Principles Of Courtship
The process of courtship is analogous to the discovery of spiritual life. In the case of spiritual life:
Abstract goods and truths have no real existence, because they are not grounded in anything, having no underlying foundation … Consequently, as abstractions they are merely figments, which reason supposes it can think about abstractly, but which it really cannot except as attributes of concrete subjects. For every idea a person has, however refined, is concrete, that is to say, it is attached to concrete things. (CL 66)
Therefore, in spiritual development it is essential that a person not leave goods and truths as abstractions, but instead puts them into action, living a life of goodness informed and accomplished by truth.
It is the same with courtship. There is real danger in entertaining romantic fantasy in anything but a playful manner, for “those are caught up in the fantasy of their lust who think withdrawn into themselves and indulge their imagination excessively, talking to themselves; for they almost separate their spirit from its connection with the body, overwhelming their understanding with delusion and stupidly entertaining themselves with nonsense as though everything in the universe were theirs” (CL 267). Instead of remaining in the fantasy of romance, it serves people well to create friendships with members of the opposite sex, getting to know something more than their exterior appearance and disposition, so that internal attractions will surface and partnerships be formed. It should be the continual effort of every individual to seek, to the degree possible, to use the judgment of the spirit and not the judgment of the body. For the judgment of the body, being based on the external senses, is easily misled. However, the judgment of the spirit can see distinctions from a higher light (CL 57, see also AC 4526). Therefore, in the dating process better ends will result when individuals allow their minds to dwell on interior aspects of their potential partners, rather than resting on merely external and bodily characteristics (see AC 4145).
The importance of using the judgment from the spirit rather than the body arises from the fact that:
conjugial love begins through the agency of a love for the opposite sex because before a married partner is found, a person loves the opposite sex in general and regards it with loving eyes. In their company he also treats the opposite sex with courteous morality. For the adolescent is in a period of choosing, and at that time his external nature grows pleasantly warm from a deep-seated inclination to marriage with one, which lies hidden in the inner sanctum of his mind. (CL 98.2)
It is important to see that conjugial love:
is not a love for the opposite sex, but love for one of the sex, which arises only when a young man sees a young woman provided by the Lord, and the young woman the young man, both feeling an inclination to marry kindled in their hearts, and perceiving, the young man that she is for him, and the young woman that he is for her. For love then presents itself to love and causes them to recognize each other, at once joining their souls, and afterward their minds. From there it enters their hearts, and after the wedding goes on beyond. And so it becomes a full love, which daily grows into union, even to the point that they no longer are two, but virtually one person. (CL 44)
The discovery of an eternal partner is something that descends from the soul, to the mind, and into the body. Therefore, the more internally focused a couple is, the more they will be able to discern a good match. This is not to say that a couple should be introverted, self-contained, or otherwise separated from the world around. Those sorts of behavior would not allow for actual internal discernment, for, as was seen previously, love left in the abstract is not love at all. The internal focus necessary for successful courtship is the internal reflection on the similarities between the partners – the man seeing if he could live on the love from this woman alone, the woman seeing if this man would give a good form to her life. If a couple looks to see if the Lord has provided them for each other, there is a far greater likelihood of discovering the kind of internal, eternal relationship which goes to “the point that they no longer are two, but virtually one person” (CL 44, see also CL 112, 156r, 196, 321).
The goal of two becoming one, is a spiritual goal. People, therefore, are encouraged not to settle for a merely natural marriage. For “all those married partners who are merely natural separate after death … [Or] when one partner is spiritual and the other natural, they, too, separate after death” (CL 54). On the other hand, people who pursue spiritual life and spiritual marriage will feel the “pleasant, agreeable and delightful sensations” (CL 148) of the internal inclination to be married. The external inclination to marriage remains, “but it is continually chastened and cleansed of its impurities by the internal inclination, and this even until the external inclination becomes, as it were, the visible expression of the internal one – drawing its pleasure, and at the same time its life and the delights of its vitality, from the bliss that exists in the internal one” (CL 148).
Enough emphasis cannot be placed on the fact that life descends as “natural loves draw their life from spiritual loves, and spiritual loves form celestial ones, and all of them, in this order, from the Lord, from whom they come” (CL 67). The implication of this teaching for marriage is that in order for true marriage to happen partners must share in the same religion. Otherwise “good cannot be joined together with its corresponding truth – for a wife in form is the good of her husband’s truth, and he the truth of his wife’s goodness … Consequently, it is impossible in their case for their two souls to become one soul” (CL 242). This also means that once a person has accepted genuine truths of the church it is not acceptable for them to reject them for the sake of their marriage because conjugial love “is not possible in people who have falsified genuine truths of the church in themselves” (CL 243). However, if a person has not yet accepted the truth, and in its place has falsities of religion “elements of good may exist with which their falsities can be joined by the Lord through adaptations of them; for these falsities are like various discordant tones which through skillful interpolations and insertions are drawn into a harmony, from which comes also the pleasantness of the harmony. In people like this some conjugial love is possible” (CL 243). However, the overriding principle remains that in order for true marriage to occur, people need to be matched with another of their same religion – which is to say their same beliefs and way of life.
