Thank you for your excellent question and for your patience in waiting for my response! It is a relevant question, in a society that pushes dating at such a young age. I believe it’s important to step back from the pressures around you and take a good look at the whole issue of dating. There’s a lot to consider. I hope that by giving you such a full answer, it will open your heart to the counter-cultural approach I am proposing to you regarding romance, dating and courtship.
The Purpose of Dating:
What is the purpose of dating? The ultimate reason for dating is to find a spouse. Once you’ve found someone to marry and you get married, you no longer engage in dating. Therefore, I think it’s safe to say that this is the defining purpose of dating: to find someone to marry. It is because of this that I really believe that a person should begin dating only when he or she is at an age and stage in life when marriage is a realistic possibility.
Nature of Dating Relationships:
There are different ways to approach dating. Two stand out as the most common approaches in our society.
steady dating: exclusively dating one person for a period of time
serial dating: moving through a series of one romantic relationship to another
What attracts young men and women to dating are typically different things.
Young women are often looking for the security of emotional support and that feeling of being cherished by one person – being someone’s “one and only”! They are craving the attention of a man in their life.
Young men are often looking for an outlet for their growing physical desires and sexual urges. They too can be craving attention from a woman, to fill a gap in their emotional life – but that is less common the case for men as for women.
These underlying motivations can be obvious to a young man or woman, but they can also be subconscious. Either way, they still exist. It is the stirring of manhood and womanhood through adolescence that is heightening the interest in dating. Hormones, emotional needs and a desire to be adult-like work together shape how a young man and woman will view the relationships in their life.
The Idea of “Christian Dating”:
When it comes to “Christian dating” those same underlying motivations still exist. Even when the couple has the goal of being pure and chaste, they will still be subject to the struggle of keeping growing desires under control. This naturally will create a great deal of tension within them, which is often spent out in a lot of emotional energy.
The girl wants to be at the centre of her boyfriend’s universe. To achieve that she will struggle against her willingness to give over whatever she perceives he wants from her. As a Christian she knows that she is supposed to practice chastity, but she also does not want to lose his affection and attention. So she will start to look for “lines” to define how far she is willing to go to win his approval.
The guy is fighting back the urge to fulfill his sexual desires. As a Christian he knows he is supposed to be practicing chastity, but he too begins looking for how far he can go to get some degree of satisfaction. He will easily discover that by playing on the girl’s emotional needs for commitment and security in the relationship, he can manipulate her to meet his needs.
Even without consciously doing so, these dynamics can happen very easily and “innocently” in a dating relationship. And it can be all very confusing for a young man and woman committed to the Christian virtue of chastity! In spite of their “best intentions” they can find themselves sliding down a slippery slope toward pre-marital sex. Even when they remain virgins “technically” – in other words they haven’t gone “all the way” – they often will sacrifice their purity in some shape or form to each other.
Is it possible to date “purely”? Absolutely! But it requires a great deal of self-discipline and maturity. Most teenagers lack both! But even when a teenager possesses great self-discipline and maturity, the question remains: what can he or she achieve through a dating relationship that he could not achieve through friendship?
The Virtue of Friendship:
Through fostering the virtue of friendship during the teenage years, boys and girls, young men and women, learn how to relate to the opposite sex. They have the opportunities to see certain characteristics in their friends that they admire and others that they know they just could never live with. They are able to begin forming an idea of what it is they are looking for in a future spouse. All of this happens while enjoying the dynamics of having fun in pressure-free relationships. To me, it is a win-win situation! They get all the benefits of what is good from dating, without all the confusion.
True, by not dating they miss out on that emotional and physical intimacy, and that sense of belonging to someone and being someone’s “one and only”. But that really only lasts until a couple breaks up. Then they each have to find someone else in their life to fill their “neediness”. This is where “trial and error” or “serial” dating comes into a person’s life.
How many times can you fall in and out of being a different man’s “one and only” before you stop believing that you are worth loving and being truly cherished as one man’s “one and only true love” for life?
How many men can you let into your heart as your “one and only” before you stop believing that you are truly capable of loving one man alone, unconditionally for life?
