By Sammie Franks, Abundant Life: You Were Made for More Creator
“New York Times Magazine reported how teens view relationships. They rightly perceived that dating involved you, in a preliminary way, building a marriage relationship. To avoid all of this, a new form of meeting partners was developed, one that went straight to sex. A hook-up is a simple sexual encounter, without the condition of conducting a relationship. After a hook-up, you may want to start a dating relationship, or maybe not, but that is no condition for a hook-up.”-Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
The problem that our culture has created around dating is a big one.
Either we don’t know how to date at all, so we end up misusing and mistreating people because of ignorance, we put so much pressure on ourselves to date with the “intention of marrying” that it makes us so nervous we’d rather just not date anyone at all!
Here’s the major problem with the “hook-up culture” as Tim Keller discusses it in the Meaning of Marriage: We treat people and relationships like they are products to be consumed, rather than people to be nurtured and loved. We don’t know the difference between nurture and sex – instead, they’ve become synonymous entities. We’ve taken the consumer mentality that our culture is immersed in – do more, get more in return – and we’ve started to apply that to our relationships with human beings. We really just think about what we can get from people instead of what we can give them.
In February, we highlighted Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (loveisrespect.org) because here is the truth: when you nail down what a healthy relationship looks like, you’re much less likely to get into relationships that don’t echo what you truly want.
Unfortunately, many teens haven’t had great examples of what healthy relationships looks like whether due to family conflict or negative cultural influences. So, it’s no wonder that there are a multitude of good and bad feelings that go along with dating. Statistically, the vast majority of youth want to get married1 and if statistics hold like they have for hundreds of years, the vast majority of them will.
But here’s the tricky part, especially as a young Christian – the term “dating” isn’t really in the Bible, so how do we know what the parameters are? Just because, culturally speaking, times were different back when Jesus lived, doesn’t mean that what He taught is now ancient history. God addresses sex, purity, relationships, and marriage all throughout the Bible. That’s why I think it’s worth having this conversation – it’s worth talking about how to date, who to date, and how to pursue God’s original design in this process. Dating with honor is doable, even amidst all of the confusion, especially when we see it is possible and desire it, because we know it’s what is best for us.
First, let’s look at where we’re at culturally, because many would say that this is the craziest time for dating that has ever existed:
- 47% of young people have been in dating relationships that have been initiated over social media.
- 2/3 of college students have been in a “friends with benefits” relationship, saying the lack of commitment is what makes these relationships fun and appealing.
We’re in the middle of what has been termed the “hook-up culture.” We like not having any commitments, not being tied down, and just using people to get what we want, when we want it. I’ve witnessed the self-esteem of my friends plummet as they’ve slept with people who have quickly moved on to the next relationship, seemingly unfazed.
70% of students will have their first sexual experience by 19. I think that it’s because we really have come to believe that God’s way, the way we were created, doesn’t quite measure up to the world’s way.
So what’s the real goal of dating – the unaltered way that we were created for, that we were designed for?
If we look in the Bible, the answer is marriage. Now, I’m not suggesting we go back to some 17th century way of dating, where your parents set you up with someone, and you literally meet them when you are marrying them – that’s crazy to me, too, because there’s no real foundation of choosing to love and commit yourself to another person forever. Rather, what I’m saying is that we need to think more about why, how, and who we are dating, instead of just doing what everyone else is doing. With a divorce rate of 60%, it’s pretty clear that things aren’t working. We’ve got to have a different perspective.
You may have heard this before: “You’ve got to test drive the car before you buy it.” In other words, people think it is absurd to wait until marriage to have sex because, well, you can’t commit to loving a person forever until you know the sex is good. First of all, people are not cars, but I’ll try my best to share my views on this theory. James 1:17 tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Psalm 84:11 says that God will withhold no good thing from those who walk uprightly. Psalm 145:16 says that God opens His hand and satisfied the desires of every living thing. Nowhere in those verses does it say, “Except when it comes to sex.” If God is providing someone who satisfies every other thing you value in a partner, the Truth says that you can rest assured and you don’t need to “test drive” the person before you marry them.
Here’s my recommendation for the definition of dating. Dating is an evaluation process. That’s it. Take the pressure off. Realize that all you are doing is deciding whether or not you want to link your life up with the person you are getting to know on a deeper level.
Now, in the evaluation process, you’ve gotta know what to look for! Ask yourself: What do you look for in a girl or a guy to potentially date? The sooner you nail down specifics, the less likely you are to waver because you think you like someone.
I like to call these the “non-negotiables” of dating. I really encourage you to get your pens and write these down!
- Do they believe in Jesus Christ?
- Do they actively pursue and serve Him?
- Look for someone who can keep the same pace as you? You want someone who helps you to run your best race!
- Are you socially compatible? Do you gain energy from being with them? Do they bring out the best in you?
- Do your life goals & dreams align?
- Are you physically attracted to them?
- Now, this is important in dating, yet it’s not the first thing you should look for. When you’re looking for a partner to date, physical attraction should be on the list of things that are important to you – it’s not a bad thing to list at all! Our attraction to beauty is a very good thing. God made us that way. In a sense, this attraction is rooted in our innate attraction to the beauty of God, which we’ll get the chance to experience in Heaven.
- But we must also be aware of how our culture has warped our understanding of beauty. When you’re married, even when you’re “allowed” to have sex according to the Bible, 98% of your time as a married couple will be spent doing things that are not having sex. Remember that. The more you get to see someone’s heart, the more lovely they become – the outer beauty fades, and the inner beauty is exemplified.
I think this is what God wants from us. If we ever date someone, regardless of whether or not we marry them, I want them to be able to say… “I am a better person for having spent time in proximity to that person.” I believe that is a great aim in dating, and I think God would agree. You want the net effect of your presence in any relationship to be that the other person is better – that they trust and love God more because of your presence in his or her life. If you leave a trail of broken hearts and confused people, then you need to evaluate what you’re doing.
Remember that if you have chosen to trust God with your eternal destiny, you can also trust Him with your dating life. God doesn’t want us to struggle through our relationships and our dating lives – He wants more for us. It’s by opening up conversations about relationships that we change the culture. You were made by a King – and your body, heart, and dignity are worth valuing accordingly. If no one has said it to you before, let me be the first… you are worth more than the hook-up culture.
To the one who has made some questionable relationship decisions, remember that your salvation is a gift; you can’t lose through bad behavior what you didn’t deserve in the first place. But what’s hidden can’t be healed, so I encourage you to start talking to youth leaders and parents in your lives that care about you and want to see you grab hold of the life that the Lord has for you. And to those of you trying your best to honor God in your dating, please hear my encouragement to keep going, because it is possible to have a saved soul but a wasted life – to have been given everything and to have done nothing with it.
1 Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think About Marrying (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
*Some excerpts in this blog were taken from Module 3, Teaching 1 – The Pursuit: Who to Date and How to Date of Abundant Life: You Were Made for More. Visit youweremadeformore.org/curriculum to get yours today!