NOTE: This originally was a multi-part message delivered to students at the Word of Life Bible Institute (Ontario Campus).
Is dating really all that it’s cracked up to be? I mean sure – connecting with the opposite sex is fun and all, but after the initial Chinese food and movie nights, dating can start to get a little weird. Finding things out about the other person that one should never find out about – having to meet their crazy parents – and all the emotional drama that seems to accompany all that. Wow – it’s any wonder anyone ever ends up marrying. Amazingly, almost every married couple I talk to says the same thing: “Wow, I’m glad I’ll never have to date again.”
Our culture has turned dating into a circus. Beginning from as young as grade 2 or 3 kids start to use words like “like” and “crush” – the pressure from our society to continually find satisfaction in relationships and see value in who values you is overwhelming at times.
Our culture has turned dating into marriage…not even pre-marriage…marriage. Our secular culture has taken all the dynamics of what marriage is physically, emotionally and mentally and has carried that right over to dating – and for the most part the church like a bunch of dating zombies has followed suit. We have allowed ourselves to follow the mold of the world in this area of relationships. We have allowed the world to define our standards for us, instead of allowing the Scripture to.
But then you might say “But wait a minute, the Bible doesn’t say anything about dating.” No, it doesn’t – but there are plenty of principles that exist in Scripture that would govern and in many cases repudiate the dating rules we have been living by for the last 75 years.
Our culture has created certain rules when it comes to dating. Whether stated or assumed, there is a certain ‘code’ that people are basically required to live by. So as Christians, instead of making sure God’s principles define our actions, we have put our culture in the driver’s seat. This obviously is asking for disaster.
Our culture’s dating rules? What may they be? (Reminder – these aren’t good rules).
- ‘Like’ someone even when you know very little about them and have seen them in very few of life’s circumstances
- Physical contact is a normal expression of pre-marital feelings
- When you start to ‘date’ someone they become your property
- Dating other people too soon after you have dated someone is a big cultural no-no
- Proclaiming your feelings doesn’t normally happen unless you’re sure they’ll be reciprocated
- Dating is typically a pre-engagement contract.
- The expectation that the relationship must continually progress after assumed interest has started.
Let’s have a look at these one by one and see what the Scripture might say about them.
1. ‘Like’ someone even when you know very little about them and have seen them in very few of life’s circumstances
I guess it starts by defining what ‘like’ really is? Is it attraction? It is infatuation or obsession? ‘Like’ can probably be thought of as ‘attraction in layers’. There’s initial attraction that gets a relational ball rolling and then once that layer is finished there are new layers to be dealt with. Layer one might be based on how someone looks or how annoying his or her laugh is, or if he or she is a Christian. That’s fine and normal. But layer two should go a little deeper and requires some more deliberate action. That would include things like: submission to authority, desire to serve the Lord, passion for the Word, passion for sharing Christ. Level one takes seconds, level two can take a considerable amount of time. The problem is that many Christians haven’t determined at what ‘level’ they are going to officially ‘like’ someone – like really in their heart officially ‘like’ someone – not that that person is just cute or friendly. So, what is the information you really need to find out before you will give yourself permission to like someone? For example – you say you like someone, because this person seems really nice and is fun to hang around with. This ‘like’ relationship goes on for a few months – but when you see them around their parents for the first time, everything changes. Now your eyes have been opened, and now you want out. In every relationship that doesn’t end in marriage this happens quite often (not this exact parent example but others like it). Might it have been better to ‘not’ give yourself permission to like that person until you have been able to verify the truth of level two or even three?
“The naive believes everything,
But the sensible man considers his steps.
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil,
But a fool is arrogant and careless.”
These verses would tell us to slow down and make a wise decision. Relationships that last are relationships that have taken time to mature and be wise.
2. Physical contact is a normal expression of pre-marital feelings
Our society has brainwashed many of us into thinking that relationships are not real relationships until there’s been some lovey-dovey going on…some smoochy-woochy. But honestly, a physical part of the relationship is completely unneeded in order to experience relational unity. Even martially, a physical relationship is a bonus and is never indicated in Scripture to be absolutely essential to making a marriage work. There are plenty of marriages that do just fine with out sexual intimacy for whatever reasons – physical issues, etc. So, can we just de-escalate all the hype relating to the physical aspect of the relationship?
In today’s society it would be unheard of to refuse to have a physical relationship till marriage. Completely unheard of. You would be considered a freak if you had didn’t have some aspect of a physical relationship pre-marriage. But really? Is that what we have come to in our Christian culture?
As you guys are well aware, beginning a physical relationship only to slam the brakes on at some point in the future takes an incredible amount of self-control. The dangers far out weigh the benefits of a pre-marital physical relationship.
In the Bible, the physical relationship between a man and a woman is elevated and honoured by God – but only in the confines of marriage. I can’t think of one Biblical example of physical intimacy outside of marriage that the Bible celebrated and condoned. This treads somewhat into the ‘property’ mentality of dating, but in dating we have been taught that you are expected to participate in a physical relationship. The Bible would say “No way!”. The Bible only gives physical rights to a married couple:
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” 1 Cor. 7:4
So, in a friendship, remember you have no physical “rights” and that it’s safest to leave most forms of physical contact until after you say “I Do”.
