Should singles date someone only if they think they would like to marry them?
One of the more common comments I get after a seminar, or after someone has read The Sacred Search, is this: “Should dating be reserved only for someone you think you want to marry?”
The following email excerpt is typical:
“My parents did not allow us to have boyfriends growing up unless we were sure we wanted to marry them. So I grew up with the mindset of viewing guys through the lens of marriage material. When you’re in your early 20s and men are all over the place, it was easier than it is now, being 28 years old, single, a professional, not very experienced and facing family and community pressure on not being married… I had started to lose hope that following Christian values was not working…”
I so wince at that leap in logic: “I had started to lose hope that following Christian values was not working…”
An entire generation of Christians has grown up with the thought that dating is dangerous at best, and many are now in their thirties re-thinking that strategy, fighting not to become bitter and even questioning their faith. Let’s not assume, however, that what they were taught necessarily constitutes “Christian values.”
Joshua Harris has made headlines admitting that he might be in the process of re-thinking his message from his popular 1997 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I actually quote from Joshua’s book in The Sacred Search and while I’m pleased he’s re-thinking certain aspects of it, I have to confess that my dating lifestyle was not healthy, and I can imagine I could have benefitted from drifting more toward Josh’s teaching. Yet many are now telling me that their “non-dating” lifestyle wasn’t healthy, either. I believe Josh tried to thoughtfully counter many abuses in his (and my) day, and I’m grateful for his heart and courage (both then and now). Attacks on books usually take a few provocative statements out of context, make leaps in logic the author never intended, and often try to extend the logic to points that are absurd, and I have no interest in doing that to Josh.
But it’s fair to raise the question: what’s “responsible dating?” How serious do you have to be about each other before you become “exclusive?”
I talk with an increasing number of singles who were so fearful of making a mistake in dating that they never really did, and now feel like they have fewer choices than ever. Beliefs have consequences. If you fear dating, you may be closing the door on a primary avenue of finding someone to marry.
I’d like to throw out a few observations, and let you all react as you think it’s appropriate. This blog is more about opening up a conversation than it is about providing answers. I’ve said much of what I thought in The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not About Who You Marry, but Why?
- The cultural reality of the Old and New Testaments were so radically different than today’s environment of choosing whom to marry that trying to find an authoritative “biblical pattern of dating” is a fool’s errand. We can (and should) apply biblical principles about how to treat each other, but there is not a true biblical method to follow, and talking as if there is one is hubris.
- The frequent, very emotionally-involved dating cycle with many women that I grew up with was unhealthy and not conducive to finding a mate. We became exclusive as soon as we had feelings for each other, and when the feelings faded, we broke up. This created much hurt and wasted much time. Removing dating from any thought of potential marriage took me away from a more productive use of those years. Joshua might have over-done it when writing about courtship; I certainly over-did it when, in practice, I dated exclusively as soon as I felt like it.
- One of the limitations of “courtship” is that you get locked into a relationship and are determined to try to make it work (since it does seem more serious than dating) when it may not be a wise match. A pseudo-engagement may receive more effort than it deserves or more commitment than the relationship can support. I implore singles to be very cautious about the first use of those two famous words “love” and “marriage.” You can’t take those words back, and I’ve seen a premature expression of them sap the joy out of a couple getting to know each other.
- It’s healthy for young people to spend time with the opposite sex; it can also be helpful for young people to spend time with the opposite sex in a one-on-one setting. But how can we do this in a way that protects our emotions and doesn’t lead to a series of sexual relationships?
- A godly person will not be quick to declare their emotions when they know infatuation is intense and fleeting. They will want to protect their heart and the heart of the person they’re interested in, more than they’ll want the immediate satisfaction of having an infatuation returned.
- The “process” of dating does matter, as it turns you into a certain kind of person—one who takes selfish advantage of others or one who learns to serve and protect others. My unhealthy attitudes toward dating carried on into my marriage and nearly destroyed it in the early years. I hadn’t exposed the lies and selfishness behind dating and wasn’t emotionally or spiritually prepared for marriage. Thank God for his grace and Lisa for her perseverance.
A lot of singles come to this blog when we raise topics like this, so if you’d like to add some of your reflections in the comments, feel free. And singles, please let us know what it’s like out there!