Courtship vs Boyfriends (What’s the difference?)

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What is the difference between a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship involving two Christians and courting?  This is a question I get asked a lot!  I think one of the key differences can be summed up by a single word: ‘BELONGING’. Let me explain!

Biblically, we see that there is no “category” of romantic relationship between a man and a woman outside of betrothal/marriage.  An unbethrothed woman, scripturally is a single woman:

To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. (1 Cor 7:8).

When it comes to purity, men are called to treat all young unmarried women in a sisterly manner:

Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. (1 Tim 5:1b-2)

Moreover, when it comes to God’s relationship with His people, ownership/belonging comes after covenant, binding commitment…

When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

God doesn’t treat us as if we were His before he has fully committed to us and earthly romance was set up by God as a reflection of Christ’s romance with His church:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5:31-32)

Based on this understanding, when being courted, a girl will not see herself as being in a “new category” of relationship. Rather she will see herself as remaining in the “same category” of friend/neighbour relationship with a new purpose (The new purpose being exploring the possibility of marriage). It follows that she will not see herself as BELONGING to the man she is getting to know. Nor will she believe that he in any way BELONGS to her. Rather she will see that she is simply exploring the possibility of marriage with a brother in Christ.

In contrast, on entering a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship, a man and women will see themselves as entering a “new category” of relationship. They will believe that they have left the “neighbour/friend category” and that they now exclusively BELONG to one another.

A helpful way to understand the difference is to look at the type of language used by people in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship compared to the language we might choose to use when being courted:

1. Taken before marriage?…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “Are you single?”
    • Answer: “No, I am taken”.

Courting:

    • Question: “Are you single?”
    • Answer: “Yes, but I am getting to know someone with marriage in mind”.

Biblically, there is no concept of a man taking a woman as his girlfriend!  Only a man taking a woman as his wife! Moreover, biblically, an unbetrothed woman is a single woman since she does not BELONG to the man who is interested in her.

2. Breaking up…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • “See that guy over there.  We used to be together but we broke up.”

Courting:

    • “I was being pursued for a while by a man but it didn’t lead to marriage”.

Biblically, there is no such thing as two unbetrothed people “breaking up” as to break up presumes that they once BELONGED to each other and were once “together”.

3. He’s your man?…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “Who is that guy?”
    • Answer: “He’s my man! He’s my boyfriend.”

Courting:

    • Question: “Who is that guy?”
    • Answer: “He’s a guy who is interested in me at the moment”

Biblically, since there is no romantic OWNERSHIP/BELONGING outside of betrothal/marriage a man is not “our man” and we are not “his girl” when being courted.

4. Being a couple?…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “Are you two a couple? Are you two in an exclusive relationship?”
    • Answer: “Yeah!”

Courting:

    • Question: “Are you two a couple? Are you two in an exclusive relationship?”
    • Answer: “No. We’re getting to know each other at the moment to consider if we should marry each other”.

In the Bible as there is no concept of BELONGING before engagement, it follows that there is also no concept of an unbetrothed man or woman ‘being a couple’ or being ‘in an exclusive relationship’.

5. Cheating…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “How would you feel if your boyfriend began dating another girl while you two were together?”
    • Answer: “I would consider him a cheat.  In an exclusive relationship, for a guy to date another girl is to be unfaithful to his girlfriend.”

Courting:

    • Question: “How would you feel if the guy pursuing you began dating another girl at the same time he is pursuing you?”
    • Answer: “Well I would not consider it cheating or an act of unfaithfulness as we are not together or a couple.  However, if he had communicated serious interest in me I would probably not allow him to pursue me any more as I would see that he is not interested in me enough.  Also, I would probably feel a bit disappointed, sad, let-down and hurt as I would feel as if he had lead me on.  Why pursue me and communicate serious interest if he liked me so little as to consider someone else at the same time?  His behaviour would put me off.”

Biblically, since a girl is single until she is betrothed/married, a guy can’t cheat on her or be unfaithful to her as they never BELONGED to each other in the first place. However, it does not mean it’s kind, loving or Christ-like for a man to pursue a woman and then pursue someone else at the same time (especially if he had communicated serious interest in her). When courting a woman, a guy will usually choose to not pursue anyone else. This is not because they are “in an exclusive relationship” or because they are a “couple” but because it would be discourteous.

