Owen Strachan’s “Dateship” – an idea whose time will never come

What do you get when you take the best of courtship and add it to the best of dating?


Don’t laugh.

Owen Strachan says dateship is the answer to the problems men and women face in trying to get married. He starts by describing how easy it used to be in the old days.

Things used to be relatively simple: You got to know someone, went out several times under close parental supervision (with Dad eyeing a young suitor warily), and if things clicked, you ended up getting married, eventually.

He next describes the problems women and men face today, and blames these problems on – among other things – the divorce rate and the lack of strong father figures in the home.

Many families have been ravaged by divorce. In many families, there isn’t a father figure in the picture, and — furthermore — divorce leaves children skeptical and hurt.

While he used the phrase “father figure”, it’s clear what he really means is the lack of a literal father who can eye the young suitor as he put it in the previous excerpt.

Next he describes some of the benefits of dating (not many, in his opinion) and the benefits of courtship (a “vastly better system than dating”, as he put it), and takes the best from each to create dateship.

It ends up looking a lot like courtship.

1. He calls the first step “Interested Friendship”

He suggests things like going for coffee, playing Frisbee with friends, and listening to a sermon together and discussing it.

2. His next step is “Purposeful Dating”.

If the first date goes well, the man asks the woman’s father (or father figure) if it’s OK to go on a few more dates. If yes, then you do.

So in Mr. Strachan’s plan, after the first date the man asks the woman’s father for permission to go on a second date and if the father says no then that’s the end of the relationship. This mean the father tells the daughter which man she can and can’t spend time with. This step sounds so much like courtship that I would change the title of it to “Purposeful Courtship”.

3. Next comes “Serious Courtship”.

The title alone strongly suggests that the previous step was actually a less serious type of courtship, not merely purposeful dating. The burden is on the man to decide whether the relationship should continue.

If he decides to take the plunge, then he approaches the woman’s father (or a father figure) and asks for his permission to “court” her. If he gets permission, then he takes the woman out and asks her if she will court him. If she says yes, then they enter into a time of seriously considering whether they should marry … .

4. Which leads to the fourth step,  “The Big Ask”.

If things continue to click, then the man asks the woman’s father (or father figure) for permission to marry her. If that is given, then he asks the woman to marry him. If she says yes, then they get engaged and then married.

One thing I noticed about these steps is that, except for the first one where the woman can decide all on her own whether to have coffee with a man, all the decision making is initiated by the man and confirmed by the woman’s father before the woman is given any role in the direction the relationship will take next.

  • First date goes well? The man asks the father for a second date with his daughter.
  • Next step goes well? The man asks the father for permission to court his daughter.
  • That step goes well? The man asks the father for permission to marry his daughter.

In all these steps the man and the father work things out between themselves, and then the woman is asked if she’ll go along with it. Can you imagine what would happen if the father said yes and his daughter said no? How dare she doubt her father’s wisdom in deciding that this man was right for her?

And of course if the father ever says no to the man, the woman is completely shut off from exercising her own wisdom in deciding whether to continue dating the man anyway.

Mr. Strachan fails to see that his system is completely unworkable for many families. His rules presuppose the presence of a father or father figure. Many families don’t have one, through no fault of the mother and certainly through no fault of the children.

Also, Mr. Strachan never mentions the age of the people involved. Does he envision this system applying only to young men and women who are attracted to one another? I am trying to imagine dateship carried out between a woman and man in their forties.

“Sir, your daughter and I had coffee together and now I’d like to take her to dinner.”

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

“All right, you can take her out this weekend. I’ll tell her to cancel her trip to Europe as head of the U.S. delegation to the economic summit.”

But the worst part is that his list of rules (he calls them “principles”) for dateship are not based on any Scriptural guidance for how people develop relationships that might lead to marriage. He admits this when he says “The Bible does not prescribe any one direct path to marriage”, but his admission is misleading.

The Bible doesn’t prescribe any path to marriage at all.

He tries to cover this up by pointing to three passages he says will guide people in building relationships. The problem with the passages he relies on are that one speaks of people who are already married, another has nothing to do with marriage and can apply to any type of relationship, and the third is clearly based on Neolithic/bronze age tribal patriarchy.

