Dating? Courtship? Dourting? (by Jim Anderson)
Dating? Courtship? Dourting?...and…Butterfly Boys
By Jim Anderson
After teaching a conference on relationships, I sat down with a few of the brothers from that community to debrief. One of those brothers wrote this great summary as a result:
“Well, men,” said Jim, “there are a lot of amazing women in this community. What do you guys think? Have you considered ‘dourting’ any of them?”
“What is dourting?” asked Brother #1. “That sounds a little creepy to me.”
“Dourting is somewhere in-between dating and courtship. We’ve found that most people have written off courtship as out-of-date. But the dating-game most of them play is also leaving them ‘out-a-date’ because it rarely works out. So we are changing our language a bit,” he said with a bit of a grin. “You guys have all heard about the refrigerator factory, right? How would you react as a consumer or a business partner if only 50% of the refrigerators you produced actually worked?”
“I would return it and take my business somewhere else, of course,” Brother #1 said matter-of-factly.
“Right! And what if you were the investor in the company and the results never changed? Wouldn’t you do something about it? At least you would want to investigate their processes and fix the problem. Not only are the consumers angry, but the whole business is going to go under if something doesn’t drastically change.” Jim noticed that the guys were not making the connection yet, so he began to spell it out for them. “Our current dating system is exactly like this factory. Out of the marriages that result from this system, we have a 50% divorce rate inside and outside of the church. Don’t you think we should evaluate the process involved here? I can name a lot of dissatisfied customers and investors that I have worked with personally. How many of you come from a divorced family?” Several hands went up. “Would you ever wish that upon your own children?” Everyone shook their heads.
“Wow! I’ve never really thought about it that practically,” said Brother #2. “I know there are a lot of opinions and emotions surrounding this topic, but we do have to admit there is definitely help needed in this area.”
“Man, I have a lot of questions about this,” burst out Brother #3, who had been listening silently the whole time. “First of all, I don’t think my parents or pastor give a rip about who I date. And second of all, I don’t think it’s fair for the girls to make us wait around while we have to jump through a bunch of ‘courtship hoops.’ I think I’ll fend for myself!” The whole table was a bit shocked by the frankness of his comment and a few were worried that Jim would take offense at this brother’s blunt emotional outburst. However, it was clear that Jim had the situation under control.
“Hey, man,” said Jim, “it’s normal to have questions about this stuff. We’ve known hundreds of young people who have dealt with these issues, and I’ll tell you one thing is for sure—no two relationships have been exactly the same. That is why we try to work with principles rather than rules.” Jim waited to see how he would respond. Brother #3’s shoulders loosened a bit, and you could tell this response disarmed a bit of his defenses. Jim continued, “I like to use a little humor to lighten up the topic a bit. A lot of people have a hard time talking about dating and relationships because of personal pain and frustration. The whole ‘dourting’ and ‘refrigerator’ analogies just help approach the idea from a different angle. Let me tell you how I met my wife, and then I think you’ll understand my heart a bit more on this subject. Are you men up for a quick story?” asked Jim. All the guys looked at each other and then nodded at Jim to go ahead. “Good. I won’t bore you with all the details, but I will tell you what my mentor used to call me before I met Lisa.” Now Jim had a major grin on his face. “He called me Butterfly Boy.” That brought a pretty good chuckle from the guys.
“Okay, you’ve got to explain that one,” said Brother #4. “You have my attention now!”
Butterfly Boys and the Lesson of Singleness
“My mentor picked up on a few of my undesirable tendencies,” said Jim. “I was in full-time ministry and usually pretty content in my singleness. The only time it got hard now and then was on Friday nights; I would get feeling a little lonely. Then I would get pretty creative in how I could connect one-on-one with the gals from our Christian community. Of course, I always had a practical reason for connecting—like ministry, fixing things… or other things… like playing tennis. I remember the first time Bob confronted me on this. I didn’t think it was a big deal at all.”
Bob said, “Jim, I noticed you’ve been jumping around to different gals in the community. Let me know the next time you’re thinking of taking one out. Just call me beforehand, and we’ll talk about it.’”
