I was recently speaking with a young friend of mine who was sharing about the difficulties of relationship dynamics at a Christian College. Having ended up at a Christian college myself and having gown up in youth group, I knew all too well what she was experiencing.
Many young Christian twenty-somethings today grew up with the notion that ‘Kissing Dating Goodbye’ was the surest way to pure, Godly, long-lasting marital bliss.This idea swept through the Evangelical Christian community as though Josh Harris was the leader of Hillsong. I kid…but it was pretty prevalent. Young people were fast taught that the way to stay pure of body and heart was to adopt a practice of courtship versus dating. This idea basically involves entering into a very serious agreement, basically a promise of engagement with a young woman’s father if a young man was interested in pursuing a girl, then agreeing to supervised hangout sessions and being watched by the entire church congregation and a bunch of other fine print. Courtship advocates against the dating of multiple different people so as to not give multiple pieces of your heart away or spoil yourself for your spouse…I have visions of passing unwrapped Starburst around in a circle: what a waste of a good piece of strawberry deliciousness.
I’m not even going to go into the flawed reasoning and detrimental effects behind telling adolescents that they are chipping away a piece of themselves with every new relationship encounter…suffice it to say I feel this is completely backwards. Dating, when done with brains, can be really educational and most of the time you gain something important, a learning experience, often a good one. And I think this applies to everyone, whether you had a religious upbringing or not.
Okay, so before you lynch me for for my opinions based on the title of this post, I implore you to consider my reasoning:
First off, let me just say that there’s a reason why dating is not engagement, and engagement is not marriage. Each stage has it’s own delineation for a purpose. Period. Dating is for determining the fit of a partner, engagement is for serious execution of your plans (to see if they hold water) and marriage is the FOREVER (supposedly), in a good way though. I like to think of these stages as theoretical, actual, and concrete.
I know there are some people that feel strongly that being engaged is the same as marriage because you gave someone your word. Guess what? It’s not. You know why? Because you don’t need a divorce to get out of an engagement. This is a purposeful distinction in this day and age. And that’s a good thing because people who utilize the engagement period for what it’s really for tend to get a lot out of it. And I don’t have a problem with the level of accountability the church brings into the idea of courtship, I think how accountable a couple wants to be to everyone else and their mom is something for everyone to determine on their own.
I do have a problem with bypassing the idea of dating altogether and accordion-smashing it right into engagement as though they are not two separate, necessary, important steps on the way to finding a life partner. My young friend hit on a key point of frustration this produces in the Christian community: the expectation that you should somehow divinely know right away whether the person you are interested in going out with is “the one”, since if they’re not, it’s probably a huge waste of time and a sin, and if they are, you’d better get engaged yesterday. This kind of all or nothing, win or lose, thinking not only places way too much pressure on young people in a situation that’s already enough of a challenge on it’s own, but it comes at the expense of some highly developmental learning experiences. And more often than not, leaves several young people feeling lonely, rejected, confused, self-conscious, and paralyzed in romantic pursuits.
I challenged my friend to apply this thinking to any other important decision-making process. Imagine if you were shopping for your wedding dress or suit and were told that you have your choice of any garment you wish, but the first one you picked up you had to buy, so you better make sure that you choose the right one! Talk about a panic attack waiting to happen. We all know that certain garments look/feel/fit better on the hanger than on a person.
That’s why the good Lord made dressing rooms–can I get an Amen??? So you can try that garment on for size and color, fit and flare, etc. To most people, what you wear on your wedding day is a big deal. Think of how many different outfits you try on for your wedding day to find the right one, and that’s only your clothing…Now ask yourself, why would you give yourself more options in your choice of attire than in your choice of mate? Why would you allow yourself to get to know more dresses than dudes? Why try on more suits than suitors? More gowns than guys? More tuxes than teammates? You get the idea…
Now, are there people that buy the first wedding dresses they try on? YES! Lucky them. They are the exception, not the rule. I’m not saying that courtship cannot work, I went to school with a few people who are very happily married now due to this process. I am saying that I do not believe that it is the best option for the majority of people and there are studies available today that support this.
Young people should be able to go out and get to know each other–dare I say “try people on” to find the right fit–without the pressure of having to buy the whole outfit first. Buyer’s remorse is real, y’all; that’s why I don’t shop at Forever 21 anymore, with their bogus return policy…also, their clothes don’t fit these curves. ~~
Dating is meant to find out who that other person is, who you are with them, and whether or not they are the right fit for you.
Some would argue that a series of “failed” dating endeavors is the sort of thing that leaves people damaged and broken. First of all, if the purpose of dating is to determine whether or not the person is a good fit, then both outcomes are a success. Whether the relationship continues into happily ever after or not, you have indeed succeeded in finding your answer. Second, let’s be clear, I’m talking about the real act of dating, (going out for coffee, dinner, a concert, a picnic, a movie) not hooking up with everyone that you ask out to coffee. Although physical chemistry is an important part of any relationship, I’m talking about the dynamics prior to that step. I would encourage young Christians to be smart, get to know several different people at a time. There’s no reason for things to be so serious right away. In fact, making things so serious upfront and early is really what leads to repetitive heartache more than anything else. Remember, you set the pace for your dating relationships: if you’re going out with someone who is uncomfortable with that pace, it’s a good sign there are other things that won’t mesh well either. Move on.
