Dating for Adults
My last blog gave parents ideas for guiding their teens through the angsty world of teen dating. My final blog in this series takes up the topic of dating for adults. Let’s start with young adults.
I define “adult” as a person who has gained emotional and financial independence from his or her parents. Without that level of maturity, dating relationships will go awry. This is why Genesis 2:24 says A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife. Some adult children, though, are willing to remain dependent on their parents. Bad idea. See, an intimate relationship requires two people with a strong sense of self. If one partner lacks that, he will be dominated by the other partner. If both partners lack it a strong sense of self, they’ll both be dominated by their circumstances.
Financial independence from parents has traditionally not been required of women before they could marry; many women went right from their parents’ house into marriage. Today, though, I worry that women who can’t support themselves will become trapped in a bad relationship. Many men no longer feel obligated to marry or provide for a sex partner, and that leaves women – and the children they bear – very vulnerable. So women today need a way to make adequate income without a man.
I urge both men and women: don’t live together before marriage. It makes you financially dependent on each other before a commitment has been offered. Likewise, don’t have sex before marriage because it creates a false intimacy. It disguises red flags in the relationship. That’s why living together used to be called “living in sin”. It’s better to live with your parents than do that. Even better is to find roommates of your same gender with whom to share costs. Christian community just makes so much more sense than forming a foolish arrangement with someone you’re not married to.
Is being financially and emotionally independent enough to ensure you can date well? Far from it. Other boundaries are also important (see the previous blog). And just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you don’t need guidance about dating or about a specific relationship. The more serious a relationship becomes, the more you need wise counsel from parents, pastors, or Christian friends. Questions like “Is she the one?” or “Is this issue a deal-breaker?” are too important to answer without trusted input. But if no one knows the relationship, that’s a red flag.
Here’s great dating advice: bring Christ into your relationship early on. If you have feelings for a non-Christian, you may sense that your faith jeopardizes the relationship. And you’re right. But it’s truer to say that the relationship jeopardizes your faith. Put God first and the relationship will follow as it should. Jesus teaches Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Trust God with your relationship. Bring Christ into your relationship now, and later the rewards in your family life will be so numerous you won’t be able to count them all.
Nancy and I met in church as young adults, so we had faith in common. Even so, the first time we prayed together was awkward. Prayer is intimacy, and intimacy must be learned – even if at first it’s awkward. Interestingly, the unbeliever often believes having sex is a good way to learn intimacy. This is foolish. There are far more reliable ways to learn if you can be intimate with someone you’re dating.
What about dating for widowed people? First, remarriage is permissible. Romans 7:2 sates if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. You are free to date if you wish, and you might be surprised how strong your romantic and sexual feelings can be. Others, though, are just fine being single. I’ve heard both. How soon should one date after losing your spouse? Conventional wisdom says to make no big decisions for one year. But regardless the time frame you may have other feelings to sort out as well: perhaps feelings of disloyalty, awkwardness, fear of rejection, and guilt about comparing with your spouse. But you may also experience some very nice feelings too. It’s probably a wise idea to tell your children when you want start dating again. They too may have mixed feelings to work through.
Dating after a divorce deserves a blog all to itself. Our church runs a DivorceCare program because divorce is such a difficult experience, and Christians especially can carry an added sense of failure. Indeed, Jesus teaches against remarriage after divorce in Mark 10:11-12. But there are nuances to his teaching that make the topic too hard to cover in a short blog. So if you’re in this situation, start by listening to the podcast our DivorceCare leaders did last week. And be sure to talk with me. You need support and guidance both from a pastor and from others who have walked through this experience.
It’s not surprising that I end this blog series on sex and romance with a challenging matter. So much of sex and romance is challenging! It can be so difficult to obey Jesus’ teaching when all our feelings and urges are moving us in a different direction. But can you picture Jesus ever saying “Hey, don’t worry too much about how you handle your sex drive and your love drive – it doesn’t really matter what you do.” No, it does matter. That’s why he sets high moral standards for sex and marriage. Because love really is possible.