At age 20, just before I graduated out of “the youth ministry” at my local church, I read a book on Christian dating called Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship. In it, author Joshua Harris discussed a series of modern Christian courtship rites at length. The book may as well have been written in Aramaic; the concepts discussed therein were that foreign to me. I’d grown up in church and never had anyone even suggest that a potential suitor should ask my father (or mother, in my case) if it was all right to start dating me. I’d never heard of anyone waiting until their wedding day to kiss or to spend significant time locked in a moral debate over whether an embrace that didn’t leave room for the holy ghost was going “too far.”
It seemed impossible that these were real dating conventions in the 21st century. And even now that I’ve heard more about them (though very little about any of them occurring in the black church), I’m still flummoxed by the idea of them. The rationale–at least for young people–seems to be that one-on-one dating should be reserved for when a teen or young adult is ready to “seriously” consider marriage. Courtship is not initiated without an eye to the endgame. It isn’t casual, and it isn’t for “just getting to know someone.” It’s to gauge marital suitability–which seems uncomfortable and arcane for a number of reasons, not least of which being that some of these courtship’s begin at the same time that other kids are casually dating–and in this day and age, 16 and 17 seems way too young to be thinking about marriage.
Still, the ritual of asking permission is meant to mirror the custom of asking for a parent’s blessing before proposing. This is, of course, a much more common practice. But while many think it’s sweet to get clearance from a woman’s father before asking for her hand in marriage, many women are beginning to bristle at that idea, too.
In a recent Blog Her post, writer ‘avflox’ called the pre-engagement custom a relic of a bygone time, tied more to economics than romance:
Not too long in the past, this kind of meeting had a very specific purpose — and not one that I look back on with any sort of nostalgia. Back then, it was not a blessing that was asked of the future bride’s family, but permission and it wasn’t so much a gesture as it was a negotiation. The future bride was cherished by her family, certainly, but her role was not one that that gave her any agency. She was there to forge an alliance between families for political or economic reasons. The match was not so much a question of love but advantage for her family in general.
She also points to another essay on the subject in which the writer goes further to call asking fathers for their daughters’ hand in marriage a patent objectification:
The patriarchy is perpetuated not only by men who want their future son-in-law to talk to him first and not only by men who want to talk to their future father-in-law before talking to their future spouse. It is perpetuated by women who think it’s romantic or respectful or whatever to have their future spouse get permission from their father first. Ladies, this sh-t is on you just as much as on them. If you don’t want to be treated like you are not a person, stop treating yourself as if you were chattel.
Where do you fall on either of these issues? Should more young people do away with casual dating and wait until they’re willing to enter a marriage-readiness courtship situation? Is a significant other asking your father for your hand in marriage something romantic or insulting? Did your partner consult one of your parents for their permission or blessing before proposing?