As the ideals of lasting, committed, unconditional love are eroded through a series of boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, a young man or woman also acquires all kinds of emotional baggage which is carried into future relationships . . . and ultimately into marriage!
By the time you are ready to marry and you find that someone whom God has called you to be with, what meaning in your life will all those past relationships have? Very little – apart from the regrets you might feel because you had given your heart, affection and perhaps physical intimacy to someone who is now not your husband.
Someone else out there, other than your husband, would be carrying a special part of you, and you would be carrying something special from him. It was much more than friendship and yet it becomes something that you cannot share freely in your marriage with your husband.
Had you remained as friends you would be able to enjoy those memories. Instead you will spend a lifetime trying to get them out of your mind and heart. You certainly won’t want to sit and talk to your children about all the past boyfriends you had before you met their daddy and got married. It just doesn’t feel right!
By the time you would be married with a family, you would come to realize, in hindsight, that you wish you had chosen to save it all up for your husband – everything: from your affection and your kisses, to your emotional intimacy.
Saving it all for marriage becomes a heritage of love that you share with your husband and pass on to your children. When you don’t have that, there are shadows of regret in your life that can often haunt your marriage. It takes time and healing, a lot of prayer and grace, to get past those regrets!
But what about “pure dating”? Well, as I suggested, it is totally possible to achieve pure dating. In fact that is the ideal for a couple during courtship. The dating that takes place between a couple who is courting (discerning marriage) should be pure, chaste and holy. They should do all they can to experience God-glorifying, dynamic, exciting romance! And to do that, it needs to be pure!
At a certain stage in life, when a young man or woman is ready to consider marriage, they can look forward to enjoying a wonderful, holy romance. And it will be all the more exciting and dynamic just because they have saved up so much of themselves to put into it. Ultimately, the marriage that results from such pure romance will be all the more beautiful and fulfilling for you – the reward of sacrificial loving and total self-giving.
Setting Goals for Life:
So what are you wanting for yourself in life? What are you hoping to have in a marriage some day? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your future husband? What kind of man do you want to marry? What kind of woman do you want to be for that man?
Take time now, while you are young, to pray about these things. Set goals for yourself and commit yourself to achieving those goals. Enjoy the tremendous gift of singleness – in your life right now – by doing and experiencing the things that God has set before you to do and experience right now.
The Gift of Your Singleness:
You will not likely be single forever – even if it feels that way now! If you are called to marriage, you will likely spend more time in your life married than single. Enjoy this brief interlude between childhood and adult responsibilities to learn and grow, to develop your talents and to experience all the blessings of your singleness.
Enjoy the wonderful virtue of friendship. But don’t be self-deceptive. Really allow the guys in your life to be friends and just friends – no pressure, no strings attached. Keep an emotional distance with guys that are friends, and safeguard your heart – for the heart of a girl so easily wants to give itself away.
Consecrating Yourself to Jesus:
Entrust your heart to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Consecrate your life to Him now and ask Him to clothe you in purity that you might keep yourself entirely for your future husband . . . whomever Christ chooses for you to share your life with in marriage, if that be your vocation.
Trust that Jesus has a perfect plan for your life. Remember Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
Trust that He will bring the man who is perfect for you into your life when the time is right. Pray for your future husband now, that he too will be preserved in purity and grow in holiness and virtue as well.
Seek to know God’s will and to have a desire to live it out each and every day of your life. As you do this, you will find peace as you live out this time of singleness. You will also discover all the wonderful joys God has in store for you right now. As this happens, you will learn to trust Him to provide for you the desires of your heart!
I encourage you to pray and meditate often on Psalm 37:4:
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart!”
Doing it right when the time is right:
I strongly encourage teenagers to reserve dating for a time in their life until they are ready to consider marriage. At that time, only consider dating a person whom you would consider marrying. That doesn’t mean you have to marry the first person you date. It just means – be fussy! It’s alright to be choosey when it comes to choosing your future spouse!
God has placed in you certain desires that will help lead you to the right person whom He has chosen for you. Don’t short circuit the process by dating just anyone and then trying to make it work. If you go out on one or two dates with someone and you can see that there really is nothing there – step back. Maybe you are just supposed to be friends. Or, maybe romance will develop at a later time in life – even if you had thought the time was now.
