Courtship Contradictions

Let’s be honest: courtship is fraught with perils. No two scenarios are the same. Some of the rockiest courtships end up being stable, happy marriages, while some young women who are determined to get married at the first opportunity find themselves at loose ends after the wedding. Now what? This road is full of twists and turns for some couples, while for others, it is a smooth four-lane highway. Who can understand these things?

In this little post I’m not undertaking to explore all the things that can go wrong in a courtship. I’m simply going to make a few observations here about one kind of woman, and that’s the woman who wants to be married, but doesn’t really. When a fine young man shows an interest in this kind of woman, she finds all sorts of things to be roadblocks. And so she either says no, or it ends up being one of those rocky courtships that starts and stops and starts and stops, etc.

As I said above, who can understand these things?  But here are a couple of thoughts about what might be going on in her head.

1. Wanting to be married is more desirable than actually being married. In the wanting, a woman can sketch out any number of delightful scenes in her mind. But in reality, he doesn’t wear knee-high riding boots and own a large estate. So she recoils from the thought of marrying him.

2. Marriage requires a kind of death. Though this is required for both husband and wife, the wife dies in a unique way. She takes a new name, and she has a new calling. This is what scares some women off, despite their desire for marriage and children.

3. Some women have a higher estimation of their own attractiveness and desirability than is actually true. This may not be a conscious thing, but nevertheless, they think anything less than a crowned prince would be throwing themselves away. This woman says no to someone for being  “out of her league” (assuming he is beneath her) when he actually is “out of her league” because he is way ahead of her. This muddleheadedness can come from identifying  far too much with Emma and nothing less than a Mr. Knightley will do. (At the same time, I’m not suggesting anyone be like Charlotte in Pride and Prejudice and settle for a Mr. Collins, just to be married!)

4. Another snare lies in the whole concept of falling in love. Hollywood is not a trustworthy instructor in how to conduct a relationship. Yet many of our assumptions about love come from Cinderella and all her descendents. A woman is required to respect her man. I’m convinced that if she does, and if he is treating her like a good man should, she will fall in love with him, though perhaps not on the first date. This is particularly true when a man is behaving himself, keeping his hands to himself, and honoring her and her parents. A woman is aroused by touch, not just by sight, no matter what the world says. So part of protecting her is holding back until there is a covenant. In this matter a woman has to proceed by faith, trusting that if this is the right kind of man, God will also bring all the right kind of emotions once the romance really begins. The world gets physical first; a Christian saves that for later.

5. Marriage is a lot of work. It is a means to an end, not an end in itself. It is a means of glorifying God. Living with someone else, who is not at all like you, requires sacrifice. Bearing children requires tremendous sacrifice. Some women are quite happy by themselves, not having to take someone else into account in everything they do. So no matter how godly he is, a woman may shrink back from letting go. She knows that marriage means someone else will have the final say. That’s why it is of the utmost importance that a woman consider his character. If he is a godly man, and if she respects him highly, then she can trust God to lead her through him.

6. Finally, I must conclude with this. A woman is free to marry whomever she likes, so long as it is in the Lord. If he is a Christian, a woman is free to marry him. Or not. She doesn’t have to have lofty reasons for saying no. She can say no because she doesn’t like his nose or his taste in music. She is a free woman. But she ought to at least consider some of these things I’ve mentioned, in case she is exercising her freedom in a way even she would say is contradictory: “He’s everything I want, and yet I don’t want.”

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26 Responses to “Courtship Contradictions”


  • Thank you Nancy, as always your words are Biblical and real. I had no instruction on the Biblical teaching of the roles of men and women, yet God in His goodness gave me a man that desires to follow God in his leadership. I want my daughters to watch the character of young men; how they make decisions, how they handle criticism, how they lead others within the body… because when they marry; understanding the truth of Scripture headship, they are commiting to submit. I like how you said that “marriage requires a kind of death.” This is so true, yet in dieing to ourselves we are given joy.

  • Thank you for this post, Mrs. Wilson! Going back to your comments on turning a guy down, could you elaborate briefly? “I don’t like his music” is a legitimate objection, but is it necessarily wise? If all you don’t like about him is the way he dresses, is it smart to pass up an otherwise excellent match? Tastes change, people change; I’m not advocating marrying him with the object of molding him into what you want, and I know you’re not advocating being fickle or whimsical, but is there something I’m misunderstanding? I can certainly see that things as trivial as music and clothing could be irksome over time (we let the dumbest things wrap us around the axle!), but might a girl be more wise to marry in faith, trusting that God will grow her up and teach her to let little things like that go, and perhaps grow him up so that he won’t be dressing like a teenager at fifty? I see the wisdom in not setting yourself up for grief, but I still think that rejection over trivialities reflects immaturity in the girl. Which puzzle piece am I missing here? Thank you!

