Courtship Tales

Same leather jacket as our first date.
Same leather jacket as our first date . . . and I still like hangin on while he drives!

This is a bit random, but I thought I’d do an entirely anecdotal post about courtship. What with all the hullaballoo lately on the interwebs on this particular topic, I thought I’d just share what it was like for me.

Dad (as you may or may not know) wrote Her Hand in Marriage which is a biblical defense for the courtship model, and that book is one of the things which put courtship on the map in the first place. He had been teaching on the subject for several years, and then he put everything all in one place in that book. Josh Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye first came out right around the same time as my dad’s book – I don’t know which one came first. Personally, I think that moment in the late ‘90s was right for this subject because the first wave of kids raised in the Christian education movement were just reaching marriageable age. I was the oldest in my family, and I had gone all the way through a classical school from kindergarten onwards, and of course the Harrises were right at the beginning of the wave of homeschooling.

I’m only speaking for myself here because I’ve never even met Josh Harris, but I would assume that something similar was going on with them in the homeschooling camp. My parents had sacrificed an awful lot to give me the education they did. They not only did a ridiculous amount of actual hard work to build a school, but the whole thing had to begin by questioning the status quo, working through Scripture, trying to apply Biblical standards to the question of educating their children, and then doing something that in the eyes of the world – and also most other Christians – was completely and totally weird. They did this faithfully, and I was raised knowing why we were doing what we were doing. I was used to the idea that we obey Scripture even when it seems that no one else is doing it – and I also got a front row seat in watching all the blessings that came along with that principled stand. Then I became a teenager, and it was a totally natural progression for Dad to be looking a few years down the road and wonder about how we would tackle the whole dating / marriage thing. It was also a totally natural thing for me to realize that we were probably going to do it in a way that no one else was. That was just how we rolled in our family and I was used to it.

You know how it is – once I hit about 13, guys started asking me out on the street or at the mall – and that was not a complicated situation. To all guys who were cat-calling, whistling, yelling out car windows asking my name, or in general asking me if I liked to party . . . the answer was no, and I did not give them my (or my dad’s) phone number. (Nor did I give them any of the remarkably witty come-backs that my brother always suggested for me after the fact. I would faithfully put them in the file for future use – but of course it never plays out the same way twice and I never could think quickly enough on the spur of the moment.) But I do think that this whole situation is probably what made Dad say to himself, “Self: give this a think.” And he did. He studied it, we talked about it, and I was totally on board with him being an active participant once I was old enough for marriage to be on the horizon.

When I was 16  the Christian guys started thinking that I was of totally marriageable age and began talking to Dad – or asking me if they could talk to Dad. I do know that plenty of girls out there have completely punkish fathers, but I was never anything but grateful for my Dad’s protection and involvement. I don’t love saying no to guys – especially nice Christian guys that I like just fine. In fact, I’m rather horrible at saying no in general – and I was absolutely thankful that Dad would do it for me. And contrary to what certain segments of the internet would like you to believe, my Dad is not (and never has been) a heavy-handed, power-tripping, control freak who delights in smacking people down. When he said no to guys on my behalf, I know that he was not unkind . . . because I’ve known him for a lot of years and I’ve never seen him be unkind.

The way it generally worked was this. If Dad knew already that this fellow was a non-starter, he simply said no thank you. But frequently he would tell them he would get back to them, and then he would tell me at dinner that he had had a visit from so-and-so today. My response was generally something like, “AAAAGGGHHH!!!!” although if I had been asked directly by the guy it would have taken me 20 painful minutes to make him understand that I probably wouldn’t go out with him no matter what night of the week he suggested. And, in fact, if I was part of the traditional dating lifestyle I know for a fact that I would absolutely have gone out with the guy and had a very uncomfortable time, rather than just say no thanks. And it wouldn’t have saved me anything, because I would have had to just say no to the second date, or the third. And like I said, I don’t love saying no. I do it, but I hate it. One of the things I really disliked about this article was that he wants direct access to the girls without ever having to deal with another man – old adages about hiding behind a woman’s skirts come to mind. If the mere presence of a father is enough to make him pass a girl by and go look for one who’s not similarly protected, I’m sorry, but that’s not much of a man. I would offer a counterpart to his advice to guys: “Girls! If a guy is too much of a pansy to talk to your dad, say good riddance and be grateful you aren’t being troubled by the attentions of a eunuch.” He also wants girls to always answer yes when asked out. Seriously? No dads, and girls who always say yes? He’s asking for the bar to be lowered until it’s on the floor before he’s willing to step over it. Not an overly impressive attitude, and not a trait that would be in any way fun to have in a husband.

