Applying the Brakes in Courtship
I'm not a marathon runner by any stretch of the imagination. It's hard enough for me to jog one mile, never mind twenty or thirty miles. But this much I know. You've got to pace yourself when running long distance. The temptation is there to pull ahead of the rest. But a seasoned runner knows that if you're too fast off the mark, you never make it to the end.
For many young people, courtship will be a bit of a marathon. Most young men and women start dating before they are really ready for marriage. They might still have a couple of years to go before they finish their formal studies at university or college. They might be only half way through their apprenticeship, and still have a year or two to go before they get their tradesman's certificate. There are also the financial considerations. They might not have sufficient savings for a deposit on a home, which they would like to have before they marry. Or the young man's income at present might not be sufficient to support a family. Whatever the reason might be, couples often begin to court before they are actually prepared to marry. They count on a period of courtship that often lasts from one and a half to two years.
For many young people, then, courtship is quite a marathon. I'm referring especially to the struggle the couple will have to honour the marriage bed and to keep their bodies pure. They must run the marathon of purity. And it is a hard race to run to the end. Young men and women will have undergone physical changes in their bodies, and they will experience new and strong desires -desires which God intended – to be satisfied only in marriage, but which man is inclined to satisfy outside of marriage. Those desires are easily aroused, but restrained with great difficulty.
Sometimes I see young couples at the very beginning of their courtship. They are very quick off the mark, and they run full steam ahead. Their courtship begins with feverish energy. On the first date they are holding hands already. On the second date, they exchange their first kiss. On the third date they begin to embrace each other still more intimately. I see this, and I feel very sorry for the couple. They are inexperienced marathon runners. If only someone would tell them to apply the brakes. If only someone would explain to them the need to set a slower pace if they are going to run the marathon of purity to the end.
That's why I'm writing about this topic now. I've only run the race once. That was enough, though, to make me realise how difficult this marathon is. I look back with thankfulness that someone had the good sense to speak to me before hand, to warn me to set a slower pace.
Let me be frank with you. It's not likely that I'm telling you anything new, but it should be acknowledged. Our desires are not only temporarily satisfied with small advancements in intimacy. When we reach a new stage, we are satisfied for a little while. But soon we find ourselves wanting to proceed to the next stage, and then to the next and the next. Our desires will only be satisfied once we have gone all the way. And once you have gone all the way, you will never be satisfied with less.
It would be a wonderful thing if we could set a boundary and say, "No further!" But we also need to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that as our relationship develops, we will want to express this in more intimate ways. And there are only so many acceptable "stages" in courtship. If a couple go through all these stages at the beginning of their courtship, they have no acceptable ways of expressing their developing relationship, except to proceed into unacceptable stages of intimacy.
So here is my advice. Set a slow pace. Don't see too much of one another at the beginning; perhaps once a fortnight. Don't choose to go places or do things alone. Rather, do things with a group of friends. In the early stages of your relationship, just be content with each other's presence. Leave the quiet, romantic dinners and the moonlit evening strolls for a later stage in your relationship. Wait for a few months before you reach out to take each other's hand. Savour the joy that comes from that innocent contact, and be satisfied with that show of intimacy for some time. Wait until your relationship develops still further before you exchange your first kiss. If you have waited a long time for that moment, how special it will be! For the intimacies exchanged at the beginning of a relationship might be exciting, but hardly meaningful. A kiss early in your relationship only signifies a love of kissing. But one exchanged much later in your relationship will be a kiss of love. So that would be my first piece of advice. Talk together and make sure that each understands that as a couple you want to pace your display of intimacy. And pray together for the strength to apply the brakes on your natural inclination to quickly pass through those initial stages, lest you enter the stages of intimacy that are reserved for marriage.
My second piece of advice is: don't make the marathon of purity too long. How long is too long? This depends much upon the pace that you set. If, by the grace of God, you are able to set a slower pace as described above, then a two-year courtship might not be too long. But if your pace is more accelerated, then a year might be too long. Don't let the date of marriage be determined solely by occupational, educational or financial considerations. A couple with the best intentions of moving ahead slowly might find that they burn with passion for one another. As the apostle Paul said, it is better to marry than to burn. It would be better to marry earlier than intended, rather than fall into temptation and sin against God and against one another.
Parents should be very much involved in the dating process. Also here there is a role for parents to play. Encourage the couple to proceed slowly, if indeed there is an advantage to a longer courtship. Also, monitor the couple's progress, and speak to them about it. Hopefully parents have fostered an open relationship with their children that allows them to speak about these personal subjects. If it becomes evident that the pace is faster than the length of the "marathon" warrants, and if it cannot be slowed, then let both sets of parents discuss the matter together with the couple, and discuss possible ways for the marriage to be moved ahead.