And that’s the problem with these types of systems. To borrow a metaphor from Mark 2:22, Mr. Strachan is pouring old wine into new wineskins and that leads to nothing but a big mess.


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59 Responses to Owen Strachan’s “Dateship” – an idea whose time will never come

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Good post, Tim. The comments were interesting, too.

    My husband is 9 years older than I am. When we started dating, I was 21 and he was 30, but we were both adults and making our own (prayerful) decisions. A few years into our marriage, I mentioned the age difference between us to a young teenage girl. Her response: “My dad would KILL me if I had a boyfriend who was nine years older than me!”

    My response: “Of course. You’re thirteen. I was 21. It’s a little different when you’re an adult!” I added in my head: And the person your dad ought to consider killing is the 20-something who’s interested in you as a girlfriend! I didn’t tell her that, though, and her father was not the type to actually kill the other man, of course.

    I really don’t see how Mr. Strachan considers “dateship” to be any different than “courtship.” (And the spellcheck on the computer is not underlining “dateship,” though it does underline “spellcheck.” This worries me somehow.)

    • Tim says:

      They’re synonymous after step one from what I can tell, Laura. Your own marriage is a perfect example of how adults can figure these things out just fine without Daddy running the show.

  2. Ugh. Makes me nauseous. I want to strangle the man in the video. Ugh.

  3. Jeannie says:

    The author comments on huge changes in our social makeup, family structure, etc. — yet his solution doesn’t really address those changes. If our culture is “ravaged” by divorce, etc., can we assume there will be a suitable father figure for the young man to approach? If he has to check things out with a parental figure, does it have to be a man? (And were the old days even like that in the first place?)

    I also think it’s odd that he says later in the article that young men should pursue the Lord and take risks, while young women should pursue the Lord and encourage young men to take risks. It does appear like the same old double standard to me. So I appreciate your critique, Tim.

    • Tim says:

      His take on women is that their only reason for being is in reference to men, Jeannie. Men take risks, and women help them. Men need sex, so fathers are to give their daughters to young men. It’s a horrible way to treat women, but that’s what he does in all his writings that I’ve read.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Have we thrown out the idea of “protection?”
        Still a valid thought to this day.

        • Tim says:

          But there’s nothing protective at all in the Dateship proposal. It doesn’t protect women; it hurts them.

        • Perhaps it’s time to throw out the idea of protection.
          Certainly, parents need to have some input and offer advice to their grown children, but past a certain age and experience level, it’s no longer our jobs to “protect” our children. They need us to respect their right (and ability!) to make good choices for their own lives. Protection is, I suspect, just another word for control, in many cases. Sad.

        • Tim says:

          My kids are in their 20s. I can’t protect them. Warn? Yes. Advise? Sure. But protection? I don’t see how without turning it into control.

        • Lisa says:

          The second best way to “protect” daughters is to give them a good foundation of making good decisions *for themselves*, *by themselves*, within the context of their age. That way, when they are old enough to have to make decisions, they will be good ones because they have had a lot of practice. I never cease to be amazed by parents who control their children’s every move, and then get astounded when they can’t make good decisions once they are adults.

          The best way to “protect” daughters is to teach sons respect for *all* women, regardless of how they are dressed or act. Teach men that “no” always means “no”, and that women are never to be coerced or forced into doing anything, and that they are *not* entitled to anything from us that we do not choose to give. That means our time, our attention, whatever. Then women will feel safe in exercising the decision-making skills they have learned. After all, if I know to say “no” but the man then gets abusive, or takes revenge, then my decisions are worthless and I don’t feel secure in making them.

        • Tim says:

          Excellent advice and insights, Lisa, thank you.

  4. Aimee Byrd says:

    I just don’t think we can have a dating/courtship formula. While my kids are young, Matt and I do have authority to say, “No, you are too young to date,” or, “Sorry, we will not allow you to go out alone with this character.” But you point to real abuses, Tim, and we should be very careful with the Patriarchy model. It is a real shame. Why can’t we just be more encouraging and supportive of good relationships with parents and the church, and forming healthy friendships? And who in their right mind betroths their 13-year-old? And yes, we need to take a stand for educating our daughters and training them for wisdom. We have a podcast airing tomorrow on the dangers of the Patriarchy movement. It is seriously wrong. The thing is, many leaders with good intentions are not aware of what’s really behind the curtain there. Maybe that is the case with Strachan.

