Dating: A Sure Way to Lose Your Body, Heart, and Soul…Wait. What?

There was a Jefferson Bethke meme that was floating around on Facebook which said:

“Dating with no intent to marry is like going to the grocery store with no money. You either leave unhappy or take something that isn’t yours.”

It captured my attention and lingered on my mind for several days.  I used to be of a similar persuasion. I kissed dating goodbye and went to Joshua Harris’s dating conference and I opted to “court” instead of date around the age of 13. We talked about “dating with a purpose” and “guarding our hearts.”

The thing is my first relationship didn’t quite work out—even though we courted. I was very uncomfortable throughout the entire process. In fact, I recently came across an old journal I kept during that time and I’m appalled at how tortured the words are. Looking back, I realize I felt that I was committing to a person whom I greatly admired and saw as a friend, but didn’t know on a very personal level. And even though we courted, I could never let myself get to know him on a personal level because I was too stressed out about the marriage part.

After that experience I determined that courtship wasn’t for me.

Note

One of the challenges in discussing this topic is that there are many different versions of dating and courtship and many things in between. Each person has their own definition of what these words mean. As you’re reading, please keep this in mind.

Dating Equals Bad?

Many people in conservative Christian (especially homeschool) circles feel that dating is not only not the answer but actually not the way God intended. They believe they are called to a higher standard which is somehow interpreted as stuffing their feelings down somewhere deep until the “right time.” I’ve seen several resources, including Boundless, state that dating is unwise because the woman could initiate a relationship just as easily as the man. This is presumed wrong because the man is to be a leader in marriage and by the woman initiating a relationship it sets up a wrong pattern and allows the man to be lazy.

Below are some common reasons why dating is considered unwise in these circles:

  1. Sexual purity is important and is hard to maintain in a dating relationship
  2. Each time you date someone you give them a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back
  3. Dating recreationally is defrauding (leading on) the other person
  4. Dating is practice for divorce

Sexual purity is important and is hard to maintain in a dating relationship

Let me preface by saying that the Bible is pretty clear on the expectation of Christians and sexual relationships outside of marriage. I’m not here to tell you any different. What I am here to tell you is that I believe the church puts too much focus on this particular sin. Much guilt is placed on those who have misstepped in this area and yet God’s grace is just as abundant for this sin as it is for any other.

I feel like most of the time the parents fear that their child might give away something they can never get back. I understand the concern. But there comes a time when we parents have to acknowledge the fact that we’ve taught our children to the best of our ability and we have to let them fly. Live and learn and deal with the consequences of their mistakes (if any).

This fear seems to be the driving force behind the dating vs. courtship mindset. We are meant to guide our children and help them learn how to make wise decisions as they grow, but that’s not what’s happening. Instead (often even as adults) they get many rules and few choices when it comes to their romantic interests.

In many instances of courtship I’ve seen, adult children must have a chaperone at all times. This makes it very difficult to get to know the other individual. If a person is old enough to be married, involvement of a parent in this way is completely unnecessary. Ideally, the thoughts and impressions of the parents would be welcome in any new relationship, but not required.

Parents should certainly talk about boundaries, but we also have to consider the age of the those involved. A conversation with 15-year-old would be completely different from a conversation with an 18-year-old and a conversation with anyone older than 20 shouldn’t even occur.  If you’ve been talking to your kids all along, they’ll think about these things when they’re in a relationship.

Each time you date (or have a crush on) someone you give them a piece of your heart that you’ll never get back

This presumption comes from the Proverbs 4:23 which says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (NLT).  This verse is taken completely out of context. Take a look at the entire chapter.

God did not create us with a finite amount of love. We are created in his image with the ability to love infinitely! You don’t give away bits of love that you can’t ever get back. That’s not how love works.

So let’s talk about broken hearts. First of all, emotional attachments can be formed when there is no formal relationship whatsoever. As a parent, I understand that we’d like to save our children from heartache, but by refusing to allow a person to act on their innate tendency to give and receive affection, we’re instead teaching them to be fearful of taking a risk on a person. Unfortunately this is easily transferable to all types of relationships.

