Amish Dating

Sunday is the day Amish youth groups gather, and when dating couples traditionally meet.  So I thought it would be a good day to share this.

National Geographic is airing a new show called “Amish at the Altar”. They describe the show as:

Three couples–two Amish and one ex-Amish–reveal courtship, engagement, and marriage among the Amish. Interviews with the couples, family members, and current and former Amish elders offer an inside look at an old world ceremony.

Nat Geo has shared a short clip of the show (I’ve posted it below), about Amish dating during “Rumspringa“.  This is an interesting video for several reasons.

One is the Amish “elder’s” appearance for an on-camera interview (“elder” is the term National Geographic uses; I’m assuming they mean bishop or member of the ministry).

His name is Laverne Keim.  In the clip, Keim speaks frankly about the consequences of premarital sex from a church standpoint, as his wife looks on.  Keim is from the Garnett, Kansas Amish settlement, a small community with a long history.

In the clip you’ve also got some shots of what appears to be a late-night buggy race.  Or it may just be one carriage trying to pass another.  You tell me!

I also found the discussion of bed courtship, or “bundling”, interesting.  This is a practice that has been associated with the Amish but today is typically only seen among more conservative Amish groups.  Indeed many Amish find the practice of bed courtship morally objectionable.

With that in mind the piece’s approach to this practice seems pretty appropriate to me.  As an Amish girl in the video explains:  “Bed courtship…I would just say it’s sleeping together.”

If you’ve got a minute, worth a look:

Update: video removed at source

By the way, not sure what to make of the hand-holding couple that appears briefly in this clip.

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    1. Mylene

      Interesting, I noticed the man (they didn’t display his name) with the gray hair, seems to have a trimmed beard. I’ve not noticed this before. Is it done? I thought once married they were not permitted to shave their beard.

      1. Lets talk,

        Hello to you Miss. I must say that your letter got my attention. So that I we can talk and to get to know each other. And maybe we can make plans to meet up and go out to dinner. So let’s talk. Email me at

    2. I saw the previews and thought it looked pretty good, and I’ve got it set to record so we’ll see. After reading and seeing so much about the Amish, I’ve noticed there are very few instances where someone could say, “All Amish do…” and, “All Amish don’t…” because the settlements have SO many variations and differences. It’ll be interesting to see how they present it – I hope without a slant of negativity to it. I’m looking forward to it so I hope it’s good!

    3. Amy Jo

      interesting piece. would be interested in seeing the rest at some point. some things appear scripted or posed for the camera such as the couple holding hands with his Englisher haircut and such, as well as other things and the on camera interviews. though, some faces of those not directly interviewed were blurred (a positive). my guess is there is a mix of previously Amish, actors, and differing districts, etc utilized in the making of this. really dislike the score used – something that is used when a film maker desires to portray a negative mystery.

    4. Kim

      When is the show suppose to air? I would be very interested in seeing the rest of it.

    5. Karen Pollard

      I saw this on National Geographic. At least I saw one of them, if there’s a series. It focused primarily on the young couple who had left their Amish community and were planning to retake their marriage vows.

      They did talk to Mr. Keim and to another family whose son was marrying the girl in the turquoise dress above.

      I was extremely disappointed in the entire show. It was not that revealing. Left So much unsaid. I felt like the actual “Amish” was a sham because there were less than 12 people in the pictures and that is NOT how the Amish marry. It’s a big occasion with hundreds invited.

      Very disappointed.

    6. Hi Mylene, I have not seen the full program but going by the appearance I would say that the grey-haired gentleman was not actually an Old Order Amish person. I gathered that he was perhaps Mennonite or had Amish roots.

      As to your question some Amish actually do trim their beards. More conservative Amish are less likely to do so, however.

    7. Beth, good point–and on catching the show, Kim I believe it has already aired but there is another showing Wed Nov 17 at 4pm, according to the site.

      Amy Jo, I had a similar impression about the hand-holding couple–seemed a bit staged and though you do have Amish youth with the non-Amish style hair cut some things about the appearance didn’t seem to pass the smell test. Maybe it’s my vision but he seems to be about 40!

    8. Where Amish youth meet the opposite sex

      Hi Karen, thanks for sharing, I’m glad someone who has seen the full program commented too. I have not seen the full show, only this clip–did you mean they focused mainly on the Mary Gingerich who is seen in this segment? That seems odd that it would be more about ex-Amish, especially since it is billed as being about the Amish and most of this clip is on the Amish.