    • Tim says:

      “Why can’t we just be more encouraging and supportive of good relationships with parents and the church, and forming healthy friendships?”

      I think the reason people want courtship instead of doing as you suggest is that what you suggest is a lot harder. Seriously, it’s tons harder to be parents who guide their children to grow up knowing how to make their own choices – as you and Matt know well – but it is also completely worth the effort.

      I’m looking forward to the podcast and hearing what you and Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt have to say on all this.

    • Hester says:

      And who in their right mind betroths their 13-year-old?

      You would be amazed at what some people will defend. (Or maybe not, not sure how many weird corners of the internet you’ve been in. 😉 ) I once had an extended argument with someone on my blog, who called me a “legalist” because I thought child marriage was wrong. We went round in circles for two days before he finally claimed, apparently with a straight face, that he wasn’t saying 12yos should have sex, he was saying they should be able to get married. That’s when I gave up.

  5. Laura Droege says:

    I know I already commented, but I saw something earlier today that made me go “huh?” and it seemed a bit in line with this post. A guy walked into the bagel shop. I couldn’t read the front of his t-shirt, but the back read, “Children are like arrows in the hands of a warrior.”

    I thought of the fathers who follow Strachan’s advice, and how they’re using their daughters as weapons, in a sense. They have control of the courtship process, and can manipulate and control not only their own daughter but the young man, too. What if the young man truly loves the young woman (presuming they’re legally adults, of course!) and daddy says no? This puts the young man in the situation of trying to please the father (even more than the daughter) in order to gain what he wants (the daughter as a wife). If daddy says no, it’s over, regardless of the grown child’s feelings. If daddy says yes, then they’re in his debt. Not a healthy family dynamic. Nope, no way.

    • Tim says:

      In one of the articles that The Wartburg Watch linked above my guest post there, the 28 year old man gushes about how grateful he is to his father in law for giving him the gift of his 15 year old daughter. Yep, betrothed and married all before the girl turned 16.

  6. Hester says:

    Strachan must think online dating is horrendous, or maybe even sinful.

  7. Pastor Bob says:

    Patriarchy model? Seems like a form or protection that some do not want. before the age of say 22-25, many are not socially and economically strong enough for this BIG decision.
    Most parents realize that the adult child will act with or without parental blessings. Wish close friend of mine had a daughter who listened to him. He was a bad choice, she persisted, and was married without his blessings – shall we say meek tacit approval.
    Long story short, he was called one night because the husband had killed his daughter. He is now raising his grandchild as his own child.

    When we made a decision for marriage, she would not move forward without her father’s approval and blessings. We spoke for many minutes, and to add to the drama – he was in another country, and another language. (Have I ever mentioned I failed Spanish in college – the only class?) He was very understanding as I said what I could in my bad Spanish.

    Sixteen years later, we are strong and growing stronger.

    Parental support can help the young person see things differently. If the young man can convince her father, and if she can convince his mother, some challenges can be avoided, and more importantly understood as the marriage unfolds and grows.

    While we can never know too much going into this challenging relationship, we also need to know more and more about God Himself. Parents, mentors and friends can help (often in enormous ways) it is the reliance on God that is key.

    • Tim says:

      “Parental support can help the young person see things differently”

      Parental support and encouragement is great. That’s the point Aimee made above. But choosing your daughter’s husband for her and having veto power on her choices (as Mr. Strachan promotes) is not based on sound doctrine.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        If a good friend’s daughter had listened to her father, she would be alive today. Her husband got mad and killed her one night. No reason, little remorse. Father saw something that she missed or ignored.
        Young and in love (older too) judgement is clouded.

        -Always, Never – Words to be avoided, but the implications of being silent are bad too. Choose words carefully, guide, but (BUT!!!!) When the words of love and wisdom have been spoken trust God to take over.

