Expectations during Amish Courtship - A Double-edged Sword

By: Amy Cortopassi

Ironically, a teenage reader of Seventeen magazine, who regularly reads articles like "How to be a Good Kisser," or "Staying STD Free," might be shocked to learn about the mate selection process of Amish young people. While both groups of young people view courtship and dating as a time of social experimentation and friendship, the casual attitude held by outsiders when it comes to premarital physical intimacy is not always shared by the Amish. The Amish consider courtship to be a time of "discussing the matters of life and sharing opinions" with the ultimate purpose being "to blend characters and personalities into one faith, hope and love (creating) a Christian home which God can bless."' Thus, adhering to Christian beliefs during courtship is an important focus for Amish young people. However, the emphasis on learning about one's "friend" spiritually and emotionally does not mean that the temptation and desire for physical intimacy does not exist. For the Amish, questions on how "far to go" with physical contact and passionate feelings cause many problems. Similar to Seventeen readers, inconsistencies between the dominant subculture (how the majority of one's peers or group behave), church dogma, and parental guidance confuse Amish young people.

Amish dating and courtship practices may seem innocent enough. Group activities are encouraged through "Sunday evening singing."' These weekly events arc a time when Amish youths from surrounding districts come together to socialize, and they are "usually held at the same house where the morning preaching was held."' Besides providing a chance to socialize and sing, "Sunday evening singing" allow a boy to arrange a date with a girl. Usually the first date involves him escorting her home from the singing that evening, and then conversation at her home. Further dates, when they are going "steady," mean that he will visit her every other Saturday night. During the weekly nocturnal visits, the girl's parents are asleep, so the couple has privacy to openly discuss issues important to them and get to know each other. However, as epitomized in "No Pangs of Guilt," sitting close, kissing, and petting are also common activities during the Saturday night visits; and these actions are often questioned by youths seeking a virtuous, love-inspiring relationship.

In "No Pangs of Guilt," Kathryn tells her beau of one year, Leroy, about the guilt she experiences because of their kissing and petting. Kathryn wants to change their relationship so that it is free from lust so she persuades Leroy, "Please try to understand when I say I can't go on the way we were. It's against my convictions, and I don't feel our courtship can be blessed, nor our marriage after courtship, if we indulge in something which is plainly forbidden outside of marriage." However, Leroy argues that all of the other couples engage in the same activities without any negative consequences and fails to agree with Kathryn at the time. Likewise, Kathryn's mother disagrees with her confrontation too. She admonishes Kathryn for becoming upset at Leroy over "such a minor thing" because Kathryn's convictions do not conform to those in her social group. Although Leroy does eventually agree with Kathryn, his earlier refusal to understand, like that of Kathryn's mother, represents the contradictions that arise between the Amish ideals of conforming to one's group and following the Bible.

For Amish young people, two aspects of their religion and culture make the issue of physical intimacy during courtship difficult to resolve. As members of their community, they must follow the teaching of Scripture, which include, "Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul" and "That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart," among other verses guarding against lust and temptation. So Amish young people are aware of the Church's disapproval of close physical contact even when it is not fornication. However, among couples in one's peer group, kissing and petting are justified as harmless since they stop before the greater sin of premarital sex occurs. Furthermore, "Individualism is extremely difficult to accommodate in the Amish subculture during adolescence and the period of courtship, for it is during this time that the person must demonstrate his loyalty to the peer group." Thus, when person or couple object to physical intimacy, which is the norm among their group, they may be viewed as self-righteous even though they are merely following the purity prescribed in the Bible.

The contradiction between the expectations of a religion or culture and the acceptance of peers is not a uniquely Amish problem. But since Amish adolescents experience the confusion, frustration, and guilt often brought on by this contradiction, it fosters further understanding about Amish culture for outsiders. Outsiders may view the problems of Amish courtship as new way of looking at Amish culture. Despite the Amish devotion to religion, nonconformity with the world, and close family/community ties, peer pressure and sexual desires (frequently cited concerns among Seventeen readers) still exist.