I have met many Christian college students who have given up on dating. They have found it to be a road strewn with heart-hurt, physical frustration, misunderstanding, and untold bother, all of which add up to a "bad trip."
"Why date? I'll just wait till God brings the right one into my life and avoid all the dating hassle," they reason. Are these young people right in their conclusions? Is it more biblical not to date?
To some, the very idea of not dating sounds unnatural, but for others it seems a viable alternative. What are the factors that must be considered?
First, let me remind you that dating is not a universal practice. In many cultures, literate and nonliterate alike, the very idea of a fellow and a girl arranging a series of times to get together, for whatever purpose, would be considered taboo. These cultures have many stable marriages. Therefore, dating is not a necessary part of the marriage process.
Having said this, however, we must be realistic and admit that dating is a very integral part of the American culture. In fact, some have referred to dating as America's favorite tribal custom. The fact that there are pitfalls in the system does not mean that the process itself is necessarily evil. On the contrary, it may be one of the most healthy social systems in our entire society.
Purposes of Dating
What are the purposes of dating? The reason many young people have failed in the dating game is that they have never clearly understood the objectives. If you ask a group of students, "Why are you dating?" the answers would range from "to have a good time" to "to find a mate." In some general sense we know that the end of all this is to lead us to marriage, but we are not clear as to other specific objectives. Let me list a few and suggest that you add to the list as you give thought to your own personal objectives.
One of the purposes of dating is to get to know those of the opposite sex and to learn to relate to them as persons. Half the world is made up of individuals of the opposite sex. If I fail to learn the art of building wholesome relationships with "the other half," immediately I have limited my horizons considerably.
God made us male and female, and it is His desire that we relate to each other as fellow creatures who share His image. Our differences are numerous, but our basic needs are the same. If we are to minister to people, which is life's highest calling, then we must know them—male and female. Relation ships cannot be built without some kind of social interaction. In America, dating provides the setting for such interaction.
Some years ago, a friend of mine told me his experience while serving in the military, stationed on the French Riviera. Daily he would look out his apartment window upon the female half of God's creation, clad almost as Eve before the Fall. His mind ran wild with lustful fantasies. Day after day this phenomenon occurred. The battle with lust waged hotter and hotter and eventually led him to ask advice from a Christian brother.
"What am I to do with this tremendous frustration with in? I can't go on like this," he confided.
The friend made a very wise but unexpected suggestion. "Go down to the beach and talk with some of those girls."
My friend resisted at first, thinking that was not the Christian thing to do, but at the insistence of his friend he finally consented. To his amazement, he found that his struggle with lust was not heightened but reduced. As he talked with those women, he found that they were persons, not things; persons, each with her own unique personality, history, and dreams; persons with whom he could communicate and discuss ideas and who in turn could relate to him as a person.
As long as he remained in his apartment and gazed upon them through the window, he saw them only as sex objects. When he came near, he found that they were persons. This is one of the purposes of dating.
A second purpose that dating serves is to aid in the development of one's own personality. All of us are in process. Someone has suggested that we ought to wear signs around our necks reading "Under Construction."
As we relate to others in the dating context, we begin to see various personality traits exhibited. This provokes healthy self-analysis that brings greater self-understanding. We recognize that some traits are more desirable than others. We come to see our own strengths and weaknesses. The knowledge of a weakness is the first step toward growth.
The fact is that all of us have strengths and weaknesses in our personalities. None of us is perfect. Maturity is not flawlessness. The Christian road, however, is a road winding upward. We are never to be satisfied with our present status of development. If we are overly withdrawn, we cannot minister freely to others. If, on the other hand, we are overly talkative, we may chase away those to whom we would minister. Relating to those of the opposite sex in a dating relationship has a way of helping us see ourselves and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His plan of growth for our lives.
A number of years ago, a supertalkative young man said to me, "I never realized how obnoxious I must be, until I dated Mary. She talks all the time, and it drives me batty." The light had dawned; his eyes were opened. He saw in Mary his own weakness and was mature enough to take steps toward growth.
For him, this meant curbing his speech and developing his listening abilities, a prescription written long ago by the apostle James: "My dear brothers, take note of this: Every one should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (1:19). What we dislike in others is often a weakness in our own lives. Dating can help us see ourselves realistically.
Closely aligned to this is a third purpose for dating. It provides an opportunity for ministry to others. Christ is our example. He said He came not to be ministered unto but to minister (Mark 10:45). If we are to follow His example, then our theme must be "ministry." The word means "to serve." The ministry is not a position of lordship, but a practice of servanthood. "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave" (Matthew 20:26-27).
I do not mean to convey the idea that dating should be done in a spirit of martyrdom—"Poor ole me, I have to do this service as my Christian duty." Ministry is different from martyrdom in that ministry is something we do for others, whereas martyrdom is something others bring upon us. Martyrdom is beyond our control. Ministry is not.
Dating for the Christian must always be a two-way street. The question is never simply, "What am I going to get out of this relationship?" but also, "What can I contribute to the life of the one whom I am dating?" We are called to minister to one another, and ministry is most effective at close range. Certainly we can teach the group, but where are the real needs met if not on the more personal plane?
Again, Christ is our best example. He ministered to the multitudes in His teaching and preaching, but He also ministered to individuals. Lest some argue that Jesus' personal ministry was always with the Twelve (those of the same sex), I would remind you of the woman at the well in John 4, and of His time with Mary and Martha in Bethany. Women were among the group who prayed after the crucifixion, and they were first at the open tomb. Jesus ministered to people, males and females, and this must also be our pattern.
How much could be accomplished throughout our lives if we could see ministry as one of the purposes of dating. Many a reserved fellow could be "drawn out" by the wise counsel of a Christian sister. Many a braggart could be calmed by the truth spoken in love.
You see, taking ministry seriously may change many of our attitudes toward dating. We are so trained to "put our best foot forward" that we often refuse to speak anything that we feel would put us in a bad light. But real ministry demands that we speak the truth in love.
We do not serve each other by avoiding one another's weaknesses. I know this is difficult, and I am not suggesting it as a norm for non-Christian dating. That is likely impossible. I am suggesting, however, that as Christians we are called upon to minister, and this ministry must be carried into our social life. When we touch the needs and weaknesses of others in the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or social areas, and provoke growth, we are ministering indeed.
Julie had liked Tom from the moment she saw him in freshman English. In sophomore biology he finally asked her for a date.
By this time, however, Tom had a reputation for conserving natural resources, especially water. He took a bath only on Saturdays. Everyone knew it, but no one was willing to "speak the truth in love." Oh, there had been some backdoor approaches, like the time the men on the hall gave him nine teen bars of soap on his nineteenth birthday. But backdoor approaches seldom effect constructive change.
Julie wanted to help and decided to accept the date in spite of her roommate's needling comments about wearing a gas mask on a date. On the first date, in a very candid way, Julie told Tom the truth and suggested that a bath a day was normal and ecologically sound. She changed the behavior pattern of a young sophomore. We can help others if we care enough.
Another purpose of dating is to give us a realistic idea of the kind of person we need as a marriage partner. In the process of dating, it is to be hoped we have gone out with a variety of people with differing personalities. It is this process that gives us criteria for making wise judgments when we come to deciding upon a marriage partner.