them, and corked it all in, not to see the light of day… but then at night, they came flooding back… and there was nothing she could do but stifle them all over again.

I’ve seen it destroy.  Those natural emotions that we have been given by God cannot be contained in so extreme a measure and allow us to still operate in freedom.  We become slaves to our emotions, constantly battling ourselves and feeling guilty because of it — when those emotions are part of our very nature.  The extremity of measures taken to keep a heart ‘pure’ can instead cause it to internalize natural desires, and eventually this leads to rebellion. 

What is a pure heart?  It is not a heart in slavery to rule and regulation.  It is disciplined, yes, but it is not bound and shackled to keep it in submission.  A pure heart is free of corruption, pride, selfishness and fear.  But most importantly… a pure heart is free.  Just free. 

If there is anything that causes me the most pain and frustration in the purity movement, it is the stifling of emotion that so many girls tend to do.  It is this tamped down, corked in, wound-up society of hearts that have natural, God-given desires for love and affection and friendship — without an avenue to vent those desires.  Friendships with boys are forbidden or closely censored, and any feelings a girl or boy may have is told to be stuffed away for That Great Day in the future.

It is not effective.  It is not safe.  This fear of relationships in high school, simply because we are devoted to purity, will prove to be the destruction of our commitment if we do not realize that in Christ, we have a marvelous freedom!  It is our own choice to use this freedom for good or ill — but we are free all the same!  This fear of friendships with girls or boys, this fear of touching or standing close, this fear of what others will think — it is fear.  It is pride.  It is not of Christ.

Oh you girls!  Do you see what you can have?  Do you see the freedom you have in Christ, when you are in submission to Him?  You can have pure, good, godly friendships with boys and girls and no one can condemn you!  It is perfectly possible to spend time with the opposite sex on a friendship basis and remain completely above reproach.  You may even develop an attraction to one particular friend — a crush, perhaps.  That is natural.  What you do with it is the issue.  If you stamp it down and grind it out with legalism and human strength, it will come back ten times stronger.  Give it to Christ, and you will be able to maintain a friendship as well as your heart.

God says all through Scripture, “Do not be afraid.”  (Deut. 1:29, Josh. 10:25, 1 Sam. 12:20, 1 Sam. 22:23, Ps. 56:11)  Do not be afraid anything:  temptation, emotion, friendships, men, what others may think.  If you are indeed of God then you have nothing to be afraid of.  You should be perfectly in control of your emotions, perfectly strong in temptation, perfectly at ease in friendships, perfectly respectful to men, and perfectly content to let others think what they may.  Because God is perfect, and He is at your side.

So where is your heart?  Is it ‘bottled and shelved’ like a keg of beer, fermenting and growing stronger in its pungent smell?  Or is it growing free, like a lily in a field, with sun and water and a whole host of others around it?  The lily white heart is not rotting in a cellar but flourishes where accountability and beauty grow up together.  It is not afraid of the thorns of the thistle that grows beside it, because it knows that it is where it needs to be.  Someday someone will pick it, but until that day, it flourishes where it has been planted.

Is Courtship Biblical?

Now there’s a question you haven’t heard.

A lot of time we take courtship for granted as a Biblical concept, without questioning where it is found in the Christian faith — if at all.  Is courtship a Biblical concept, and if so, are Christians who do not follow it in sin?

There are some denominations who truly believe that courtship is a firm facet of the Christian walk; that to compromise in this area is indeed to wander into sin.  In these denominations, there is a specific way to go about courtship and each couple is to execute their relationship along those parameters.  Other denominations are much more lax in regard to male-female interaction — some just confront the issues pertaining to sexual immorality and leave it at that.  Are either of these branches wrong?  What about all the systems in between?  Is there one set method for courtship that God has ordained for His followers?

I truly don’t think so.  The relationships of Scripture were influenced by culture and era, so the example set by those will not be completely transferrable to our present society.  We can’t lift Ruth and Boaz off the pages of the Old Testament and pop them into contemporary, metro-sexual New York and expect the story to be the same.  Then again, some women like the idea of marrying their former mother-in-law’s cousin, who happens to be about twenty years older and considerably well-off due to a couple decades of careful investment in the wheat industry…

Does this mean that the Bible leaves relational methods for us to decide?  God is not into relativism, in case anyone  noticed.  Just like any other aspect of life our relationships are to proceed along specific guidelines that the Lord provides — but there’s no Dating Rulebook either.  Rules do not equal legalism — but legalism does equal rules.  The true Christian abides by the Lord’s commands because he honors Him and chooses to obey from love; the legalistic Christian abides by commands to one-up others and feel good about himself.  Whether those rules are right or necessary is not relevant to legalism. 