Another way of thinking about partners sharing the same religion is to see that if at all possible, people who are inclined to pursue spiritual life should seek out a partner who is similarly inclined (CL 280). This is the case because:
it is impossible for an interior love to exist between two married partners, one of whom is spiritual, the other natural. By spiritual we mean one who loves spiritual things and who thus has his wisdom from the Lord; and by natural we mean one who loves only natural things and who thus has his wisdom from himself. When two people like this are joined in marriage, conjugial love in the spiritual partner is warm and in the natural partner cold. (CL 281)
In essence, looking for another of the same beliefs and lifestyle is looking for someone in close proximity in the spiritual world for “appearances of distance and nearness in the spiritual world depend on congruences, similarities, and affinities of love” (CL 158.1). It is a key to spiritual marriage that the partners share in a spiritual location, even if they do not come from the same geographical location. People sometimes end up in natural marriages when they are “contracted in the area, city or town of one’s birth or residence, where the only choice possible is confined and limited” (CL 49). This is not to say that one is more likely to find a partner by traveling the world over. Rather, it is simply an admonition to think outside of natural circumstances so that spiritual circumstances become the focus. However, it should be noted that there are challenges to marriages between people of different natural backgrounds. Therefore, in courting and marrying a person of dissimilar background, it is essential that one partner not be brought into submission to the other. Whether this is caused by financial inequity, social position, or cultural differences:
in none of these circumstances does meek submission in deference to the superior station or condition of the other serve to unite the partners, except in the manner of a servant with its master. Yet a union like that is a cold one; for the conjugial bond in such cases is not a matter of the spirit and heart, but only of the mouth and name, of which the inferior boasts and which causes the superior to blush with shame. (CL 250)
In fact, no matter what the circumstances, it is important for a couple to look out for “the pleasure of variety…the deference of submission…[and] the bliss of ruling” (CL 78.4). These three are the earmarks of natural thinking and willing and so should be shunned if a couple wishes to pursue actual marriage.
It is essential to spiritual marriage that people be matched with a partner of similar internal character. Because of this, it is up to men to choose whom they wish to court.
This is because the man was born to be a form of the intellect, whereas the woman was born to be a form of love. Moreover, it is inherent in men commonly to love the opposite sex in general, whereas it is inherent in women to love one of the opposite sex. And further, it is not unbecoming for men to speak of love and to declare it, while it is unbecoming for women to do so. Nevertheless, women still have the option of choosing one of a number of suitors.(CL 296)
Because men are forms of understanding, it is their nature to see similarities and differences in potential partners, rather than following the inclinations of love (CL 296). This means that a man potentially has a better chance to see, from among his acquaintances, a woman who may be similar to him not only in outward appearances but also in internal reality (CL 296). The ability to distinguish a single partner is further supported by the fact that men are attracted to the opposite sex in general and not to one in particular, as women are. This aids in the selection process because it encourages a man to look inwardly for distinctions between partners – seeing as any one of a multitude of women externally arouse him (CL 296). And finally, it is left to a man to select a woman to court because while he is still in the natural state, alternating between the internal and external inclination to marriage, it is not attractive for a woman to declare her love to him. This is because the man must first come into a more chaste wisdom that is receptive of the truth that women are lovers, before his partner will be able to declare her love (CL 296). However, although men are given the first choice, “women have the option of choosing one of a number of suitors, which is something everyone knows. But this kind of choice is a restricted and limited one, while that of men is broad and not limited” (CL 296). From this it also follows that:
The man ought to court the woman and ask her to marry him, and not the other way around. This is a consequence following his choosing whom to court. Moreover, it is also honorable and seemly for men to court women and ask them to marry them, whereas it would not be seemly for women to do so in reverse. If women were to do the courting and asking, they would not only be censured, but after several times of asking they would also be regarded as contemptible, or after marriage as slaves to lust, with whom it would be impossible to have any domestic relations other than cold and disgusting ones. Marriages would be thus changed into tragic scenes. Wives on that account even turn it to their credit that they yielded to their men’s pressing the question, as though in surrender to them. Who does not envision that if women were to court men, they would rarely be accepted, but would be either shamefully rejected or seduced into wanton acts, in addition to prostituting their modesty? Furthermore, men do not have any innate love for the opposite sex, as evidenced earlier, and without that love, they lack an inner enjoyment of life. Consequently, to enhance their life by that love, it is incumbent on men to make appeals to women, by politely, respectfully and humbly courting them and asking them to grant that sweet addition to their lives. The beauty of that sex in face, form and manners, surpassing that of men, also adds itself as an obligation of the vow. (CL 297)
Notice that there is a protection for women if they maintain this passive appearance. For in this way they remove opportunities for the natural inclinations of men to persuade them into activities contrary to chastity.
