A Clear Understanding Of Christian Courtship
Introductory Remarks Amanda started dating Ikenna whom she thought would be a good person to settle down in life with. Ikenna wooed her with his sweet voice and caring smile. Meanwhile, Amanda needed a man around her and made every possible effort not to allow Ikenna to escape her.
With all her female dexterity, she was able to keep him by her side. Without long and unknown to their families, they started having an affair as if to say that they were already married whenever they hung out. To make sure that her plan was sealed, Amanda got the man to impregnate her.
She thought that Ikenna has actualized her dream of entering a permanent relationship with her sweetheart. But, the presence of sugar does not always suggest drinking tea. It could be used equally for other things as well. So, unfortunately, luck ran out of Amanda when Ikenna greeted the news of her pregnancy with disdain.
He told her that he was not yet ready for marriage and that he has not given vent to such idea. In fact, he shocked her so much when he hinted that he didn’t think that his way of life was compatible with hers; that what they have in common is the complementarity of their romantic appeal.
The above scenario depicts one of the mistakes young people make today in their quest to delve into marriage. Marriage is the oldest human institution that is established by God and the most precious too. This calls for adequate and thorough preparation.
As a man and a woman who are thinking about marriage are not born and bred in the same locality, but with different orientations; courtship becomes a necessity. Each time I remember the story of Amanda and Ikenna, I am confronted with these questions: What does courtship entail? What was Amanda’s mistake? Was Ikenna right in the position he took? What are to be done and avoided during courtship?
- Basic Facts About Courtship
Courtship is a serious steady dating with the implied purpose of coming to a decision in regarding a possible future marriage (T. Pazhayampallil: 2012, 1033). It is a time for a man and a woman to get to know each other better. In this period, the two are good friends and the intimacy they enjoy should be kept on the level of friendship (Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province: 2017, 38). It is like a suitability test (K. C. Asogwa: 2018, 25). Here, a man tries to know the woman’s likes and dislikes as the woman does same about the man.
It is a time they know each other’s thinking habits, eating habits, personality types, history, background, family, et cetera. More so, courtship is marriage-oriented. This means that those who court have the intention of getting married if it is the will of God. A man and a woman who engage in a relationship without the intention of marrying are in another romantic relationship and not courtship.
This implies that one should not indulge in courtship just for the fun of it or when one is not yet ready for marriage because of age, studies or other reasons. Equally, one should be able to give up courting a person when he/she decides not to marry. Sincerity and honesty demand that one expresses one’s decision and leaves the other free to make another choice.
2 Again, courtship is not dating or engagement/betrothal. Dating is an appointment to meet someone or to go out with someone especially the opposite sex. It is a casual relationship since it is often purposeless. An engagement/betrothal is a promise to wed, and also the period of time between a marriage proposal and a marriage (Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province: 2017, 39).
Future brides and grooms may be called the betrothed, a wife-to-be or husband-to-be or fiancé/fiancée respectively. However, courtship is different from the above. It is marriage-oriented; hence, it is not dating. It is a trial period and no promise is made; thus, it is not an engagement. It comes before engagement; the latter comes after the proper evaluation of the former.
- Is Courtship Necessary In Christian Marriages?
There is need for a convenient period of courtship for there to be a successful marriage. If marriage is between two different sexes, two separate individuals, two different backgrounds, two different personalities, two different experiences, two different fears and two different hopes; courtship becomes indispensable.
It provides two people with the opportunity to test each other’s feelings, ideas and orientations of life so that they may decide whether a life together will be possible and fruitful. Even, when the partner is chosen by the parents, a period of courtship is necessary in order to make sure that the partner is a suitable person with whom one will enter into life-long companionship (Marie Mignon Mascarenhas: 1999, 134).
Courtship makes for a correct attitude for marriage. This presupposes a meeting point for companionship, partnership, dialogue and unity (A. O. Gbuji, n. d .24). For a life-commitment in marriage, two persons who were neither raised up in the same locality, nor had known each other over a long period, need to know and understand each other well enough before committing themselves to marriage.
It is during this period of getting to associate and relate socially with each other that future spouses can have the opportunity to study and evaluate each other fairly well. By knowing someone closely well, one can know whether to entrust oneself to the person or not. Marriage commitment should not be a leap into total darkness, even though one cannot predict human beings despite many years of acquaintances.
Moreover, The Catechism of the Catholic Church approves of courtship when it reiterates strongly the stand of Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes no. 49: “It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people, above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity, they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honourable courtship and enter upon a marriage of their own” (CCC 1632).
- Healthy Courtship: Rules And Regulations
The period of courtship is a serious encounter of future partners in the presence of their God who is the first party in the marriage union. This calls for a God-fearing atmosphere. Christian courting revolves around maintaining God’s presence within their would-be relationship.
3 Hence, the two persons involved should begin their courtship with a retreat or serious prayer for such a delicate and most vital experience. Consider Abraham’s servant as he prayed for God’s direction to find a wife for Isaac (Gen. 24:12-14). They should have a time-table for each encounter. Each encounter should begin with honest prayer and a clear agenda for the intended experiences.