Anyway, time went by. Dad started New St. Andrews college and pretty soon I was 19. Courtship was an actual word by then – even though neither Dad’s book nor Josh Harris’s book had been published yet. And I’ll be real – there were some serious courtship nerds floating around back then as I assume there still are today. Dad has always been big on the concept that you need to distinguish between principles and methods – and there were people even way back then who were getting all caught up on the method . . . frequently at the expense of the principle. Once, at a homeschool conference where my dad was speaking, a guy came up to me in the hall and asked me if he could court me. He even went so far as to spell out his future career plans and lay out his financial situation to show me that he could support a wife. The whole thing was just ridiculous – he and I both knew that what he wanted was a girlfriend for the weekend, but at this particular conference you had to wrap that up in proper “courtship” language. He couldn’t just say, “Hey do you want to hang out?” He had to say, “May I have the honor of courting you? I am totally capable of supporting a wife.” Anyway, that was the first and last conversation I ever had with him and I assume he found another girl willing to fill that role for the weekend. I would also put money on it that they are not married today – and I hardly set that down to a failure of the courtship method. When people throw up their hands and start wailing, “Why isn’t courtship working???!!!!” I would suggest that perhaps they’re being too easily fooled by people using specific “approved” courtship words or methods to mask what’s actually going on. Principled obedience is always blessed (sometimes not the way we expect!) but a method never saved anybody. Because Dad could see that people were getting hung up on the words and the method, he leaned against that, and taught us to lean against that, from the beginning.

So I was 19. I was also pretty convinced I would have to become a spinster missionary because no guy was ever going to show up. I remember announcing from the back seat one day that I was going to have to follow Jepthah’s daughter’s example and go bewail my virginity on the mountain tops because there were absolutely no guys that I would ever be interested in. I remember Dad saying, “There’s Ben Merkle.”

“Ha.” I said, “He isn’t reformed, he doesn’t go to our church, he doesn’t even live in Moscow anymore, and he has a girlfriend. I think. This just proves my point that Jepthah’s daughter is the career path I will have to follow.” But truth be told, I really thought Ben Merkle was pretty awesome. I had met him in my New St Andrews Greek class my freshman year, but my dad and brother had known him for a couple years because they all played lacrosse. He had a very cool motorcycle, he looked good in his leather jacket, he played lacrosse, he was a former Marine, and he was funny. Really funny. And he was taller than me. Nonetheless. He wasn’t reformed, he didn’t go to our church, he didn’t live in Moscow anymore, and he had a girlfriend. I thought. What a shame.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, he had become reformed, and the summer before my junior year at NSA he moved back to Moscow, came on staff with our church, and there wasn’t any girlfriend in the picture. We saw each other around a lot at church, at the college group, at parties. We always ended up talking together – and in September (I had just turned 20) he went and talked to my dad. Contrary to the normal routine, Dad didn’t tell me about it. He told Ben that they would meet together for a bit first. During their first meeting, Dad turned around and printed out Her Hand in Marriage which he had just finished writing and handed Ben the entire manuscript and told him to read it by next time and they would talk. They met together for about four weeks and I still didn’t know about it. Dad knew me well enough to know that Ben wasn’t in the same category for me as previous suitors or he wouldn’t have done it this way. At the end of October, Dad told Ben that he could go ahead and ask me out.

Both of them – Dad and Ben – wanted Ben to be the one to do the asking. No sense in making this into a junior-high style note-passing . . . “circle yes or no if you want to court me and have your dad hand the note back to me.” So one day after church, Ben asked me out. I said yes. (And not just because I couldn’t work up the guts to say no!)

