Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

When is it appropriate for Christians to start dating?

First, read this article from a Crisis Pregnancy Center worker.

Excerpt:

I have a bone to pick with young, socially conservative Americans, and I know it’s something that will get under your skin. Just sit tight, though, and hear me out, because the elephant in our tidy little room is starting to tear things up. It’s time we acknowledge his existence, and maybe even call in some animal movers to take him back to the zoo.

I currently live in a small community in the Bible-belt of the country and I have been given some opportunities to mentor young people from my area through different venues. I can count on one hand the kids I know from the local high school whose parents have never been divorced.  I’ve witnessed reactions of genuine surprise and envy from students who hear that my parents are still together. In any given conversation with groups of youth, I can expect to hear continual references to step-parents, step-siblings, and half-siblings. Divorce is a way of life down here – albeit one that has taken its toll in the lives of the young people that will make up the next generation.

However, while I could certainly write extensively on my experience with the negative effects of divorce on children and on society at large, I actually want to address something else entirely.  I have concerns about the number one way that our culture chooses to perpetuate the cancer of broken marriages and failed relationships– underage dating.

You can follow them on Facebook – the failed attempts at love, I mean. Somebody is always changing their status from “in a relationship” to “single.” Unfortunately, a huge number of these disappointed lovers are too young to be legally married. I wonder sometimes if I am the only one who winces to hear a thirteen-year old speak with cavalier abandon of his or her “ex?”  Since when is it considered healthy and acceptable for underage people to be in “relationships?” Just what do parents and educators expect to be the result of the romantic conquests of these middle-school children and young high school students? The results I’ve witnessed personally are beyond disturbing; they are downright sinister, and have caused me to question whether or not those who claim to champion marital fidelity and family values are paying any attention at all to the standards we are passing to our children.

The trouble with underage dating is that it presents an entirely faulty view of what interaction with the opposite gender should be about. Rather than placing emphasis on building one strong relationship with one person at a stage of life when a marital commitment is feasible, dating encourages young people to pour their energies into consistently seducing other young people at a time when neither of them are capable of making any long-term commitments. Their “relationships” are destined to fail from the get-go because they are founded on unhealthy perceptions of love and not backed by any real necessity to stick it out.

The beauty of marriage, as it was intended to be, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to learn to work through incompatibilities and give of themselves. In the same way, the great ugliness of dating as it is practiced by our culture and portrayed by our media, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to be selfish by giving them an easy “out” when things don’t go according to their initial feelings. I believe it is fair to say that this form of dating is a training manual for divorce, because it encourages young people to grow accustomed to giving their hearts away and then taking them back.

Sadly, parents who should know better continue to display shocking naïveté regarding the absurd practices of driving their twelve year olds out on a “date,” or purchasing provocative clothing for their sixteen-year-olds, or sympathizing with their broken-hearted fourteen-year-olds by assuring them that they’ll “find someone better.” “They’re just having fun,” they’ll tell us, rolling their eyes at what they consider to be our tightly wound principles. I work a volunteer shift at Crisis Pregnancy Clinic where I witness every week the ruined lives and broken dreams that “fun” has left with our youth.

And now here’s my take.

Basically, you can start dating as a prelude to courting when the woman and man are able to demonstrate to the other person that they are ready to fulfill their roles in the marriage.

For example, the woman should be able to show that she has been able to maintain commitments to caring for others through some period of time, maybe with small children or pets. She should be voluntarily entering into relationships and responsibilities with other people where she is giving of herself – like volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or caring for an ailing or elderly relative. That shows potential suitors that she has the right attitude to relationships – serving others self-sacrificially, and not looking for tingles and amusement. She should be able to show that she is good at making commitments and solving problems by studying hard subjects in school like nursing, economics, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering or computer science. That shows that she is able to do hard things that she doesn’t feel like doing, and apply herself over time until she has a degree. Obviously being conservative politically and being good at apologetics are also important if she intends to raise children.

And for the man, he should be able to show that he is able to do his roles – protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader. He should be able to prove that he is able to mentor and guide other people to learn things and do things that will make them more effective Christians. That’s moral and spiritual leadership. He should have studied a subject that is going to allow him to find work. If he is committed to going to graduate school, then he can study philosophy and law and other “world-changing” subjects, like a William Lane Craig or a Ryan Anderson. Otherwise, he should study things like petroleum engineering, computer science, or other fields that will allow him to be stable and secure. It’s not enough to be a hard worker, you have to be able to pull in the money and save it and still have time left over to care for your wife and lead the children. Again, conservative politics and apologetics are a must.

