Romance is in bloom for another member of the Duggar family — but it's not your typical love story.
"19 Kids and Counting" stars Jim Bob and Michelle have announced that their 20-year-old daughter, Jessa, has entered into a courtship with Ben Seewald, 18, from Hot Springs, Arkansas, which is about three-and-a-half hours from the Duggar family home in Tontitown.
Jessa and Ben have an unusual relationship by modern standards. They met at church and started to get to know one another, which is a normal "how they met" story; however, all of their interactions are monitored by her parents, and their families are deeply involved in their relationship.
Explaining the difference between a courtship and dating to People magazine, Jim Bob, 48, said, "Courting is getting to know each other in a group setting, both families spending time together and the couple setting goals together to determine if they are meant to marry. With dating, a couple will often pair off alone and that sometimes leads to a more physical relationship."
"Courtship is not just about having fun," added Michelle, 47. "You are really considering if this person could be your life partner — you pray about it and see what happens. … All of our family is involved in this relationship. It is an exciting time."
While getting to know one another, Jessa and Ben's conversations are mostly faith-based, involving probing questions about theology and scripture. "They are enjoying getting to know each other and are recommending sermons to one another," the father of 19 shared.
Any physical contact between the couple is limited to hugging hello and goodbye. Specifically a "quick 30 second or less side hug."
"Jessa and Ben have said that was the only contact they would have," said Michelle, who, along with her husband, has faced controversy for not practicing birth control. "They want to wait on the physical relationship until later. If there is an engagement that comes about, they will work together on their goals and standards for that."
However, there is a modern twist on Jessa and Ben's old-fashioned courtship. They often communicate through text messages, but, again, those are monitored by Jim Bob and Michelle because they are actually sent through the parents' phones.
"It has been fun to watch them and both of our phones are going off back and forth, ping, ping, ping," said Michelle. "It has been interesting to watch their interactions because for her personality type, they share very similar beliefs."
And so far, Ben gets the seal of approval from Jim Bob and Michelle, whose other children are Joshua, 25; twins Jana and John-David, 23; Jill, 22; Jinger, 19; Joseph, 18; Josiah, 17; Joy-Anna, 15; twins Jedidiah and Jeremiah, 14; Jason, 13; James, 12; Justin, 11; Jackson, 9; Johanna, 7; Jennifer, 6; and Jordyn, 4, and Josie, 3.
"When a guy is pursing your daughter, you want to check him out and see if there are any red flags and with Ben, there hasn't been," Jim Bob told the magazine. "He is very sharp. It appears like a match made in heaven."
While Jessa and Ben's relationship doesn't work the way a typical romance plays out these days, it's normal for the Duggar family. Viewers of the TLC series, which returned to the air on Tuesday, will remember that when the eldest son, Josh, started courting Anna, they saved their first kiss until marriage — as Jessa plans to do. Josh and Anna went on to get married in 2008 and have three children: Mackynzie, 3, Michael, 2 and Marcus, 3 months.