Dating and courting can be beautiful, rich, learning, and growing experiences. These experiences are a path to helping us find the person we will choose to love. Love is a selfless, unconditional action; not based on anything unstable. So, since dating and courting may lead to love, we must be responsible and handle both situations with care.
If approached correctly, you will never have to wonder whether you are dating or courting anyone. You see, we should not haphazardly fall into dating or courtship. “Dating” and “courtship” are not just words used to casually describe our relationships and interactions with people. They should both be experiences we manage in healthy ways.
Dating and courting in healthy ways will eliminate 85% of our pain, drama, or problems in dealing with men or women. So, let’s go a little deeper in defining some things that distinguish dating and courtship.
1. The Goal – The goal of dating is to get to know people (and even learn some things about you in the process). The goal of courtship is marriage. The transition from dating to courtship comes after two people have gotten to know one another really well. After this, they can talk openly and decide they both want to move towards marriage. The two people should both be able to say, with confidence, “We are courting to get married.”
2. The Relationship – When dating, you get to know people as acquaintances. You learn about their likes, dislikes, interests, etc… When courting, you become best friends. This is where you begin to share more about the reasons for who you are, why you like the things you like, the source of your interests, etc… This is where you spend time together experiencing one another’s interests for the purpose of supporting them and helping them move towards their goals.
3. The Status – Dating is a temporary place and should be a safe place for getting to know someone. Courting is for a loving and secure relationship.
4. The Communication – You should be honest, no matter what. That speaks to good character. However, during the dating phase, you share in order to learn about one another. During the courtship phase, you learn to actively listen and work together to lay a strong foundation for marriage.
5. The Intimacy – Sex is not for dating or courting. It should be reserved for marriage. During the dating phase, you may find yourself attracted to a person. However, this is the time for you to establish boundaries and ensure you do not place yourself in situations where you will be tempted. During a courtship, you should have open and honest communication with your partner and work together to establish boundaries.
6. The Family – The dating phase is not the time to “meet the family”. Remember, when dating, you are developing acquaintance-level friendships. Once you have had a chance to get to know a person without a lot of outside influences, had a chance to evaluate them for yourself, and you know they are someone you would considering marrying… then you can start to integrate them with the family. Now, let me add, I am not saying you must be secretive about everyone you are dating. Apply wisdom and definitely let someone know who you are spending time with. However, I am saying to have some discretion about who you start to integrate with your family. Courtship is when you should meet and spend time with each other’s family.
7. The Preparation – Being happy alone is the prerequisite to having a happy relationship and marriage. No man or woman can do what God is supposed to be doing in your life and there is no way around it. Once you are happy alone, you may choose to enter the dating phase. During this phase, you should do things to help you continue to grow as an individual (prayer, reading, studying, counseling, etc…). In a courtship, you should seek resources that help you learn how to grow together as one in preparation for marriage (e.g. marriage counseling, reading, open discussions, etc…).
8. The Commitment – Whether dating or courting, either party can decide the relationship is not for them and choose to walk away. When dating with boundaries, ending a relationship is not devastating because you have an acquaintance-level friendship and you both respect the other’s decision to walk away. When in a courtship, there may be hurt involved from ending the relationship. However, the honesty and security in the relationship allow you to walk away with mutual respect.