Picture a bowling alley.  You’re standing, ball in hand, about to hurl it down the lane and into the pins for a stunning victory to impress your friends.  But before you send it flying, you purposely put up the bumpers so the ball has no chance of spinning into the gutter.  You send the ball down the lane and — WHAM! A strike!  You walk back smugly… but  no one’s very impressed.  “Let’s see how you do with the bumpers down,” they say.  So you try it — and fail miserably.  You’ve played so long with the bumpers you can’t keep the ball in the lane without them. 

Unfortunately, many Christians operate in relationships this way.  By putting up the bumpers of legalism, they keep themselves on the straight and narrow, knowing that if they take down the bumpers they might head straight into the gutter.  Rather than strengthen and perfect they choose to operate in ‘safety’, within rules, so that they never have to face temptation.  One day the bumpers will come down.  When that day comes, if you can’t keep the ball in the lane, you will have a harder time re-learning so that you can keep it where it should have been before.

Legalism breeds weak Christians — and this means legalism in any area.  However, legalism as pertains to relationships is especially dangerous because of arrogance and selfishness that seep in.  Satan can use legalism to his direct advantage because legalism equals pride.

Am I saying that operating in discipline is legalistic?  By no means.  To live in the flesh, without reserve or control, is equally damaging and full of self.  We must strike a balance, and more importantly, understand our motivation for how we go about our relationships.  If a woman goes into relationships with the intention of landing the man, she may compromise many things in order to accomplish that.  If a man goes into a relationship with the idea that he will tread the line physically, he will be sacrificing his morality on the altar of instant gratification.

What guidelines, then, are given to us?  Check out Titus 1:8-9, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8; and Romans 6:12-15 (view this link for an even more thorough Biblical support).  All these emphasize the fact that a Christian is to live a holy, upright life.  Part of living this life is not only to seek righteousness but avoid evil.  Where Christians go wrong in relationships is when they question, “How far is too far?” This clues us in to the fact that they are already wondering when sin becomes sin — and if it is really wrong at all.  The question should not be “How closely can I tread the line?” but “How can I most glorify God in this relationship?”   A person asking this question of himself will not need legalism to keep him in the middle of the lane.  His devotion to God will keep him there.

So then:  is courtship Biblical?  Because of what it stands for, and the concepts, methods and and ideas that are involved, yes.  But courtship in and of itself is not the God-ordained fashion that all people must use for their relationships.  For most of us, our parents dated and they grew to glorify God with their marriage even with any mistakes they may have made.  Even a couple that dates can glorify God if they are abiding by his painstakingly clear standards for sexual intimacy — it belongs within the bond of marriage alone.  If they choose to tread the line of that command it is their own spiritual walk they threaten.  It is their choice.  It is everyone’s choice — rules cannot protect, defend or excuse anyone before God. 

This view of courtship should not be viewed as threatening or undermining to its foundation.  Rather, it should be viewed as incredibly freeing to us as Christians.  We have the choice in all parts of our daily lives to choose God or choose ourselves.  Relationships will be no different, no matter what method you choose to go about them.  Temptation is not picky, and even with the bumpers up it can reach you — and destroy you if you aren’t able to stay true when they’re down.  We have an amazing freedom in Christ — for He “did not give us a spirit of fear but of power and love and self control.” (2 Tim. 1:7).  Legalism operates out of fear — fear that without it you will fail.  Strength comes when you beat fear down and become victorious. 

Think about your motivations for choosing courtship.  But more than that, check your heart when it comes to viewing others and their decisions about relationships; especially fellow Christians.  Understand the freedom you possess — and that every one possesses in Christ — because grasping this concept will determine whether you keep the bumpers up in life or if you lay them down and send the ball straight into the pins.

Think of it this way:  I’ve just given you an incredible excuse to go bowling.

A Courtship Success Story

I have been to only a few weddings in my lifetime — I think perhaps three.  I love weddings.  Unfortunately, the Michigan climate seems ill-suited to making couples marry.  This is rather frustrating, as the only chance I really have to dress up for a party would be at a wedding; so I am currently working on getting my friends married so I can attend their weddings in a pretty dress :-). 

Of the weddings I have been to, however, there is one that stands out.  The wedding was lovely, as most are — but the reason that couple was getting married was a result of their prior relationship.  It was the only wedding I went to where the groom had courted the bride. 

It was beautiful.  It was special.  But what made it even more special was the fact that the couple had saved themselves only for each other — everything belonged to the other, nothing was held back… nothing had been lost.  The groom had wooed the bride, and won her hand.  He didn’t waltz in non-committally and eventually decide to pop the question.  He fought to win his bride — and he was indeed the victor!

This couple now has three beautiful little girls, and if you ask the bride, she will tell you she never regretted her decision to wait.  Of course she made mistakes — she told me and other girls the mistakes she had made in high school when it came to dating — but when her heart was in the right place, God brought her a man who loved her completely.  And she loves him.