I think there are other ways for men and women to show that they are ready for marriage, but those are some ways. The key thing is that people shouldn’t be dating until they are able to show that they know the roles that they are expected to fill in marriage as men and women. They should also be looking for the right things in others. They can’t be looking for the shallow things that give them tingles, like looks, athleticism, etc. They can’t be looking for sexual attraction, primarily. Marriage requires specific behaviors from men and women, which are derived from what men and women do in marriage. Before men and women start dating, they have to be able to show that they are working on being able to handle their responsibilities, and they have to show that their selection criteria for the opposite sex are at least partly based on the responsibilities that the opposite sex has in a marriage. Otherwise they are just training to be governed by their tingles and to be selfish and to break up when all that falls apart.

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8 Responses

  1. Will S. says:

    I see what you’re saying, and I’m inclined to agree, generally; certainly, I can see how having such qualities in both spouses can be positive things, which one might well seek.

    Yet, people in centuries past got married and had children much earlier than today, and it worked, which leads me to think it’s possible for young people to be much more mature at earlier ages than they are currently, unfortunately, given how we have decided, as a society to draw out adolescence, and delay family formation until people are well-established in careers, etc. And I’m inclined to think we have been foolish in doing so, and an ideal for us to aim towards, might be to try to counter this, to trying to inculcate a sense of responsibility in our children, and prepare them to leave the nest earlier rather than later. I wonder, too, whether we might over-emphasize scholasticism in our young people: is it really necessary to have an extensive post-secondary education, and to consider such necessary as a pre-requisite to serious dating? In times past, it wasn’t, for most of society; might our emphasizing such to the extent that we do, be symptomatic of middle- to upper- class prioritization? I mean, working class people don’t go in for such levels of education, and in times past, when our society was both more agrarian and industrial, as opposed to the post-industrial, post-agrarian society we have today (and to which sort of occupations we encourage middle- and upper- class children to aim towards entering); do we really know something they didn’t?

    I don’t know; I’m kind of conflicted about this. I’m a product of the middle class myself, and I have an education, but I’m not sure the education I have automatically makes me a better potential spouse than I would have been had I chosen a trade or some other occupation requiring less education; I think values are most important, far more than skills, in terms of what might make an ideal spouse. But I’m a bachelor, so hey, take my opinions with a grain of salt. :)

    • I think that you are right, and these things can happen much earlier in principle. People in older generations were not so enamored of pointless education. They wanted to get out in the real world and get on with things, and parents were there to guide their decision making. Fathers would interview suitors and ask them about their intentions and finances, and whether a promotion was imminent. So everything could be done faster. Now, parents are sort of out of the picture because they are too busy trying to do their own thing and make money, and the children have no guidance. In the old days, you needed children to take care of you, but today, that has all been outsourced to the state (although the money for those programs is running out!). So we might see a return to responsible children when those programs go bankrupt, which would be nice.

      I think that if people go for education at all now, it should be mostly for practical stuff like petroleum engineering or computer science. No more borrowing and wasting tens of thousands on left-wing nonsense degrees. Trade school is a good way for a man to show he is marriage-minded. Electricians make good money, for example.

  2. I’m against underage dating, for sure. Until you’re old enough to marry in the near future, there is no point in dating. Children do not need to be having romantic relationships.

    However, I do think that people can be prepared to marry at younger ages than is common in this culture. It doesn’t take a 4-year degree and a 6-figure income. It just takes some maturity and hard work and a plan to be making enough money to live on (which does not have to include money for cable tv, a new car, or a mortgage payment).

    For example, my younger brother had a very good female friend growing up. Our families spent a lot of time together and they became very close. He knew he wanted to marry her at age 15 or 16. So at 16 he got a job and started saving. He bought a used car and paid for it himself. He finished highschool and started college at 17. At 18, they got married – by which time he already had several thousand dollars in the bank, a car, and an affordable house to rent. They were both attending a community college and working, but they couldn’t have been happier. And 10 months after they married (and just days after finishing graduation requirements), they had a baby boy. They both know that marriage is for life and are committed to staying together, no matter what. They have a plan and know how to save money. They’re not your typical 19-year olds, but it just goes to show you what is possible if you’re willing to work for it and learn to take responsibility.

