I have to say that I didn’t expect that reaction. Courtship is a hotter/bigger topic these days than I realized.
What I would like to do is throw together a series of brief responses to some of the issues raised in the comments. The results may or may not come together as a coherent post. One can only hope.
What effect does a conversation with a father have on the daughter? There is no one answer — people are different, and every situation is different. If she has been desperately in love with the suitor from afar, the response is joy. If he would be perfect for her, but she is skittish, the reaction is different. In such cases, the parents can help her walk through the skittishness — they see that she likes the suitor fine, but that she is nervous about the whole idea. In other cases, the suitor may have been her Platonic idea of a bore, and so a negative reply comes back to him rather quickly.
At what point should a young man make himself vulnerable by going to the father? He should do so when his interest is becoming obvious to others, and three people on three different occasions have asked him if he has talked to her dad. In other words, he should make himself vulnerable when his public demeanor toward her is making her vulnerable. If he knows his interest, but is not flirting his head off, then he can wait as long as is prudent — till he finishes his junior year, or till he notices other guys noticing and doesn’t want to be left standing at the gate. But if his public behavior toward her is above reproach, he goes to the father when he is ready to see something happen.
One commenter said courtship was akin to Communism: “it only works on paper.” I think it would be better to compare it to wealth acquisition within a free economic system; some people do better than others. Freedom means freedom to fail. There are risks involved, and I am not tagging the young men as the automatic reason for the failures. Sometimes they are, sometimes the father is, sometimes the young woman is. But other times, when everyone involved is walking in wisdom, the thing runs like a Singer sewing machine. This goes back to my earlier point about the tendency to assign a false cause.
A young man gets fired from his job stocking shelves at Safeway, largely for moving like a postprandial sloth in the sunshine, and the conclusion he wants to draw is that “capitalism has failed me.” Well, it might not be the system that needs to get its butt in gear.
That said, the anecdotes of courtship weirdness being described are not instances that make me want to say “impossible!” I know that this kind of thing happens, and I know that in some places it can happen a lot. But people behave foolishly in every system — so what system anticipates that, and accounts for it beforehand? If I could paraphrase Winston here, courtship is the worst system imaginable, except for all the others.
The kindhearted souls at CREC Memes continue to filter their weak tea of understanding through strainers made out of wet doggy blanket, and continue to be mystified at why it tastes the way it does. That’s why they are always making those faces.
Courtship doesn’t create additional expectations, but it does move them around. Whose expectations? We should not act as though abandoning courtship is going to make the conflict of expectations go away. I do grant that fathers sometimes have unreasonable expectations. But I also grant that horny teenaged boys have them as well. Without societal and familial pressures (which immature men chafe under), the pressures will come from another quarter. Without pressure on the men, the pressures will come from the men. So maybe the father will drag the courtship out too long. But have more fathers done that than young men have wanted to accelerate it? Have fathers wanted young men to not touch more than the men have wanted to touch? Come on. It is not whether there will be pressure, but rather which pressure there will be.
Courtship is not engagement, and shouldn’t be treated as engagement. The man need not be ready to propose in order to court a girl, and a girl certainly need not be ready to accept such a proposal if offered. Courtship is a time for making decisions, not a time in which a settled decision is made public. Courtship is commitment to a process. Engagement is commitment to a person. Marriage is a commitment to a person.
That said, because the man is the initiator, he should have a much better sense of his own mind than the young lady needs to have. He should not be like a dog chasing a fire truck — not knowing what to do when he catches one. She may be courted without ever having thought about him “that way” before the process started. But before he talks to her father, he better have some sense of what he is doing. And he can usually have a good sense of whether she is the kind of woman he would be seriously interested in marrying if he is living in a healthy community together with her. If such a community is not available, as is frequently the case, I grant the need to improvise.
I do think Moscow is such a (generally) healthy community, and I wanted to contrast that with the picture that Umstattd drew of the whole courtship endeavor. But his picture was accurate in some quadrants, and I have seen the kind of thing he wrote about. Not only that, I have seen far worse than what he talks about.
Now when I say that I have seen that kind of thing, it should be obvious that I have usually seen it here, where I live. Despite the teaching, despite the warnings, despite everything we might want to be able to do about it, courtship fiascoes happen. Add to that the instances where shrewder and wiser pastoral care could have headed some disaster off, and you do have some tragedies. But we are in the business of fighting tragedies, not trying to find a Thomas Kinkade painting to live in where such tragedies cannot happen.
So when a man is interested in a woman who has an unreasonable father, he might as well kill the dragon first. If he is the kind of man who cannot handle an unreasonable father, what would happen to him if he married his girl via traditional dating, and then discovered, at the first family Thanksgiving, that he is the kind of man who curls up in a fetal position in the presence of unreasonable fathers? That would not be a good deal either.