        • Zoe says:

          I am puzzled by the assumption that fathers/father figures always know the right choice, will always make the right choice, and that they always have the daughter’s best interest in mind. Those are major and in some cases flatly incorrect assumptions.

          Fathers aren’t all-knowing, and any guidance they may receive about a daughter’s life through praying about it, their daughters can also receive. The God who spoke to Jochebed, Sarah, and Mary about their own lives will not systematically start doing an end run around women to speak only to their fathers about what they should do. And if this is the case, if God speaks to women about what they should do, then there truly is no way to support giving fathers the power to veto God’s guidance in women’s lives.

          The single case you bring up could be met with other cases that worked out very well, but the bottom line is that none of the cases, regardless of how they turned out, provides a basis for fathers negotiating their daughters’ entire lives with total veto power.

        • Who’s to say that the parental figure is “always” right?
          My mother spoke to me about the man my sister dated for several years the other night. She “remembered him as being creepy.”

          He stalked my sister for two years. On at least 2 occasions, he attempted to kill her. He attempted to throw my then-14year old niece down a set of stairs.

          Mom remembers him as “being creepy” because, although my sister sought out her advice, she wasn’t able to see past his initial charm. The faded memory is my (now elderly) mother’s self-defense mechanism.

          The idea of parents having control over their (presumably grown) children’s life decisions is ludicrous for one reason and one alone- we are NOT GOD. We are not able to infallibly foresee the consequences. Certainly, if we have healthy relationships with our children, built upon mutual respect and trust, we will be able to influence and guide. If we try for control and manipulation, we set ourselves up for disaster.

    • M.A.N. says:

      Asking for a father’s blessing or asking the father to help vet a potential suitor is very different from the father having complete control of who his daughter marries, whether she wants him to or not.

  8. Erica M. says:

    There’s such a big mix of decent ideas and bad ideas in this. Getting the family involved? Great! (Although my poor husband was a bit overwhelmed to find I had cousins thrice-removed that wanted to be involved.) Acting out that silly Rude song they constantly play on the radio? Well…no. Let’s not.

    I’m not sure how anyone would describe what my husband and mine’s relationship was like. I befriended him when he went to college with my brother, five years later we constantly talk on the phone since he had moved away, he comes in for visits, we get engaged, *then* we have an actual first date.

    It seems to have worked out quite well, even if it does confuse people. XD

  9. There was a (back in the day) young man that my Dad liked very much who also liked me very much. I think Daddy projected himself as a young man onto this guy and found him to be harmless/non-threatening. He also saw the guy as sort of the underdog. If this system were in place, I’d be married to Paul the Kroger Boy and that would be an unmitigated disaster. I need someone who can be an intellectual peer, which PTKB just isn’t. I also needed someone who didn’t take offense that my career was more financially successful, which PTKB would have done.

    I’d either be in divorce court or criminal court for murder… one of those.

    • Tim says:

      It sounds like you had a handle on this from the start, Mary. I remember something similar with a guy my sister dated way back when. We found out soon enough that she knew best about the guy.

  10. Julia says:

    This does sound practically like courtship. How about parents teach their children to love Jesus, be filled with wisdom and to actually be adults by the time they are grown — so they can make dating and marriage decisions for themselves?

    I’m 33 years old. I’ve been living away from my parents for 10 years and my father is an unbeliever. This “formula” would be absolutely laughable to apply to my life.

    • Tim says:

      Your way of raising kids to be wise in making these decisions for themselves is a lot more in line with Scripture than dateship could ever be, Julia.

  11. Lisa says:

    I think I would like to hang out by the local well in the hopes that an itinerant servant seeking to find a wife for his master comes by and asks me to draw water. I will be so happy that I will offer to draw water from him, but for his camels also. That is the Biblical model. We can’t just be making up things here.

    • Tim says:

      I know the people who live next door to the local municipal water well. They have an unmarried daughter. Maybe I should post a notice for young men to send their servants by. No one around here has servants though.

  12. tiquatue says:

    Of course, this presupposes that a girl isn’t away at college (after all, college is useless for girls, right? /sarcasm), or that she hasn’t lived away from home for years, or that she wants to get married in the first place! It also presupposes that she’s going to marry someone local who can stick around and ask dear ol’ Dad for all this permission.

