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When one mentions the term "dating" it can produce, on the ambivalence continuum, feelings ranging from delightful bliss to genuine confusion or even aversion. Before I begin, let's bring some definition to this often nebulous term "dating". Webster defines dating simply as: "to have social engagements with persons of the opposite sex". In a casual sense, therefore, dating can certainly mean hanging out with the opposite sex for non-romantic purposes. Some of these engagements could be having coffee to talk about work, or other common interests. Dating is could also be defined as "playing the field" where someone is attempting to meet as many people as possible in an attempt to find the right one (dating is a means) or where the person simply enjoys seeing as many people as possible (dating is the end). When one person dates as an end in itself (dates just to date) and his/her interest dates as a means to a more significant end (dates to meet the "right one") you can expect conflict and heartache to arise. This paper will narrow the definition and focus on dating as a romantic tool and discuss how best to do this dating thing.
Lately, I have become disillusioned by the world's dating practices and procedures. This is elaborated by what I call the "dating flowchart". Here's how it works in its simplified form: First, you (forgive the second person usage) target an aesthetically appealing female (or male whatever the case). I mention the aesthetic motivation because most people initiate the dating process because of appearance, and an ugly carcass is rarely the initiating factor. Thus, in the "dating realm" appearance acts as the main catalyst. And not that this is a particularly bad thing to do. But I have certainly met girls who "became" more beautiful the more I got to know them because their personality made them so. More often than not though, in the dating realm the personality is not something that serves as the standard catalyst. John Calvin, with respect to females, wrote about what appealed to him, "I am not of the wild race of lovers who, at the first sight of a fine figure, embrace all the faults of their beloved. This is only beauty which allures me, if she is chaste, if not too nice or fastidious, if economical, if patient, if there is hope that she will be interested about my health".
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Some also call this the "dating game" where one party tries to guess what the other is thinking and what their intentions are. One side typically contemplates if the other person is on the same level in respect to social and economic factors, looks, education, lifestyle, future, etc., and if not . . . "next". There is also the possibility of a substantial amount of fraud transpiring on both sides in which people are being misled (you get the other person to meet the ideal you not the real you, or you date for illegitimate reasons). Some people will initiate the dating process due to an infatuation they harbor for another person. Others are enticed by a bizarre "mystique" which drew them. Yet when this emotional high wanes, or this "mystique" turns into reality, the person realizes he/she got involved for the wrong reasons and now he is right in the middle of something he should never have started. Sadly, in those situations, most people are more enamored with the feeling of ardor and passion they contain for this new person than with the individual in question. When the quaint warm fuzzies leave you and you find yourself in a relationship you should never have started remember, "It is better to want what you don't have than to have what you don't want".
What other recourse do we have other than to be fettered into this system? While the system may make us question the whole relational realm if we can work on the parts of the system maybe the system can be improved.
When one dates with little or no thought of God, his standard and designs can de-evolve into mere mechanistic or reactionary behavior i.e., I am attracted to her therefore I will ask her out, or I am lonely therefore I must find a date tonight. We must realize that neither attraction nor recognized need should be the impetuses to date. We can choose not to be Pavlov's dog (stimulus driven); therefore it is incumbent upon us to harness this mentality now because it is highly probable that it will not disappear once we enter marriage. The married life is no guarantee that we will not be attracted to others or be lonely at times. It is better to temper, at worst, and fully control, at best, these desires now than to deal with them unfettered while married. 1 Corinthians 6:12 reads, "Everything is permissible for me - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me - but I will not be mastered by anything." We should not be mastered by our emotions.
Also, the question of motives must be addressed. Is one dating just to fill a need? Are there issues of insecurity or loneliness that one's dating desire is aimed to alleviate? Is one enticed by the appeal of recreational dating (dating as an end)? Essentially, such factors build a flawed system whereby more emotional casualties than substantive relationships are formed. With its proclivity for emotional tumult and perpetual separations, one could argue that dating does not prepare one for marriage but divorce. All too often we are more concerned with trying the find the perfect person as opposed to trying to become the perfect person. In all actuality though, the perfect person does not exist but rather the perfect person for you. This should not dim your aspirations in endeavoring to become a mature follower of Christ, which I assert is the greatest thing you can do to become "better" for that right person. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 reveals several things. First it defines love. Second, it defines the nature of God. Lastly, it should be a list we aspire towards. We should seek to be patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud. We should not be rude, or self-seeking, or easily angered, or keep a record of wrongs. We should not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. We should always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.
