Courting has been around since men and women first starting building romantic relationships. However, dating is fairly recent. “Dating is a 20th- century development, particularly enhanced by the emergence of the automobile and the mushrooming of places to go – restaurants, movies, theatre, school functions, athletic events, concerts, fairs, etc.” (Umble). Dating is a well known asset to young adults throughout the world, but courting is a Mennonite (and other similar denominations) practice where a young man sees a woman with the guidance of the community and elders. Although Mennonite customs are strict, the individual Mennonite young adult decides whether to follow the conservative courting traditions or pursue a more liberal approach to dating. In the book, A Complicated Kindness, Nomi decides to overlook her community’s traditions and let her heart decide her dating judgment.
Courtship in Mennonite cultures in the past was more secretive than it is now. The community at large was not informed of an intended wedding until the couple was ‘published’ in church, from one to four weeks before the wedding (Umble & Kauffman). If a young man wanted to marry a woman he needed to have a “Schteeklimann:” go to the woman’s family and receive her and her family’s agreement. The couple would then only meet in private at weddings, funerals, and other social gatherings. The secret couple could not go on dates to even youth services; however, he could drive her home in his buggy afterwards and visit her home when her parents were asleep. These rules are no longer in effect throughout most Mennonite communities because of the newly accepted thoughts and practices of members, and the “Schteeklimann” concepts are not used altogether.
Young adults in present day are prohibited from dating in stricter Mennonite sanctions. If a man wants to be with a woman, he is required to take several members of her family as well. Also, when he wants to propose, “He would report to one of the ministers that the Lord had revealed to him that he should take a certain young woman to be his wife. The minister then made it known to the parents of the girl and secured their consent and hers” (Umble). The young man and woman who wish to marry also usually meet at church service and other community occasions. A Complicated Kindness describes this happening:
My parents had their first date at church. It consisted of walking side by side for three whole beautiful blocks to the gravel parking lot where my father said to my mother: Well. And my mother said: That’s deep. (Toews 43)
Mennonite youth in North American sanctions typically follow a generally larger and less conservative belief on dating. North Americans are known for their openness to individual expression and enjoy the concept of “romantic love.” Nomi’s community leaves its members open to their hearts when romantic situations occur. An example of this is present when Nomi explains how she met her boyfriend Travis:
I met Travis five months ago at a New Year’s Eve party at Suicide Hill […] I was standing around with some girls from school talking about resolutions when Travis and this other guy, Regan, walked up to us and asked if they could smoke us up. We all shrugged, non-committal, flipped out hair bored to death. Enh, said Janine, the verbal one. After sharing the joint me and Travis started a conversation and the other people went over to the fire. (Toews 22)
Nomi met Travis without her parents, and in a nontraditional way. In conservative Mennonite societies, this relationship would not have been accepted or welcomed, however Nomi’s community allows her to have free will when choosing a boyfriend.
Modern Mennonites are also more open to the use of modern technologies, and how far this use goes depends on the individual. Many Mennonites turn to dating sites to connect with other people from around the world. The openness of this decision is described in an online article that states:
Mennonites do not have to marry within their denomination, so they are more open to finding Mennonite online dating sites. Dating without the faith is not forbidden though some churches may discourage it. However, as long as you date a Christian there is little chance of problems from church elders. (Singles Mennonite Free)
With singleness gaining popularity due to its strange appeal, individual Mennonites sometimes choose to live a single life. However, the percentage of Mennonites who are single is somewhat smaller than the population at-large. Efforts are being made to help single Mennonites more active in the community:
Programs for singles are developing in Mennonite denominations. Activities include single young adult Sunday school classes, ad hoc regional organizations for young adult singles, conference-sponsored activities for young singles, support groups and retreats for divorced and widowed persons, support groups for single parents, and the publication by church wide agencies of printed resources in singles ministry. (Bargen)
Mennonites, whether in real life, or in Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, all hold one belief true: the acceptance of God when choosing a spouse. Although many Mennonite communities allow their members to choose their own approach to romantic relationships, many still follow traditional courtship when age is reached. Whether dating or courting is chosen, one thing remains, the sole acceptance of the person and the decision of heart or mind.
Bargen, Mary. “Singleness.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 February 2010. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/S5678ME.html .
Singles Mennonite Free | Mennonite Dating in the 21st Century . Web. 23 Feb. 2010. .
Toews, Miriam. A Complicated Kindness. New York, NY: Counterpoint, 2004. (22, 43). Print.
Umble, John S. and J. Howard Kauffman. “Courtship Customs.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 23 February 2010. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/C6885ME.html .
Umble, John S. “Betrothal (Engagement).” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 23 February 2010. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/B4916.html .