  • Amen, Mrs. Wilson! But an especially hearty AMEN, a zillion times, to point number 4!

    I also, think that if you allow touch in courtship before a covenant is made a woman could have all the right “feelings” saying she is “in love” when it ain’t the real deal at all!

  • I’ve heard it said that “to give the hand without the heart is a grievous sin” and seen the results in the lives of a couple who are very close to me when the woman married because she thought it was the will of God, not because she loved him. Fast-forward 26 years and she still doesn’t.

    And so, I’ve always said (almost desperately) that I didn’t want to marry unless I actually loved him. Is that too much to ask? You’re not the first wise older woman to say that respect is what I really need to be looking for in myself, not love. Just looking for some guidance here. Thank you!!

  • Hannah, what does the woman mean by “love”?

  • Excellent words. Point #5 really resonates. A good friend of mine is regularly asked how to be a “good wife”, being an exceptional one herself. Her response is almost always, “The life of a Christian wife is a life of service.” I like how you’ve tied that idea to the character of the husband. Knowing that my husband is seeking God in his decisions encourages me to serve and sacrifice for him and for the path he sets for us. Many blessings.

  • I am a new reader. . . and I connected with the phrase “marriage involving a death.” I am almost married a year now and in the beginning it was difficult. I was not used to working with someone as I am more Independent. Your words put words to my feelings and help me to define/understand what I was feeling/going through. After getting married, life did change more then I could have ever imagined or dreamed… some good and some difficult.
    Thanks for sharing :)

  • Valerie, she means that he never won her heart. And no, she doesn’t respect him either.

  • Dear Hannah,
    It seems to me that your friend’s initial mistake was marrying someone for whom she had no respect. And, without knowing anything about your friend other than what you have said, it makes me wonder if she was ever willing for him to win her heart. Who knows?
    Kathleen,
    I don’t know of any special litmus test here. The whole process is one that has to be by faith. You have to separate the things that don’t matter from the things that do matter. To what standard are you comparing the man? The world’s standard of what’s cool? Or the biblical standard of what is good and righteous? If a woman respects a man, and if she feels like I did about my husband, which was, “I don’t know where he’s going; I just know I want to go too,” then I believe you have all the flammable material that can ignite into a romantic love. I would also say that you should ask him about the high-water trousers and see how attached to them he is. If he loves you, he may be happy to throw them overboard. If not, press on.

  • Okay, thanks! We’re on the same page, after all. I just wanted to be sure I hadn’t missed something.

  • So do you think that the advice and observations here are based in scripture? Are you sure that you have scripture to back and up and support every one of these points? obviously, the scripture does speak to a man ‘keeping his hands to himself,’ and to marriage entailing a dying to self in a unique way. But is it really, always, more of a death to women than for men? Also, while I agree that some women are too hard on potential suitors, I think that this is much better than being too lenient. Evaluating yourself as not worthy of good treatment, love, support, or a spouse that you are compatible with and are able to share interests, goals and a future, can lead to marriages that even while intact, are not a witness to God or a source of support, love and respect.

  • I think #3 is actually overlooked in Christian circles. I know a book that came out a decade or so ago in which the idea of having an extensive list of all the important qualities a man should have is promoted. Mind you, they were all good, and desirable qualities for a Christian husband, the sort qualities every Christian man should (emphasis on SHOULD) have. And the author was careful to point out that it would be unrealistic to hold out for all of them, or hold them all in equal importance.

    Still, there was this implicit notion that the girl was going to be the one doing all the picking and choosing. Having a really well-developed sense of what a godly husband is like is good; thinking you’re actually going to be able to sit around waiting until someone shows up with those qualities and he’ll be as interested as you are, is not so good. Seek man who has the right *aspirations,* not one who fills out a list of “already-haves.*

  • Kathleen, if I may speak to what I think Nancy was getting at with the “music” thing, was the idea that the woman is free; she is not obligated to marry a man because he fits some mold of what an acceptable husband is. If “I don’t like his music” is a reason not to marry him, it’s probably because you don’t really want to marry him anyway. Plenty of couples marry with different tastes in those things, because they fall away in importance. If something remains as important, it either means you’re really not seeing past the nose on your face, in which case you’re not going to make a good decision anyway, or that “winning your heart and respect” thing just isn’t happening. You don’t need to justify that to anyone who comes along and says, “But he’s so godly! He’s so whatever!”

  • In “Middlemarch” the older sister tells her younger sister that only a small mind would consider ‘how he eats his soup’ when the younger criticized the older’s choice of husband. A lot of highwater pants and bad taste in music is out there, but it shouldn’t be the focus of attention.

    Just a thought. Great post!

  • Thank you, ma’am, that helps clarify things. I like the “not seeing past your nose” phrase; that’s a great way to put it!