The foundations of dating were established in the 18th century, during the Romance era. Basically, Romanticism emphasized passion over reason. Historically, Christianity has interpreted the scriptural commands to love your wife or husband by implying that love follows marriage, i.e., you should love the one you marry. Romantics reversed this corollary and said you should marry the one you love. With this reversal, we can understand why the divorce rate in this country is nearing 60%. The 60% divorce rate (same for both Christians and non-Christians) is indicative of our flawed understanding of love for one of love's greatest underpinnings is commitment, pure and simple. Emotional warm fuzzies vacillate and should never be relied upon as the foundational aspect of marriage or any relationship for that matter.
Biblically speaking, there are no examples of dating in the Scriptures. Marriage matters pertaining to the opposite sex were much more direct and, admittedly, utilitarian. Premarital activities in the Old Testament, although not having to do with dating, discuss the issue of betrothal. Betrothal differs from engagement in several key aspects. In scripture, there were three distinct relational categories: unmarried, betrothed, and married. Physical intimacy was prohibited between betrothed individuals, but in other respects they were considered married. If a man raped a betrothed woman, he was to be executed as an adulterer just as if he had done it to a married woman. If the groom died during the betrothal period, his bride was classified as a widow even though the marriage had never been consummated. This two-tiered system was God's plan in the Old Testament, not just a sociological curiosity. The purpose of a legally binding betrothal was to give the young couple official sanction to develop and express their emotions of love toward one another.
Conservatively speaking, betrothal has been translated into the Christian understanding of courtship and friendship. In courtship, older adults (frequently parents) chaperone and couple as they move towards marriage. The couple does not spend a lot of time alone together but instead participates in regular family activities. Usually two people do not begin courting until they've somehow determined they should marry. Others have proposed moving directly from friendship to engagement without dating. Such friendships are forged in a group context, not one on one. Each of these systems: dating, betrothal, courtship, and friendship there is room to mess up and do the wrong thing with the wrong person. Certainly, it can be reasoned that one system could be more proprietous or noble or safe but I argue that it is the heart, godliness and attitude of the people involved not necessarily the relational system that we should be primarily concerned with. To that end, it is not my aim to eliminate nor advocate friendship, courtship, betrothal, or dating as a valid means towards marriage but rather cement down the proper mindset we should adhere to as we relate to the opposite sex.
THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
This understanding relies heavily upon God's sovereignty ("For you have been my hope, O' Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you" Ps.71:5-6), his design for us ("In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will" Eph 1:11) and our contentment in Him (Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths" Pr. 3:5). If God truly is in control and nothing is too difficult for him ("For nothing is impossible with God" Luke 1:37) and if all our days are ordained before one of them ever came to be (Ps. 139) then we don't need to sweat the relational details. We must apply ourselves to not only what God has called us to do (His will - 1John 5:3, and good pleasure - Eph 1:5) but who He has called us to become (Christ-like - Gal 4:19). We must get on with the task of concerning ourselves with kingdom business ("But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own") for I am convinced that when we seek the King and his kingdom first and lay our relational worries at His feet, we glorify him through our trust and faith in him. It is in the pursuit of this vision that we allow God to place someone within our world who shares a common vision or who has very flexible goals. This system requires us to live what we believe. If we have in a deistic world view (a God who created everything but then refuses to get involved in the affairs of men and such) then we will need to concern ourselves with "ourselves". That is, we will need to give undue concern to such issues as food, clothing and life mates. But, hopefully, most of us believe in a God who is intimately involved and concerned with us in a deeply personal way. If one of our greatest concerns/needs reside in the area of significant relationships, should this not also be a concern to God who loves us dearly like a Father? Or do we simply give lip service to our "personal God" while living like he is a detached and unamused deity? The very nature of a personal and sovereign God requires him to be concerned with us. If we believe in an awesome God who loves us "to death," if we believe in a God who is in control, if we believe in a God who will not give us a rock when we need the sustenance of bread, and if we believe in a God who had ordained our days, then why should we not believe in a God who will divinely act within our relational needs without us having to manipulate our own paths?
