Amish Courtship and Rumspringa
Before I had ever even met an Amish person, I had heard of rumspringa. I was told that it was the time when Amish teenagers are given almost complete liberty to run wild and to taste the world before deciding to join the church. Later, when I got to know the Amish personally and had some Amish friends, I found out that the common perception of rumspringa is not entirely accurate.
The word rumspringa is simply Pennsylvania Dutch for “running around.” I should point out that there is no connection between this Amish term and the English expression, “running around.” When we English say that someone is “running around,” we mean either that they are having an affair or that they are going steady with one person but secretly dating other people. That is not at all what the Amish mean by the expression.
By the term “running around,” the Amish mean that a young man or lady has reached an age of maturity (usually 16) and can now begin spending more time with other young people their age. This is also the time when Amish youths begin dating. But Amish dating practices are normally much more conservative than that of most church groups or of American society in general.
One of the primary social events for Amish youth who are “running around” is the Sunday evening singing. The young people dress up and get together on Sunday nights to sing and socialize. Typically, a young man will begin dating a young lady by asking to drive her home in his buggy after the singing. Other youth activities include going on picnics, hiking, visiting friends, and playing volleyball. Again, a young man who is courting will typically to and from these social events in his buggy.
Am I saying that all Amish youth stick to the church-approved activities that I’ve named? Not at all. Depending upon the family and the church district, many Amish youth do experiment with the “world” during rumspringa. Our oldest son used to live in Lancaster County, and he related to me that one evening when he was driving home he passed a group of Amish girls standing on a street corner smoking cigarettes and talking to some non-Amish boys.
Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve had a number of friends who are either Amish or who were raised Amish and later left the church. They’ve confirmed to me that many Amish youth do run wild (by Amish standards) during rumspringa. They own cars, listen to the radio and to rock music, sometimes get drunk, and even experiment with drugs. Occasionally there are unwanted pregnancies among such Amish youth. Again, there is far less drug use and premarital sex among Amish young people than among American society in general or even among conservative evangelical youth, such as the Baptists or Assembly of God. But they are not immune from it.
Some Amish parents and church districts apparently think it is healthy for Amish youth to get a taste of the “world” before making the decision whether or not to get baptized and join the church. However, I’ve spoken with a number of Amish bishops who strongly think otherwise. Furthermore, the largest Amish publishing house, Pathway Publishers, takes a strong stand against allowing their youth to run wild once they reach age sixteen.
Decisions for Amish Youth
The time of “running around” doesn’t continue indefinitely. Usually by age twenty (and often before), Amish youth make a decision to either join the church or to leave and make their way in the “world.” The vast majority of Amish sons and daughters decide to join the church and to live by the Amish ordnung. Once they join the church, any rowdy part of rumspringa is over.
As for dating, the Amish do not view it as mainly a recreational activity. Some of the youth may engage in recreational dating for a brief time. However, dating is normally for the purpose of courtship, and courtship among the Amish almost always leads to marriage.
Learning More About Rumspringa and Courtship
Amish courtship and “running around” has caught the imagination of American society. It’s difficult to browse through a Christian bookstore—and even many secular bookstores—without coming across Amish romance novels. Recently, there was an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about a book signing in our community by an author of Amish romance novels.
Some of the authors of these romance novels are Mennonites (a church group related to the Amish) or they are former Amish people themselves. However, many of the writers of these Amish romance novels, such as Beverly Lewis, have no connection with the real Amish world. The Amish ladies I have spoken with have told me that most of these novels are unrealistic and are not an accurate portrayal of Amish life.
Recently, I was having lunch with a friend of mine who had just visited Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where many Amish live. He commented to me how the Amish write so many books. I asked him what he meant, and he said he was at a store in a shopping center there, and it had shelves and shelves of Amish romance books. I explained to him that the Amish don’t write these books. They are all written by others.
Or so I thought. Then recently, I came across an Amish romance novel appropriately entitled Running Around. The name of the writer, Linda Byler, sounded familiar. I asked around and discovered that indeed she was the same Linda Byler who lives in our community and who is Old Order Amish. In fact, she lives just a few miles down the road from where I live.
For me, this was exciting. At last, an authentic Amish romance novel written by an Amish mother, who experienced rumspringa herself and who has daughters who are presently “running around.” If you want to get an authentic flavor of genuine Amish rumspringa, and if you like romance novels, I highly recommend this book.
In the realm of nonfiction, my two favorite authors about Amish life are Donald Kraybill and Stephen Scott. Donald Kraybill is a university professor who teaches Ana-baptist & Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. (The Amish are one of the Anabaptist branches.) Mr. Kraybill has written numerous books about the Amish. Probably my favorite is The Puzzles of Amish Life.
I have met Stephen Scott personally. He is a member of the Old Order River Brethren, a group who are related to the Amish. He too has written several books about the Amish and other “plain” churches. One of his books that many have found helpful in understand-ing Amish life is entitled Living Without Electricity.
If you visit an area with a large Amish population, you will undoubtedly find all three of these books I’ve mentioned in the local shops and bookstores. We also offer them for sale by mail ourselves. They can be ordered below.
In the fifth and final chapter of this eBook, I want to tell you about some of the places where you can visit and interact with the Amish.
Lizzie Glick longs to fit into her quiet Amish community. But Lizzie isn’t sure that’s what she wants for her future. She has too hot a temper. She hates housework and dislikes babies. She loves driving fast horses. She likes a young Amish man, Amos, but he doesn’t seem to have any interest in her. Not only that, the egg-truck driver, who is not Amish, seems to be attracted to Lizzie. Written by an Amish woman, based on true incidents.
345 pp. paper. $13.95
Anyone who has been around the Amish has no doubt made a number of puzzling observations: They cannot drive cars, but they can pay others to drive them. They allow electricity generated by solar panels, but not if it’s provided by a power company. They are not permitted to have telephones in their homes, but they can use a phone booth located outside their house. They use modern farm machinery – so long as it is pulled by horses.
Although all of these things seem contradictory and arbitrary, in reality there are wise and well-thought-out reasons behind all of them. In this work, Amish expert Donald Kraybill explains the various puzzles that have allowed the Amish to maintain their special way of life for centuries.
126 pp. paper. $7.95
Have you ever wondered how the Amish manage life without many of the inventions most people take for granted? How do you light up a room without electricity? How do you run a machine shop without electricity? What do you do for entertainment without a television. How do you farm without a tractor? How do you get hot water without electricity or natural gas? This book provides an insightful look into Amish life and the ingenious ways they have a good life without many of the modern inventions we take for granted.
156 pp. paper. $7.95