Am I Ready to Date?
IN MANY lands dating is viewed as a means of romantic entertainment, a fun activity. Dating thus takes many forms. For some, a date is a formal, structured affair—flowers, a lovely dinner, and a good-night kiss are all part of the agenda. For others, a date simply means spending some time together with someone you like of the opposite sex. There are even couples who are constantly seen together but who claim to be ‘just friends.’ Well, whether you call it dating, going together, or just seeing each other, it usually amounts to the same thing: a boy and a girl spending a lot of time together socially, often unsupervised.
Dating was not the custom in Bible times. Nevertheless, when carried out intelligently, cautiously, and honorably, dating is a legitimate way for two people to get to know each other. And, yes, it can be enjoyable. But does this mean that you should date?
The Pressure to Date
You may feel under pressure to date. Most of your peers probably date, and naturally you do not want to seem weird or different. Pressure to date may also come from well-meaning friends and relatives. When 15-year-old Mary Ann was asked to go out on a date, her aunt advised: “Whether you want to marry the boy or not has nothing to do with it. Dating is just a part of your natural development as a person. . . . After all, if you always turn guys down you’ll be unpopular and no one will ask you out.” Mary Ann recalls: “Auntie’s words sunk down deep. Would I be cheating myself out of a good opportunity? The boy had his own car, lots of money; and I knew he would show me a great time. Should I date him or not?”
For some youths the pressure comes from their own desires for warmth and affection. “I needed to be loved and appreciated,” explained an 18-year-old named Ann. “Since I was not close to my parents, I turned to my boyfriend to find closeness and to have someone to whom I could pour out my feelings who would really understand.”
Nevertheless, a teenager should not begin dating simply because he or she feels pressured to do so! For one thing, dating is serious business—a part of the process of selecting a marriage mate. Marriage? Admittedly, this may be the last thing on the minds of most youths who date. But really, what justification could there be for two people of the opposite sex to begin spending a lot of time together other than to investigate the possibility of marrying each other? In the long run, dating for any other reason is likely to result in anything but “fun.” Why so?
The Dark Side of Dating
For one thing, youths are in the vulnerable period of life the Bible calls “the bloom of youth.” (1 Corinthians 7:36) During this time, you may feel powerful surges of sexual desire. There is nothing wrong with this; it is a part of growing up.
But therein lies a big problem with teenage dating: Teenagers are just beginning to learn how to control these sexual feelings. True, you may well know God’s laws regarding sex and you may sincerely desire to remain chaste. (See Chapter 23.) Even so, a biological fact of life comes into play: The more you keep company with a member of the opposite sex, the more sexual desire can grow—whether you want it to or not. (See pages 232-3.) It is the way all of us are made! Until you are older and more in control of your feelings, dating may simply be too much for you to handle. Unfortunately, many youths find this out the hard way.
“When we started dating, . . . we didn’t even hold hands or kiss. I just wanted to enjoy the pleasure of her company and talk,” said one young man. “However, she was very affectionate and would sit very close to me. In time we did hold hands and kiss. This created within me an even stronger sex drive. It affected my thinking to the point that I wanted to be with her, not just to talk, but to hold her, touch her and kiss. I couldn’t get enough! I was literally going crazy with passion. At times I would feel cheap and ashamed.”
Little wonder, then, that dating often culminates in illicit sexual relations. A survey of several hundred teenagers found that 87 percent of the girls and 95 percent of the boys felt that sex was either “moderately important or very important” in dating. However, 65 percent of the girls and 43 percent of the boys admitted that there had been times on a date when they had had sexual contact even though they did not feel like it!
Recalls 20-year-old Loretta: “The more we saw each other, the more involved we became. Kissing soon grew stale and we began touching intimate body parts. I became a nervous wreck because I felt so dirty. My date also in time expected me to ‘go all the way’ . . . I was confused and bewildered. But all I could think of was, ‘I don’t want to lose him.’ I was miserable!”
