Guard Your Heart, Part One: Kathryn E. Brightbill

Kathryn Brightbill blogs at The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person.


In this series: Part One | Part Two


It turns out that it’s easy to guard your heart when you’re not attracted to someone, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. To begin this story, we need to go back in time, back to when I was a homeschool kid growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Despite my parents running the private school for homeschoolers, and my mom finding herself spending far more time on the phone giving advice to new homeschoolers than she would have liked, and that one time that they wound up helping to put together a state-wide homeschool convention (something they vowed never to do again), my family wasn’t nearly as connected to the homeschooling subculture as many people. There really wasn’t that much of a homeschooling subculture when my parents started homeschooling, since back in the mid ‘80s there weren’t many homeschoolers.

Most of the national opportunities like debate weren’t around until I was done, or nearly done, with high school. Also, my mom didn’t particularly like hanging out with other homeschool moms and talking about each other’s children, and (with the exception of the aforementioned convention) avoided homeschool conventions like the plague. The parade of supermoms in denim jumpers and white sneakers who sewed all their own clothing, baked all their bread, and still found time to design grade-appropriate unit studies made her feel inadequate—after all, she didn’t do a single unit study in 18 years of homeschooling, hated denim jumpers, and especially wasn’t going to be sewing the aforementioned jumpers. That’s not to say I didn’t have more than my fair share of homeschooled friends, but they were mostly ones I knew from non-homeschool circles, and I never considered myself one of those homeschoolers. We were about as mainstream as they come.

I don’t remember where we first heard about courtship, just that somewhere along the line when I was in middle school it began to become fashionable even among the friends who were mainstream homeschoolers. These were not the people who made their daughters wear shapeless jumpers and wouldn’t let them cut their hair; they were the cool people with the latest clothes who educated their sons and daughters equally, and it all seemed so reasonable couched in the idea that it was all about waiting until you were done with college and had a career before pursuing a serious relationship. And didn’t it make sense? After all, when my parents met my dad had already finished his first master’s degree and my mom was 28, independent, and had even studied in the UK and traveled around Europe. What was the point of rushing into a series of relationships before you even had the chance to live?

This not being the 19th century, none of us knew how this whole courtship thing was supposed to work in the modern era, but then someone had given someone else some tapes from this guy who talked about courtship, and he went by the name Little Bear Wheeler, and, oh, you should listen to him because he might be a little out there but he’s entertaining. And so off my family, who hated homeschool conventions and avoided them like the plague, went to hear this Little Bear fellow speak. That’s how these things seem to work in the homeschool world and how normal families get pulled into extremism. You start out reasonably and the next thing you know you’re wearing your one and only denim skirt (because you instinctively knew that’s what you needed to do to blend in) and you’re listing to a guy cosplaying as a pilgrim who’s telling you that the Puritans didn’t date.

I don’t remember many details, it’s been nearly twenty years, but I do remember hearing, over and over, that you needed to, “guard your heart.” If you guard your heart, then you won’t give pieces of it away to the wrong guy. If you guard your heart, then you won’t have frivolous crushes on guys who would never be suitable mates. Guard your heart. Guard your heart. Guard your heart. If you’re really spiritual and godly, you’ll be able to guard your heart until the right season of your life.

It was a message that grew into a chorus in the homeschool circles I grew up in. Guard your heart, always and in every situation, guard your heart. By the time I neared the end of high school, the chorus had grown into a cacophony, as courtship went mainstream into evangelicalism with Josh Harris’ “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” And by the time I made it to college, it seemed as though everyone had read it, and even if they called their relationships, “dating,” it was still operating on those general principles.

Through all of this, I patted myself on my back because I wasn’t getting any “frivolous” crushes on guys, and clearly this meant that I was super spiritual and doing a great job of guarding my heart. It turns out it had less to do with being super spiritual than it had to do with being super gay.

But again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ve never asked my parents about this, so I don’t know what they would have done if one of us had wanted to date in high school, or what they would have said if we’d have read all of the courtship material, listened to the speakers, and announced that we thought it all bunk. My parents didn’t have a problem with me voicing an opinion that was different than theirs, and if I had objections to courtship back then, I suspect that I could have brought those up and we would have discussed it. Except that I didn’t have any objections because my siblings and I all bought into it. It didn’t matter that we were as mainstream as they come, that my sister and I both wanted educations and careers and had been taught we could be and do whatever we set our minds to, that my brothers didn’t want to marry someone who wasn’t their equal, we still bought into it. Their experiences and opinions are not my story to tell, other than to say that despite all buying into it, eventually we all decided that the whole courtship system was a problem.

