90’s Dating Gone Bad #1: Dating Isn’t Biblical

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?)

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31 thoughts on “90’s Dating Gone Bad #1: Dating Isn’t Biblical

  1. AMEN. CAN’T say this loud enough. AMEN! I myself never bought into the movement. And consequently had lots of dates. But often they were with a lot of non Christian boys, who seemed to be the only ones bold enough and forward enough to really show me overt attention and pursue me. And I inherently saw the danger in this whole movement. My parents are great people, but I never felt they were in a position to pick the right person for me. They would have probably picked someone ok, but not right for me.

  2. You stole my thunder Kate! I was going to say that dating is non biblical because they primarily had arranged marriages in the bible. In India one time We were informed hat in a year the seventeen year old We had just met would “Be arranged”. ( Remember that Kate?) We were stunned. These were Chistians! We were freaked out! Sometime later it occured to me that actually her being “Arranged” was actually the more biblical way. I Also had a more stunning revelation. It’s been 9 years since We went to India.

    • The young lady who got arranged has been married for 8 years. Kate and I are STILL SINGLE. It makes one wonder if arranging or atleast matchmaking could play a greater role in western romance and the path of finding a mate. On another note, I recently read one of those Amish romances. Finding a mate is deeply steeped in hundreds of years of tradition for the Amish and Seems

      • I have often wondered why there are so many Amish romance novels, but I don’t generally read romance so I never knew why. This has definitely shed some light. Who knew the Amish would introduce something so evil as dating — I hope that their dating did lead to….um…. dancing……eventually.

        I have been in Indian communities in the U.S. and as soon as they come here, some of their arranged marriages fail. There is something about the culture of India that makes it work. Usually the husband and wives’ families are dear friends and will do anything to help them work out differences. They have so much family support. They also have huge community support.

        Here, if your marriage doesn’t work out we don’t have the same support network in place. Many times our in-laws hardly know our parents. Unless you are privileged to be in a community of believers who want to support and uphold your covenant, then a struggling marriage will not survive.

        Probably the case is similar in Amish communities.

      • I have mixed feelings about arranged marriages. On one hand, when I was in India, I did see how there was a different mindset in terms of “this is the person I marry, so I am committed to them, ” rather than our culture who says “I want to find ‘the one.’ If I don’t find ‘the one” I will just give up on my relationship and marry someone else.” Divorce doesn’t happen a lot in India. A lot of the believing couples I met there seemed very happy together, even though most of them had met on their wedding day and never even talked until after they were married.

        On the other hand, when you are actually in culture of India, as I have been for 3 months altogether, you start to realize that men in this culture often have their wives that are were “committed” to and then they have their lovers on the side. That is common. Even if they don’t divorce their wives, they aren’t necessarily faithful.This isn’t true across the board, of course. But I just wanted to point out that just because there is a low divorce rate doesn’t mean that the couples are happy or even that they are faithful to each other. And also, I would say there are a lot of women who are not treated well but are trapped in the marriage because it is culturally unacceptable to divorce. So it is a very mixed bag. I think we can learn from arranged marriages in that we choose commitment even when it’s hard, but that we don’t romanticize them either.

        I would also add that I don’t think Indian cultures divorce when they get here just because we have a bad dating culture. I think that is true sometimes of course. But I think it’s also because it so culturally unaccepted to divorce in India that when they move here, they feel the freedom to divorce more often. I hate to say this, but I don’t think that is always a bad thing. Women can be in very unhealthy marriages in India where they are ill treated, beaten, etc. When they move to a culture where they have more rights, they probably also feel more empowered to leave the marriage. I am not an advocate of divorce, but I also don’t like seeing women treated badly.

      • Oh by the way, Andrea, I am going to address the family question in a soon post. I agree with you that it is sad how little our communities help each other when it comes to dating.

