COURTSHIP is a special, romantic time in life when a couple gets to know each other more personally and can make a decision for or against marriage. During this interesting period, observations are made on both sides to determine whether the individuals concerned will be right for each other. A mutual agreement is made to forego special friendship with anyone else. There is a general understanding between the two parties that each occupies the place of highest esteem in the mind of the other. This period of going together is a preparation for married life. The time spent together should not be limited to formal occasions, but a good portion of it should be devoted to informal, everyday settings. That way the couple has an opportunity to properly observe each other in terms of practical living. It is good for the young lady to see her young man in work clothes. It gives her an opportunity to judge his industriousness and efficiency. And she may have on an apron preparing some dishes for her family when her boyfriend comes to visit her. The young man should observe her cooking skills carefully. After all, is he not considering eating at her table for the rest of his life? By coming into each other’s homes, each one can see much that would never be revealed in a formal setting. The relationships between the various members of the household tell much about a young man or lady. “Has my lover a mother? What is the stamp of her character? Does he recognize his obligations to her? Is he mindful of her wishes and happiness? If he does not respect and honor his mother, will he manifest respect and love, kindness and attention, toward his wife?” —Ellen G. White, Messages to Young People, p. 450.
Many of the character traits that are revealed during courtship—such as lack of respect for mother or father, inefficiency, disorderliness, or uncleanliness —are very apt to carry over into married life. In contemplating marriage it would be advisable to take an inventory of your prospective bride or groom. Note the following areas of concern very carefully:
- Does s/he share your faith? “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness: and what communion hath light with darkness? 2 Corinthians 6:14.
- Are you proud of your prospective marriage partner, or are you ashamed of him/her and feel apologetic when seen in his company?
- Can he hold a job, or is he lazy and unstable? Remember that the husband will be the main breadwinner, especially when the wife has little children to take care of.
- Do you have common interests and goals?
- Do your parents and friends admire your prospective fiancé(e)? Parents may see many things to which the youth are temporarily blind. Their evaluation is valuable but not infallible.
- Do you love him/her even though s/he has faults of character? Can you disagree and still love him/her? Don’t expect a perfect “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Don’t assume that his/her faults will automatically disappear when you get married.
- Does s/he like children?
- Is s/he usually happy, optimistic and cheerful?
- Does s/he accept sound advice graciously, or does s/he indulge in heated arguments? Some feel they are always right in their opinion.
During courtship, it is wise to pay proper attention to those factors which tend toward marital happiness.
This preparatory stage brings the couple one step closer to the culmination of marriage. It means that a solemn promise has been made between a young man and a young woman, indicating to their social group that the choice of a life’s partner is now complete and that marriage is soon to follow. The word ‘soon’ does not mean at the ‘spur of the moment,’ in a week or two. The length of engagement will vary, depending upon circumstances and preferences. “Be not in haste…. Early marriages are not to be encouraged. A relation so important as marriage and so far-reaching in its results should not be entered upon hastily, without sufficient preparation, and before the mental and physical powers are well developed.” —Messages to Young People, p. 438.
An old saying, “Marry in haste—repent in leisure” is still applicable today. It is impossible to become acquainted with someone in just a few weeks or months. Take your time! Don’t rush into this solemn relationship only to regret your mistake later. Make sure of what you are doing. Pray to God for the right decision. Surveys indicate that the highest percentage of successful marriages occurs among those whose engagement is relatively long. This is a matter to be worked out to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. Too short an engagement—such as several weeks—does not allow for the joy of careful planning. But long engagements of many years can be an emotional drain and lead to unhappiness.
At the time of engagement, it is wise to discuss fundamental issues that pertain to marriage. The understandings reached serve as a basis upon which the couple can pledge their mutual faith. For instance, the subject of children—such as when and the number of children that they would like to have—should be discussed. Even though their preferences may not be fulfilled through no fault of their own, or due to an illness that may develop later on, still the matter of children should be discussed to avoid serious misunderstanding later on. If one party desires children and the other does not, and the decision is made after marriage, it may threaten the stability of the home.
Another subject frequently discussed is whether or not the wife should get a job to help the family income. The wife may prefer a career to home-making, and it is only fair that she express her preference to her fiancé before marriage. It is important that both parties share the same views and sentiments in this important area.
Perhaps the relationship to one or the other’s parents may be a crucial matter for some couples. If either party insists on living close to their parents, the decision should be thoroughly discussed and mutually agreed to before marriage. Planning and forethought in this area will prevent many unnecessary complications and upsets.
The total experience of courtship should be thrilling, providing good times. Yet the emphasis should be placed on a blending of the personalities rather than on the physical aspects of marriage. The sacredness and the strength of the marriage bond depend on mutual respect; therefore, no intimacies should be exchanged in violation of the divine law and the conscience. Courtship then is truly the important preparation for marriage. Courtship—God’s way—helps lay the foundation for a truly happy, Christian home.