Here is the third part of the series on dating and Christian teens. Here is part one and part two. In part 1, I laid out what dating is and why I think it is so prevalent. In part 2, I went through the Bible’s view of marriage and its importance. In part 3, I compare dating to the Bible’s view on marriage.
So how does this contrast with dating?
Firstly, dating mimics marriage in most aspects but without the commitment. Dating aims to be an exclusive relationship between two people but it does so without the permanent, life long bond. The permanency is what enables the relationship to weather the hard times in particular, providing stability and providing incentive to persist when the feelings might have otherwise gone. At its most basic and crude level, the permanent union element of God’s design of marriage means that if you’re stuck with someone, you might as well work it out because you can’t go anywhere else! Dating doesn’t provide this critical permanent framework, denying the relationship an important source of stability.
Secondly, God’s design for humanity is to be married in exclusive relationships and so in his wisdom, God has created us in a way that draws us together. God has put a powerful chemistry set in our minds and bodies to facilitate the bringing together of men and women in marriage. We are geared to be magnets towards each other, which we usually call the process of ‘falling in love’. This attraction has many aspects to it – primarily emotional and (most dangerously for the unmarried) sexual. Our bodies bombard us with a range of chemicals to draw a man and a woman together and to enable that permanent, one flesh bond to occur.
It is a wonderful experience to be in love and this reality has important implications for any discussions on dating. We should be wary to be involved in relationships that mimic marriage as it establishes and embraces the physical and emotional process God has given us to provide for marriage to happen. As Song of Songs puts it,
Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires. (Song of Songs 2:7)
Being involved in a marriage-like relationship that doesn’t end in life-long marriage is playing with proverbial fire. Our minds and bodies are geared for the permanency of marriage and so the chemistry involved is potent and destructive if not paired with the stability and strength of marriage.
Thirdly, the modern view of dating is utterly self-serving and the premise of dating reinforces this. Most people in wider Western culture date, not to serve one another in a lifelong relationship, but to have their needs, wants and desires fulfilled by the other. I will date you until it stops making me feel good, upon which I break up with you and find another person to date and fulfil my needs, wants and desires. The transient nature of dating doesn’t give me any reason to stick about so I have no incentive to stay with you.
Additional dangers for teens
There are additional complications for teenagers. Adults might date as a precursor to marriage, keeping in mind that dating isn’t to be done lightly, its temporary and that marriage is the definite and realistic goal of their current relationship (which in my mind is the only wise course of action available for adults wanting to date). The vast majority of teens, however, aren’t in a position to do this.
Marriage isn’t legal until the age of 18 and very few 17 year olds would be contemplating marriage when starting up dating so in reality, almost every teenager dating would be dating without having marriage as the realistic and definite goal of their relationship.
Why is that so problematic?
The prospect of teens dating without having marriage as the definite goal of their relationship is a terrible thing for the teens involved. Given the previous two dangers of dating, there is no potential to offset them through a considered determination to get married. Their relationships have none of the stability that marriage provides for the protection against emotional damage, which is doubly dangerous through the immaturity and insensitivity that comes from being a teenager.
At the same time, powerful forces are at work in them to draw them together in an intense emotional and sexual relationship, an experience they wouldn’t have had up until now. This rawness and sensitivity to new found feelings is heightened through the changes that they are experiencing as a result of puberty.
This combination can have a truly devastating impact on young people. The developing social and relational awareness of a teenager is a fragile one and can be easily broken by the carelessness or heartlessness of others. As teenagers reach out and form these marriage-mimicking relationships, they can land themselves in all sorts of troubles: from the hurt and rejection of a break up, to emotionally damaging and abusive situations within the relationships, to the immense pain caused through sexual relationships.
This latter aspect can cause profound and lifelong damage for guys and girls. As Dr Allen Meyer explains in his Valiant Man course, sex can go from being relational glue, binding people together as one flesh, to being dynamite, blowing them apart.
Guys are at risk of seeing sex as an end to itself, rather seeing it within the context of the one flesh union God designed it for. They can start to pressure their girlfriends when they aren’t ready or necessarily willing to have sex, seeing women as sex objects for their gratification. Male egos are also tied to their sexuality and so bad experiences can damage their confidence and their view of how manly they are.
Girls, with their heightened sense of relationship, can be left with deep scars from sex. They can be hurt deeply through men, instead of protecting them, using them for sex, diminishing their self-worth. Girls can begin to see that sex is a way of gaining the affection they crave, allowing them to be used.
That isn’t to mention the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease for both guys and girls, which can have a lifetime impact on the lives of young men and women, not just in the damage it causes but also setting up a pattern and expectation of relationships that is contrary to how God designed them to be.
In the 4th and final part, I will explore some of the ways youth leaders can disciple their young charges through this difficult issue.