- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2000

DENVER For years, the courtship movement has been booming among teen-agers and young adults seeking an old-fashioned alternative to the dating scene.

But its romantic appeal would seem to be limited to those under 25. After all, what consenting adult would willingly agree to limit physical contact to holding hands and kissing? To meet in groups instead of one-on-one dates? To concentrate on becoming friends instead of lovers?

More than you might think, Karla Griffin says.

The founder of Match Made in Heaven, a Denver-based singles service, Mrs. Griffin specializes in pairing up marriage-minded adults over the age of 30 who want to learn the fine art of courting.

"It's a different concept, and it's really generating a lot of attention," said Mrs. Griffin, whose service is believed to be the first of its kind. "People are interested in something else. They don't like the tacky, cheesy aspect of dating. They want to be treated in an honorable fashion."

She may be onto something. Although she just launched her matchmaking service in January, her schedule is packed.

She's already signed up 75 clients, her service has been written up in several Colorado newspapers and she's been featured twice on KOA-AM, Denver's biggest radio station.

Her business is booming in spite of what many singles might consider some fairly stringent guidelines. In her mandatory two-hour courtship-training session, she explains the differences between dating and courting.

One problem with going out on dates, she says, is that "it fools us into falling in love fast because our hormones are kicking in."

"A dating scenario plays out something like this: You meet someone you find attractive, and within three weeks or so of dating, you become sexually involved," she explains in her materials. "Down the road, you discover this is not your soul mate, so you break up. This leads to feelings of having been driven, like an old car."

Her courtship rules include:

• Get to know each other as friends, not lovers.

• Don't have an exclusive relationship until you get engaged.

• Expect your relationship to last at least nine to 12 months.

• Instead of going out on dates, do things with your friends and family.

• Don't reveal everything about yourself until after you're engaged, or even married.

• And, of course, don't sleep together until marriage.

In fact, Mrs. Griffin advises couples to have purely platonic relationships until they become engaged. Kissing and holding hands are recommended only if those involved can do that without becoming emotionally attached.

"The main thing is not to cross the boundary that takes you from friends to lovers," Mrs. Griffin said. "Sex is a very important part of marriage, and if you treat it casually, then you're likely to treat marriage as disposable and not very important."

Luckily for her couples, she's not a believer in long engagements.

"The key is to move like a turtle in the early stages and then accelerate when you've fallen in love and you're ready to get married, so you don't have to wait," she said.

It's a charming idea, but does it work?

According to Kimberly Hartke, founder of True Love Ministries in Reston, Va., those involved in courtship relationships have a better chance of ending up in loving, lasting marriages than those who go the traditional dating route.

She should know: Three years ago, at age 40, she married for the first time after following the courtship principles. When she met her future husband at a conference, "he was a confirmed bachelor, but the idea of a chaste courtship appealed to him."

Keith Hartke also liked the idea of being in charge of the relationship.

In courtship, "the man plays the role of initiator; the woman plays the role of respondent," Mrs. Hartke said. "There's nothing romantic about badgering a man into marriage."

Her courtship, she says, "was a pure and lovely way to get to know each other. And I felt like a young girl again, even though I was 40. I felt like I'd captured my innocence again."

Critics object to the courtship movement's lack of equality between the sexes and describe its ritualized procedures as unrealistic in a modern age. But Mrs. Griffin says one reason for its popularity among adults is that they've seen the damage wrought by the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

"What we've done with feminism is shot ourselves in the foot," said Mrs. Griffin. "When courtship was in, women held the cards. Now, after feminism, we've given all the cards to men."

Since opening her service, she's been surprised to learn that even men are dissatisfied with the modern dating system.

"Men have an innate desire to act honorably and be with a virtuous woman," she said. "What they're telling me is they don't like the idea of having sex too quickly, and that shocked me."

The courtship movement had its genesis about 20 years ago in conservative Christian circles. The idea was to steer teen-agers and young adults away from intense emotional and sexual relationships while getting parents more involved in helping their children select a future mate.

A century ago, the practice of a suitor calling on a young woman at her home was commonplace. Dating wasn't born until the advent of the automobile, which allowed teen-age boys to take teen-age girls away from their families for the evening and gradually eroded the parents' authority, according to Beth Bailey in her book "From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in 20th Century America."

With adults in their 30s and 40s, some of the traditional courtship rules have been updated, such as the requirement that the man spend time at the woman's house with her family. Many professional adults don't live in the same cities as their parents.

Reb Bradley, a Sacramento-based Christian courtship expert, advises women living away from their parents to find an older male friend to help them choose the right suitor.

"It's just nice to have someone who can help you gauge character," he says. Mr. Bradley, president of Family Ministries, offers a seminar, "Preparing Your Children for Courtship and Marriage."

Mrs. Griffin, who was widowed at age 30, describes herself as a Christian, but says her service appeals to single adults of all faiths.

"I probably have mostly Christian clients, but I also have Jewish clients, Buddhists, some New Agers," she said.

Before signing up for her service, clients must meet some rather hard-nosed requirements. To qualify for an interview, the men must earn at least $100,000, the women must be height-weight proportionate and "at least say they're attractive." At least a bachelor's degree is required of both.

Those restrictions hardly fit the old-fashioned romantic ideal; after all, Heathcliffe was a poor stableboy when he captured Cathy's heart in "Wuthering Heights," and the heroine of "Jane Eyre" was no beauty. But Mrs. Griffin says that's the harsh reality of the singles industry, even for courtship advocates.

"Women want men who are successful [and] men are very visually stimulated," she said. "They also want a loving heart and mind, but they're allowed a superficial request."

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