Ben came and picked me up on his motorcycle that night – wearing his cool leather jacket. Yes, we went on a date. On a motorcycle. Just the two of us. Dad did not come along in a sidecar on the motorcycle, and he did not come and sit at the next table with a pair of binoculars. As I recall, he said something like, “Have her home by midnight.”

As people found out about us, we consciously said that we were “dating”  because we were trying to lean against the courtship nerds who got scandalized about the word and who were hung up on a method rather than a principle. We dated for two months and Ben and Dad continued to meet together. We never had a chaperone on our dates, but we also had plenty of accountability. Dad oversaw the whole thing – but thankfully he was never one of those dads who felt that it was his God-given role to make things difficult. He was there to facilitate a godly relationship, not to get in the way of it.

And there were never any guarantees that this was fool proof. Dad was clear to Ben that he did not need to feel like having started a courtship, he was stuck for life. He let Ben know a number of times that if he was starting to have second thoughts, he was welcome to back out without any black clouds hanging over him. And I had the same freedom. It would have been tough if either of us backed out – but we knew that courtship wasn’t engagement, and it certainly wasn’t marriage.

Of course Dad talked to me about how it was going all the way through, but after two months we had a specific conversation about how I would feel about this moving on to marriage. We had gotten to know each other, and Dad wanted to know my thoughts. Since I was smitten by his True Pheromones, I was all for it. Dad was similarly impressed with Ben, and so when Ben was ready to ask Dad for permission to propose, Dad was ready to give it. He proposed with pear shaped ruby engagement rings at the beginning of January and we married at the end of May, right after my junior year.

Seventeen years and five children later, I’m still nothing but grateful for my dad’s wisdom, kindness, protection, and oversight. But let’s face it – going to talk to Doug Wilson about his daughter would be a wee bit intimidating. I’m ever so thankful that Ben wasn’t the kind of guy to be scared off by that. He proved right at the beginning that he’s the kind of guy that likes a challenge and who welcomes accountability – and that, girls, is the kind of man you want.


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44 thoughts on “Courtship Tales

  1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Why is it that only the negative courtship stories get folks really excited? My husband and I followed the courtship method to get to the altar, and continue to be so grateful to our parents for guiding us in that direction.

  2. Thank you so much for putting your story out there, Becca! I felt like there needed to be a defense of courtship by the means of a really good story . . . but many of us who had a really great courtship (me!) are too cowardly to stand up and defend it (ahem, me again 🙂 because of the prevailing winds of divisiveness. Thanks for being a voice for those of us who lived through courtship, actually had FUN, and still believe in the value of the principle.

  3. I read the original Umstadtt article and actually I thought a lot of the points were good. Essentially what he is arguing for is an avenue for boys and girls, men and women, to get to know each other without the pressure-cooker effect that courtship expectations can have.
    However, I thought that nearly all the benefits he argues come from “dating but never dating the same person twice in a row” are benefits that can be drawn from “hanging out with friends both in groups and one-on-one”. He treats these one-on-one outings as dates but they need not be couched in a romantic context to produce the benefits he argues for.
    His article would go a lot farther with a simple re-wording.

  4. I had my fill of the typical “Christian dating scene” until a handsome young Marine named Mike Harkin came a-courtin! My father had always been involved and protective of my honor, but we are so thankful for the way Mike approached my father and then me! Thankful for the way Moscow played a part in preparing my husband to sweep me off my feet…the right way!

  5. Thanks for writing, Rebekah. My big takeaway from your story is that your “courtship” story was a happy one in large part because you already had such a close and loving relationship with your dad. I did not, and the concept of suddenly being expected to share my deepest concerns and emotions with him felt very awkward and frightening. I think however you want to help your children find worthy life partners, it starts when they are little by being close and loving and involved parents–and it’s especially easy for dads to check out.

  6. I love your response and testimony and couldn’t agree with you more. As someone who grew up without any protection or guidance in this area, I can tell you I longed for it. Situations can be not only tedious but can instantly turn dangerous when you even come close to, “no, thank you.” It is a burden too big for a young woman. I am grateful for folks like your dad who can offer wise counsel and an alternate perspective.