“I thought to myself, No big deal, right? I’m a solid Christian guy. I can handle this. Before I knew it, I was looking at my cell phone getting ready to call one of the gals. I dialed up Bob first to let him know my plan. “Hey, Bob, it’s Jim. I just wanted to let you know I’m going out with one of the gals—just hanging out as friends. No big deal. What do you think?”
“What are you guys going to do?” inquired Bob.
“Oh, we’re just going to play some tennis,” I said.
“Tennis… huh?” said Bob. “How are you doing? Feeling a bit lonely?”
“I don’t know. I’m doing okay. Just feeling like playing some tennis.”
“Sounds like you have the ‘Friday night blues’ to me,” said Bob. “Why don’t you play tennis with one of the brothers? I’m sure they’ll be willing to help you out. Talk to you later.”
“When we got off the phone, I knew he was right even though I was mad,” said Jim. “The next time I pulled out my phone to call up one of the gals I caught myself with the same motive. I didn’t even have to call Bob, because I knew the routine… I was busted.”
“Man, that sounds pretty harsh,” said Brother #4. “Was he calling you Butterfly Boy because you were flitting around between all of the girls?”
“You’ve got it. In my loneliness and insecurity, I was looking to the girls to make myself feel better. I was more interested in fixing my loneliness than in actually being interested in them.
In fact, after I stopped feeling lonely, I didn’t want to even hang out with them anymore. As sad as it sounds, it was almost as if any Christian girl would meet my temporary need. There was nothing wrong with how the women were responding to me as they are made to be compassionate and caring. The problem was that I was sending mixed messages to them. I was pretending to be interested in them, but it was for selfish reasons. What God was teaching me during this time was what I like to call ‘The Lesson of Singleness,’” explained Jim.
“Well, you’ve got ten single guys here at the table,” said Brother #1. “Let’s hear all about it.”
“The lesson of singleness is learning that there are some needs in your life that only God can meet—needs that even your future spouse God may give you cannot meet. He designed us to have our intimacy needs primarily met in Him. If we take our needs that are meant to be met by God to another person, we will end up with a lot of frustration and pain, and we will cause pain and frustration in their life. God does not want to bring two half-people together to make a whole. Instead, He wants to bring two whole people together to make a team.”
Now all the guys were engaged. Those who were standing joined us at the table. It was getting late, but this was not something they wanted to miss. Jim had a captive audience.
“So, I have a question for you, Jim,” said Brother #2. “It seems like young women these days are so capable, and they have all these dreams for their lives. Even if I’m not a butterfly boy, it is still intimidating to approach them. I feel like I would be intruding on or interrupting their plans.”
“That actually leads right into the next part of my story,” said Jim. “Listen to this.”
It’s Okay to Interrupt
“I later gave Bob another call, but this time it was different. I had spent over a year learning to take my needs to God and had really gained some ground. It was a very difficult year, but by the time I got through that season there was a noticeable change in my emotional make-up. This was about the time I noticed Lisa. This time I had a genuine interest in who she was, and I was not just trying to meet my own needs. When I talked to Bob, he agreed that there was a significant change in me, and he gave me the green light to begin to get to know her. There were a couple conditions, however, that he asked me to abide by. Bob told me I could only see her once a week and call her once a week. And, I couldn’t tell her that these were my boundaries. Although this didn’t sound like a very pleasant boundary, I knew his counsel was wise since I was a hopeless romantic and would have otherwise been at her doorstep every day. At least I won’t scare her off with this approach, I thought to myself. In fact, it was kind of nice having some space between our interactions so I could reflect on the experience. My head and heart stayed in a good place throughout this time, focusing on who she was as a person. I can truly say that my interest in her was about her and not just about what I could get out of the relationship. Well, circumstances on her end made me look ahead pretty quickly. She would graduate soon and had already accepted a nursing job out-of-state and signed an apartment lease with her friends. I really didn’t want her to move, but I was only scheduled to see her four more times. So, I had to call Bob again.