    So, I don’t think you need to have a college degree or a fancy job in order to be ready to marry. You do, however, need to be mature enough to know how to take responsibility and make a lifelong commitment. That includes being able to hold down a job (even if it’s only minimum wage), knowing how to stay within your budget, and having the proper knowledge of what marriage entails (including your own responsibilities).

    Unfortunately, our society holds up the economic requirements (and even inflates them to ridiculous proportions) while ignoring or denying the more important personal maturity issues. They tell young people that they ought not marry until they’re out of college, have a good-paying job, and have bought a house – all the while forgetting to tell them to learn to live within their means (no matter how small) and how to love sacrificially.

    The thing is, in times past, it was very rare for a couple to have all that stuff just starting out. People went through tough times together, put each other through college, counted out spare change to buy milk, and many other economic hardships – but they were ultimately better off for it. They bonded through the hard times. Parents, though well-meaning, are telling their kids to get what they took years to accumulate before even thinking seriously about marriage. Instead of telling them to stick it out through the hard times, they tell them to avoid even having hard times by being “prepared” beforehand. In the meantime, while young people are waiting to reach that ever-illusive economic readiness point, they are dating for longer and longer periods and often falling into sexual sin, having children out of wedlock, and getting jaded by having multiple dating partners who never make a commitment.

    • I think that the 19 year old is fine, but you’re right that is not typical. The man there is basically pretty clear about desiring to make a commitment and the way he is pursuing that is by working and making money. He is decisive and has a plan. The woman has the ability to choose any other man, and even have sex before marriage. She is choosing the man who is working and saving money. So she is pro-marriage, and not pro-selfishness. Everyone has to decide what they really want and then act on it so that others can see that they are ready for marriage. If he is taking steps like that to take on his role, he is probably safe to marry. The best Dad I know is now a highly-paid engineer and he never went to college. He works two jobs and is awesome. He is very mature and he is good at commitments. That’s the key.

      I agree with your other point. I am just saying that in order to be dating, there needs to be a trend that you can spot. The woman has to be doing marriage-minded things and the man must be doing marriage-minded things.

      • “The woman has to be doing marriage-minded things and the man must be doing marriage-minded things.”

        Exactly. And parents need to be teaching their kids how to do marriage-minded things and doing so at an earlier age. We fail our kids when we encourage them to put off responsibility and focus on themselves rather than learning to be self-sacrificing and responsible. Not only do they marry later, but they are often still unprepared for marriage even into their 30’s (even if they have money) simply due to being so used to selfishness and irresponsibility – and then they end up choosing a spouse poorly and/or getting divorced.

        And, of course, parents should be teaching their kids not to date until they are prepared to marry in the near future. They should be preparing them to marry well while also helping them understand the purpose of dating and encouraging them not to begin a romantic relationship without a clear goal towards marriage.

        Meanwhile, singles should be paying attention to their own readiness for marriage and doing marriage-minded things while watching those around them for signs of the same. One might go so far as to say that a person who waits to date until they are ready for marriage is already showing signs that they would be a good marriage partner. Someone who rushes into the dating scene for the “fun” is probably not good marriage material.

        In my own experience, I waited until age 24 to date. I would have been quite happy to date before then, but never was asked by anyone marriage-minded. I was asked, but when I asked them to clarify intentions, it was usually something along the lines of “let’s just have fun and see what happens.” I wasn’t interested in wasting months or years of my life just to see what happens. Nor did I think that being strung along was “fun.” I had better things to do with my time. So when my now-husband asked me out, I asked him what he saw as the purpose of our relationship and said that I wasn’t interested in dating for fun, but was looking for a marriage partner. He was not only quite happy to clarify, but was quite thrilled to find a girl who was that direct about her intentions and wasn’t going to string him along either. So we started our dating relationship with the agreement that we were trying to determine if we were compatible for marrige. That’s what marriage-minded singles should be doing. It weeds out a lot of the deadbeats if you require them to be clear up front about the purpose of your relationship.

  3. I don’t know. I certainly see your point as valid and ideal, but a bit unrealistic. I don’t personally agree with the roles you outlined specifically, but I do agree with the logic you’re applying. They shouldn’t be able to date until they not only say they understand the full ramifications of a relationship, but that they also show responsibility with regards to the same. To leave the conversation open, I would leave it up to the parents to make the decision about what a relationship is, and what responsibility looks like.

