Saturday, June 02, 2012

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Courtship, Part 1, Part 2,  Part 4.

And now for Parental Authority.

To which I want to begin by saying that I have nothing particular against the way our parents handled our courtship. They did their best to step back. They didn't meddle. They didn't pursue their own agenda. There are many courtship horror stories out there of parents who got highly aggrandized notions of their own importance, but ours is not one of them.

The problem I have is not with our parents in particular, but with the notion of parental authority in courtship in general.

I do believe in *children* obeying their parents.  I believe in honoring parents all your life.

I don't believe this gives parents the right to make decisions for their adult children.

The irony was, my parents did an outstanding job at raising us to be adults. To go out and make wise decisions for ourselves. To ask their advice and weigh it but not need our hands held. Except that we all believed courtship was the right way to go.

I was twenty-three years old. I had a professional degree and was licensed to practice law in two states. I could drive a car, run for office, buy, sell, travel . . . anything. Anything except make the most important decision of my life. That one had to be taken out of my hands. According to courtship, the only way for me to please God and have a good marriage was to turn that choice over to my parents.  And so, after functioning as an adult for years, I returned to childhood at the most critical juncture.

Courtship advocates will claim that there is no overstepping of authority because the girl always has the right to say "no." But the right to say "no" is meaningless if you don't also have the right to say "yes." They will also point to the many women who have blundered badly in choosing a partner. However, courtship has been around for long enough now to establish it is not a fail-safe means of guaranteeing the lifelong good character of a spouse, either. And I strongly suspect that teaching girls that they can't trust their own insights is not going to help weed out the bad guys.

Anyway, no harm, no foul, right? My parents did approve DOB (eventually) and we were able to go ahead and get married and all that. But, either enforced or just expected, the courtship rules loomed over us. With a nice, laid-out procedure to follow, with parents to please and expectations to meet, there was no need for us to talk about how *we* wanted to do things.

I don't know which of these rules were good and which were bad. I doubt it would have made a lick of difference if we had kissed each other before the wedding. But I'm sure it would have made a difference in our marriage if we had thought we had some responsibility to decide that for ourselves. It took us years of marriage to actually start talking about and making life decisions together, and looking back now, I think courtship contributed to that unhealthy pattern. It taught me to be passive. It taught me that my opinion did not matter. Que sera, sera.

Further, the point of getting married is supposed to be leaving your old families and starting a new one. But by its nature, courtship is intensely family-centered. Leaving a close-knit family and being flexible enough to try new things and establish a new family is hard under any circumstances. Under courtship, it's practically impossible. Loyalty to the old families is paramount; the new relationship is secondary. (This is why "compatibility" looms huge in courtship. If both families don't already agree on practically everything, there's not even a chance of a successful courtship.)

I am all in favor of people listening to the counsel of their elders, particularly their parents. If your parents really can't stand the person you want to marry, you should probably think long and hard about why. But that is very different from telling parents they have the duty to approve or disapprove, and telling young people they have no final say over their own lives.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

[My apologies to SJ, who will miss her chance to comment first ;)]

Another insightful post. Duchess, I want to be able to write as well as you on these topics when I grow up.

I do want to assure you that it is not just the girl that is assumed to be unable to make her own choices. In my personal experience, it was assumed that there were *myriads* of evil, conniving women, just waiting to seduce me (and my male sibling), and that there was no way we could trust our own judgment. It was the right, nay, the duty, of the females in my family, young and old, to scare off any such unacceptable females lest I be caught in their toils and ruin my life forever.

I am grateful that my parents did allow my relationship with my now wife to proceed largely without interference, but the general attitude has continued to cause problems. When parents (and siblings) are granted such a say in what should really be a personal decision, there is a natural tendency to assume that the decision making power extends after marriage, and there are often hard feelings (in my experience) when the married couple fail to meet expectations in some way.

You certainly hit it on the head that it is not enough to be able to say no. One must be able to say yes, and if that is not clear, the situation is one of "bounded choice", that is, a choice that is an illusion. This applies in the case of the choice of a spouse, for sure! A lifetime choice is too personal to grant veto power to a host of third parties (although obviously we should listen to the advice of others). It also applies to decisions after marriage, and I really feel that the courtship model creates and atmosphere where it is difficult to successfully make the new relationship paramount, as you have said, without conflict and hard feelings with the birth family.

I can't find the quote from Pride and Prejudice, but there is one to the effect that perhaps a man might not want to live TOO close to his family - and the same would undoubtedly apply to a woman.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

[Previous comment deleted due to stupid typographical error. Blah!]

Duke of Burgundy said...

Oh dear. Someone hasn't been paying attention. The *Duchess* is the eldest daughter in the Duchy. The author here is the Queen.

Please use proper terms when you address royalty. Otherwise, we may have to have you get parental approval before posting.


Diary of an Autodidact said...

Sorry about the mixup - I never did understand titles and how they interact. I will assume from henceforth that The Queen is as the current Queen of England, whose spouse became a [some sort of title goes here - don't ask me].

Duke of Burgundy said...

Spouses of hereditary Queens are referred to as Princes Consort. However, our particular merging elected to maintain titles as is to minimize confusion - because confusion is always lessened when you make something at the technical level different than everything else at the same level due only to matters of expediency, right? Right.

Queen of Carrots said...

The Duchess did express her feelings on courtship after watching The Fiddler on the Roof: "Do you want Papa to pick your husband for you?" "NO!" So that's settled.

Carrie said...

I THINK I agree with you. I probably do about 99.9%. Quite possibly 100. Although I don't equate this problem of not being able to "strike out on one's own" and create a new family unit to the issue of too much parental control in courtship. I find the problem to be based on a bad relationship with the parent and child from birth to the present day. I think it's more of a parenting problem in general that disables the adult "children" to proceed with life during and post-marriage. So I might quibble with the timeline, but I do agree with the attitude which makes maturing as an adult in a marriage difficult, as you present it here.

Queen of Carrots said...

Carrie--I think why I say it that way is that in my case my parents really did well at having a good relationship with their descendants as adults. And then courtship was--not so helpful. So I think it's a case where courtship can muck up something that was actually going just fine. Of course it's much, much worse when there's an unhealthy desire to control adult children in the first place.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I have to agree with The Queen here, because otherwise good parents have been negatively influenced by the courtship model and its cousin, the model of "authority", which is commonly taught along with courtship. Neither is compatible with the idea that children become adults - particularly as applied to female children. Implicit is the idea that God directs the lives of adults through their parents. If an otherwise loving and good-intentioned parent buys that philosophy, it leads naturally to conflicts of the sort the Queen has described. That is why I think it is more helpful to fight the bad philosophy rather than just blame "bad parents". Many who genuinely thought that they had found a "better way" have shipwrecked otherwise good relationships with their children through these teachings.

C. Starchenko, Head Scibbler said...

Thanks for writing these. I've liked your blog for several years now, and I like it even more for this.