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