    I was in grad school when I met my husband and the only thing he asked my father for was his blessing. My father wouldn’t even have been known of my husband’s existence; Dad lived in MA, husband grew up in MI, the two of us met in SC. Been happily married for almost 28 years. Out of all my siblings, I think my dad is happiest with the way we went about it and happiest with my husband as a son-in-law.

  13. “But on the other hand, we can also allow young women to be so selective that the ideal man exists only in the heavens.” But I thought there would be plenty of ideal Christian men out there with all the teaching about ideal manhood Mr. Strachan, Mr Piper and others of their disposition are flooding the airwaves with? Go figure.

    I also can’t help wondering what planet he is living on when mobile phones and internet don’t even get a mention. How does his system deal with the ‘ahem’ courtship that goes on through texting, Facebook, Twitter and other social media? If he thinks young Christian people don’t use these to contact each other (without dad’s approval?) he truly should go get an education.

    • Tim says:

      His whole model depends on the father doing everything right, the daughter complying with every right thing the father does, and a young man who lives up to impossible standards. It’s a mess from the start.

  14. Retha says:

    Wait a minute. Strachan says:
    “In many families, there isn’t a father figure in the picture, and — furthermore — divorce leaves children skeptical and hurt.” So, listen to your father (figure) in who to date.

    Owen just said that the father (figure) is often absent. So, any proposed solution should work without an earthly father (figure). Even before getting to how (un)biblical he is, he is simply irrational. By his own knowledge, his solution is unworkable. Christianity can work without an earthly father. His systems cannot.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad you spotted that Retha. His system depends on earthly fathers/father-figures (which not everyone has). Christians depend on Christ.

  15. Ben Irwin says:

    Silly Tim. A woman would never head up the U.S. delegation to an economic summit in Owen Strachan’s world because that might involve exercising authority over other men when she should be sitting at home contemplating how she can be a more compliant doormat for the men in her life.

  16. TeresaR says:

    Does OS allow for the possibility that a father could be outside God’s will? For example, it could be God’s will for a couple to marry, but dad says no?

    • TeresaR says:

      ETA: And what about the man’s family? I guess parents of sons have less authority than parents of daughters.

    • Tim says:

      I think he’d say that God honors the father’s decisions over the daughter’s desires, even if the father is not making the right decision. It’s al about the man being in charge, not the man actually being wise enough to tell others who they should or shouldn’t marry.

  17. Sue M. says:

    I was 30 years old and my husband was 28 years old when we met. My father would have nixed him from the get-go simply because he was a (lapsed) Roman Catholic, with no ties to the RC church at all! That would have happened before he had even had even met him.

    We must have done something right because we’ve been married for over 29 years.

  18. Michelle says:

    I hate to admit this, but the whole courtship model sounded great to me for a while. I really wanted something different for my children than the dating/marriage model I followed in my younger years. I didn’t have direction from my father, and I ended up marrying a loser at the age of 18. Divorced by 26, I blamed my dad for a while for not helping me navigate the whole process; he was a minister after all. Well, fast forward many years, and I’ve been married to a wonderful man for 15 years and have three kiddos. Turns out, I didn’t need my earthly father to tell me whom to marry; I needed my Heavenly Father. Once I listened to Him, I made the right choice.

  19. Teresa says:

    A few things I notice that consistently appear in these types of courtship rules: they usually ignore the young man’s parents and their wishes entirely, and they usually ignore the reality of singleness past the 20s. How many single women in their 30s or 40s do you know that still live with their fathers?

    • Tim says:

      I wonder if they can imagine having a child remain unmarried into their 30s or 40s. They’d probably see it as a failure of parenting.

    • Tim says:

      Of course they ignore them. If the young man is old enough to marry he shouldn’t have to ask advice. If he needs advice, he’s not ready for marriage.

  20. Anon3 says:

    My first marriage was done step-by-step by this formula. It was a disaster. My husband turned out to be a pedophile who admitted to having 50 victims.

    My second marriage didn’t follow this formula at all. I told my parents: “I’m loved by a wonderful man and I’m happy. I hope you join us in our happiness.” They eventually did.

    My second marriage is fantastic.

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