True, not every couple end up having sexual relations; some let their displays of affection stop just short of it. But what results when one is worked up emotionally and has no honorable outlet for such feelings? Guaranteed frustration. And those frustrations are not limited to sexual feelings.
Consider one young man’s dilemma: ‘I liked Kathy a lot at first. Well, I admit I talked her into doing some things she didn’t think were right. Now I feel dirty because I’ve lost interest. How can I ditch Kathy without hurting her feelings?’ What a perplexing situation! And how would you feel if you were Kathy?
Teen heartbreak is a common malady. True, a young couple walking hand in hand may present an attractive picture. But what are the odds that the same couple will still be together a year from now, much less married to each other? Slim indeed. Teen romances are thus almost always doomed relationships, seldom culminating in marriage, often terminating in heartbreak.
After all, during the teen years your personality is still in a state of flux. You are discovering who you are, what you really like, what you want to do with your life. Someone who interests you today may very well bore you tomorrow. But when romantic feelings have been allowed to flourish, someone is bound to get hurt. Not surprisingly, several research studies have linked “a fight with a girl friend” or “disappointment in love” as among the situations responsible for many youthful suicides.
Am I Ready?
God tells young people: “Rejoice, young man [or woman], 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.” Young people do tend to “walk in the ways of [their] heart.” Yet so often those “ways,” which seem to be such fun, end up bringing vexation and calamity. The Bible thus urges in the following verse: “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) “Vexation” refers to being deeply troubled or sorely distressed. “Calamity” denotes a personal disaster. Both can make life miserable.
Does this mean, then, that dating itself is a source of vexation and calamity? Not necessarily. But it can be if you date for a wrong reason (‘for fun’) or before you are ready for it! The following questions may, therefore, prove helpful in evaluating your own situation.
Would dating help or hinder my emotional growth? Dating can limit you to a boy-girl relationship. Might it not benefit you, instead, to widen out in your association with others? (Compare 2 Corinthians 6:12, 13.) A young woman named Susan says: “I learned to develop close friendships with older Christian women in the congregation. They needed companionship, and I needed their steadying influence. So I would drop in for coffee. We would talk and laugh. I made real, lifelong friendships with them.”
By having many types of friends—old and young, single and married, male and female—you learn to be poised around people, including those of the opposite sex, with much less pressure than on a date. Furthermore, by associating with married couples, you gain a more realistic view of marriage. Later on you will be better prepared to select a good mate and fulfill your own role in marriage. (Proverbs 31:10) A youth named Gail thus concludes: “I’m not ready to get married and settle down. I’m still getting to know myself, and I have many spiritual goals yet to achieve. So I really don’t need to be too close to anyone of the opposite sex.”
Do I want to cause hurt feelings? Both your feelings and those of the other person can be crushed if romantic bonds are forged with no prospect of marriage in sight. Really, is it fair to heap romantic attention upon someone in order to gain experience with the opposite sex?—See Matthew 7:12.
What do my parents say? Parents often see dangers to which you are blind. After all, they were young once. They know what real problems can develop when two young people of the opposite sex start spending a lot of time together! So if your parents disapprove of your dating, do not rebel. (Ephesians 6:1-3) Likely, they simply feel you should wait till you are older.
Will I be able to follow the Bible’s morality? When one is “past the bloom of youth,” one can better deal with sexual impulses—and even then it is not easy. Are you really ready at this point in life to handle a close relationship with someone of the opposite sex and keep it chaste?
Interestingly, many youths are asking themselves these questions and coming to the same conclusion reached by Mary Ann (quoted earlier). She said: “I determined that I was not going to be influenced about dating by the attitudes of others. I was not going to date till I was old enough and ready to get married and I saw someone with the qualities I wanted in a husband.”
Mary Ann thus raises the critical question you must ask yourself before dating.
Questions for Discussion
◻ What does the term “dating” mean to you?
◻ Why do some youths feel under pressure to date?