Successful courtship is based on the development and support of chastity in men and women. Therefore, it is incumbent on men and women to shun licentious love, which is a love for many, because “licentious love is diametrically opposed to conjugial love” (CL 247). Courtship is the process of narrowing an unchaste love for the opposite sex into a chaste love for one of the opposite sex. In order to do this people need to focus on shunning polygamy (CL 141) and the kinds of behaviors that forward a polygamous view of the opposite sex. This means that men should not be dating more than one woman at one time. It means that women should not support the polygamous tendency in men. One of the many traps, in this respect, is that of jealousy. People need to be wary of mistaking jealousy for love (CL 77). Whereas jealousy is the desire to possess another person, “it is the essence of love to love others outside of oneself, to desire to be one with them, and to render them blessed from oneself” (TCR 43). Jealousy has its place in marriage if it is rooted in the desire to protect a chaste love. However, jealousy can also be the polygamous urge to possess another individual without a desire for a chaste reciprocal relationship between two of the opposite sex. Therefore, in courting, individuals need to be basing their decisions on what will best support the development of chaste love, regarding the tendency to love more than one of the opposite sex as an inclination to be shunned.
Committing to the love of one woman is the key to success in courtship because:
There is a conjugial love of such a superior nature … that it exists when only one of the opposite sex is loved. What intellect, if it regards correlations in connected series with a cultivated eye, cannot deduce from them that if a lover from his soul or from his inmost being steadfastly persists in a love for the same woman, he would attain those eternal blessings which he promised himself before her consent and continues to promise himself upon receiving it? He does attain them, too, if he goes to the Lord and lives from Him a life of true religion, as we have shown previously. Who else enters from above into a person’s life, to bestow on him the inner joys of heaven and impart these in turn to all that follows? And this still more when He also imparts at the same time a constant virility? (CL 333, see also CL 194)
Another aspect of successful courtship is education in the external trappings of a good relationship. This comes in the form of learning good communication skills, conflict resolution, and so on. This is important for it is often the case that “after a married couple has passed through the initial stages of marriage, contests arise between them over who has what right and who has what power” (CL 291). Therefore, it is important to learn how to resolve conflicts because there will be times when “between partners who for various reasons are discordant in mind, intermittent states occur of disagreement and trust, of estrangement and union, indeed of quarreling and making up, thus of reconciliation” (CL 289) and this reconciliation is “effected by shows of apparent friendship” (CL 289) which are enabled by good conflict resolution and communication skills.
Courtship is looking toward marriage. Therefore, if a man or woman is impotent prior to marriage, it is their duty to inform their potential partner of this lest it become a “reason for separation, because the goal of marriage is the procreation of offspring, which the already impotent cannot provide. Moreover, because they know this beforehand, they deliberately deprive their partners of any hope of children, a hope which nevertheless nourishes and sustains the conjugial love of women” (CL 254). This should not be taken as a prohibition of marriage in the case of impotence. Rather, this passage is emphasizing the importance of communication between partners, especially on matters as central to a marriage as the ability to have children.
The final principle governing good courtship is that people should not hasten the development of conjugial love (CL 312). It is key to realize that, in heaven, little children “do not grow beyond the first age of maturity. They stop at that age and remain in it to eternity. Moreover, when they reach that age, they marry. Their marriage is provided by the Lord and celebrated in the heaven where the young man resides; and he shortly then follows his wife into her heaven, or to her house if they are in the same society” (CL 411). This teaching is encouraging a move in the direction of marriage early in adult life. However, the right time for marriage is always when two people are entering into a covenant with each other from a well-considered acknowledgment of internal states as they are perceived by the couple. This means that young marriage is not preferable to marriage later in life on principle. Rather, it is preferable that people enter into marriage when they discover a partner who is internally similar and with whom they wish to become more and more one to eternity. This can happen at any point from early adulthood, around the age of 20, on.