      I particularly found how they addressed bed courtship to be interesting. It is one of those images of the Amish that catch people’s attention, even though it applies to a minority. I know some Amish that are pretty adamant about bed courtship.

      A subtle point I appreciated was that they noted that after graduating 8th grade, interaction with the opposite sex drops off until joining a youth group. It is actually something I have not thought of before but I suppose this would be true, at least to a degree-not having the interaction at school (though there would still be other venues). Though I don’t know that it is a crucial point, interesting nonetheless.

      If anyone else has seen the program in full would be curious to hear what you thought.

    9. Alice Aber

      Very interesting but it has really left me asking more questions, LOL. I think the buggies may have been racing as the gentleman with the white hair and beard made reference to racing at the time the clip was being shown. Not really sure of what the couple holding hands is all about. It almost seemed phoney, but at that time the ex Amish girl was saying how hand holding was allowed.

      I do get the feeling from this clip that the Amish are being portrayed in a negative light as to say, “if you are Amish you are not allowed to do anything” and that’s wrong. To me it seems to portray a “reason to not be religious or spiritual”. We seem to have a lot of that in public medias today, not just against the Amish but against Christianity in general.

      I have not see the full show and am only getting these impressions from this small clip. Thanks for sharing Erik!! It will be interesting to see what others feel from this as well.

    10. Michelle V

      I can’t wait to watch – I will rush home early from school. The young lady with the light yellow dress seems so Fashion Forward just look at her sleeves and her boyfriend does as well. They make a cute couple. On another blog site, that mentioned Amish/Alter stated they are Beachy Amish Mennonite(is that legal :)) Thanks E for posting Anthro./Soc. like articles lately. Still waiting for more POW WOW stuff … You would make an awesome professor!!!
      Michelle V from FL

    11. Alice Aber

      I agree with you Erik. But I sort of got the feeling throughout the clip that it was slanted against the Amish way of life, not just by the ex Amish woman. Like you I can not recall either if it was stated regarding baptism or the time she left the Amish.

      I hope I can get to see the entire program too. Really one can only speculate based on the small clip.

    12. Anti-Amish, Christian media slant

      Much appreciated Alice and Michelle. I will try to catch this as I can as it would probably be good to see the full program.

      Alice you wrote:

      To me it seems to portray a “reason to not be religious or spiritual”. We seem to have a lot of that in public medias today, not just against the Amish but against Christianity in general.

      I think there often is this sort of slant in the media. The comments of the ex-Amish woman (or did she grow up Amish and choose not to be baptized, I cannot recall if it was stated) critical of restrictions of Amish life are not uncommon, so I wasn’t surprised that she made them as someone who has chosen to not be a part of an Amish church. Restrictions are often given as a reason either before or after the fact.

      Michelle on the young couple, I never got the impression that they were not Old Order Amish–the connection was not made in the clip (again maybe it’s clearer in the full program) but I actually supposed that one of them was the child of Laverne Keim. The young man’s appearance is not too uncommon for young Amish males before baptism, as some youth, particularly males, dress “non-Amish”.

      Some of this is speculation though, again without having full knowledge of the show.

    13. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      I hope the Canadian Nat-Geo channel doesn’t take a year to two years to show this. Anyone catch PBS’ “Burt Wolf Travels and Traditions” episode on Philadelphia. Quite a bit of talk in that one about Amish and Mennonites, though Burt makes it sound like the Amish and Mennonites developed separately in the old countries.

    14. You are right about bed courtship being a practice of the minority. Here is an interesting (non-Amish) view of the history of bundling.
      (I hope I got the html code right to make the link work 🙁 )
      Of the thousands of Amish and ex-Amish that I know personally, I dont know of a single one that would approve of bundling, and I have to strain my mind to even think of any that I know of that practiced it. Seems to be more in the ‘low’ Amish, i.e. Swartzentruber. A few generations back it might have been more prevalent.
      Benuel Blank treats the subject in his book “The Amazing Story of the Ausbund,” on page 89. In brief, he says that the practice was picked up in the early days of the American settlements, from their neighbors. I quote:
      “Here [in America] they learned to take a part in practices during the time of courtship which would have been nothing but repulsive and revolting to the young Anabaptist boys and girls of a generation earlier who were being persecuted for their spiritual faith back in Europe. We know that the vices that slowly crept into the churches were surely not brought over to America by those Anabaptist people with high morals who sought to match their conduct and way of behaviour with Scriptural ideals. …
      To be more specific and to express it clearly enough to be well understood, their associating with each other was “lights on and hands off.”” [end quote]
      Of course, I suspect that any documentary on the subject will highlight bed courtship, since to keep our perverted society’s attention, the film has to highlight any and all things reproductive. While holding hands may be permitted in some Old Order situations, once you step into New Order or Beachy or other car groups, the standard is “No touch” courtship. That holds true until you get into the more liberal groups, where head veilings and plain dress have been dropped. Then you get into pretty much the same values as typical evangelical churches might hold.