“Bob, I promise I’m not just getting ahead of myself. I have strong feelings for Lisa, and she is moving away soon. I’m not asking her to marry me, but I would definitely see our relationship going to the next level if she stuck around this summer. What do you think? Is that even legal to ask her to consider staying in town?’
Surprisingly, Bob gave me the green light. He explained to me that most women would not be thrown off by an interruption. In fact, in one sense, they want to be interrupted. Even girls with big dreams are holding them loosely if they have a heart to get married. Getting married is a major factor in how their dreams will play out. It may be helpful to picture most women wearing a sign that says, ‘Hello. Feel free to interrupt me if you have a worthy vision.’ The real question for us men,” said Jim “is whether or not we have something worthy to invite them into. Do we have a worthy vision from God for our lives? If we don’t, a woman will feel a lot of apprehension when you attempt to interrupt them. Gals will ask these sorts of questions: What direction is he going? Does this mean I have to stop what I’m pursuing? How do I know if I can trust him? In any case, I’m sure you can guess what happened with Lisa. She decided to stay in town and see what God would do between us. It was a big ‘ask’ on my part, but I felt the grace of God showing me that I could be committed to our process. She moved in with a mentor couple who were good friends with Bob and his wife, and we continued to grow in our friendship. Three months later we were engaged.”
“Okay, Butterfly Boy, I’m glad your story turned out so perfectly,” said Brother #3, as everyone laughed. “But what if you find out in the process that she doesn’t like you or that you’re not compatible?”
“Yeah! And how are we supposed to interrupt them?” inquired Brother #4. “This whole thing sounds pretty risky.”
“You’re going to have to take risks as a man,” said Jim.
“We are talking about the second most important decision you’ll ever make. Listen, it’s getting late, but let me paint you a picture that may help you before we close the meeting. This one is for free.
As we look for healthy alternatives to the dating world, there are many different ways to live out these principles. In some communities it is understood that when a young man is interested in seriously pursuing a young woman, he knows to go first to her father/mentor/leader instead of going directly to her for permission to do so. In fact, if he asked the young woman directly, she would probably direct them to her father/mentor/leader by saying that she has asked that person to be a covering and protection for her in this area. Many daughters are relieved to have someone walk through this process with them—to have other “eyes” and “ears” involved and to have godly counsel. After prayer, she may say, ‘Wow! He is a great guy, but I don’t think this is the right season. I’m not saying it will never happen, but I don’t think I can take that step right now.’ It may give her the freedom in some situations to honestly say, ‘I don’t see it ever working out between us.’ Or, she may gladly want to pursue a deeper friendship with him that could possibly lead to marriage. One of the positive benefits to this alternative is that girls are not left to themselves in figuring out a guy’s motives in pursuing them, because they have chosen to involve some other people in this area of their lives. And likewise, the guy is accountable to someone else as he pursues their relationship. I think this creates a ‘win-win’ situation. We know many young women who have chosen the exact above scenario and it has been a great blessing to them.
If the season is right, these two could begin an intentional friendship and work toward getting to know one another in an atmosphere of purity, protection, honor, accountability, and honest communication. They would establish boundaries that help minimize physical temptation and premature emotional closeness so that there is minimal hurt if their relationship does not progress or so that their relationship can be blessed if it proceeds to marriage. Again, living out these five principles looks different in every relationship. There are no hard-and-fast rules. However, we believe we all need to take a sober look at what is happening in the dating world and have the guts to be honest about its failures, because it is simply not producing good fruit. I’m not saying courtship is a perfect system, but it definitely tries to address some of the drawbacks and failures of the dating system.”
“Wow, that actually all sounds like it makes sense,” said Brother #3. “I guess if I were honest, my outburst at the beginning was a bit prideful. It sounds like you have all this really well thought out. So how can we get started?”
“I like that change of heart,” laughed Jim.” The best thing you can do now is to begin a dialogue with your leaders about this whole area, and work to establish a healthy atmosphere in your community in which relationships can occur.”