  • How much I wish I would have been exposed to the meaning behind courtship instead of just the ‘rules’ – I think I would have aligned myself to them because they resonate with my heart. I desire to teach my sons and daughters the thoughts and consequences behind the concept of courtship so they can feel the rightness of it. Oh to protect my daughters from my own choices!

    And #2 – a unique death. Oh yes. I was not prepared for how much grief there was and I suffered in silence for many years not knowing how to cope with the loss of so much of myself.

  • Tentatively, I’m wondering if it isn’t better to raise a young woman to prepare for an individual life and also be willingly prepared for this kind of “death,” than the current conservative trend to prepare a young woman for nothing other than marriage so that the individual life never fully emerges, and/or is resented if it is “forced to” emerge by later marriage or non-marriage.

    While I think the trend to teach daughters to aspire to and prepare for marriage as more than an afterthought is a good one, I’ve been concerned about the young women who spend their early adult years in some “headed nowhere holding pattern” because they think their lives don’t begin until they marry. I’ve known young women to start fretting at 18 or 20 if The One hasn’t appeared yet! A heightened aspiration and expectation for marriage is better than the way most of us now in our 40′s were raised, but I sense an imbalance.

    Here, I’m not talking so much about education or career-training, though that could be an aspect of it, as a mentality thing. An early adult period of singleness shouldn’t be something to be spent wishing the time away and waiting, with no sense of current purpose. Yet I do see that as a common side effect, despite the protestations of some who say that’s not the point. It might not be, but it’s there.

  • pentamom, I appreciate your comment so much. Thank you for saying so well what I was trying to say for myself — I agree, I also have seen this common “side-effect” of young women preparing themselves for marriage as an end instead of a means (of glorifying God). If you haven’t read Dorothy Sayers’ essays “Are Women Human?” I commend them to you. Not all of what she says is pertinent to today (and some of what she says I have questions about), but her overall message is that our “primary purpose is to worship God and enjoy Him forever.” Male and female, married or unmarried.

    And thank you Mrs. Wilson for such a good post!

  • “She knows that marriage means someone else will have the final say.”

    Final say? Can you support that Biblically? I trust and respect my husband tremendously, and would follow him to the ends of the earth and back. But part of the reason I trust him, and a large part of what makes him wise, is that he would never just pull the “final say” card on me. Marriage is a partnership with complementary roles, and my husband respects my thoughts and opinions. I am his helper, after all. He would never say “well dear, this is what I think and it’s my final say!” …. what an un-loving scenario, and not at all what God has in mind for husbands and wives. If both husbands and wives are truly loving and sacrificing for each other, they will never reach that point.

  • Somewhat related to the “woman who thinks her life doesn’t begin until she’s married” is this: the woman who gets married because she can’t think of anything better to do.

    This is where I was until a month ago: wondering if I should get married because my life was largely without purpose (Meaningless! Everything is vanity and a chasing after the wind!), and marriage would at least be slightly more interesting than the low-level secretarial jobs for which I am qualified.

    The answer, by the way, is “no” because boredom is a terrible reason to consider marriage, and kind of dishonors the whole institution.

    Thankfully, by the grace of God, I figured out where my passion lies, and now I have a goal to work toward. This goal does not necessarily include marriage, and if it does at some point in the future, marriage would not be last-ditch attempt to find a calling.

    As for the traditional wedding vows… are those the ones wherein the bride promises (with various wordings) to “love and obey”? Because I’m reasonably certain that, biblically, wives are supposed to respect and submit to their husbands.
    It’s the husbands that are to love, and the children that are to obey.

  • For young women, this is the best, most straightforward article I have ever read, aptly named “Choosing a Man” http://www.reformedsingles.com/choosing-man-nancy-wilson

    (It is from Credenda, but I couldn’t find it on the Credenda website.)

  • Nancy, loved this post. Especially because you just nail issues on the head. I’ve been married for about 3 months now, and could not agree more with #2. I’m constantly realizing how selfish I am but loving the fight for a holy marriage.

  • I wish I could meet you. I think I would love all of you. :) Where was all this when I was getting married ten years ago. Not saying I’m not happily married, but there was no one around saying, “it’s going to take sacrifice” and showing me what that would look like. Even before becoming a mom. The only thing anybody had to say was, “oh, you’re in for some sleepless nights!” That didn’t do much for preparing me to become a mother.

  • Love it thanks!

  • Reading through your old articles….so much of what you say here, I think a lot (including me) don’t realize some of these things until we are in a relationship. Yes, it does take sacrifice, a dying of self, even in the “courtship”/engagement phase. It is so important to be able to (and practice) respect to the man. You had good advice about “out of their league”; we have to have our ideals but it is wrong to expect perfection or cling to a mental picture of who we think we are going to marry. Because, as in my case, His ways are higher than Ours…! He knew who would be perfect for me, who would be patient and longsuffering etc. His unselfishness has spurred me on to being more so (and I see my own faults all the more clearly)

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