    15. I thought it was kind of funny when the man was saying they don’t believe in pre-marital sex. I don’t think any religion does, do they? Of course you’re going to have people that do and those that don’t but I don’t think that’s an Amish-specific value. Also, I think it’s being aired on the 21st also so if someone misses the 17th they might be able to catch it then.

    16. Christina

      Yes, that couple holding hands seems suspect to me as well. He looks to be in his upper 30’s or early 40’s and the material of her dress looks mighty fancy!

      Otherwise, it looks like it will be interesting. I hope they post the full video on their website so I can watch it since we don’t have cable or dish (or tv for that matter!)

    17. Beth–good point. I don’t know that it is a stated value of any religion. But I do think his mentioning it so explicitly was testament to how strong the position is on premarital sex. Thanks for letting know about the other airtime!

      Christina, my thoughts exactly on the couple 😉

    18. Amish bed courtship, aka bundling

      Thanks for the bundling link and for referencing Benuel Blank’s book Mike. I know he was very respected. I’ve read some of what he wrote but not the bit you mention here.

      Astute point on what the documentary chooses to focus on. Sex sells I guess. But I at least think it was good that they seemed to do a little homework on it, and got the anti-bed courtship viewpoint in there rather than just putting the idea of bundling out there as one of those quirky things the Amish do (if I were speaking you’d hear a touch of sarcasm 😉 )

    19. Merrie Rancourt

      I attend a conservative Mennonite church. From that point of view I would have to agree about the one couple being staged. Conservative Anabaptists dress *plainly* and *modestly*. Her dress is neither. Hand holding is not done in public either.

    20. Adrian

      Hey Erik,

      I just watched this last night. It’s from the same folks who brought us Devil’s Playground and Amish in the City: Stick Figure Productions/Steven Cantor. Also, one of the folks featured in the show is Mose Gingerich from Amish in the City. On the whole, the show was interesting, and had some great visuals. It wasn’t the best documentary I’ve seen on the Amish but far from the worst. Seems like they covered things not normally dealt with as far as Amish courtship/Rumspringa/and wedding ceremonies go.


    21. I watched this. They did focus a lot on the ex-Amish couple renewing their vows (pointing out the ex-Amish community in Columbia, MO). The program talked about some of the planning and prep for the weddings. I think that the couples they featured are from much more progressive families – certainly not the more strict orders.
      I thought the program was okay, but not outstanding or overly informative.

    22. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Maybe it’s more of an English thing, but would Amish youth use something called a courting candle? The people in re-enactment circles that I’ve talked to say that the aim of the courting candle is to control the amount of time a boy and girl spend together out on the porch, if it’s adjusted to the lowest level, the pair will only have minutes together, but if the candle is propped up higher they could spend a greater time together.
      I bought a reproduction and I don’t think it would be too hard for a youngster to adjust the part that moves the candle. Is there something similar to this in the Amish tradition?

    23. me

      The couple holding hands is actually a liberal mennonite couple. The only way I know it’s them is I saw photos of this wedding “re-enactment” on a friend’s facebook page. Oh, the joys of technology 😉

    24. Shanna

      I wish I could have watched the full show. I, too, was suspicious of the girl’s very shiny turquoise dress and other aspects of this film, but there are SO many different types of Amish and Mennonites that you can’t stereotype them….although many of us do.

      As far as bundling goes, it’s not an “Amish” practice per se. I believe the English colonists here practiced it. Even my great-grandmother (an old-time Baptist) courted this way. They would wrap the girl up in a quilt or put the girl under the sheets and the boy above them, a board or quilt between them, or some other way to keep them “apart.” It was practical in homes where the only heat came from a very inefficient fireplace, and the only light from kerosene lamps. The family could bank the fire and turn off the lamps and the couple could have a little time together while still being warm. Consider, too, that the couple was still almost fully dressed; the girl (late 19th-early 20th century) in long drawers, several heavy petticoats, possibly a corset and corset cover, dress, long stockings and garters, etc. Was some flim-flam possible? Yes. Was it easy? No.

    25. date

      im 34
      name eric foster
      ineed a date with a amish girl for Friday night
      I love movies