Customs and morals have changed so much since the Bible was penned that it takes true spiritual discernment to determine what godly dating should look like. We need to keep in mind that dating is pretty much a creation of Western culture in the 20th century. The question we have to constantly address is what Biblical principles should we apply when creating the guidelines in our own homes regarding dating? Here are some suggestions:
The Goal of Dating Is Friendship
This may not occur to your child unless you tell them. In the world they live in, dating is for attention, adventure, popularity, fun, affirmation of desirability, securing a place in the social strata of their peers and, yes, sex.
If we have been conscientious in helping our children develop and value friendships, they are more likely to understand this new arena of learning to be a friend. Most of our teens are five to ten years away from dating for the purpose of finding a mate. While there are some touching stories of childhood sweethearts enjoying long-term marriages, it is not the norm. When our children entertain these goals prematurely it pushes the relationship toward an intimacy inappropriate for their age. We need to be clear with our teens that attractions are normal and there is much to be learned from their preferences to help them one day find the someone they’d like to spend their lives with, but for the time being, dating is about friendship, not about romance. Even when they are old enough for dating to be about romance and seeking a mate, friendship is still a primary goal. In the beautifully sensual Song of Songs, the bride describes her husband: “His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this is my friend….(Song of Songs5:16).” God obviously values friendship as a component of married romance.
When our oldest son, Greg, was in junior high school, there were after-school dances in the multipurpose room every Friday afternoon. He asked to attend and we said no. His persistence made us inquire why he wanted to go. It was because “all his friends” did. He said they didn’t dance, they just hung out and talked. We finally let him go after this conversation:
“You can go, but observe carefully. These kids aren’t mature enough to have meaningful conversations, but you will most likely see them with their arms around each other, slow dancing, and acting like lovers. They don’t know how to be friends yet. They’ve got the cart before the horse.”
Greg got in the car after his first and only experience with these dances and said, “That was gross! They were all mushy and feely and then they’d chase each other around swatting and giggling. I don’t want to marry anyone who isn’t my friend first.” Today the strength of his and Lisa’s 21 year marriage is their friendship.
On another occasion, one of our children asked to start dating and we refused because he was not doing well in his friendships. We explained that we couldn’t count on him to be a great friend to a date if he hadn’t learned the principles of friendship with the guys. He needed to become initiative, unselfish, patient, fun and forgiving. Miraculous changes occurred almost immediately in his friendships and we happily lifted the dating ban. A wise parent will foster friendships for their children with the children of other parents espousing the same values as they do. This increases the chances that our children will date others with the same convictions about purity that God has. As Proverbs 13:20 says: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of foolssuffers harm.”
This insistence on “friendship dating” worked for our family for a variety of reasons: parental unity, early conversations about dating, and an easier cultural climate. It might breed resentment in a family without the same foundation we were able to lay. When conversations about dating, romance, love and marriage begin early enough, a child has a chance to shape their dreams and expectations with parental guidance before hormones, Hollywood and peer pressure push them headlong into near-erotic visions of romance.