I’m moving from what I think are the foundational questions (what do the Bible and your parents say about dating?) toward more practical questions:
3 – What is the goal of dating right now?
I asked a student recently why she is dating. She told me, “I really love Oliver. I think he might be the one I want to marry, isn’t that the reason to date?” Well, yes, that is one reason to date, but it’s not the only reason people have.
When I ask about the purpose of dating I generally hear one of two answers. Either the purpose of dating is to look for a mate -the person you’ll eventually marry-, or the purpose is get to know different members of the opposite sex for fun and learning about different types of people until you are ready to find someone to marry. I think the tendency if you don’t discuss the purpose of dating is to blur these goals, but it’s important to me that they are distinct because they lead to very different follow-up questions.
If you believe dating is for marriage you can ask: are you in a position to seek a mate? how long will it be until you can realistically get married? are you willing to get married before graduating college?
If you believe dating in teen years is for learning you can ask: how serious can you get before it’s no longer casual? will you have a physical relationship? what’s the boundary between getting to know a guy and using him for your own “learning experience?” what will you do if the girl you’re dating becomes someone you want to marry?
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says “begin with the end in mind.” It is too rare that teenagers begin dating with an understanding of the goals for their relationship. It’s a windy road if you don’t know where you’re going.
4 – How are you practicing?
Growing up, I heard my dad (and coach) teach how to shoot a basketball dozens of times. “Just remember BEEF,” he’d say, “keep the Ball, your Eye, your Elbow, and your Foot in line with the basket.” As much as anything else he preached consistency between practices and games, because if you don’t take care of your shooting form in practice, it will hurt you when the game is on the line. You play how you practice.
Relationships with the opposite sex are the same. If teens do not practice well, they will struggle to look for the right things in a spouse when it really counts. And yet, in locker rooms, groups of friends, around the dinner table, or in youth group, we tend to practice one thing predominantly: appraising physical attractiveness.
God created us to admire and create beauty. It’s one of the ways we bear a family resemblance to Him. The ability to behold and celebrate beauty is a wonderful gift, and we can see this gift in how we appreciate humanity and humanness. But here’s one way sin corrupts this gift in teenagers preparing to look for a mate: we PRACTICE only giving VALUE to people we deem beautiful. A young man or woman will be ill-equipped to choose the right mate “when it really counts” if they have been reinforcing the idea through adolescence that physical attractiveness is more important than faith in Jesus, high moral character, or traits like kindness and gentleness.
As parents, youth leaders, and friends, we owe it to the teenagers in our life to ask better questions about who they are attracted to. We can drop questions like: is he your type? how hot is she? is he cute? on a scale from 1-to-10? and replace them with questions like: Does she love Jesus? how do you know? how does he treat his siblings? who does she spend most of her time with? what is his attitude toward his parents?
Practice admiring faith, character, and the fruit of the Spirit. Practice, practice, practice.