    Alas, this is not a perfect world either. Most parents might think they know what a real relationship is, but many are likely unaware. They only know what they have learned, and can’t be expected to foresee all the potential needs of another person.

    Not all parents can control their children at the level required to pull this off successfully to begin with. Most couldn’t. A small handful could potentially net the respect necessary for their children to follow the rules that matter most. The harsh truth is, I think the majority of children are going to do what they want to do when they hit a certain age. Ruling with an iron fist is just going to drive many of those teenagers into a more rebellious state. Maintaining a respectful and trusting relationship with many of those teenagers is likely going to enable them to hide their poor decisions more easily. So what’s the answer?

    Every kid is different. It’s up to the parent to decide what’s best for each of their children individually. I would suspect that most “good” parents can keep their kids from making serious mistakes by raising them properly over the course of the childhood. From my experiences dealing with many young men and women from many walks of life, from many different locations, I conclude that it’s easier for parents in a small town to keep tabs on their kids. I’d also agree with the article that “most” of the late teens I’ve worked with that had their heads in the right place often came from a non-divorced family, but it isn’t just what happens during the teenage years…

    I’ve seen a large number (the majority, by far) of young adults that come from such a sheltered life find themselves in early relationships, having premarital sex anyways. Why? Because they move onto college, or the military, or the big city or even out on their own in the same town, and they have the cards stacked against them. While they weren’t allowed to date openly during their teen years, the other boys and girls were dating (and learning the ropes). Come college time, the ones who have little dating experience are easily taken advantage of by the ones who have figured out what it takes to get what they need or want during their high school years.

    My recommendation would be to allow them to start dating some time during high school, perhaps not until 16 (parent’s discretion). The teens need an open relationship with their parents that allow them to talk about what they are learning about the opposite sex. It’s up to the parents to give them just enough rope as to not allow them to hang themselves, but to let them learn as much as they can while they still live under the safe roof of the parents. Both parents need to try to put their personally feelings aside and mentor and guide their children by teaching them what a good man/woman is from the teen’s perspective. You may need to be willing to accept some things up to a certain point. If your teen can’t even talk to you about their first kiss in fear of being grounded for a decade, what makes you think they are going to approach you when they need to make the decision about going onto second base and beyond?
    I understand that many conservative parents might not agree with me, and to that I say good luck. You might have control of what goes on in your household, but you can’t control what they get exposed to in the real world the older they get. This sort of approach might work well for a small number of Christian families who have taken the right paths in life and have set themselves up to be successful parents of teens, but MOST parents aren’t going to fare so well. And what of the parents that did make mistakes and have gone through divorce? Do we simply abandon all hope to those teens? How do you tell them they can’t date until they are 18, when perhaps the mother was obviously pregnant with the teen at 16 or 17? I’d say that mom has probably learned a valuable lesson or two about life in that mistake, but to successfully convey such wisdom to a teen is another matter altogether. Different situations require different action. I don’t believe there is a single answer that works for everyone.

  4. Rachel P. says:

    I don’t think people in middle or high school should be dating, based on the way it’s done irresponsibly and for fun, I also see a lot of adults who date for fun too. If a person doesn’t know the meaning of life, what truth is and how to judge right from wrong based on that truth, or how to be self-controlled, they should not be trying to get into a relationship. I wince when I hear about 13 year old kids dating too, yet when I was in middle and high school I was one of very few people I knew who had never had a boyfriend before– basically it is the norm to date or to want to date, and I imagine it is becoming even more common to date and be interested in sex at a young age for kids. My little brothers both have had girlfriends before and it disturbs me quite a lot, yet I have no control over it and my parents think it’s perfectly fine and cute for kids to date. (one is in middle school and the other high school)

    When I was in middle school, and from what I know they still do it at my old school (I’m not sure if it’s done at other schools though) they had a thing called Pep where speakers would come in and talk about why you should save sex for marriage and inform us about STDs. I think it’s VERY good they had that because I would never have conceived of such a thing otherwise, because my parents didn’t really hold that ideal or any other people I knew. I’d never heard of the concept of courting until I started college.

  5. [...] When is it appropriate for Christians to start dating?  Some great advice: [...]

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