When you begin dating, date without permanent commitment attached to it. Go out and enjoy an evening together. Don’t put pressure on yourselves to “go steady” from the start. But when you are ready to take a relationship with someone to the next level – do it right. Enter into a formal courtship.
Courtship is a time for discerning whether or not God is calling you to marriage with each other. Courtship sets guidelines and limitations. Courtship gives you a framework to live out a pure and holy romance. It helps you to keep your head and your heart in line with each other. It keeps a relationship honest. It frees you from the trap of “playing games” with each other.
The Dating Mentality versus Courtship:
Often steady dating happens because a young man and woman are attracted to each other, they start to date and then they just keep it going. It becomes habit to be with each other and after awhile they realize they are dating steady – exclusive of all others. Next thing they know they are talking marriage. Sometimes it’s hard for them to even determine at what point they decided they would get married – it just happened.
The problem with this is the mentality with which we approach dating, versus courtship. You might find yourself willing to date anyone you are attracted to, even someone you would never consider marrying. But after dating for a while, you might actually entertain the idea of marriage – with a person whom you would never have considered marriage with in the first place. The relationship has just become a habit – good, bad or otherwise.
Sometimes this dating approach works out just fine. We all know people who have good marriages that started this way. That’s because God can work through any decisions we make and He can make good come out of it.
But sometimes it does not work out fine at all for a couple! With a more than 50% divorce rate in our society – I’d want to secure my chances better than that!
When the stakes are higher you make better decisions:
When a couple decides to court, they know the stakes are higher! You would never enter into a courtship with someone whom you would not consider marrying! So, right there, you are already being more open and honest.
It’s either there, honey, or it isn’t! This person either has the qualities you are looking for in a husband or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, you would choose to remain as friends or just as acquaintances. If he does possess the qualities you are seeking in a husband, then you are already off to a good start in this relationship.
Since the focus of courtship is on discerning marriage, if you do finally discern that God is calling you to marriage with each other it will come out of a deep sense of being called to marriage, not just a habit you didn’t have the heart to break. And as the emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship grows it won’t blind you to this man’s character, because you took time to assess it beforehand.
Through the course of a relationship, more of each other’s personalities will be revealed than what you both first saw. That’s why you set guidelines for yourselves – so that you don’t allow yourselves to get swept away with emotions and forget all sense of reason! You turn to family and friends for input. You allow yourselves to be mentored – ideally by your parents, or some other couple who is well-grounded in the Church’s teachings on Christian marriage. And through prayerful discernment you keep the balance between the head and the heart: not so much head that you don’t have a dynamic and fulfilling romance; and not so much heart that you don’t make rational decisions!
If you decide not to marry each other, then you can call off the courtship and move on. And because you had set guidelines for yourselves in terms of physical and emotional intimacy, you can walk away without regrets. Now that’s freedom!
Commit yourself to Courtship:
I hope you can see how the model of courtship is an ideal way for preparing a couple for an exciting, wonderful and lasting marriage. I hope that you can also see how dating, when you are not ready to consider marriage, has no place in this picture.
I encourage you to commit yourself to courtship in your life. Set your goals high. And keep your ideals ideal!!!
You are the Light of World:
Don’t sell yourself short because of the pressures you feel around you by other teenagers who are choosing to date. Perhaps they’ve never been presented with any other options. Perhaps they’ve never considered there’s another way. Perhaps, through your example of Christian living, you can draw them closer to Christ and to a life of purity!
You are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Matthew 5: 13 – 16) That means right now, even in your youth, you can be a powerful witness to Christ and ultimately you can save souls!!!
I encourage you, Kim, to embrace the gift of your singleness with everything you’ve got. Enjoy life and live it to the full! Remember John 10:10:
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly!”
Abandon yourself to Christ’s love and make Him your number one! Don’t allow the temptation of the fleeting satisfactions of teenage dating to displace Christ from His rightful place – as the King of your heart!
If you keep these ideals and live them out – your life will give glory to God and you will experience the incomparable joys of what only God knows He has in store for you!
We remember our readers each day in our prayers. I ask that you would remember me, my family and this ministry of promoting purity in the world in your prayers!
In His Most Holy Name,