  7. Ah, I loved this post…if for nothing other than your great sense of humor. A sweet story and good stuff all around.

  8. Here in Wichita, KS, our courtship story was published in the newspaper, for cryin’ out loud! 🙂 No pressure or anything–ha! But 18 years and 6 kiddos later, we are so thankful for our “courtship”, or whatever you want to call it:)

  9. This is amazingly beautiful. What a blessing! Likely that those who grew up practicing method are bitter that God is not more like a formula so they write these blog posts.
    Praise God for parents seeking to parent with godly principles. Growing up without any parental protection, guys asked me out, my mom thought it was great so I went. Mostly it was bad. A girl unprotected is not a good thing. A lot of these courtship bashers should write follow up posts when they have a teenage daughter. Glad you shared your story.

  10. I remember when I saw you get on the back of Ben’s motorcycle at the old church office! And then when we all saw you holding hands walking up the hill after church at the Moscow High auditorium. Super fun times! We all felt super protective of you since we had known you all your life, but it didn’t take time to relax and enjoy the ride with you. Glad you married Ben! We like you two!

  11. Thankyou Becca!
    from a daughter’ perspective is a great extra dimension. thank you for taking time to write around mommying your family.

  12. “Girls! If a guy is too much of a pansy to talk to your dad, say good riddance and be grateful you aren’t being troubled by the attentions of a eunuch.”


    So good and balanced. Thank you.

  13. It sounds like after reading your post and the comments, that courting only works well if your dad is a Godly, kind man that has invested in you all your life and built a loving and trusting relationship with you. Maybe we should stop focusing on courting and spend more time addressing fathers practically and spiritually on how to be that man to his daughters. If that is happening then when it is time for the girl to find a spouse, she will naturally want his input and advice no matter the method, dating or courting. Also, I thing I a

  14. Thanks for publishing this, this is exactly the way our family did “courtship” and I couldn’t be happier with the results…neither could our children!

    Having a good and godly father, whose heart a girl can trust is key to almost everything…

  15. Wimps don’t make good spouses. It is something that will have to be matured through and overcome if they do marry. I think if you aren’t interested in the guy for whatever reason you should have the courage and respect for him as a person to tell him so yourself. On the other hand if a guy is interested in you and you him he should talk to your Dad out of courage and respect for you. I see no harm and a lot of kindness in telling a guy that you either are interested or you aren’t when he “mistakenly” asks you first. In fact I feel that it is a lack of maturity to do so. I do hope (as does my husband) to raise our daughter to respect other people (including young men her age) and have great courage (as well as great love) when it comes to relationships. I am not one to say courtships or dating are THE way but putting others before ones self is THE way. Courtesy, ladies, is always becoming while mystery and lack of courage will have to be forgiven.

  16. Wow, thank you for sharing! As the mom of two very little girls, I am years away from thinking seriously about their romantic futures, but the idea of courtship has intrigued me. It certainly wasn’t the model (principle? method? haha) their father and I followed. We met in a bar 12 years ago and didn’t start going to church until a few years ago, when I became Christian and he got serious about his faith. We both grew up with very poor examples of healthy marriages and didn’t even want to get married because of our cynicism about the whole “institution.” Nonetheless, here we are, happily married (finally!) and in worried moments, wondering how to keep our girls from following in our painful footsteps. Not that we would ever want to scare them, not that we could ever claim to them that all the hard work we put into what we are today wasn’t worth the mistakes and pain, but still…you showed so beautifully that there is a better way. I will print out what you wrote and keep it on file, if nothing else but to show them that hot guys on motorcycles can still be excellent, marriage-worthy material 🙂 Luckily, I married one, too!

  17. I really appreciate this. In high school I was classified as easy, only because I serial dated. I had boyfriends and friends that were boys and boys that were part time boyfriends. My mom encouraged dating. It was because of this, I fell into the trap of a much older, much more mature guy that wanted much more than I had been willing to give. Looking back, I wish my parents had done things differently and encouraged me not to date. I’ve been married for 3 years to an amazing man and we have 2 beautiful children. “Her Hand in Marriage,” is one of our favorite books (along with pretty much everything from the Wilson family!) and I hope and pray we have the same relationship with our children. Thank you!

  18. Just lovely. I love the fact that your dad didn’t feel compelled to go along in a sidecar on your first “date”. He treated you like an ADULT, a Christian Adult with some morals and a desire to honour God and your parents and your beau.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Thank you SO much. We’ve been debating this issue hotly since that horrible article came out. (Mr. Umstattd is a local and we have many common friends.) I made the same point about pansies, but it is so much more effective coming from the young lady herself than just a mom. I’ve been recommending your dad’s book for years on my blog, in addition to Boy Meets Girl (Harris) and What He Must Be (Bauchaum). Plus, your story is heartwarming and fun. How romantic.

  20. It seems to me that Umstattd is just trying to “lean against the courtship nerds … who [are] hung up on a method rather than a principle.” If there’s a good reason to push back against “courtship” by using the d-word in certain contexts, and I agree there is, surely there’s a place to critique the method that causes one to want to avoid the word. Unstattd has nothing to say about your beautiful tale. It’s just the sort of traditional dating that he’d like to see replace the courtship method that he’s critiquing. It seemed clear to me that his article was addressing the kind of courtship model that would consider riding on the back of a motorcycle and being home at midnight as beyond problematic.

  21. “If the mere presence of a father is enough to make him pass a girl by and go look for one who’s not similarly protected, I’m sorry, but that’s not much of a man.”
    Amen! I didn’t have a father I could talk to when I was single, and I suffered from unprotected dating and paid for it. Fast forward to marrying a wonderful Christian man who guided and protected our own daughter; she’s now engaged to a great guy who stood strong in the spotlight of a father.

  22. I should add that there were other men (not boys) who were willing to stand in that spotlight but in God’s will it just didn’t go. I know who you are and I salute you! May God bless you and provide great wives for you good men.

  23. Seems like being able to say NO yourself is an important skill for a girl to learn, both for getting rid of guys’ advances (which continue whether or not Dad or husband is around and especially when they are not) and for your own sanity as an adult. The people who can’t say no to things are invariably the ones every one else manipulates into doing everything. Yikes!

  24. Beautiful story. There was no earthly father presence in my life although there were uncles but, unfortunately, they didn’t take an active role in my life either.

    I believe more marriages would be strong if children had good male role models. Not that marriages can’t be strong without it but it sure makes it a lot easier when you have a father such as yours who really cares about what happens to you as a person.

    Thanks for sharing.

  25. Did you not value your mother’s thoughts on the young man also? There does not seem to be any mention of her.

  26. Thank you for such a refreshing and beautiful story! Amen! What bothered me the most about the article about “flawed courtship” was the part telling guys to not waste their time on girls who want you to go through their dad. C’mon? That shows if a guy has courage and back bone. Good for your guy, Bekah!!

  27. And I remember Ben when he was in 9th grade! It’s a good thing he avoided the attentions of those 7th graders who all had their eyes on him.

  28. As a father who was faced with both dating and courtship let me add my two cents.I had always been somewhat opposed to dating. As I had learned many years ago dating can easily lead to an attitude where a boy or girl sees a relationship as temporary. Courtship also seemed rather limited in my view. But what I did find was that as long as my daughter was focused on God then her decisions were good ones. While she has seemed to settle on dating, she has done very little of it(thankfully for me) and at present is seeing a very nice, godly young man. So parents keep your kids focused on God.

  29. Fun! I remember washing coffee cups after church with your mom and looking across the auditorium and seeing you with Ben, holding Leah, and asking her, ” Nancy, who is that guy holding my baby?” That is when I first heard about Ben Merkle 🙂

  30. Thank you — so good to hear a positive courtship story…. I hope this will encourage others to share for the sake of those of us who have no experience in this area but hope that our children will!

  31. I loved this story! I also laughed out loud, picturing your dad riding in a motorcycle sidecar and monitoring your dates via binoculars. 🙂

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