Let’s Talk About Dating – Part 1
I have spent several recent posts in a series called “Let’s Talk About Sex” because sexuality is a huge component of adolescent development. It is an awkward topic that we are often afraid to approach with teens. Sex and sexual behavior, however, are not the only things students need to talk about when it comes to their sexuality. Don’t get me wrong, I very much believe in the importance of these subjects, but as our students are navigating the murky waters of adolescents they are also discovering how to relate to the opposite sex. This is scary, exciting, and downright fun for students.
I think that the Church has taken abstinence too far. What I mean by this is that I believe that fear has driven ministries to latch onto the trend of teaching students to abstain from dating. Many ministries go as far as to abstain from the subject all-together. Why is this bad? Well, students are dating. We may not like it. We may be scared by it. But that doesn’t change reality. Let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of dating starting with the con’s:
Dating in America has changed drastically in the last five to ten years. Though sexual intercourse (vaginal intercourse to be specific) is declining, oral sex and other forms of “casual” sex are on the increase. According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior oral sex has replaced vaginal sex as the primary form of sexual behavior among adolescents. This new approach to casual sex has turned the “going steady” approach to dating into the casual “hook-up” culture that we now find our students confronted with. Ideals of romance and commitment have been largely replaced by the instant gratification found in sex parties and “friends with benefits” relationships.
To go hand in hand with this, dating is becoming less about commitment and more about physical pleasure leading to shorter, less committed relationships. This has a correlation with the terrible divorce rates in America. Students are seeing their parents throw away marriages at an alarming rate which is teaching them to devalue their own relationships.
Another con of today’s dating scene is what we call the “Twilight Effect.” Now, I must confess that I have yet to read or watch the Twilight series, but this researched and documented phenomenon essentially is about misconceptions that teenage girls/guys are getting from the media of what “true love” really is. We will talk about that more in tomorrow’s post.
It is easy to understand why an increasing number of parents and youth leaders want to “throw the baby out with the bath water” so to speak when it comes to dating. Today’s trends are pointing to the reality that the dating scene of American adolescents is not a healthy, Christ-honoring one. However, to ignore the pro’s of dating because of fear is equally dangerous. It alienates us from our students and fails to equip them with a Godly approach to healthy relationships.
Dating has many potential positives. In a healthy dating relationship students have the opportunity to learn how the opposite sex works, thinks, processes information, and approaches life. This learning environment is a wonderful way for adolescents to discover how to relate to the opposite sex. Throughout this series you will quickly learn that I believe the fundamental element required in all healthy dating relationships is building every romantic relationship on a solid foundation of a close friendship. These friendships are where learning how to relate to the opposite sex happen.
Dating also provides students with the opportunity do discover themselves. They learn what they like in a partner, what they don’t like. They learn their own weaknesses, needs, and insecurities. Often overlooked by those of us who have been married for several years is how much self-discovery occurred in our dating relationships.
Conflict resolution is another huge experience gained in dating. Fighting, making mistakes, forgiving, and recovering from break-ups are important experiences that will help prepare students for marriage. I know what you may be thinking. Doesn’t breaking-up just teach students how to divorce easier? I don’t believe so. If I hadn’t been dumped or broken-up with a girlfriend I wouldn’t know how to deal with heart-ache and loneliness. These things, by the way, do not go away in marriage. Breaking-up helps a student learn about who they are and where their true identity is found. Believe it or not, I see breaking-up as a “pro” for dating.
This list of pro’s and con’s is by no mean exhaustive. I could come up with many more items to add to the list. I’d love to hear from you in the comments section as to what you would add to this list. My point in creating this list was to get us to examine dating more closely.
What does the Bible say?
Many parents and students have asked me what the Bible says about dating. My answer is simple: nothing. Dating is a modern construct. Arranged marriage was the rule of the day that Biblical writers lived in. This doesn’t mean that dating is wrong, it simply means that culture has changed in such a way that how we choose our spouse is radically different. Before you use this as ammunition to condemn dating ask yourself this, “Do I really think that arranged marriage is better? Would I have been happy with my parents choosing my spouse for me while I was a child?” I happen to LOVE this new system because, well, I happen to LOVE the spouse that I dated then chose.
The Bible does, however, teach us many principles that help us date in a way that honors God. It teaches how to love one another (Mark 12:31, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7), how to break-up (Matthew 18:15-17, Matthew 5:43-48), and how to remain sexually pure (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). We will be looking at these topics in more depth over the next few days.
In case you haven’t picked up on this, I believe in dating. I believe in our students. I believe that if taught and mentored correctly, they can experience dating relationships that honor Christ and set them up for healthy Christ-centered marriages. I would even go as far as to say that the best form of pre-marriage counseling is quality dating counseling. Again, I can’t say this enough: our students are dating. They are experiencing heart-ache, peer pressure, and even love (on some level). If we are silent on this subject where will they get their advice? From friends? The internet? Movies? Music? Are we ok with this? Let’s talk about dating. I think you’ll be surprised by how willing our students are to listen.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about dating?