Dating vs. Courtship

Over the past several weeks I have been addressing what kinds of things people should be focusing on when looking for a life partner.  After having lunch with a friend who is the mother of two daughters, I wanted to expand on a previous article, “Job Description for the Perfect Partner” (  While we were talking about that article, Debra was telling me how she has tried to instill in her daughters the difference between dating and courtship.  She takes an interesting approach to what many people think are the same thing.  In Debra’s view, dating is a process that emphasizes one’s own happiness and self-gratification.  Courtship, on the other hand, is a process by which one looks for being compatible with and complimentary to the other person.  By her definition, even if a long term relationship is developed after dating someone for awhile, its success is questionable because of the self-centered nature of its beginnings.  Debra’s view intrigued me and I thought it would be worth further examination.

How dating and courtship are different

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines a date as “an appointment for a specified time, especially a social engagement between two persons of opposite sex”.  Courtship, on the other hand, is defined as “the process of engaging in social activities leading to engagement and marriage”.  On the surface both terms seem pretty similar.  Upon further scrutiny however, one realizes that courtship involves dating with a particular purpose or goal in mind.  It is the difference between going to the mall just to see what’s there and going to find a specific item.  We start out with a pretty general idea of what we’re looking for, e.g., a pair of dress shoes.  As we look around we begin to eliminate particular pairs of shoes because they don’t match our needs.  In time we may find several pairs that seem to meet our requirements, at least on the surface.  It is at this time we begin the process of trying them on to see how they look and feel.  We try to find just the right pair because we all have had the experience of buying an item that isn’t exactly right.  We think we can break it in, stretch it out, or otherwise alter it to fit only to have it languish in our closets unworn, or worse, wear it and be uncomfortable for an entire event when we wanted to put our best foot forward.

It behooves us to approach dating and courtship in the same way we would approach a trip to the mall.  Even if we are just looking, most of us have an understanding of the styles of clothes we like or feel comfortable in.  It is a process established over time by trial and error, maybe with a bit of advice from a trusted friend thrown in.  We have identified cuts and colors that make us look and feel good.  We probably also have the memories of failed purchases, if not the actual items themselves, and try not to replicate those mistakes in the future.  We need to take the same approach to people with whom we are considering making a life.

Making a list

Just as we make a list of things we need at the mall or the grocery store, we need to learn to make a list of the qualities and characteristics we need in a partner.  Having a successful meal requires planning the menu and making sure you have all the ingredients.  The process for picking a life partner is no different.  While it is possible to open the cupboard and/or refrigerator and make an adequate meal out of what is there, most of us would not want to go through life making do with what is available.  Unfortunately, this is how most of us pick our partners.

A better way is to define clearly what kind of life you want to have and find a partner who has the traits necessary to help make that life possible.  This requires thoughtful analysis of your needs and the ability to keep looking for the best match and not make do with less.  If it is important for someone to share your faith, political viewpoint, or sense of humor, then be sure the person with whom you invest your time and emotions meets those criteria.  Write them down and be vigilant in applying those standards to all potential candidates.  If you take the time to find just the right shoes, don’t you think finding the perfect partner is worth just as much, if not more, effort?

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© 2008 Cary Home Times

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