The young man who’d just arrived wore slacks and a blue button-up shirt; the young woman waiting for him wore jeans, a black t-shirt and a hastily tugged-on blue sweater. (The man’s visit was a near-total surprise, which explained the disconnect of wardrobes.)
As he stepped into the living room, he was carrying numerous lilies (which hadn’t unfolded yet) and one red rose. He gave them all to the young woman, sat next to her on the living room couch, and, in front of her whole family but remaining intent on her, explained that the lilies represented purity, while the rose represented the vocation of marriage. It was his sincerest hope for the courtship to remain pure, and for more roses to be added overtime. He asked the girl if she would do him the honor of courting him. The girl (flushed and ecstatic and bashful and delighted) said yes.
That young man was The Dash, and the girl was me, almost eight months ago . . . although I’m sure you saw that coming. 😉
* * *
Courtship: the subjective and objective
Occasionally, it’s difficult to me to articulate my thoughts surrounding courtship, especially in real-time conversation. (Blogging is somewhat easier 😉 ) But when you consider that courtship is simultaneously an overarching (and counter-cultural) principle, a unique path for a specific couple, a toolbox, and an assortment of actions (or lack thereof) based upon beliefs, it does get a little complicated, even though it is wholly simple in nature.
Being in a courtship means that I have a growing pile of experiences and convictions, but a lack of well-rounded objectivity because I am still a part of the process, as opposed to a product of it. Courtship, as The Dash and I are doing it, is somewhat rare. But of course, that doesn’t make it the only kind of courtship that can be done . . . in a way, it is our courtship, specific to us, to our circumstances, to our stories, to our temperaments, to our families. In a way, it is subjective. But in another sense, it is simply courtship. It is objectively so. Our courtship is unique to us, and yet also a representative of a system, a group of principles, greater than ourselves.
What are these principles? Well, chastity, for one: restricting physical expressions of affection, and for us, involving the presence of chaperones. Building a relationship through prayer, holiness, and sacrifice would be another. So would embracing the family atmosphere and pursuing an honest, intellectual intimacy of mind and heart.
But for me, one especially important principle of courtship in general, and our courtship in particular, is one I haven’t talked about much. It’s the principle of direction. I will get to that below, but first . . .
Why the drama?
That seems to be the question begged by some who are confused or just mesmerized by the concept of courtship. And on the outside, quite honestly, it really does appear to be a lot of drama.
Some people (like yours truly) might think the scenario of The Dash asking me to court him totally charming and perfect; others might think it sweet, but a little too much drama when contrasted with something like how a first date might go. Why begin a relationship with something like a toned-down proposal? Again, why the drama?
After all, at first, it’s simple and casual. The young man and woman meet for the first time–maybe there is immediate chemistry, maybe not. Usually, they build a friendship in group settings through a variety of experiences; their families get together; maybe the young man and woman correspond as friends, gaining a clearer understanding of their respective mindsets and beliefs.
But eventually . . . there comes a point.
The Dash and I met at a combined birthday party/church dance. We danced one time, we didn’t really talk, and so there wasn’t time to form a solid first impression on either end. But then our families got together the next month. We spent a good portion of that day conversing. (Okay, maybe most of the day.) (By that point, I totally liked him, but I digress . . .) We exchanged email addresses and it turned into a friendly correspondence of weekly exchanges. Since he was in school and living in town, our family invited him over for dinner. Shortly afterwards, he made it to Catholic young adult group that my sister and I attended one night, and he drove us home. (I took the front seat…) He came to another dance. We spent more time talking (over very loud music speakers, which I suppose is wonderful training for having conversations over very loud children). Our families got together again. And on it went. It was all casual, polite, and friendly, and yet it hovered in that impenetrable limbo that resides between Guarded and Obvious. (Well, at least he wasn’t obvious. Let me remind you that I took the front seat.)
The feminine heart that is desirous of marriage has a propensity to be constantly curious. Does he like me? Does (this action/word/look) mean he likes me? Would he still be emailing me if he didn’t like me? So on and so forth.
Despite all these interior sighs, I was really determined to guard myself and not assume anything on The Dash’s end. I knew I liked him, but refused to read into him. I believed it was right and intrinsically ordered for a woman to be pursued. I wanted to be pursued. And maybe legitimate pursuit requires a little “drama,” especially when contrasted with the casual, non-committing relationship culture we are surrounded by in our modern age.
And so, as I said . . . there comes a point, for every couple, when you traverse from Guarded to Obvious. In the context of courtship, it does start with permission.
* * *
In this instance, it was nearing my 21st birthday. We had a small party at home with music and old-fashioned dancing. He and his family were there. Throughout that night, there were a lot of conversations taking place between various family members. Our two families eventually disclosed to each other, and then to us (separately) the existence of mutual attraction between The Dash and I. (He and I didn’t talk about it, however.)
At that point, The Dash made the decision to ask my dad out to dinner, for the purposes of asking his permission to court me. Two weeks later, they met, and that same night, The Dash came to my family’s house with lilies and a rose.
When reading about relationship structures, or about dating/courtship stories I’ve encountered a defense mechanism built in when it comes to girls describing how guys asked their dad’s permission to date or court them.
