Dating and Courtship
1-4. (a) How recently did dating become a common practice? (b) Where dating is not customary, how may marriages be arranged? (c) In the final analysis, what determines how good or how bad these customs are?
EVERY normal person wants to get real enjoyment out of life. The Bible shows that this is proper, listing joy as one of the “fruits” of God’s spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Many young people, especially in Western lands, look to dating as a prime means of finding enjoyment. They often arrange to spend time, unchaperoned, with someone of the opposite sex. What can be said about this?
2 You may assume dating to be a normal, expected practice, since it is so common in many places. Yet it hasn’t always been, as the book The Family in Social Context explains: “Dating as we know it probably emerged after World War I.” In many countries, however, dating never has become the custom. In fact, the prospective bride and groom may still not meet until their wedding day. The arrangements for their marriage are carried out by their respective parents, or perhaps by a “matchmaker” or “go-between.”
3 Of course, if you live where dating and courtship are accepted as normal, the absence of these customs in certain lands may seem hard to understand. But people living in those lands may be equally puzzled by the customs where you live. They may view dating and courtship as unwise, or even somewhat offensive. A girl from India explained to a well-known Western marriage counselor: “How would we be able to judge the character of a boy we met and got friendly with? We are young and inexperienced. Our parents are older and wiser, and they aren’t as easily deceived as we would be. . . . It’s so important that the man I marry should be the right one. I could so easily make a mistake if I had to find him for myself.”
4 So, rather than taking a narrow-minded viewpoint and thinking that the only way to do things is the way people in your own locality do them, it is good to broaden out your thinking. After all, in the final analysis, it is the way things work out, the results, that determine how good or how bad certain customs are. In the Bible at Ecclesiastes 7:8, we read: “Better is the end afterward of a matter than its beginning.” And we must admit that in many countries where dating and courtship are the custom, a large percentage of marriages are not working out well but are ending in divorce.
WHAT, THEN, ABOUT DATING?
5-8. (a) How does what is said at Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 help us to take a long-range view of our conduct? (b) Why do many young people want to date?
5 If you believe in reasoning things out, you will want to consider not just the short-range effects of dating but also the longer-range results. Our Creator helps us to look at matters from this long-range viewpoint. He wants for us what will bring us true and lasting happiness. So he urges in his Word: “Rejoice, young man, in your youth, and let your heart do you good in the days of your young manhood, and walk in the ways of your heart and in the things seen by your eyes. But know that on account of all these the true God will bring you into judgment. So remove vexation from your heart, and ward off calamity from your flesh; for youth and the prime of life are vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10) What does this mean?
6 It means that the Creator wants you to enjoy your youth, but, at the same time, not to engage in conduct that will adversely affect your life later on. Unfortunately this so often occurs, even as a writer of modern times observed: “The greatest part of mankind employ their first years to make their last miserable.” You don’t want that to happen to you, do you? Neither does God want it to occur. Yet the Bible is also showing here in Ecclesiastes that God holds young persons responsible for what they do. Their youth will not excuse them from facing the consequences of the course they choose.
7 This all bears directly on the matter of dating. How so? Well, ask yourself: “Why do I want to date? What am I looking for that I couldn’t enjoy, for example, as part of a group? Why do I want to pair off with a person of the opposite sex?” Isn’t the basic reason the growing attraction you feel toward those of the opposite sex? This can be seen from the fact that physical attractiveness usually has a lot to do with one’s being desirable as a “date.”
8 Many young persons who date are not seriously thinking of marriage at present, or that they necessarily would like the person they date for a marriage partner. In most places where dating is considered to be customary, it is viewed merely as a form of recreation, a way to spend an evening or a weekend. And some persons, not wanting to be viewed as “different,” date because others their own age do. Yet, there is no question that dating can lead to “vexation,” and even “calamity.” Let’s consider why it can.
THE EFFECTS OF PHYSICAL CONTACT
9-11. (a) What physical contact is usually involved in dating? Why is there the natural inclination to become progressively more intimate? (b) Why may this result in nervous tension for an unmarried person? (c) If the physical contact leads to fornication, how can that result in calamity of many kinds?