By the time you make it through college you think that you know yourself. College is when you’re supposed to find yourself, after all. And so, even after I decided that courtship was bunk, I never stopped to consider that the reason I hadn’t met the right guy had anything to do with anything other than the fact that my hometown has a serious dearth of college educated, available men. Seriously, it’s quite literally one of the worst metropolitan areas in the country for a college educated single woman to find a guy with an education, and there are plenty of statistics to back that up. It was an easy excuse, especially considering that my sister spent plenty of time complaining about the demographics too. So easy an excuse, in fact, that it never crossed my mind that it was an excuse.

To be continued.

10 thoughts on “Guard Your Heart, Part One: Kathryn E. Brightbill

  1. Matt May 22, 2013 / 5:59 am

    I never really bought into the whole courtship model. From what I witnessed, the families who forced their kids into courtships and arranged marriages experienced some less-than-stellar results.

    I remember attending this homeschooling convention in Ohio about 20 years ago, and there was a speaker who was discussing how proud he was that his 16 year old daughter had never been on a date. The guy was an attorney and came across as a grade A control freak.

    At the end of his rant, they popped some batteries into his daughter and turned her on in front of the crowd. She was like an animatronic doll — like her dad had programmed her to say exactly what he wanted about the joy and happiness she’d found in the courtship model.

    I wonder what ever happened to that girl? Maybe she posts here!


  2. Jeremy May 22, 2013 / 7:58 am

    Great post! I see that Little Bear Wheeler is on Facebook – wonder if he will google his name and find this?


    • kbrightbill May 22, 2013 / 4:29 pm

      Oh, so he is. While I have my guesses, I am marginally curious what he thinks about all of this, especially since I know I’m not the only one with a similar story.


  3. Rachel May 22, 2013 / 8:12 am

    I bought into the courtship model. I was super straight and very horny. It was incredibly hard for me to “guard my heart’ but I did it. I of course, like we all do in the courtship model, married my first boyfriend. My dad “protected my virginity” by not allowing me to spend any actual real time with him. I was set to marry him after meeting him three times since he was pressured to ask to court me and I stood in front of my church. (We met on a homeschool debate site). Our first kiss was at the wedding alter. Well…HE was gay.


    • kbrightbill May 22, 2013 / 5:06 pm

      Yeah, your story is definitely the under-discussed flip side. The unwitting straight spouse gets hurt too. Do you have any idea how often a situation like yours happens in the courtship/betrothal world? I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens frequently.


  4. Andrew R. May 22, 2013 / 9:56 am

    Kathryn, I never completely bought into the courtship model; my parents and I were fans of “Dating With Integrity” by John Holzmann. His premise was that, out of respect, you should never do anything with anyone that you couldn’t do with them if you were married to someone else. So, in his mind (and experience), you would get to know your future spouse well enough in group setting and platonic activities that you could just up and ask them to marry you without ever having to date.

    So I never dated or even expressed a modicum of romantic interest in my female friends. I wrote letters to the parents of all of my close female friends (there were many) letting them know that I had nothing but respect for their daughters and was not looking to date them. I earned a lot of respect for that.

    Of course, it was all too easy. If I’d had to write those letters to the parents of guys I had crushes on it would have been a heck of a lot harder.


  5. DoaHF May 25, 2013 / 11:24 am

    I “believed in” the courtship process because it was taught to me: just like everything else I believed.
    I lost faith in it after seeing/overhearing my oldest sister struggle painfully with the ACTUAL workings of it in a long-distance relationship. (yeah, not any available older guys in our area either)

    I decided after her second “attempt” was crushed that if I ever truly loved a man, I would keep him as far away from my Father as possible. Then again, my immature sense of relationships left me hopelessly emotionally dependent on my first crush. I nursed feelings for him for 11 years because to “leave him” would be akin to cheating. When I left home (ran away, my parents say) I had managed to extricate myself from him and hurt another young man who thought I was emotionally ready for an adult relationship.

    *sigh. The courtship model is to your relationship IQ like ignorance is to your head. It keeps you childish and immature. It is negligence.


  6. EJ September 24, 2014 / 12:11 pm

    This is very close to my own experience. I was homeschooled until high school, then attended a private christian high school with very strict dress codes and rules. We even had a speaker that taught us that in order to avoid tempting the boys, we had to only ever hug them from the side. I realized how gay I was when I was about 16 and it was rough because I’d spent all that time thinking I was “guarding my heart and nurturing my friendships.”


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