  3. I keep getting cut off! Amish cont. The Amish keep their courtships completely private. Courting or dating consists of your beau meeting you somewhere on a country road near your pa’s farm. You go riding in his horse drawn buggy and Talk. On Saturday nights until he asks you to marry him. No one knows who is courting who until the engagments are announced at harvest time. Wedding season rapidly commences thereafter. In some ways I Love this closed system. The private person in me wishes to be courted this way out from under the magnifying glass and far from the fishbowl. How awesome. At any rate. We need HELP in the church. I know so many older Christians, men and women who have yet to find their mate. We gotta change something. Let’s Start a REVOLUTION!

    • Wow thanks for this! I actually tried to look up the history of courting and couldn’t find very much, so this is helpful. I like that they spend time alone, but in a place that is out in the open so that you are not prone to temptation and such. Very good to know!

  4. Thanks for posting this! I love your style of writing!
    I agree with you that we shouldn’t say whether dating is Biblical or not.

    I wanted to challenge this idea: “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.”

    My friends and I have discussed, “Just because it is in our culture, it doesn’t make it right” (when it comes to marriage). Maybe the institution of marriage is not based enough on spiritual values and is too much on what the world around us thinks. Maybe we should look more to 2 Corinthians and what Paul says about singleness. You address this but I wanted to add:

    When I learn about other cultures, wives’ husbands aren’t their best friends. Their best friends are their sisters. They have children with and share wealth with a man but they share their hearts with women.

    I see you have challenged us depending too much on culture to set our values, but I would go a step farther. Maybe we should think about companionship and life partners beyond a husband.

    For instance, David and Jonathan were more intimate than they were with women.

    What do you think?

  5. “So maybe we should try a marriage philosophy that is in the bible; polygamy”
    Hahaha. You’re marvelous. I love what you write.
    Wish the “hug dating hello” era had started 10 years ago.

  6. Awesome.
    I’ve actually tried to make a case for polygamy being an acceptable form of marriage–since it doesn’t seem it’s explicitly condemned in the Bible.(And it seems to solve many problems!) I know many missionaries have had to deal with it among peoples who still practice it. But my husband has actually convinced me that if you look at how it works out in the Bible, it’s not so pretty.

    Arranged marriages have a lot going for them. Maybe number one is that no one expects to be swept off their feet emotionally every day by the perfect person who ‘completes them’. Commitment leads to love in many cases. But would I choose that for myself or my children? It’s so far from our culture that it would be almost impossible to apply.

    About dating, thanks for the perspective! It’s so easy to embrace a radical new take that seems to offer solutions to the problems. And then 10 years later we realize we threw the baby out with the bathwater. So the real question is, how do we date/court/ whatever we call it, with biblical principles in mind? How do we apply them in our culture where marriages aren’t arranged?

    I am married to my high school sweetheart, and reminded every day that it’s NOT because we did everything right. We started dating at age 17, broke most rules in the ‘kiss dating goodbye’ book (yes, even kissed!) In fact, we did almost everything wrong, but God had His plan. And we are so grateful for that.

    To those who are still single, don’t believe it’s because you did something wrong. (Or especially, don’t believe that there’s something wrong with you.) God’s plan for marriage is a mystery to me, since many of my MOST BEAUTIFUL, GODLY, PASSIONATE, TALENTED, WONDERFUL friends are still single.

  7. I’m not sure the evangelical subculture really knows what it thinks about dating. So, we are supposed to be ‘sure’ but we can’t spend time getting to know the person outside of a group, and we need to do everything we can to not make a mistake, but at the same time, the goal is to get married? Maybe some church communities have a way to make that work, though I haven’t seen it. At one church I attended, it seemed that a large number of people that ended up dating were people that were co-leading small groups together, and thus, spending time alone with one another. Sure, wisdom in how we interact and not being reckless with others in our church community is a good thing, but it’s possible to be overprotective too, thus making it all too serious an endeavor. Then it’s just too much effort for a guy to ask unless the stars align, lest one is looked down upon for asking. Yet, taking risks and being hurt are part of life and part of living in Christian community. I’m all for prayer and counsel and such, but sometimes we just need to step out. Feel like I’m still learning…

  8. Great post as usual. But, Abraham only had one wife!!! Sarah. He did sleep with a woman outside of that marriage at his wife’s request, so I’m not holding it up as an ideal situation but he didn’t have multiple wives. 🙂

  9. Jacob had only two wives and that is probably the most dysfunctional family ever recorded in the history of the world. Human trafficing, gang warfare, betrayal, vengence through pregnancy, probably sex addiction. It was a MESS!