◻ Why is dating unwise for someone in “the bloom of youth”?
◻ How can a youth “ward off calamity” when it comes to dating?
◻ What are some problems that can develop when a boy and a girl are ‘just friends’?
◻ How can you know if you’re ready to date?
[Blurb on page 231]
“Kissing soon grew stale and we began touching intimate body parts. I became a nervous wreck because I felt so dirty. My date also in time expected me to ‘go all the way’”
[Blurb on page 234]
‘How can I ditch Kathy without hurting her feelings?’
[Box/Picture on page 232, 233]
Can a Boy and a Girl ‘Just Be Friends’?
So-called platonic relationships (affectionate relationships between men and women into which the sexual element does not enter) are quite popular among youths. Claims 17-year-old Gregory: “It’s easier for me to talk to girls because they’re usually more sympathetic and sensitive.” Other youngsters argue that such friendships help them develop a more rounded-out personality.
The Bible urges young men to treat “younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:2) By applying this principle, it is indeed possible to enjoy clean, wholesome friendships with members of the opposite sex. The apostle Paul, for example, was a single man who enjoyed a number of friendships with Christian women. (See Romans 16:1, 3, 6, 12.) He wrote of two “women who have striven side by side with me in the good news.” (Philippians 4:3) Jesus Christ also enjoyed balanced, wholesome association with women. On numerous occasions, he enjoyed the hospitality and conversation of Martha and Mary.—Luke 10:38, 39; John 11:5.
Nevertheless, a “platonic” friendship is often little more than a thinly disguised romance or a way to get attention from someone of the opposite sex without commitment. And since feelings can easily change, there is a need for caution. Warned Dr. Marion Hilliard: “An easy companionship traveling at about ten miles an hour can shift without warning to a blinding passion going a hundred miles an hour.”
Sixteen-year-old Mike learned this when he became “friends” with a 14-year-old girl: “I quickly found out [that] two people cannot stay just friends when they keep seeing each other exclusively. Our relationship kept growing and growing. We soon had special feelings for each other, and we still do.” Since neither is old enough to marry, those feelings are a source of frustration.
Too much close association can have yet sadder consequences. One youth tried to comfort a female friend who confided in him about some of her problems. Before long, they were petting. The result? Troubled consciences and bad feelings between them. With others, sexual relations have resulted. A survey taken by Psychology Today revealed: “Almost half the respondents (49 percent) have had a friendship turn into a sexual relationship.” In fact, “nearly a third (31 percent) reported having had sexual intercourse with a friend in the past month.”
‘But I’m not attracted to my friend and would never get romantically involved with him [or her].’ Perhaps. But how might you feel in the future? Besides, “he that is trusting in his own heart is stupid.” (Proverbs 28:26) Our hearts can be treacherous, deceptive, blinding us to our true motives. And do you really know how your friend feels about you?
In his book The Friendship Factor, Alan Loy McGinnis advises: “Don’t trust yourself too far.” Take precautions, perhaps confining your association to properly supervised group activities. Avoid inappropriate displays of affection or being alone in romantic circumstances. When you are troubled, confide in parents and older persons rather than a youth of the opposite sex.
And what if, in spite of safeguards, unshared romantic feelings develop? “Speak truth,” and let the other person know where you stand. (Ephesians 4:25) If this does not settle matters, it might be best to keep your distance. “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself.” (Proverbs 22:3) Or as the book The Friendship Factor puts it: “Bail out if necessary. Once in a while, no matter how much we try, a friendship with the opposite sex gets out of hand and we know where it is going to lead.” Then, it is time to “back away.”
[Pictures on page 227]
Youths often feel pressured to date or pair off
[Picture on page 228]
Dating often puts youths under pressure to grant unwanted displays of affection
[Picture on page 229]
One can enjoy the company of the opposite sex in circumstances free of the pressures of dating
[Picture on page 230]
So-called platonic relationships often end in heartbreak