9 More often than not, dating involves some physical contact—holding hands, kissing, or something beyond that. At first, just touching the other person’s hand may be very pleasurable, causing one to feel a warm glow. But after a while it may lose its thrill and may not have the same effect. Something more, such as kissing, may appeal. But, then, that too may become ordinary, even a little stale. Why is this?
10 Because where sexual passion is involved it is all part of a chain of events designed to lead to a specific outcome. The first link is the first touch. The last link is sexual relations, which God’s Word shows is reserved for marriage mates. Everything in between can lead up to that last link of the chain. So, then, if you are not married, is it wise to start with the first link, or any of the others? To do so is likely to bring “vexation.” Why? Because your body is going to get itself ready for something it should not receive now, that last link. Stimulating the desire for sexual relations but not fulfilling this desire may lead to frustration and nervous tension.
11 Fornication will not end the “vexation.” Rather, it can lead to “calamity.” How? In a number of ways. It can result in venereal disease. The girl could become pregnant, and this could pressure a couple into a marriage they really are not prepared for, adversely affecting their future happiness. Or the young man may refuse to marry the young woman, and she is then obliged to bring up the child herself with no husband. Or she may be tempted to undergo an abortion, which the Bible shows to be a form of murder. Is this not “calamity”? You may be determined that dating will not have these consequences for you. But many who were just as determined as you are have wound up facing these troubles. Really, then, the question comes back to whether you are ready for marriage or not.
YOUR PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT
12, 13. How can dating hinder one’s development? So, what kind of relationships can be more beneficial?
12 Even when dating doesn’t lead directly to “calamity,” it can have other disadvantages. One is the way it tends to narrow your interest down so soon to just one person. This is at a time when, for the development of your own emotional maturity, you can benefit most from association with a wide variety of persons. If you are in your young manhood, why not first concentrate on becoming a real man by having your main friendships with other men who demonstrate regard for what is right? You can learn manly abilities and ways from them. If you are in your young womanhood, why not interest yourself first in developing into a true woman, benefiting from association with those who are and who can help you to develop fine womanly abilities and ways? Dating really interrupts and slows down such development.
13 Before dating became a popular custom, young people found plenty of things to bring them enjoyment. You can too. You can find real enjoyment in conversing, learning, developing skills, working on projects, playing games, going places and seeing things. And you can find great pleasure in doing these things with someone of your own sex or with a group. You will often find that the wider the range of persons in the group—some your age, some older, some younger—the more enjoyment you will have.
WHEN TO GET MARRIED?
14, 15. (a) What do you think about the advisability of teen-age marriage? (b) What responsibility do parents have in connection with the desire of their children to marry?
14 There comes a time, however, when normally the young person wants to get married. When is the best time for this—when you still are in your teens? Generally not, for the hard facts show that most teen-age marriages simply do not have the same success as marriages where one or both persons have attained a more mature age. As one sociologist commented: “Research studies show that, in general, teen-age marriages are characterized by a high divorce or unhappiness rate compared with marriages at later age.”
15 On the other hand, there is no Scriptural basis for rigidly ruling out all marriage among such younger persons. Generally, the laws of the land grant the parents the right to exercise their mature judgment to decide what they believe will be in the best interests of their children and lead to the greatest happiness and benefit for them. They may decide either to allow or not to allow marriage of their sons or daughters who are under their jurisdiction. Certainly, the many problems of our times and the large percentage of marriage failures should cause them to exercise caution. And it should cause thinking young persons likewise to exercise caution—rather than to ‘marry in haste and repent at leisure.’ It is foolish to rush through a door just because it is open, when you do not have any good idea of what is on the other side.
CHOOSING A MARRIAGE MATE
16-19. (a) In places where courtship is permitted, how will application of the principle at Galatians 5:13 prove beneficial? (b) What should be the goal of courtship? So what should those who engage in it be ready for? (c) Why is it to your advantage to get acquainted with a person of the opposite sex as part of a group, instead of off by yourselves?
16 In some places a young man is allowed to be with a young girl only when at least one of the parents, or some other older person, is present. In many Western lands, however, such young persons may often be together without a chaperon. The question is, then, where such wider area of freedom is permitted, what can a young person do to assure that courtship will lead to a truly happy and successful marriage?
