Thanks for your excellent questions addressing the practical side to this whole courtship issue. As parents we are certainly charting unknown (and sometimes hostile) territories as we direct our children into courtship. Though past generations have practiced family-centered courtship, we are living in a different time with many obstacles to overcome – not the least of which is the sense of isolation our children may feel when we ask them to do something so counter-cultural.
Courtship is a very counter-cultural challenge and there a very few models yet for our children to look up to. They will be setting a standard for generations to come as they turn their backs on the dating mentality which is so pushed at them by our society. The number one thing, I believe, is to convince our children while they are young that courtship is something that THEY want to do, because THEY will be bearing the burden of it in their own lives! Once parents and children are on the same page, sorting out the details of courtship within your family becomes much easier!
Your question pertains to the specific situation of living away from home at college. How do we make courtship work in this situation?
What I have to offer you are some ideas to consider. Above all, I encourage you to tailor make courtship to fit your family and each child’s unique situation.
I don’t believe that the college years should be wasted for our children in terms of the opportunities they offer for young people to meet someone whom they might someday marry. Boys and girls are not in isolation from each other at college – and I believe that is a good thing. There are some wonderful young people out there and many good marriages have blossomed out of the relationships formed during the college years.
However, there is also the potential for distraction and problems in this new stage of independence for our children. It is very possible for them to get so caught up in socializing and the desire for romance while on campus that they dangerously neglect their studies. I think the best safeguard is to challenge our children to consider pursuing friendships in college and to keep relationships at that level while they are not yet ready to consider marriage.
There are many things young men and women can learn about each other through fostering good friendships during the college years. Not only will this allow them to have fun without the stresses of steady dating, but these friendships will offer them an excellent way to consider what they are looking for in a future spouse. And it could very well be that one of those friendships will blossom into that special romance that leads to marriage.
The virtue of friendship, developed before courtship, is a wonderful gift for a young couple. If a couple can share a dynamic friendship before they’re married, they’ll have a good chance of carrying on with a dynamic friendship after they’re married. Marriage is more than just romance – there are many ways in which a couple must be able to get along, resolve conflict, make decisions and share dreams. These are skills a couple can learn through friendship.
So, how do they keep their heads about them when so many other people are doing the dating thing?
I believe it all comes down, ultimately, to trusting in God – that He has a perfect plan for our lives. Our children have to believe that God will bring that perfect someone into their lives when they are ready for marriage! TRUST! It’s often easier said than done. But I do think that it is the lost ingredient for many young people and the reason why so many cling to steady dating at a young age.
Should all dating be off limits during those campus years?
I don’t think so. There are times when going out one-on-one with a boy will be very appropriate for your daughter. There could be a banquet or dance to attend together. There might be a movie that they are both interested in and want to take in together. But going out on the odd date does not have to lead to steady dating. Young people need to be convinced that their value lies in who they are as children of God and that they do not need a steady boyfriend or girlfriend to validate their identity in any way!
The big challenge will come when they are faced with being attracted romantically to someone and yet they are trying to convince themselves that friendship is really the best thing at this stage in life. The more dates they go out on with the same person, the harder they will find it to stick to friendship and not allow themselves to become emotionally attached.
Here is where the benefit of group activities exists. It is so much easier to keep a relationship on the level of friendship when they are involved in doing things with a group of friends.
Another challenge will exist for a girl if she is really interested in a guy and she has to tell him that she wants to remain as friends for now while she is focusing on her studies. He may end up pursuing another girl as a girlfriend. Once again – TRUST! Does she believe God will bring the right man at the right time into her life?
It’s hard and sometimes it just plain hurts! And sometimes they just aren’t going to be able to give over that trust to God and they are going to forge ahead with a romantic relationship after all.
So how do we, as parents, deal with the situation of our children choosing dating over friendship in college?
First we must recognize that our children have free will. They may not fully embrace our ideas regarding courtship. What will be the best solution? They still need to know that the expectation for living out chastity and purity is a standard on which we firmly stand as Christians.
And as parents, we have to be willing to welcome our daughter’s boyfriend (or our son’s girlfriend) into the family circle, if we are going to be an active influence in the relationship. If they are far from home – mom and dad are just a phone call away. Encourage them to come home for a visit so you can get to know each other.
You may choose the standard that a boy has to get permission from you to date your daughter. All it takes is a phone call. This is an excellent way to keep the lines of communication open. But your daughter has to be convinced that she is worth that – because it’s going to take guts on her part to inform the boy that he’s going to have to call her folks! The more you can sell your children on your standards before they move away, the easier it’ll be to work together with them once they are far from home.
And don’t let your son off the hook. Set an equal standard for him. He should be calling home to let you know what he’s up to and who he’s interested in dating. Expect him to have to call a girl’s folks before taking her out – even if her family does not have that standard. What parents would not be impressed when they receive a call from a young man asking them for their permission to date their daughter?
Does it take guts on his part? You bet! Does it build character in him? Without a doubt! Is this completely radical? It sure is? Is it worth all the fuss? I believe it is!
I believe the young people who are brave enough to go against the current will be strengthened with tremendous graces. I believe they will also have a great time during college – freed from romantic entanglements. They’ll be able to really enjoy all that life has to offer them at that stage. I believe they will be able to look back on their college years without regrets. I believe they will have the virtues that it takes to have awesome marriages and strong, healthy families some day. I believe they will be the real leaders of the future – men and women of integrity!
There is so much that I could address on the whole issue of courtship during the college years. It is a challenging issue – one well worth researching and praying about for the sake of your children. Kimberly Hahn has an excellent tape series entitled: Courtship and Dating: A Catholic Perspective. She is addressing young college women in it, but anyone can benefit from listening to it. The series is filled with excellent advice, sound wisdom and good humour. I highly recommend it!
We remember all our readers each day in our prayers. I ask that you would please pray for me, my family and this ministry of promoting courtship as well. Thank you.
In His Most Holy Name,