  10. Wonderful, insightful, witty and beautifully you, as usual, Kate 🙂

    I think that the thing I struggle with the most about dating in our culture is that it seems (at least from my experience and the experiences of those around me) to be a training ground for lack of commitment. Now, I realize that the benefit to dating is that when you come to the conclusion that this person is not “the one” you are able to end the relationship and move on. However,it also seems that many, many people never really get out of the “dump them when it gets difficult/boring/not-so-great-for-me” mode. Know what I mean? How do we maintain the benefits of dating and still train ourselves to have healthy relationships that involve working through conflict when it is just so stinkin’ easy to bail out when the going gets tough?

    • Wow, these are very good questions and make me think about adding something about this to my book. I think “the one” is not a good paradigm to have. I think it is one of the reasons we have so much divorce in our country. It sounds like some kind of cosmic treasure hunt that will ultimately end in disappointment.

      Two things come to mind with your comments: I think that dating can be a training ground for lack of commitment, but it doesn’t have to be. I often think of dating as a way to get good information about whether this person is a good match or not. It seems imperative for 2 people to have explored the question of “is this a good match? ” before they get married. In fact,it seems like this question makes more sense to the purpose of dating at all, and more sense to why it is okay to break up some times. Breaking up doesn’t always have to mean lack of commitment, it can just mean that the couple has gathered enough information to know that it would be a difficult marriage and doesn’t really make sense.

      That being said, I can totally see what you are saying as well. Sometimes if someone is looking for “the one” and their expectations aren’t met, they run the other way. It is never healthy at all to see your dating life and especially marriage as something that will always bring you contentment, and to run away when it doesn’t. Even in the bible, covenant was often about dying (as in with the sacrificed animals when God first made covenants in the Old Testament) in order to ultimately live deeper.

      I think every serious dating couple should go through the season where their projections of each other come down and they see the other person as they really are. Learning to choose someone because you love them even after your romanticized view of them has come down is very important. Dating is not just about what we get out of the relationship, but what we give. Love cannot be about feeling good, about finding the perfect person. It is about standing opposite of someone so that you can see what they cannot see, and thus refine each others lives. That can mean a lot of pain. But it can mean living a more enriched life as well.

      I guess what I would say is that you have to find a balance between not running away from commitment because you want your partner to be perfect, but also not staying in a dating relationship that is not healthy for you or your partner. Does that make sense?

      • Perfect sense.

        I think the Disney romance idea has done much damage to healthy relationship in our society. It would be great, also, if we could see the benefit of having a deeper relationship with someone before we ever even started to date.

        My husband and I have been married for 23 years (this May) and have been through some truly horrific things. I am steadfast in my belief that one of the major reasons we were able to maintain our relationship through all the trials is that we were friends first. Friends can stick it out through things that are just too hard for lovers to deal with.

        Every time I hear someone say “we are divorced, but we are best friends” I can’t help but think that they really aren’t making the most of that friendship…or they are deluding themselves. My aunt and uncle tried to tell me the same thing when they split up. My aunt said, “He’s my best friend.” I said, “Then why can’t you stick by him? Aren’t you loyal to your friends?” She said, “I just don’t have romantic feelings for him anymore.”

        Ugh. What a pile of baloney she bought into!

        I completely agree that breaking up doesn’t have to mean a lack of commitment…but if we didn’t feel the need to “date” everyone we are interested in, there wouldn’t really be a commitment to break. Know what I mean? Is dating really the only construct within which a couple can get to know one another? While dating doesn’t it seem that many couples keep their masks on anyway, and in the end say, “I had no idea (s)he was like this before we got married.” If there was some sort of alternative way to really get to know one another without the label of “dating” and all that comes with it, we might not see our relationships as so disposable.

        There were no masks when I started to date my husband because we’d already seen each other at our best/worst. If there was a way to help people to see those things in each other before they even start to date, I bet there would be much less serial breaking up.