6. Physical touch…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “How far do you think is too far to go physically with your boyfriend?”
    • Answer: “Doing anything that is sexual such as touching private parts etc.”

Courting:

    • Question: “How far do you think is too far to go physically with the man pursuing you?”
    • Answer: “Doing anything that I would not do with any other man in church such as walking for long periods hand in hand or kissing. Basically any touch that signifies romantic ownership in our culture.”

Biblically, since the category “boyfriend” does not exist, the physical boundaries are the same as with any other neighbour or friend. Holding hands for long periods of time in most western cultures is a sign that two people BELONG to each other. It follows that in most western countries when a guy courts a woman he wouldn’t hold her hand.

7. Priorities…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “How have your priorities changed now you are in a relationship?”
    • Answer: “Well I try to put my boyfriend first in my life.  He is my number one priority after God.”

Courting:

    • Question: “How have your priorities changed now you are being pursued?”
    • Answer: “They have not hugely changed.  God, my family, my friends, unbelievers and my church family are still my major priorities.  I just have an additional priority in a long list.”

Biblically, a woman’s priorities are not to majorly change for a man until she is married (1 Cor 7:34) since she does not BELONG to him.

8. Commitment…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “Are you two committed?”
    • Answer: “Yes. We are in a committed relationship.”

Courting:

    • Question: “Are you two committed?”
    • Answer: “No. There is no commitment between us. We are not together. We are just getting to know one another with marriage in mind.”

Biblically, romantic belonging and covenant commitment go hand in hand. Since before betrothal we are still single and don’t yet BELONG to the other in God’s eyes, neither are we yet committed. The notion of ‘being committed’ is meaningless if we can legitimately, at any time, decide we no longer want to pursue the possibility of marriage (which we can).

9. Public status…

Boyfriend/girlfriend relationship:

    • Question: “Are you guys very public about your relationship?”
    • Answer: “Yes. Once we got together we changed our Facebook status and now pretty much everybody knows. People are excited and congratulated us!”

Courting:

    • Question: “Are you guys very public about your romantic interest?”
    • Answer: “Key people are aware but we don’t want everyone to know. After all, we are only considering the possibility of marriage, we are not together and we might never be. Unless we decide to get together by getting engaged, there is nothing to celebrate. Telling the whole world could add unnecessary pressure and might hinder us making a wise decision.”

Biblically, since we don’t yet BELONG to one another… It would be unwise to behave in a public way as if we already did. Let not the man who puts on his armour boast as the man who takes it off (1 Kings 20:11). That said, we will want a few wise, mature, godly people to be aware, who can pray for us and offer good council.

Benefits?

So what are the benefits of pursuing the possibility of marriage without becoming boyfriend/girlfriend?

You will be able to avoid having to:

  • Experience the broken oneness and pain of one minute being someone’s partner and the next minute being their ex.
  • Be the cause of someone experiencing the rejection, heartbreak and harm of being dumped.
  • Experience or cause the public shame associated with an “official”, public boyfriend/girlfriend relationship breaking up.
  • Waste precious childbearing years being “off the market” with a person who may not end up marrying you.

You will be able to better:

  • Focus on pleasing the Lord before marriage as you won’t be coupled up with anyone before engagement and thus can have far more focused,  fruitful single years.
  • Keep a cool head so as to make a wiser marriage choice as your judgement won’t be clouded by the couple-bond of a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
  • Avoid sexual immorality as you will not be experiencing the emotional and physical intimacy of being a couple which can greatly stir up sexual feeling.
  • Model Christ’s self sacrificial love seen when he died on the cross to save us from our sins. This is because you will be sacrificing the immediate pleasure and closeness of owning someone and being owned before covenant commitment so as to care for them and protect them.

May God cause a paradigm shift in our approach to romance so that we may best honour Him.

Want to know more? I highly recommend the book ‘God’s way for romance: Getting back to Biblical courtship‘ by Stuart Burgess. UPDATE: WE HAVE 10 SIGNED COPIES TO GIVEAWAY. JUST LIKE THIS ARTICLE AND WRITE A COMMENT BELOW TO BE IN FOR A CHANCE OF WINNING! WINNERS WILL BE PICKED MAY 2016.

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