Seeing a success story is always encouraging.  Sometimes it can seem like courtship is a long way off, or that no man will even attempt to try it.  These stories give us hope.  Now, this is my last post on the topic of courtship for a while — but as I end, I want to recommend a website for readers to visit.  It is the story of a married couple, their courtship, wedding, and lives as singles.  It is a great encouragement and a great example to those of us following in their footsteps: please visit Woody and GIna’s Website.

God Bless!

Courtship? Are We Talking 1880?!

When it comes to finding a mate, there immediately arises much controversy as to how you should go about it.  Some suggest you go out and try out every person like a bathing suit until you find one that ‘fits’; others suggest that you don’t interact with the opposite sex at all, but let God and the head of the family decide your spouse.  And yet others decide that it is combination of all the above.  Then there are the suggestions of Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Bob, and the advice of friends and enemies, and the ill-resulting attempts of the church lady who wants to see you wed by the end of the year.  What method is best?

The one aspect that I completely advocate is waiting till eighteen to engage in any relationship, no matter what your method.  High school relationships are destructive emotionally and often physically as well.  Being old enough for commitment is a necessary step preceding anything else.

So say a young man has decided to approach a young woman.  He likes her better than any other girl, and he wants to get to know her better — and not just as a ‘friend’.  But he isn’t ready to drop to a knee just yet.  There are many things he doesn’t know about her.  So what does he do? 

First,  Talk to her father.  No matter how you go about this, no matter if you date, court, betroth or whatever — TALK TO THE FATHER.  He is the authority over his daughter, her protector and her guide.  If a man wants to win her as his own, he must first ask the current ‘owner’!  In the discussion with her father, the young man will clarify his intentions.  This step eliminates those guys who are in it for ‘fun’.  They have no intentions to clarify — why should they talk to Dad?  Also during this meeting, the young man will be told how the family goes about the whole relationship.

This is where the relationship ‘begins’, and this is where we will explore what the three major options are for stepping into the waters of love.  First: Dating.  Everybody dates.  The problem with it even after high school is that stereotypical dating involves two people either with their peers or alone, unaccountable, and without any future commitment in mind.  Why do you think so few girls maintain their virginity?  It is because they are alone, unprotected, and cannot withstand the temptation.  Plenty of Christian families allow dating — it is actually the norm.  But that doesn’t make it the best choice.  Often Dad has no clue who his daughter is with except for a short glimpse when the boy is on the front porch.  So what are the alternatives?

Another group, primarily made up of homeschool families, advocates ‘betrothal’, which at first glance can be confused with courtship.  However, betrothal is totally different.  This system involves the young man coming into the relationship with the express intention to marry the girl.  He has no escape — he cannot back out of the commitment.  He begins the relationship almost by engagement, and most of his interaction is with the father, and less with the girl herself.  This method is neither realistic nor effective.  The couple do not really know each other, and the young man is left ‘dating the Dad’ in order to reach the daughter. 

The third method is courtship, and while it is under one section, it differs with each family.  I will detail my own family’s method here as an example.  I feel, as an 18 year old woman, that I have and will have much freedom in my relationships with young men.  I think that the man who wants to ‘get to know me’ will also have a lot of freedom.  He will not feel pressured into marriage, but he won’t be able to be vague about his intentions either. 

Courtship is like dating, where a couple does things together, talks, and gets to know eachother and their respective families.  The difference is that the couple does things in the open, with groups, or with family.  They do not find the need to ‘be alone’, knowing that temptation is often right behind them in that time.  Also, courtship works toward an end.  The goal, eventually, is to culminate the relationship in marriage.  People don’t get to play games.  There is no deceit or falsity, because anything that might be gained by being so can’t be gained in daylight. 

Obviously, this is the method I advocate.  Now, some people may be alarmed by the fact that I have ‘gone out’ with young men when I am committed to courtship.  I will tell you why.  First, I am eighteen and graduated.  I have new responsiblities and new privileges.  Second, I had an understanding with these young men that we were ‘just friends’.  Thirdly, I cleared the whole event with my parents.  So for two friends to go out, eat at a bistro, and look at an art gallery in broad daylight with other people present gives 1) accountability; 2) preserves purity; and 3) maintains friendship.  These young men were friends who my father knew and who I knew did not have deeper intentions.

A choke hold on a relationship will kill it.  There must be some trust, some freedom, or the couple will become a greenhouse plant that dies when real weather rolls in.  But by the same token, there must be adult supervision and guidance.  Couples are still young.  There must be accountability. 

To some of my readers this may come as a complete shock.  Perhaps you never considered the problems with dating and are less than convinced.  For those of you who are still doubting, I suggest reading “When God Writes Your Love Story” by Eric and Leslie Ludy.  Also, evaluate your motives:  would accountability grate on you?  If so, what are you doing now that you couldn’t do with parents or adults present? 

Think about these methods and make sure that you and your family have firmly established the method you choose for relationships after high school.  That day will come quickly.  Be prepared!