        The premise here is that courting is NOT the alternative to dating. However, I think we can all agree that dating has some pretty serious issues. Since courting is obviously not the answer, what is? Can we start a revolution that is more realistic than courting but healthier than dating? Is that possible?

  11. I think dating well makes sense to me. Which means getting to know each other slowly, day by day, but knowing you are interested in each other romantically. Spending good time with each other but putting good boundaries on that time. I think that marriage is such a serious thing that it should be a wise choice. The very reason to date is to have a season where you are not fully committed where you make a decision on whether or not you should be committed. If that is the case, there should be the freedom to break up if you realize it’s not a good idea. I think once you are married you should choose to love every day and not give up on the relationship, but before hand, allow yourself the freedom to say “I don’t think this is a good idea.”

  12. Good topic, worth thinking about. Just for the record, that non-dating mindset didn’t start in the 90’s. My prime dating years were in the 70’s, and Christians didn’t date back then, either ,for the same reasons. It was courting or nothing, and like you said, courtship was expected to end in marriage. My (ex) husband and I never kissed till we were engaged. We were weak. Many of my Christian friends never kissed till their wedding day. I still don’t like the idea of casual dating – trying on people like you try on shoes, and casting them off as soon as they get a little uncomfortable. We used to refer to dating as “divorce practice” – pretty accurate. But I agree that if the right boundaries are in place, it’s not as much of an issue. I know from experience that when relationships are kept pure (no making out, that includes heavy kissing), a break up is not as bad. It’s not like ripping glued flesh apart and having your heart torn out. It hurts, yes, but it’s more like a sad mutual agreement when you split and you can stay friends – even lifelong friends – and have love between you. I wish more people understood how much pre-marital sex totally messes you up in this regard. Guarding your heart (so you still have most of it left when you do meet your mate) and purity go hand-in-hand. Anyway, that’s my two cents. I still believe in courtship, but for me – as a middle-aged woman who was married for 16 years – I hope by now I don’t need anything less than courtship. LOL! 😛

  13. I just caught up on your blog again and enjoyed it immensely.

    It took me over thirty years to begin to see “dating” in a positive light. (of course I didn’t think about it for the first ten or so) Allow me to digress—My initial negative feelings were not because of any new teachings I heard or read on the subject. As early as elementary school I had idealistic ideas about how relationships should work. I felt like there had to be something wrong with the prevalent pseudo-committed relationships, (the “going-out model” of “dating” relationships) but I had no instructions on how to proceed. I just wanted to do it differently. I was more interested in genuine “friendships” then shallow “relationships”. I was therefore misunderstood; especially since I wasn’t proficient at articulating my intentions. By the time I was single in my twenties I was still worried about the pretentiousness of “dating” so I avoided the process. I told people I didn’t date because “I’m a terrible salesperson”. I can still relate with myself on that but I also shudder from the memory. I don’t actually shudder but I do regret, I suppose mostly just not trusting God through the process. I need to trust God not my method whatever it is (this goes for more then just dating). My commitments could be genuine in the midst of potentially pretentious situations. So I agree, “Maybe now we can come into a new era where we can hug dating hello.”

    When I think about what the Bible has to say about what method to follow when it comes to “finding” a romantic relationship, is the only thing it proves is that there isn’t one method to follow. We have the “high idea” or idealistic reality, (God giving a perfect woman to a perfect man) but that only happened once. The relationships often highlighted such as as how Rebekah was chosen for Isaac or Ruth and Boaz, these relationships are prophetically significant which is why they are included, but otherwise too far removed from our reality to know specifically how to proceed. How God orchestrates prophetically significant stories within and in spite of human volition is so complicated and beyond our scope. The one I like to highlight to kind of throw a wrench in the concept of what God might do, is Hosea. That is intense! See, there is no clear “model” but the Divine principles remain intact.

    keep up the good work.

    • So good! I’d like to add that the only two times that God tells someone who to marry in the bible is Rebekah and Jacob and also Hosea and Gomer. One out of two odds of marrying a prostitute is a little scary.

  14. Pingback: 90′s Dating Gone Bad #4: Don’t Be Alone « The Sexy Celibate

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