They should have definite themes to discuss, a game or play they will like to enjoy together and so on. They must have rules and regulations to guide their exercises. This is to effect a disciplined encounter because an unordered life is a dangerous thing and emotions can take over reason if one is not guarded (Greg. Udo Njoku: 2013, 48). Cultivation of friendship during courtship is a necessity.
This is a very important aspect of the courtship which the two persons must work hard to establish and maintain. It is the bedrock on which the married life will rest. If friendship is not well cultivated or fortified during courtship, the married life will be floating and would soon collapse with time. Many marriage partners today are living not as friends but, as partners in the marriage business (Greg. Udo Njoku: 2013, 43).
It is worthy to point out that as a man and a woman initiate their courtship, they should not conceal or relativize issues in order to avoid disagreements. In their initial attraction with one another, they may try to hide certain things to avoid disagreements. But, this should stop as time goes on.
If not, it will lead to greater problems later. Hence, they are encouraged to discuss what each expects from marriage, what they understand by love and commitment, what each wants from the other and what kind of life they would like to build together (Pope Francis: Amoris Laetitia, 209). Again, it is necessary to consider in a possible spouse his/her attitude concerning the religious formation of children.
This is because a spouse who is not prepared to have the children baptized and brought up as practicing Catholics is not a good prospect for marriage. He/she would raise serious obstacles to fulfilling the most important responsibility which parents have towards their children (Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province: 2017, 42). Courtship requires on-going discussions between the man and the woman. The aim of such discussions is to help them to see if they in fact have little in common and realize that mutual attraction alone will not suffice to keep them together.
The courting persons should be able to detect danger signals in their relationship and to find, before the wedding, effective ways of responding to them. Hence, the decision to marry should never be encouraged unless those involved have discerned deeper reasons that will ensure a genuine and stable commitment (Pope Francis: Amoris Laetitia, 209).
The issue of love should be given a thorough and adequate attention. This is because love is the main and the over-riding value in marriage. Other values like beauty, wealth, social status, family friendship, attraction et cetera, as important as they may be to the couples are only secondary to genuine love. In fact, the quality of love between the man and the woman will determine the quality, success and joy of their married life (A. O. Gbuji, n. d, 29).
It is worthy to point out that love here is like a concentric circle with four layers which are inclusively important. These are: friendship, affection, sexuality (eros) and charity (agape). These four aspects are essential and should be discussed during the courtship but, the expression of 4 sexuality that involves genital activity should be reserved until after the celebration of marriage.
Furthermore, it is wrong to court two persons at a time during courtship. The ideal is one person at a time. Courtship exists primarily for one to learn the other person; to know whether both of them are compatible for marriage. Hence, having more than one person will make it impossible for one to be focused and achieve the aim of this exercise. More so, one must avoid closing-up on oneself during courtship.
One must be open to one’s partner.But, this openness must be done gradually and cautiously. It is not proper to tell somebody everything about yourself on a day. It kills motivation and interest to be together. Self-deceit and insincerity must be avoided; otherwise, they will arrest the courtship. Equally important, courtship should not be too short; you need enough time to know the other person.
However, it is detrimental to marriage to court a man or a woman for a long time despite the indispensability of courtship for a fruitful marriage. Sometimes, one sees some persons spending ten years or more in courtship. Courting for a long time robs marriage of its desired newness especially when sex is made the object of courtship. Everyone wants something new in marriage.
When there is nothing new, disrespect, mutual dissatisfaction and infidelity may creep in. This may be one of the reasons why most people who courted for a very long time do not stay long in marriage. Asogwa observes that long courtship makes one to offer one’s important cards even before the actual game.
It is like presenting all your points in the introduction of a work (K.C. Asogwa: 2018, 31). Very importantly, during courtship, both parties should have their families around them. Their families should be involved. The approval of families for their children to court holds a lot of meaning within a Christian courtship. This is important as the families will help them to avoid abuse.
Parents often discern far more than young intending couples. Hence, do not hide your relationships from your parents. Having a vibrant relationship with the parents and siblings of the other person is good. It helps one to know how the partner relates with his/her family. 5. Must Every Courtship Lead To Marriage?
The common mistake people make often is to think that every courtship must end in marriage. Although courtship is directed towards marriage, it must not end in marriage. This is because the purpose of courtship is to find out the compatibility status of a man and a woman.
If on the course of courtship they realize that they are not well-suited, then, courtship has done its function and it is said to be successful (K.C. Asogwa: 2018, 25). It should be born in mind that the first courtship must not necessarily end in marriage. There may be several encounters before the right person is selected.
Accordingly, courtship should never be considered as a binding commitment, but, as a starting relationship which can be broken off at any moment. To respect this freedom, they should be careful not to financially or emotionally commit each other in the long term (Bishops of Ibadan Ecclesiastical Province: 2017, 44). It is better to break the relationship in time than get married and have a life of mutual unhappiness (Ibid, 45). Do not continue if the relationship is not working. A broken courtship is better than a broken marriage. 5
- Courtship Without Sex
Since all courtships must not lead to marriage, engaging in a romantic relationship within this period is not appropriate. Purity is the guiding factor that plays into courting: resisting any desire beyond what is allowed in marriage is key to a successful Christian courtship. Many modern people today think that sex during courtship or before marriage is a very important adventure.