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" Matthew 7:9-11
Certainly, many of us are getting older, and Christian society may attach negative stigmas to "Singleness," but let us not concern ourselves with such societal encumbrances but trust in God and in His grace and goodness. If it is within the design and intention of God for you to meet someone and marry, then you will not be able to prevent it. It will happen. If the Lord desires you to be single then keep in mind, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2Cor 12:9) because ". . . an unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord . . . an unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit" (1Cor 7:32, 34).
If you think you may have found the right person keep in mind that timing is nearly as important as the individual in this case. You may have found the right person, but is it the right time? Are there matters that you need to accomplish as a single person? Are you a greater benefit to God's kingdom as a single person or as a married person? Should you even entertain a serious relationship when you are unable to support a wife financially, emotionally, and mentally with a level of maturity that will sustain you? "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate" (Matt 19:5-6). Before you can "cleave" (become one with your spouse) you need to be able to leave (be ready emotionally, financially, etc.).
When you believe that you can impact God's kingdom greater as a married person than maybe, just maybe it might be time. Single people (self included) tend to believe that the grass is greener on the married side of the fence. Ask any married person if this is absolutely true. Admittedly there are blessings associated with being married, but with those blessings comes a whole new set of issues and responsibilities to contend with. Remember that Paul established the greater good by saying that it is better for someone not to get married. We have forgotten this. He goes on to say that it is better to marry than to burn (1Cor 7:9), but I think most people don't know what it's like to really burn. Thinking so-and-so is cute, or experiencing loneliness, or other such issues is not burning. Allow your trust and faith in God to detach you from the cultural and societal pressures associated with being single. Trust his timing.
Christianity rightfully exhorts all to remain physically chaste until marriage.
"It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit" (1Thess. 4:3-8).
So our main motive for purity should be His glory through our obedience. Another reason to remain "sex free" before marriage is because whoever one's wife shall eventually be deserves such premarital "inactivity". One would only hope that she is practicing the same commitment. Thus, physical fidelity is essential and right.
What if, while married, my wife slept with another man? Obviously, this would be very traumatic for me and for most people in the same situation. However, what if my wife fell in love with another man? Would this not be a greater evil? To give one's body to another person is one thing but to give one's heart away is a greater calamity. Subsequently, if physical fidelity is crucial while single, is it not equally important (if not more) to remain emotionally pure as well? Could emotional harlotry be worse than its physical counterpart? I believe emotional promiscuity is the greatest danger facing all male/female relationships today. It can bankrupt one's spirit prior to marriage and it has the ability to erode commitment and integrity once married. Thus, guard your body AND guard your heart. "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Pr 4:23).
When a woman leaves her heart unguarded and becomes attached to the wrong man, she exposes herself to great hurt or harm. Many women, anxious to be married, respond to the first man who comes along and even allow themselves to become physically involved when they "know better". It is easy to have convictions as long as you are not called upon to stand up for them, especially if you must stand up to a man you have allowed yourself to fall in love with. Never assume you are "strong" and can "handle" being alone with a man (or you men with women) that you are attracted to. Remember, whoever he is, if he is not your husband, you have no business submitting to him in any area (your headship is your father), especially if he wants to engage in a little physical affection when there is no fence of protection (marriage) around the relationship. Guys and girls, virginity is a priceless inheritance you bring into marriage.
Also, you cannot guard your heart unless you guard your mind. Don't feed a lonely heart with cheesy romance novels, or chick-flicks or have fantasies about girls/guys. Guys are incredibly susceptible to an unrestrained fantasy life. Chill. This leads to lust: lust in itself or for you ladies, lust to be lusted after. Don't allow yourself to be interested in someone when that person is simply being friendly. If one is eager for a relationship, it is easy to imagine this person as being godlier, funnier, nicer, sweeter then she/he actually is. Be realistic. Don't be desperate. Women are sometimes in love with being in love, longing for a relationship more than they long to please God. Marriage is not an end in itself; it is a means of glorifying God. And remember, "When in doubt, throw it out". Don't stay in a relationship that you have doubts about. It is unwise to stick with someone hoping that they will change.