When it comes to finding a mate, I think that some Christians have forgotten that life is about experiences. Experiences are good things. The more experiences that a person has, the more well-rounded, interesting, intricate, knowledgeable and wise they become. I’m not talking about throwing your morals to the wind, I’m talking about facing the wind with them in tote. Be smart, yes, but be bold. Think about what you are doing, but for heaven’s sake, DO IT.
“But I don’t have to date a bunch of people to know the kind of person I like. SO THERE.” You may be right. It didn’t take me long to know that I like chocolate. Great. But that’s only half the equation isn’t it? The real question is, do you mix well with what you think you like? Chocolate is good, but not everything goes well with chocolate. You might be a mushroom….just sayin. There’s nothing wrong with being a mushroom, but there are things that go better with mushrooms than chocolate.
Dating doesn’t only teach you about the other person. Dating teaches you about yourself, and through the process, who you are with this individual. What do they bring out in you? Do you like who you become with him? Do you bring out the best in her? Remember, just because two ingredients are great by themselves doesn’t mean that they compliment each other when thrown into the same dish.
“But doesn’t dating like that require, like, a good amount of vulnerability?” Yeah. It does. Finding the right person takes putting your real self out there. You’re going to have to grow a pair. It takes some self-esteem and self-confidence–which are coincidentally both really attractive qualities. It takes honesty. You’re going to have to take the good in with the bad. You’re going to strike out sometimes. Guess what? Coping skills are an essential part of adult life. Or, if you’re not into that, you can just watch the game from the bench, you know, single, and unscathed.
I think with all of the well-intended Christianese, we have given young people way too many shields. C’mon people, guys and girls can “guard” their own hearts. Too many people never make a move because they are “waiting on God.” Maybe He’s waiting for you to stop being such a chicken.
I know people that believe that the time for young people to start dating is when they are ready for marriage. In all honesty, this sounds about as sane to me as saying that children shouldn’t move out until they are ready to buy a house. Or maybe they shouldn’t know what a grocery store is until they are ready to start buying their own groceries. Because learning early on about budgeting, fiscal responsibility, comparison shopping, how to tell the good veggies from the bad ones, where the healthy foods are, that’s all just a waste of time and will probably lead them astray. Why don’t we just go ahead and try not to tell our kids about how babies are made until they are ready to be parents?
It’s the job of a parent to raise children to become independent and self-sufficient. Children need guidance, yes, but they also need trust, and the room to test what they have learned, and to have experiences. I know many parents who would argue they want to keep their kids from sharing too much of themselves too early, kissing too early, becoming physical too early. We are supposed to teach our kids what’s right and safe and warn them of the real consequences and then hope that they can make the right choices for themselves because no matter how much we want to guard them, they will have to make the choices for themselves sooner or later one day. And in many cases, sooner means more growth, maturity and coping skills for the future.
Look, I understand the intention of wanting to keep teens focused on what’s important: schooling, friendship, packing ten missions trips into a summer so they can’t have any time to get into trouble or think for themselves…But I really think if we step back and look at this logic, there’s a realization that it’s driven by fear; fear that our kids will make mistakes, that our words won’t be heard or heeded, that they will stumble, that they will come to regret their choices. So instead of giving them a little slack and seeing what they do with it, we shelter them; and all the while they are losing out on prime learning experiences, growth years.
Somewhere along the line, we decided that by sheltering our kids, depriving them of the chance to have certain experiences, that we are somehow protecting them from the big bad world. In actuality, many Christian kids are being stunted. Yes, your children will make mistakes, they will disappoint you. No, not all experiences are good. But wouldn’t it be better for a young woman to know that and learn how to handle at 13 rather than 30? It would also be good for her to know that not all things that are different are bad. Families will spend so much energy and so much money sending their kids to private school their entire lives to ensure that they don’t get ruined by the big bad world. Guess what? There’s only one world. And everybody has to live in it, and work in it, and survive in it. These kids get out of school and they leave their Christian cocoon where everyone had the same experiences and the same beliefs and they realize that’s not real life. Can you say shell-shock? “Maybe we should have set aside some of that tuition money for PTSD therapy for little Hosanna.” All of a sudden, she has a boss that doesn’t start the work day with praying for her, her coworkers are Jewish Buddhists, and meanwhile mom and dad are feeling good thinking that they just spent $250,000 worth of tuition turning out the perfect human being, when in reality they just took out a 25-year mortgage on an identity crisis induced by the severe deficit of coping skills due to a complete lack of exposure to ideas and people other than themselves. It’s a good thing that forgiveness is so deeply rooted into the Christian faith. You know what can’t be forgiven? Student loans.
I think I got off topic…I digress. I guess what I’m trying to say is I know plenty of people that “kissed dating goodbye”, which I can’t argue with at all…singleness is a choice everyone must make for themselves.