Experiencing heartbreak is part of life and it’s bound to run into us and knock us on off our feet given enough time. Heartbreak is not always caused by romantic misadventures but often is the result of the natural ebb and flow of life. The definition of heartbreak is: A very strong feeling of sadness; disappointment.”  Marriage also is not the definitive answer to preventing heartbreak. I know several married couples where one or both are heartbroken because of great disappointments in the marriage.

Finally, as cheesy as it may sound, I really do believe it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It’s an experience that creates unforgettable memories and can aid in producing a well-rounded person.

Dating recreationally is defrauding (leading on) the other person

I’m not quite sure how defrauding means leading someone on.  This thought stems from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and the word “defraud” is absent in many versions. It seems to be speaking more about taking advantage of someone sexually. Nevertheless it’s used to mean “lead on” in reference to male/female relationships in many Christian circles.

Moving on…

In any relationship honesty is key. Both people should go into the relationship knowing that it’s not a commitment to stay together forever, but rather that the purpose is to get to know someone you really like better than you already do. If you find out, that under the exterior, they really aren’t your type it’s okay to break things off.

Recreational dating could lead one or both people on. I don’t necessarily disagree that dating with a purpose is bad but I also don’t think that purpose has to be marriage. I believe that most people already date with a purpose but don’t get hung up on marriage. In the spirit of honesty, if you realize you don’t see a future with that person, there is no reason to keep the relationship going.

Dating is practice for divorce

Dating is actually practice for relationships. It’s practice for communication, practice for conflict resolution, practice for disappointment, practice for etiquette, practice in the art of listening, and practice for how to present oneself in social settings.  Dating allows the opportunity for couples to realize that relationships are hard work. You have to put a lot into them to get good things out of them.

Furthermore, in either the scenario of dating or courtship, if the relationship is not working out someone puts an end to it. Thus courtship is just as much practice for divorce as dating. In some instances of courtship I’ve seen, the parents have been the party to call off the relationship. This is even worse! In a marriage, we can’t (or shouldn’t) expect our parents to make decisions for us regarding our relationship with our spouse. This instills codependence and not independence. It’s crucial that each party know themselves before going into a marriage and to know that they are capable of coping without parental guidance.

Back to that quote

The thing about that quote is that we need to learn to have healthy, realistic expectations. By encouraging dating with the intent to marry, we’re setting young people up with an expectation that the first person with whom they have a relationship they will marry. This could lead to hesitation in the relationship or disappointment if it doesn’t work out.  In addition, it makes the assumption that anyone who dates without the intent to marry will become a moral failure and steal someone’s virginity.

A few last things I’ll throw out there before closing—just in case I didn’t make myself clear before:

  • Parental involvement is important the younger the interested parties are. Once they are adults parental involvement should be advice only.
  • Emotional intimacy should match commitment level.
  • Sex should be saved for marriage.
  • Dating is not a commitment before the Lord.

There is much more that could be said about this topic—much, much more. But I’ll leave the rest for some other time.

17 thoughts on “Dating: A Sure Way to Lose Your Body, Heart, and Soul…Wait. What?

  1. Kendra, I think this is a great example of how some of us homeschoolers could write books on what our upbringing has taught us, good and bad. I’m not bitter by any means, but this is an example of something I know I’m going to do differently with my kids. Our parents were raised one way, raised us another, and now we–the next generation of parents–have learned from both.

    I guess everyone learns this kind of stuff from their parents, our experience is just similar because of our homeschool/conservative Christian upbringing.

  2. Some good points. I know people and have talked to people who have been on both extremes and everywhere in between. Some have regrets some don’t. Every person and every relationship is different and God gives a lot of freedom to choose how to proceed. There is no right or wrong formula. I do think there are wise choices to be made and God clearly commands sexual purity. Which is where people often disagree on what that entails. Ryan and I did an okay job but even though I dont dwell on this I wish we would have done better. We chose to kiss before marriage and honestly anyone who can make out and completely abstain from sexual thoughts or touching …I would have to question either their honesty or there humaness…is that a word? I just hope that God grants me wisdom and my kids wisdom when it comes to choosing a mate…it is a huge commitment before God, one that is no light matter. But also should be fun and no pressure when getting to know people. There is no perfect way…just important to stick to the light that God has revealed in His word on the subject.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts! I mostly agree that there is no right or wrong way, except when parents completely take over the relationship. I also agree that sexual purity is important but I just think that for adults it should be up to them to draw the line and not their parents. Meaning, they don’t need to be chaperoned.

