How should a single Christian explore romantic feelings in a godly way? If you’re a single Christian that’s probably a question you think about. Since this blog series is about guiding people into authentic romantic and sexual love, let’s explore the topic of dating. This blog will deal with dating for teens, and in the next blog we’ll discuss dating for adults.
First, dating is not a biblical concept. That doesn’t mean it’s illegitimate; the bible doesn’t discuss brain surgery either, but brain surgery is still a valuable practice. Nonetheless, we have no word from scripture about how to date. We do know that when Abraham wanted to find a wife for his son Isaac, he did what every good dad would do – he sent a servant out to find one. But I’m guessing that approach probably won’t work for you. And when Jacob was falling in love with Rachel, he bargained with her father to work seven years in exchange for her hand in marriage. While some women may find the idea of a prospective husband slaving for you appealing, I’m guessing that approach won’t gain much traction either.
Why doesn’t the bible talk about dating? Probably because in biblical times people married much younger. Since the industrial revolution adolescence has been extended to roughly age 21, and the result is that people have sexual and romantic feelings long before marriage is possible.
OK, so how does a Christian explore romantic feelings in a godly way?
There are different philosophies of dating. On one extreme is author Josh Harris. In 1997 he wrote a book entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye which advocated courtship – a romantic exploration, often supervised by parents, whose purpose is to determine suitability for marriage. On the other end of the dating spectrum is “hooking up”, a practice promoted by the entertainment industry in which people date for sexual pleasure without commitment. Obviously, we can rule out that extreme. And as for the courtship model, though it can work well, I don’t think it has to be the only way to date. Case in point: Josh Harris wound up divorcing his wife and rejecting Christ (sigh).
Other Christians may disagree, but I think dating without the goal of finding a mate is permissible. But it needs wise boundaries, especially for teens. My wife and I developed a policy for dating that we taught each of our four children. At the proper age we sat down our children, explained our approach, and posted our policy on the inside door of a kitchen cabinet. In abbreviated form, here’s our policy:
- If we believe the teen is ready, group dates can start at age 16 and one-on-one dates at age 17.
- The first date must be dinner with the family and nowhere else that night. This puts dating in a family context which at first feels awkward for some teens but winds up taking a lot of pressure off.
- Before dating, the teen writes a “Dating Contract”, which explains how the teen will conduct himself/herself. We ask our teen to describe their hopes for the relationship, forms of respect they expect to give and receive, their emotional and sexual boundaries, how they will bring God into the relationship, and forethought about ending the dating relationship. We discuss the contract together.
- The teen is not allowed to go out with their date more often than with their friends. This prevents the couple from getting too serious. We also ask them to refrain from saying “I love you”.
- The sexual boundaries we set allow hand-holding and light kissing only. The couple may not be alone in the house and never upstairs. Waist areas may not touch.
- I tell my daughters that if there will be more than two dates I will speak one-on-one with their boyfriend in order to reinforce respect for my daughter. One of my daughters loved this and another was horrified by it. But I know how males often are so I insisted on it.
- We reserve the right to end the relationship if we deem it best.
- If the relationship becomes marriageable, we ask our child to ask our feedback first in order to prevent an unwise decision and bless a wise one.
This policy worked well for our teens. Dating was for the most part fun, and while hurt feelings inevitably occurred, it taught important self-knowledge and wisdom.
The goal is to be able to look back on a dating relationship and know that both you and the person you dated were blessed and not diminished by the experience.
If you are a parent of a teen, the worst thing you can do is let secular culture set the ground rules for dating. Your teen may roll their eyes and protest your policies for dating, but if you fail to set boundaries, you’re asking for real trouble.