For some, sex helps to prove the sexual compatibility of a man and a woman. For people like these, one must test, taste and savour the man or woman one is courting to find out his/her sexual prowess. Some of the youths believe that marriage is all about sex. There is also a general belief among some youths that one needs to sex his would-be wife or husband so as to make sure that he/she is genuinely a man/woman, and can impregnate/bear children respectively.
They come up with the argument that one must test a shoe to know if it fits him/her before buying it, as if marriage is buying and selling; and as if love is all about sex. Against this, there is a scientifically approved method called fertility test which is most appropriate for checking if a man is fertile and that a woman can conceive. Besides, they fail to understand that sex beclouds courtship and does not create marriage (K. C. Asogwa: 2018, 21).
Having sexual intercourse during courtship is to run ahead of one’s God without knowing that “onye buru chi ya uzo, ogbagbuo onwe ya no oso” (one who runs ahead of his/her God will run amok. This is sinful. Again, sexual intercourse or other expressions of sex are not part of courtship. Sexual intercourse is exclusively reserved for the married life of individuals and, also, it has the potential for generating human life.
This generative act demands the type of total, unconditional commitment that can only be found in the marriage of a man and a woman (Greg. Udo Njoku: 2013, 47). If you really love your partner, which is what courtship is meant to establish, that is the more reason why you should not trifle with what is the very right you will be given through marriage contract and vows.
Moreover, sexual intercourse during courtship kills the newness and excitement of love which form the centre of attraction for the two persons. When this happens, the two persons involved will think that they have seen it all. There would be no effort again to win the other party.
Also, sexual intercourse is not proper during courtship because it establishes sexual intimacy between the two persons at the wrong time. It gives them the false impression that they have become one even when they are not actually one. This is why they dismantle their boundaries of intimacy and empty everything about themselves to the displeasure of the other party (K. C. Asogwa: 2018, 26).
- A Compatibility Test For Healthy Courtship The compatibility here does not mean sexual compatibility for no one can guarantee that, but, things that will help the two people who are courting to know whether they can live happily together and share things in common.
These are culled from Gbuji’s Lesson on compatibility (A. O. Gbuji, n. d .35-47) and 2019 Lenten Pastoral Letter of Most Rev. Paulinus Ezeokafor: 6 Are you nearly always relaxed around your future spouse? What does sacramental marriage mean for you? Do you want a strong sexual relationship in marriage (is any of you a sex machine)? What behaviours of your future spouse annoy you?
Are you hoping that after marriage, he/she will change some of his/her behaviours? Can you depend on your future spouse when you need emotional support? Are you aware of any objections to your marriage, how true are they? Are you at ease with the friends and relations of your future spouse? What does faithfulness/fidelity mean for you? Do you agree that it is not healthy to avoid all disagreements?
Are you uncomfortable with your future spouse’s attitude towards one/both of your families? Will parenting become more important than your couple relationship? Have you discussed about the religious values to live by in marriage? Have you discussed about having individual/joint checking accounts? Does your future spouse like sharing his/her personal feelings with you? Do you consider a personal faith in Jesus as indispensable ingredient in your marriage?
Have you discussed whether he/she is the right person for you to marry? Does your future spouse consider the feelings of others when he/she make decisions? How do you intend to handle sex and intimacy? Where are you going to live after marriage? Is the person open to procreation and education of children? Does he/she have a means of livelihood? Is he/she sexually mature or is unable to handle his or her sexual emotions? What do people around him/her think about him/her; especially the parents and the siblings? Is he/she too jealous and suspicious especially whenever you pay even the least attention to others? Does he/she accept his/her mistakes and apologise? How readily does he/she say please, thank you and sorry?
- Evaluation: Amanda And Ikenna
In the fictional story above, the mistake Amanda made was that she mistook dating for courtship. She had courtship in mind, but ended up with dating in actuality. Ikenna had dating in mind in its aberrant nature and that was what happened. Courtship between them could not take place without their deliberate intention to carry it out.
Amanda made another big mistake of submitting herself for pregnancy as if to say that the marriage has been celebrated when her boyfriend was not thinking about marriage. She forgets easily that “uche okwe onya abughi uche anu o na-ekwelu” (the plan of the game trapper is not the plan of the game trapped).
Thus, she gave in to sexual intimacy when the cordial relationship that should be the bedrock was not there. This implies that pregnancy is not an automatic ticket for marriage; neither for a man nor a woman. Meanwhile, a marriage that may arise from such understanding is likely to fail or be built on perpetual unhappiness.
Since Ikenna observed that his way of life is not compatible with hers judging from the time they have related, the best is for them to part ways. It may not be easy to accept especially for those who have a soft spot for Amanda, but, the truth is that one cannot enter into marriage out of pity. Hence, to emphasize it again, it is better to have broken courtship than broken/unhappy marriage. Finally, as air is necessary for combustion to take place, absence of sexual intercourse is a necessity for a fruitful courtship.
Cosmas is a student of Theology from Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu.