Dear Concerned Mother,
Your email is a very challenging one for me to address ... mostly because I'm commenting on a situation for which I have no personal knowledge – just one side of the story (yours – which I respect, one parent to another) ... but still your daughter and this young man have their own perception of the situation (which needs to be respected). So, please take all that into consideration as I offer you a few thoughts on the matter.
I guess, first off, you have to consider your daughter's "readiness" for marriage (and challenge her to do the same). At 20 years old she certainly could be considered ready for marriage, IF she has not placed other things on her agenda in life: education, travel, career, etc. It is unwise to enter into a courtship that will last for three or four years while she is still working on her education or something else. However, if she is seriously considering marriage within the next year or two, then courtship could be an option.
I discourage long courtships/engagements ... as it is hard for couples to keep the excitement of the relationship and more importantly the PURITY of it (both emotionally and physically) when the relationship goes on without real direction for a long time. For the relationship to have the direction of discerning marriage, it is important that marriage is within their scope.
You mentioned in your email that he has a good paying job ... so the question is: Is he at an age and stage to be considering marriage and being able to do the "three P's": Protect, Provide and be a Prayer Warrior for his bride and family?
Obviously there is much more for her to consider beyond her own "readiness".
Ask her these questions:
What are the traits/characteristics (physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially) that make up YOUR "Mr. Right"? I believe God has written on our hearts what we are looking for in a spouse ... and if we don't take heed to those inner promptings before some guy shows up to distract us, sometimes it's hard to be objective about a relationship. But does this guy really fit what you ALWAYS wanted in a husband ... or do you feel yourself compromising on anything? If so ... what? Take seriously those compromises ... are they frivolities or essentials?
Is this relationship calling you to holiness? This is a very important question! When you are with this man, does he make you want to be pure and holy ... or are you just physically and emotionally attracted? What faith base do you share in common? How is he helping you to come closer to Jesus personally?
Is Christ the center of this relationship, or has He been pushed off to the side while you go out and have fun? What things do you do together? Are you spending time together active in your faith and faith community and service for others ... or are you just out together and having fun? Having fun is important ... but it's not the MOST important issue. Life is not always fun ... it gets hard at times. It's good to do a variety of things together to see how you both handle yourselves and your relationship in a variety of settings.
Does this man really cherish you? You'll know that he does if you "feel like a queen" when you are with him. If YOU are constantly having to work for his attention and interest ... there is a problem: he hasn't had to work for you – you've had to work for him. This goes against the nature of a man. A man appreciates that which he works to get! (That goes for his wife as well!) Also ... you'll know if he cherishes you if nothing is too great an effort for him to do in order to "win" you ... in other words, if your parents have set reasonable expectations for him to meet ... he'll gladly meet them in order to work to win you!
What boundaries have you set in your relationship (emotionally and physically) and who have you asked to keep you accountable? Parents are a good option ... siblings, friends ... but someone needs to be able to ask the question: Are you keeping the boundaries you agreed upon for this stage of your relationship?
(Since they are not officially courting, you might ask the question …) What is the difference between your relationship now and when you start to court (if you do)? Are you offering each other privileges that belong to a different stage of relationship – hand holding, sitting close, etc.?
The “In-Between Stage”
I agree with your daughter that there can be – and often is – an "in-between" friendship and courting stage. A couple who is aware of their feelings for each other, but knows that they are not yet ready to take that next step, has found themselves in that "in-between" stage. This stage calls for much self-control ... and is very hard! But the reward lies is in the virtues that they grow acquire as they say “no” to themselves from indulging in the pleasures of courtship while they are not yet courting.
They need to set guidelines in this "in-between" time and come to an agreement ... that until they are actually moving ahead with their relationship, they will limit themselves with "emotional chastity" (not disclosing their feelings too deeply – communications like text messaging and emails so be able to be read by anyone – parents included). They also need to limit their physical contact ... as at every stage in their relationship. Touch is a powerful thing and begins to unleash the heart and its desires ... and they do not want to awaken love before its time! It's one thing to feel "twitter-pated" ... it's another thing to feed that with excessive physical contact.
It's very hard to stay objective when there's a lot of touching going on – even if it's not sexual! Touch is stimulating and the heart wants to lead to oneness ... but what IF this person is NOT really the one. Hold off – so that you don't later regret that you gave so much away to someone only to figure out down the line, he wasn't the right one! I've seen this before. Pray and discern ... and wait on the Lord! If this guy's the right one, there'll be plenty of time for hand-holding and cuddling ... all in good time … all in God’s time!
This is a hard stage, being "in-between", no doubt. But there is a reason for it, and the question is: What is that reason? Why are they not yet courting? Is it on account of your take, as parents, of the situation? That's legitimate. Perhaps you need to see this young man prove himself before you are ready to say “yes” to a courtship.
That's perfectly fine!!! Men discover their manhood in having to rise to the challenge. If he is thwarted by the fact that you (her parents) are placing expectations on their relationship or behaviors – it's not a good sign of what's to come later in marriage. Your daughter needs to understand, a tiger does not change his stripes! If this man does not respect your authority now ... he won't likely be that supportive of staying in a close relationship later on. That might not seem as important to her now, when she's feeling all "in love" ... but it sure makes a difference when she's having babies and wanting to be close to grandparents.
I think you need to convey to her that you are not against or opposed to her choice of man ... you just need to see him prove himself to you and for her. And you need to see her demonstrate the maturity that it takes to slow down in their relationship and wait on God's timing. What's God's timing? Well, when you, her parents, have peace with this man, that'll be a good sign!
Here are some other thoughts for you to consider as parents:
Are you putting up blocks unnecessarily because YOU are not yet ready to see your daughter court? Perhaps you feel 20 is too young – but then why? There is no reason that says just based on age, that 20 is too young. But does your daughter have dreams you see that are being compromised? And are they HER dreams (if so, she would have shared those all along) or are they YOUR dreams (your expectations for her. If so, assess them fairly. She does not need to live out YOUR dreams!) It IS possible God has brought them together in their lives at this time for a reason! Be open ... while discerning!
Are you being over-critical of this young man ... or can you cut him slack? What is really rubbing you the wrong way? Try to identify it and determine ... is this HIS issue or YOUR issue?
I think as parents, your input for your daughter is invaluable.
Do you see this young man as treating her well? Or do you have concerns with that aspect of the relationship? It’s so easy for a girl “in love” to overlook not being treated well by the guy, because she wants so hard to make it work out for “love’s sake” … which of course, is not real love. And she’ll pay the price for that later on. So be sure to address this, if it is a concern!
Are you concerned that she has handed herself/her heart over to quickly ... and he hasn't had to earn her affection? This is something she'll later regret. I can’t emphasize this point enough. The “modern girl” goes after her man rather aggressively, or gives herself over too freely … and I believe the results of these behaviors are detrimental to their relationship both in the short term and in the long term. A man appreciates that which he has worked for! And a woman needs to know that she was worth it to him to work for her! It’s just human nature … a difference between men and women that modern thought has dispensed with. But those couples who ignore this fact pay the price for it all through their lives! So if she has given herself over too freely, it’s time for her to hold back and let him work for her before it goes any further!
Has your daughter's behavior changed since he came into her life? If so ... is it for the better or worse? You, as parents can be a much better judge of this than she can – because her view can be skewed by her feelings … and people “in love” often lose objectivity. Apart from you, her parents, what do her siblings and friends think about this relationship? Do they see changes in her? She needs to listen to what others are telling her!
Share these things ... this feedback, these concerns and/or any words of encouragement you have for her. She needs to know you are on HER side ... for the BIG picture of her life – whether or not this guy is a part of the picture is fine, IF it is God's will. Your first concern is for her ... not THEM!
And one final thought ... this is an exciting time in life for her, when love begins to open up. It seems that your daughter has a heart for purity and is desiring to do God's will. Encourage her in whatever way possible for the integrity she shows and in her desire to do what's right! And ... while discerning well ... help her to be able to enjoy this time of life!
Obviously you have concerns – and big ones that need to be addressed – but don't allow that to overshadow this relationship if in time you all see that this guy IS the one. Keep trying to direct it so that there can be a good relationship amongst you all in the future.
And of course ... do your best to caution your daughter to remain open to the possibility that this guy might NOT be the one, and in which case, to protect herself from regrets! She needs to hear this out of your love for her, not your objection to him!
I have presented many thoughts here for your consideration! I hope that they serve as a good foundation for many great discussions and personal reflection for you and your daughter. I will pray for you, your daughter, and this young man as you all continue to discern.
Please pray for me, my family, and this ministry. We face many challenges to continue to do this work … and we are always in need of prayer support! Thank you!
May God bless you and your daughter and this young man in this time of discerning.