It wasn’t because I didn’t think I was my own person; it wasn’t because my dad controlled my life, etc. etc.
I find it so sad that these sweet girls have been given cause to feel as if they need to defend their (God-given) instinct to look for approval and permission from their fathers in the context of relationships. These days, an awareness of the concept of spiritual headship in families has been greatly lost. If fathers are the heads of their families, and husbands are the heads of their wives (both of which statements are true), then it stands to reasons that fathers have the duty and role of spiritual headship over their daughters, up until it passes over to their new husbands. (Hence why it makes so much spiritual sense for the father to walk his daughter down the aisle and give her to her husband-to-be; so much is symbolized here. Nor does it contradict that both groom and bride still come of their own free will to the marriage, as some might argue.)
Courtship almost always has a built-in step that looks at this reality for what it is: if a man is looking to court, he first seeks permission from the girl’s father (or father figure), before he approaches her. Yes, it has somewhat more drama than does simply asking the girl on a date. And yet it points to something greater than the young man, greater than the young woman: the reality of family order. And in our day and age, it is a step towards restoring this order.
When the young man swallows his nerves, approaches the father, and acknowledges his headship over the young woman in question by asking permission to court her, a truth is acknowledged. Relationships live or die by truth or the lack thereof. The young man takes a step towards growing into a man who can assume spiritual headship, by humbly acknowledging he does not yet have it. This young woman he admires doesn’t live in a vacuum; she is part of a family, and even if she is out of the home, she is still under her father in a special way. No father is perfect, no family is perfect . . . and yet, apart from extraordinary cases that might prevent this action, this step is so important, and it works. A good father is always going to be impressed when a young man has the courage to ask his permission first.
Needless to say, my dad gave his permission 😉
* * *
And so The Dash asked me to court him. I said yes; and after that have followed the (nearly) eight best months of my life! And this brings me back to one of the most important principles of courtship, one that I am daily learning to appreciate more and more: that of direction.
When The Dash came and asked me to court him that night, I immediately and clearly was reassured of the direction we would be going in. If our courtship was intended by God to progress, it would end in betrothal and culminate in marriage. If not, we would end it as friends. There was no in-between; no uncertainty. He and I both knew, with no doubts, what we were going to be looking towards.
The Dash submitted himself to the drama both of asking my dad’s permission, and of coming to my house, giving me flowers, and asking me, with an eloquence borne of manliness and maturity, to court him–he honored me, and gave me the gift of direction. He wasn’t going to toy with my heart, and he made sure I knew it. He wanted to discern marriage with me. He firmly pointed me in that direction from Day One of our courtship, and has walked alongside with me in it for these past months. We have always been open to the possibility that marriage would not be our end; like any couple, we have had to navigate differences, stressful and painful situations, and imperfect communication; and yet there has never been aimlessness.
For a woman’s heart, such direction is reassurance beyond price.
A Catholic couple who are dating with right intentions can, of course, establish experience the same sense of direction, depending on how they do it. I guess the thing about courtship is that this sense of direction is built into its very framework. If The Dash had asked me to go out on a date with him, we might or might not have achieved that same sense of mutual direction; maybe on the third, fourth, or tenth date, he would have conveyed to me that he wanted to discern marriage exclusively with me. I don’t doubt we would have gotten to this point, because to be marriage-minded brooks no unnecessary delay, and no lack of commitment; and we are both marriage-minded people! However, dating in itself doesn’t provide the direction, as much as the couples themselves can bring that direction to it, if they so choose. And so this reveals an intrinsic good to be found in courtship: the direction is already there.
The direction that grounded The Dash and I’s courtship from the beginning continues to flower, seven-and-a-half months in. Through the many good times and the various trials and rough patches that The Dash and I have navigated, that sense of direction has, well, directed us. 🙂 We are at the point now where this promise of direction is even more reassuring to me than it was at the beginning (as it should be!). Courtship is not meant to last forever. The direction we embarked on is very grave, because it opens up the possibility of vowing to spend a lifetime with with one another, should we arrive at the end having discerned God’s Will in that. And yet even that gravity holds no fear; the closer we approach it, the more beautiful it is!
* * *
Yesterday, The Dash and I were blessed to attend the wedding of a beautiful young Catholic couple; it was in the Old Rite of Marriage, followed by Missa Cantata in the Extraordinary Form! To witness their joy together was a joy for us. To listen to the Admonition, to see to their exchange of vows, was not something awkward or nebulous for the two of us. Since Day One of our courtship, I have never once had to wonder if The Dash was thinking about marriage–about marrying me. He has never had to wonder if I would be open to the same. Thanks to the initial “drama” of courtship, we have always had our answer to Quo Vadis? If God so wills (and that comes above everything!), we know where we are going.
And in a very substantial way, that knowing gives us the strength to be chaste, and to pursue both better communication and more wholehearted sacrifice. If you aim high, you grow less and less afraid to climb high. The clearer you begin, the clearer you end. This is why I am so grateful for having been introduced to the concept of courtship as a young girl, and eventually given the chance to participate in it with someone so wonderful as The Dash. Through God’s goodness, courtship gives far more than it takes!
Happy Sunday! 😉