      1. Kendra–this is EXACTLY how I grew up and I cannot lie…it’s caused issues with me and relationships. I thought I had to date with an intent to marry and forgot to just get to know him on a personal level. And the sad thing is, the church I grew up in is still teaching that. Thank you so much for your wisdom and writing–truly inspirational and thought provoking. I hope more read and open their hearts and minds to your advice.

        1. I’m so glad you can relate! It’s nice to know you aren’t the only one, isn’t it? Please feel free to share if you think it would help other people see a different perspective.

  3. I agree with most of what you have said here. I, too, have seen the detriment that a legalistic “court only” mindset can bring. I knew a girl who was SET on courting, got a HUGE crush on a young man and completely gave her heart to him… she obsessed over him for years. Guess what? She was devastated when he started “courting” and married another girl. She was just as brokenhearted over that crush as she would have been if they had been in a relationship that ended. That is one example of many that I can think of where “courting” failed. The key element in whatever relationship category you choose to pursue is to guard your heart (for one thing, because it is desperately wicked!).

    That being said, I disagree that there is too high an emphasis placed on sexual purity before marriage. I don’t think too high an emphasis can EVER be placed on ANY sin. That’s just my opinion, though. Also my opinion – anytime anyone states absolutes that are not absolutely stated in scripture, it can be considered spiritual abuse. We must cling, therefore, to the truth of scripture and not the many opinions of man. (And, be careful that we don’t put our opinions on display as absolutes, either!)

    You put a lot of thought and time into this post, Kendra. I’m glad that you’re working through your thoughts via writing.

    1. Amy, I would counter *your* counter on Kendra’s point about the church often putting too much focus on sexual sin. And let me first point out that there is a difference between contemporary Christian culture within the church, and the word of God. She wasn’t saying it should be considered less of a sin, but she called out how it can be used as a line of ostracization.

      I would harken back to how Jesus became known as one who associated with “sinners”. Only the big bad sinners were actually referred to as that though, because in truth all of us sin. But THE sinners were the ones who were looked down upon and defined by their mistakes. You certainly didn’t let your kids hang around them, and a legitimate prophet or man of God would never keep company with such individuals. Jesus broke that apart. Jesus proved their thinking about THE sinners was wrong. The culture in many churches today can treat many people in just the same way. It may be a hazy line to walk to not condone *nor* be too hard on an individual for their sin, but like Kendra said, know that any and all sin is washed away with Christ’s blood just the same as another. (This calls to mind the topics of Romans 6). The truth about sexual sin in conservative Christian culture is that it is often a marker on a person. You can stop being a liar or a thief, but you will always be “that girl” or “that guy” in the eyes of many if you have struggled with sexual sin or especially if you’ve had a child out of wedlock.

    2. Amy, thanks for your comment! I certainly don’t mean that we shouldn’t look at lack of sexual purity as a sin, only that when people do mess up it seems be considered a more ostracize-able sin. Or a sin for which we should be more ashamed than other sins.

  4. You made some good points, Kendra. One thing I would say is that just because you had a difficult experience with “courting” or “dating with a purpose” doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Sure there are people that take it to extremes (in our opinions), but there are people who take “dating around” to an extreme as well.

    I know a lot of people who have standards that seem too “homeschooly” and “controlling” but the kids don’t have a problem with it. (And yes, I also know some who did get hurt by it…but I know a lot who have been hurt by dating around as well.) Yoi have to remember that parents are human and make mistakes too. I’m sure most of then are trying to do the very best thing for their children.

    The truth is marriage was created by God. It was made to symbolize the love Christ had for us. As a believer the whole point of dating IS to find a spouse that builds you up and makes you want to be a better Christian so it should be treated with respect and not taken lightly.

