In my post “Signs, Signs, Everywhere the Signs,” I mentioned that for most of my adult life, I wanted God to make a decision for me about getting married rather than making a decision with Him. Why did I want God to make the decision for me? Because I was scared to death of dating. Why was I scared? I’ll tell you why I was scared: my prime dating years began in the 90’s. A decade I would like to refer to as “Christian dater’s hell.”
This era started with a handful of well intentioned books, the most popular one being written by a 21 year old, which is kind of sobering when you consider what happened next. The books turned into a Christian phenomenon that turned into a bunch of rules that turned into tsunami whose wake we are still recovering from.
Here is a brief summing up of the rules that came about in this era.
Rule #1: Dating isn’t biblical.
Rule #2: You should never date. You should only court.
Rule #3: Families should be involved with picking the spouse.
Rule #4: If you do court, you should never ever be alone with the person. Because being alone leads to kissing. And kissing leads to sex. And sex leads to dancing. And we cannot have any dancing now, can we?
Rule #5: If you do court, you better darned well know you are going to marry the person from the first group date you go on. Because you can’t court and then break up. That goes against the very nature of courting.
Most of my single friends and I agree that this was the most detrimental decade to be a Christian looking for love in the history of mankind. (Let me add that I do think that most of these guidelines are actually a smart idea for teenagers. But for fully grown adults, they just don’t work well.)
In my next few posts, I am going to look at each of these guidelines and how there may be a few holes in them. I will also try to challenge us with ways to create a more healthy dating culture.
I will start with Rule #1: Dating isn’t biblical:
It is true that dating isn’t biblical. It’s not in the bible. So maybe we should try a marriage philosophy that is in the bible; polygamy. David had lots of wives. Solomon was the wisest man on earth, and he pretty much had an entire motel full of them. That’s in the bible, so it must be biblical. Taking up this biblical marriage practice would solve a lot of problems. We all know that there are probably about fifteen Christian women for every one Chrstian man. If we just started practicing this tradition, voila! Problem solved!
Of course, we understand that this is not a good idea. We understand that this was a part of the Hebrew culture and surrounding cultures (mostly in the upper class), but that it was never necessarily God’s best. Just because it is in the Bible does not mean that it is right. And conversely, just because it is not in the Bible does not mean that it is wrong. Sometimes it just means that it was not yet a part of the culture.
Our culture is so different then the culture of the bible. When our father wants to buy some land, he doesn’t offer our hand in marriage along with twenty camels and a flock of sheep. Marriage is no longer a business proposition like it used to be. It is a search for a life companion.
Women have so many more rights than they used to that they now get to choose the man they spend their life with. They also are able to make enough money to live off of, and so it is not required of them to have a husband in order to survive. (Throughout history, there were few alternatives to marriage for livelihood besides prostitution for women.) Women’s rights have been one of the major factors in our society that brought us from a culture of arranged marriages to a culture where we can date. Therefore, dating is not necessarily a bad institution. It is an institution that has progressed as the marriage institution has changed. As we became more independent as a culture, we also became more independent in the way that we chose our mate.
People will argue that the way the western world dates now ends in a 50% divorce rate. I would absolutely agree with them. We live in a culture that is so set on having pleasure that sometimes we stomp on anyone we to get it. We sleep around as if sex was as much of a commitment as buying a cup of coffee in the morning. Some people seem to try spouses on and then throw them out like they are jeans that have gone out of style. Our popular culture has little or no value for covenant and often makes fun of the sacred institution of marriage. I know that this is not the best way. Jesus weeps when relationships are this broken, and so do I.
At the same time, I don’t want to go back to a culture where I am seen as a commodity, where I have no choice in something as important as a man I will live with the rest of my life and that will father my children. I do believe that dating is an institution that has been abused. But just because people around us abuse it or the media might abuse it doesn’t mean we have to.
Instead of seeing dating as unhealthy because it is not in the bible, or unhealthy because people around us have abused it, maybe we can use it as an effective tool in choosing a good partner. We can have good boundaries in our dating. We can learn a lot about ourselves and what match would make sense for us. We can make wise, educated decisions because we have spent good time with different people and ultimately the person we are going to be committed to. Dating can become very useful in our journey of marrying well if we use it the right way.
Maybe now we can come into a new era where we can side hug dating hello. (I would say kiss dating hello, but we need to have good boundaries now, don’t we?)