3. When you start to ‘date’ someone they become your property
Isn’t it amazing how exclusive people get when they start dating? You can be in an entire circle of friends all socializing and having a good time – but the moment two people start making googully eyes at each other – WHOMP – they’re together and all other relationships tend to drift into another world. That’s because we have been brainwashed to believe that dating relationships are all about me and my desires and my wants. When it comes to dating, we check selflessness at the door and we only want to focus on what ‘I’ want, and typically what ‘I’ want is the total attention of that guy or that girl. So, if someone happens to spend time with your special someone, or happens to speak really well of your special someone, we get into landlord mode and we say “That’s mine – hands off.” How dare we? That person does not belong to you – and you have no right to that person.
This is one of the spin off problems of possessive relationships – or exclusive relationships. We focus on each other and leave all others out.
“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” James 4:1
So in special relationships – you have an obligation to others to not focus exclusively on one at the exclusion of others.
4. Dating other people too soon after you have dated someone is a big cultural no-no
When I was in high school it was common that you waited 2 weeks (or something like that) after a breakup – some of my friends waited like 2 hours. If someone in a youth group or on campus was dating someone, and they broke up, and one of them went on another date within a couple of days, probably many people would look at that and say “Yikes”. However, there are no rules on this type of thing, and nor should there be! In these situations, I would prefer to listen to the voice of truth and see how truth would give direction. For some people – truth would tell them that their pain from a breakup would require time to sort through that difficulty. For some people – truth would tell them that their desire to quickly get back into another relationship reflects their security in their relationship status instead of their security being in Christ. So, culture cannot define how quickly a person jumps back into dating, but truth certainly can.
“…that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (NASB ®)
This passage says our new self lives in accordance with ‘truth’ – we don’t live in dishonest patterns of living – we live out the truth. We don’t live like the culture (the old self), we live like children of God. We proceed with decisions when we know the truth of our circumstances – not based on how we’re feeling. Truth dictates how we live – not 2 weeks.
5. Proclaiming your feelings doesn’t normally happen unless you’re sure they’ll be reciprocated
Why does this happen? Because we don’t want to look like a desperate moron. We don’t want people to think we’re anxiously craving a relationship when the other person wants nothing to do with us, so to not look like idiots we’ll just wait to show our cards until the other person shows theirs. Yes – this is the state of maturity that we have all evolved into. Why do we wait to show our feelings until we see some ‘vibes’ from the other person? Often times because our security is found in what other people think of us. What we’re saying is: “It matters more to me about what you think than me being truthful. Your value is more important to me than me living a life of integrity.” We need to grow up in Christ and from that type of insecure living and recognize that when you know you have to truthfully say something you say it. How does this happen? When Christ is our source of security, not people:
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
When our security is found in our approval in Christ (which is unchanging if you’re a believer) then you suddenly become a much more secure person (in Christ). This allows you to be honest with people when normally we would be dishonest because of our insecurity. So, now that your security is found in Christ – and you have a new sense of courage to be lovingly bold with people, when is it time to truthfully say you’re interested? Refer to #1.
6. Dating is typically a pre-engagement contract.
Isn’t it amazing how very young people just naturally enter into a ‘contract’ when a dating relationship has started. The terms of the contract are not clear, the length of the contract is not stated, and yet the assumption is that both parties are obliged to keep all aspects of it. It’s no wonder that many dating relationships end in pain and disappointment!
Maybe there’s a better way? If we were to just hit the ‘reboot’ button on this whole exercise we have called ‘dating’ in our western culture, I wonder how it would look different? Maybe how we start a relationship would be more defined. Maybe we would have less restrictions? Maybe we would less possessive and less selfish? Maybe we would start with an understanding that we are not ‘bound’ to anything or anyone relationally until we walk an aisle and say “I do”. I wonder how that type of thinking would radically change our whole relationship paradigm.
‘Non-Contract Dating’ is what I would propose. It’s dating based on truth. It’s dating that embraces mutual friendships. It’s smart dating. It’s not restrictive…it’s not controlling…it’s the reality of the situation – not dream world. It’s the understanding that the only ‘binding’ relational agreement between a romantically involved man and woman is marriage. Everything else is just ‘family’ friendship (Read 1 Tim. 5:1-2). A ‘non-contract’ conversation would go like this: “Hey – I’m excited that we’re interested in each other and seeing where God takes this relationship. However, you need to know that I am not obligated to stay in this relationship for any length of time and I can walk away any day I want with no strings attached. If you’re not fine with that we probably should just end this now.” That may seem harsh and it’s definitely counter-culture, but isn’t it the truth? A non-marriage relationship is not a marriage – so walking away from it shouldn’t be considered abnormal. Tragically when the opposite happens (the expectation that if you commit to date me you’re locked in) there is a considerable amount of pain and confusion that results.
7. The expectation that the relationship must progress after assumed interest has started.
This happens when 2 people start making ‘googily’ eyes at each other: the assumption is that things must progress to the next level (a text, then a phone call, then lunch, etc). However, when we have these expectations and nothing comes to fruition we typically start to blame the other person and we start wondering what’s wrong with us.
Like any relationship, when we start to make assumptions and have expectations on what another person’s behavior is supposed to be (all things being normal and equal) instead of focusing on what my responsibility is, we always fall short. In a blossoming relationship we should be focusing on how we’re communicating truth and how we’re working on communication/interaction, instead of playing ‘who is going to talk to who next’ games.