    The most important thing, whether parents choose to go the courting route or the dating route is that it’s held up not to other peoples standards, but to the Bible and God’s standards. I think the way parents find the balance between guiding/helping their children with finding a spouse (as opposed to controlling them) is to not only be in the Word every day and have a good relationship with God, but to encourage our kids to do the same. Then our kids will WANT our council/advice, but will also be holding it up to the light for themselves as well.

    This is just my two sense on the matter.

      1. The same thing my parents told me. The point of dating is marriage, and at 16 they’re not ready to make that commitment. So, they can have them over to hang out with us or go out with groups of people to get to know them as friends.

        1. I think it is perfectly fine to have that mindset that dating is for marriage. The thing that Kendra made me realize in her blog is that we have to be careful that they understand that if you date someone and realize that they are not the person for you to marry its ok! It’s not always a one and done thing. I think it something we have to find the balance in and make sure we are communicating ourselves correctly.

    1. Julia, thanks for your comment!

      I wouldn’t say that I had a difficult experience with courting or dating with a purpose. Originally it was my wish to court and after trying it I realized it wasn’t what I thought. I am very grateful for all of my experiences no matter how they turned out because they have enabled me to identify with different types of people. AND I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will make mistakes as a parent because I’ve already made them!

      The point of this post is not meant to be a diatribe against everything that’s gone wrong in my life. It’s purpose is about learning and growing and asking ourselves if there’s a better way. I did not experience a super restrictive courtship (not compared to some). But I do think that because of the concepts that are taught in many conservative circles, we sometimes need to relax a bit in our relationships.

      There is nothing wrong with asking your kids to wait to start dating until they’re older but that doesn’t mean they won’t already be dating that person in their head. It’s great to read the Bible every day and have a fantastic relationship with God but those things aren’t an insurance policy for having a great relationship with our kids.

  5. I used to joke with Amber that we “french kissed dating goodbye.” It isn’t perhaps the most accurate picture of our relationship, and the first time I said it we probably hadn’t even held hands yet…read on. I have read perhaps a dozen or two books on courtship, many of them more than once. For many people, courtship works–and works well. The thing that is often misunderstood when it comes to biblical courtship is how courtship actually works–you spend time with someone whom you think MAY be a good mate for you. What you need to remember is just because your relationship does not work out with that person does not mean that the courtship failed–it means that the courtship was successful. YOU found that you were not a good fit for each other. Kendra, you are the fantastic person you are today because of your life experiences–good and bad. Something that I often find it hard for MY mind to grasp is that just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Heck, I knew Amber was the prettiest girl in the world and I wanted to marry her the first time I saw her…I was 13. It doesn’t work like that for everyone. Anyways, I would strongly caution against recreational dating with no purpose. Can broken hearts and sexual impurity occur outside of a dating relationship? Sure. Does it occur more often in a dating relationship? Absolutely. I can find no fault in the couple that decides to guard their hearts both before and during their relationships. Individuals who have been in the revolving door of recreational dating since a young age are going to be much more susceptible to ending up in a bad “rebound” relationship or feeling like they must always be in a relationship. I enjoyed (sometimes) my parents involvement in my romantic relationship and I know they always had my best interests at heart. They have been there and done that and have a wealth of knowledge and experience with relationships—they are ancient wise people after all… If you are 21 and living at home under your parents roof I think you owe it to them to respect their authority and direction. If you want to make all of your own decisions you need to move out on your own (which I absolutely encourage). I was listening to Delilah the other not on B98FM and there was a 15yo boy that called in asking for a song…he was upset because his future mother in law wouldn’t let him see his “fiancee.” Delilah worked her magic and figured out that his “fiancee” was 13. Certainly not old enough to be dating or getting engaged and definitely not a healthy relationship. If you are 17 years old and like a boy…invite him over. Go to the movies with him and the rest of your group of friends. There are plenty of things you can do with your boyfriend to get to know him other than dates. I’ve rambled a bit…and I apologize for that. Amber, you are a hottie–I will date you any day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*