17 Freedom always brings with it responsibility. So, if this question is one that you now face, you do well to keep in mind the fine principle set out in the Bible at Galatians 5:13. Here the apostle Paul was, of course, speaking of the spiritual freedom that Christianity brought to those embracing it. But the principle applies to any kind of freedom, especially if we want our exercise of it to bring fine results and God’s favor. The apostle writes: “You were, of course, called for freedom, brothers; only do not use this freedom as an inducement for the flesh, but through love slave for one another.” Genuine love—for God and for our neighbor, including the person we may be courting—will help us to avoid using any freedom we have in a selfish, harmful way.
18 Properly, courting should be carried on with marriage as its goal. So, it should not begin before the person is ready to take on marriage responsibilities. Of course, you cannot know right at the start whether you want to marry a person or not. So it makes sense not to be too quick in settling your attention on any one individual. But this is no reason for carrying on “courtships” that amount to no more than a mere flirtation or a series of flirtations.
19 Even if you are “interested” in someone, you would be wise, for a while, to try to keep your association with such one as merely part of a group, in group activities. Why? Because, in those circumstances, you can often get a better idea of what a person is really like. This is because we all incline to be more “ourselves” when we are not under the pressure of feeling that someone is paying us special attention. But when a couple separates from the group, the natural tendency from then on is to be what the other person wants you to be, even to mirror his or her likes and dislikes. And sometimes this can camouflage one’s real personality. When paired off, a couple can also quickly become emotionally involved so that they begin to see each other through “rose-colored glasses.” If a couple get married under the flush of such emotion, they often face a rude awakening.
20-22. (a) Why is an honest, unselfish approach to courtship important? (b) What can you learn about a prospective mate during courtship? What qualities would you particularly want in a mate?
20 Generally, it is the man who initiates courtship, by expressing interest in the woman. If he is honest and serious about it, she has the right to believe that he is at least contemplating marriage. Then what? Well, she then has a responsibility to ask herself whether she believes she could consider marriage with him. If she is quite certain that she would not consider him as a prospective husband, then it would be cruel for her to allow him to develop a deep interest in her. Some girls have been willing to let someone court them just to enhance their appearance of popularity or eligibility, hoping that other young men would now notice them. Some young men have done similarly, thinking they can “play the field,” have a good time and then depart before things get too serious. But such selfish use of one’s freedom can cause real hurt, severe wounds that may take months, even years, to heal.
21 Only if used unselfishly can the freedom to court bring benefits. It can afford an opportunity to become better acquainted with the person with whom you are considering spending the rest of your life. Depending on how honest each one is toward the other, you can get to learn each other’s likes and dislikes, standards, habits and outlooks, yes, and each other’s temper and disposition and reaction to problems or difficulties. You rightly want to know such things as: Is he or she kind, generous and considerate of others? What about respect for parents and older persons? Is there good evidence of modesty and humility, or is the person boastful, stubborn? Do I see self-control and balance or, instead, weakness and childishness, perhaps sulking or even tantrums? Since a large part of life is work, what about signs of laziness, irresponsibility or a wasteful attitude toward money? What about plans for the future? Is a family desired or is there interest in some special vocation? In an article entitled “Danger Signals in Courtship,” one writer states: “Our study of engaged and happily and unhappily married people found the unhappily married were in little agreement on life goals and values.”
22 Above all, you should want to know how much God’s purposes figure in the other’s interests and plans. Yes, when the whole picture is filled out, how well suited are you for each other? If serious differences exist, do not fool yourself into thinking that marriage will automatically solve them. It may only make the friction that they cause be felt more keenly.
HONORABLE CONDUCT IN COURTSHIP
23-26. (a) How do you feel about holding hands, kissing and embracing on the part of a couple that plan to get married? (b) How might one become guilty of “loose conduct” and “uncleanness”? Why is it important to avoid such things? (Galatians 5:19, 21)
23 In lands where unchaperoned association is allowed by parents, couples who are courting often engage in expressions of affection such as holding hands, kissing, even embracing. Parents, of course, have the obligation to instruct their sons and daughters as to the standards by which they want them to conduct themselves. Elders in the Christian congregation can direct young people’s attention to the sound guiding principles found in God’s Word, and anyone who honestly wants to take a wise course in life will willingly and gladly give heed to such counsel.
