There was a discussion the other day on the Facebook page about courting vs. dating and why each was the better option. A lot of people who were pro-dating and anti-courting seemed to have a few misguided ideas of what, exactly, courting is, and that could be why there were so against it. So let's first define our terms:
Courting is the idea that you meet someone that you're interested in a future with--marriage being the end goal. You pray about it, discuss it with your parents and/or pastor, and then discuss it with the parents of the person you want to court--asking permission. The Duggars show made it a bit confusing, they showed the beginning of the relationship between Josh and Anna as their engagement. This clearly was not their first meeting or their first time together. During the courting process you don't spend time alone, but with chaperones. However, you do get to talk on the phone privately and email.
Dating can be looked at many different ways. You can date many different people at once casually, you can date one person at a time more seriously, or both at the same time and marriage doesn't have to be the end goal--it can be just to have fun.
Michelle and Jim Bob describe their pre-marriage time together as dating. They weren't chaperoned. They did save themselves for marriage in a sexual way, but they do admit that things "went further than they should have" and that they did kiss before they married. We can only guess what they're referring to.
I think it's important to point out that the Duggar children are not required to go through the courtship process--it's a choice each child gets to make. In fact, when you watch the episode where Josh proposes, he goes out of his way to insist repeatedly that it was his choice to court rather than date. The older girls are also interviewed and express interest in courtship. However this was 3 seasons ago--or maybe 4 depending on how you count--it was season one. They are older and they've witnessed cousin Amy's different boyfriends and multitude of break-ups since then.
The pro-daters seem to see dating as a way to gain experience and learn what you want. I am not going to pretend that I didn't date--I did--a lot. I've been married three times and engaged even more. So I know the ins and outs of the dating ritual in many different forms. I will say this--if you're dating to learn what you want, you shouldn't be dating. Why? Because you clearly don't know yourself yet, if you don't know yourself, you shouldn't be dating other people--you aren't ready. Why would you want to be in a serious relationship with someone if you weren't headed towards marriage or a lifetime together? What's the point? Fun? You can have fun with friends, even friends of the opposite sex, without having to be in a serious relationship.
Not all experiences are good. In fact, I've had many unpleasant ones from dating and the baggage I brought into my marriage wasn't fair for my husband to have to carry. I dated an alcoholic who couldn't tell the truth to save his life. All those lies took their toll and it was very hard to trust when a good guy came along. That was not fair at all--and the only reason I was in that relationship was because I was letting my hormones do the thinking for me. And if you get a guy (or girl) who's verbally or physically abusive (G-d forbid) that takes years and lots of self-help and/or therapy to get over, if you ever do really get over it. That will also make it hard to trust when you move into a relationship with someone healthy and they end up paying the price for something someone else did you to.
Now where do I stand on this? I am all for parents being involved in the process of their kids dating. I don't think they should have the ultimate choice in who their kids date, but I think they should be present as a support system for their children. I think they should know what's going on and be able to talk to their kids about any problems or concerns raised when dating. I like that the Duggars are there for their kids. I personally couldn't abide by the strictness of courting, at least not when I was in my 30s and 40s. I probably could have handled it when I was a late teen or in my early 20s, but frankly, it never came up. I do wish my parents had said a few things about the men I married before my current husband, but when you aren't raised like that, you tend not to listen even if they do say something. I knew walking down the aisle that my first marriage was going to be a mistake, but I was more afraid of cancelling 5 minutes before the ceremony than I was of making the mistake--that's wrong.
I think both styles have their good points and their bad points. I do think it needs to be the choice of the participants, not their parents. No one should be forced into a way of thinking, taught about it sure, but not forced into it. Informed decisions are always a good idea.