If you are wondering how far you can go physically with someone, you have your eyes set on the wrong thing. If your concerns are focused on limits then I am certain that your eyes are not focused on Christ. The question should not be "how far can I go?" but rather "how important is it for me to be as Christ-like as possible?" It's like asking, "How close can I come to stealing without actually stealing?" We are centered on the negative rather than the positive, i.e. "What can I do to display in my relationship the character of Jesus Christ?" For the obtuse, I will say that anything beyond kissing is wrong. And there is a strong argument for even reconsidering the act of kissing as well. "Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth" (pr 5:15-18). Some theologians have conjectured the water metaphor to kissing. Who knows. Something to consider though.
Lastly, this paradigm requires contentment. "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1Tim 6:6). This model of completely trusting in God does require contentment but it also provides a substantial amount of peace as well. Just think, you are no longer solely responsible for your spousal unit i.e. your life partner. God is planning the details. You just go out and play in the garden and when the time and the person are right trust God for the results.
So how do we translate all this into a contemporary system that is honoring of God, others and self? I think there are some questions we can ask ourselves to determine the validity of our interest. Am I dating because I am lonely? Is this person genuinely walking with the Lord? Is it possible that there are insecurity issues involved? Does this person enhance my walk with God? Do I simply feel an overwhelming need to be with someone? Would it distract me from what I believe God has called me to do? Would it distract me from who I believe God has called me to become? Could I spend the rest of my life with this person? Am I attracted by what I know of this person (legitimate) or by what I don't know of this person (infatuation/emotionalism). Do I genuinely appreciate the person for who he/she is or just the warm fuzzies he/she incites? Do I believe I have a sense of "God's permission" to go ahead in this relationship? Does this person like to rock climb and converse about the world view of Calvin and Hobbes (the kid and his stuffed animal).
In all matters in life, we should aim to bring glory to the Father. How we relate to the opposite sex must fall under the same standards. Trust, contentment, peace, patience and selflessness are key. We must let God to be God in our lives.
Tresses of long mahogany
eyes of deep cerulean blue
a dream to be I long to see
will this wish make it ever true
this labyrinth of gray confusion
will bid me joy or bid me woe
will I ever find completion
before my heart breaks Cupid's bow
this riddle of insanity
will not be answered by my sweat
the choice is too aloof for me
let me draw up my fishing nets
let God be God in all his ways
with Eros especially true
toil not within this earthen maze
for all things will become as new
In summation, I think the best way to handle our dating life is to give consideration to the above thoughts and live for making God look good. Or as Augustine put it, “Love God and do as you please.” If we bring up the authenticity of our love for His glory before every choice we make, there is no way owe can go awry.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GODLY MAN
1. a spiritual leader 2. above reproach 3. husband of one wife
4. temperate 5. sensible 6. dignified
7. hospitable 8. able to teach 9. not a drunkard
10. not violent but gentle 11. not quarrelsome 12. not a lover of money
13. manages his family (relationships) well 14. mature in his walk with God
15. has a good reputation in the community
1. loves his wife completely, sacrificially, even unto death
2. nourishes his wife 3. cherishes his wife
1. fears the Lord 2. obedient to His commands
3. manages his family’s finances well with integrity 4. gracious (3x)
5. compassionate (2x) 6. righteous (4x) 7. solid in his convictions
8. does not fear evil, but trusts God
CHARACTERISTICS OF A GODLY WOMAN
(she does not have to possess and perform all these all the time, but she should have the heart, determination, and the character, that will enable her to carry them out in excellence whenever the call arises)
1. extremely valuable 2. trustworthy 3. treats husband well
4. delights in her work 5. willing and able to go the extra mile in order to provide for those under her care. 6. wisely invests her earnings in anticipation of future blessing/provision 7. capable, strong, vigorous worker
8. recognizes the fruit of her labor as good 9. always prepared to do what is necessary
10. physically and financially cares for the poor 11. cares well for her family’s (physical) needs 12. cares well for herself; conducts herself with royalty
13. her character and conduct are a source of public respect for her husband
14. sells some of the work of her hands; gives some of it away
15. conducts herself with strength and dignity 16. has an optimistic view of the future
17. speaks of wisdom 18. teaches with kindness
19. concerns herself with the affairs of her household; is not lazy concerning family care
20. receives praise from her children and husband
21. is not primarily concerned with charm and beauty, but rather fearing God
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:2-3).