24 Not only does the Bible definitely rule out fornication, which is sexual intercourse by unmarried persons, including engaged couples, it also warns against immorality and “uncleanness,” which can take place during courtship. (Galatians 5:19-21) Any couple that heed these warnings will save themselves much grief and will not run the risk of having the memories of some misconduct come back to trouble them. But what is unclean conduct according to the Bible’s standards? What can it include?
25 Holding hands can be a clean expression of affection between persons contemplating marriage. True, it does have a stimulating effect, but this is natural and not necessarily bad. Why, just the sight of the person one is considering marrying may also stimulate, ‘making the heart beat faster.’ (Song of Solomon 4:9) Nevertheless, we need to remember that, human nature being what it is, physical contact does increase the “pull” of sexual attraction. So, because of realizing the possible consequences to which it might lead, some persons may prefer to limit themselves very strictly as to physical contact during courtship. And no one should disparage or make light of their conscientious position.
26 Kissing may also be a clean expression of affection between persons contemplating marriage—or it may not be. Really, the question is, To what extent does passion enter the picture? Kissing can be done in a way that stirs passion to the point that a couple are deeply aroused sexually. Sexual arousal prepares the couple for intercourse, but this privilege, according to God’s law, is reserved only for married persons. If a couple knowingly flaunt God’s law by deliberately and brazenly engaging in passion-arousing conduct, whether by caressing each other’s sexual organs or otherwise, they are guilty of “uncleanness” and “loose conduct.”
27-30. What good reasons are there for avoiding passion-arousing conduct before marriage?
27 We ought to be honest with ourselves. If we know we do not have strong self-control in these things, then we should not jeopardize our future or that of the other person by taking chances. Would you drive a car down a steep winding road if you knew its brakes were in poor shape? The time to make up your mind and settle your heart on these matters is before you begin, not after. Once the physical desires begin to stir, it is generally very difficult to stop their buildup. Those who let passion build up in them to the point of desiring sexual relations—when they are not entitled to these through marriage—subject themselves to tension and frustration. It is like reading an exciting book—only to find that the last chapter has been torn out.
28 Those who keep their relationship in courtship on a high level will get off to a far better start in marriage than those giving in to intimacy that steadily increases in frequency and intensity. How much respect can a girl feel for someone that she has to ‘keep fighting off’? But a young man who shows respectful restraint and strength of willpower earns respect. The same is true of a girl. And she particularly needs to realize that, whereas her feelings may require time to be stirred, this is seldom true of a male. He can easily and quickly become sexually aroused.
29 Giving in to frequent and increasingly passionate expressions can lead to a premature marriage. The book Adolescence and Youth says: “The early stages of courtship are often impossibly romantic. Marriage at that time might lead a person to expect more of the marriage than any marriage could realize. Lengthened courtship usually brings about a more reasonable understanding of the other person so that an understanding marriage may result.” For such longer courtship, restraint must be exercised—otherwise the power of sexual drive may build up so early as to become a real danger.
30 Serious doubts and suspicions may also crop up after marriage if passion is allowed to color the picture strongly during the courtship period. The couple may begin to wonder, Did we really marry for love? Or were we just caught up in passion? Was it a wise choice? The girl may also incline to doubt the genuineness of her husband’s love, wondering if he did not marry her just for her body and not for what she is as a person.
31, 32. What can help a couple to avoid passion-arousing conduct that would mar their courtship?
31 So, to protect yourself and your future happiness, avoid situations that lend themselves to passion. Lonely places and darkness are not going to help you to keep courtship honorable. Nor will situations where time hangs heavily and there seems to be nothing else to do except engage in such expressions of affection. But much clean enjoyment can be had in such activities as skating, playing tennis or similar sports, having a meal together at a restaurant or visiting some museum or local place of interest and beauty. While enjoying some feeling of privacy because of not being around personal acquaintances, you will have the safeguard of not being completely isolated from other people.
32 Too, instead of thinking just about what you are “missing” by showing restraint, think about what you are preparing for in the future. Then, in all the years to come, you will be able to look back on your courtship, not with distaste or regret, but with pleasure and satisfaction.
[Picture on page 153]
If courtship is a series of passionate expressions with less and less restraint, how will this affect prospects for a successful marriage?
[Picture on page 155]
There is much clean enjoyment that young people can share