First, read this article from a Crisis Pregnancy Center worker.
I have a bone to pick with young, socially conservative Americans, and I know it’s something that will get under your skin. Just sit tight, though, and hear me out, because the elephant in our tidy little room is starting to tear things up. It’s time we acknowledge his existence, and maybe even call in some animal movers to take him back to the zoo.
I currently live in a small community in the Bible-belt of the country and I have been given some opportunities to mentor young people from my area through different venues. I can count on one hand the kids I know from the local high school whose parents have never been divorced. I’ve witnessed reactions of genuine surprise and envy from students who hear that my parents are still together. In any given conversation with groups of youth, I can expect to hear continual references to step-parents, step-siblings, and half-siblings. Divorce is a way of life down here – albeit one that has taken its toll in the lives of the young people that will make up the next generation.
However, while I could certainly write extensively on my experience with the negative effects of divorce on children and on society at large, I actually want to address something else entirely. I have concerns about the number one way that our culture chooses to perpetuate the cancer of broken marriages and failed relationships– underage dating.
You can follow them on Facebook – the failed attempts at love, I mean. Somebody is always changing their status from “in a relationship” to “single.” Unfortunately, a huge number of these disappointed lovers are too young to be legally married. I wonder sometimes if I am the only one who winces to hear a thirteen-year old speak with cavalier abandon of his or her “ex?” Since when is it considered healthy and acceptable for underage people to be in “relationships?” Just what do parents and educators expect to be the result of the romantic conquests of these middle-school children and young high school students? The results I’ve witnessed personally are beyond disturbing; they are downright sinister, and have caused me to question whether or not those who claim to champion marital fidelity and family values are paying any attention at all to the standards we are passing to our children.
The trouble with underage dating is that it presents an entirely faulty view of what interaction with the opposite gender should be about. Rather than placing emphasis on building one strong relationship with one person at a stage of life when a marital commitment is feasible, dating encourages young people to pour their energies into consistently seducing other young people at a time when neither of them are capable of making any long-term commitments. Their “relationships” are destined to fail from the get-go because they are founded on unhealthy perceptions of love and not backed by any real necessity to stick it out.
The beauty of marriage, as it was intended to be, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to learn to work through incompatibilities and give of themselves. In the same way, the great ugliness of dating as it is practiced by our culture and portrayed by our media, is that it teaches two people of opposite genders to be selfish by giving them an easy “out” when things don’t go according to their initial feelings. I believe it is fair to say that this form of dating is a training manual for divorce, because it encourages young people to grow accustomed to giving their hearts away and then taking them back.
Sadly, parents who should know better continue to display shocking naïveté regarding the absurd practices of driving their twelve year olds out on a “date,” or purchasing provocative clothing for their sixteen-year-olds, or sympathizing with their broken-hearted fourteen-year-olds by assuring them that they’ll “find someone better.” “They’re just having fun,” they’ll tell us, rolling their eyes at what they consider to be our tightly wound principles. I work a volunteer shift at Crisis Pregnancy Clinic where I witness every week the ruined lives and broken dreams that “fun” has left with our youth.
And now here’s my take.
Basically, you can start dating as a prelude to courting when the woman and man are able to demonstrate to the other person that they are ready to fulfill their roles in the marriage.
For example, the woman should be able to show that she has been able to maintain commitments to caring for others through some period of time, maybe with small children or pets. She should be voluntarily entering into relationships and responsibilities with other people where she is giving of herself – like volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center or caring for an ailing or elderly relative. That shows potential suitors that she has the right attitude to relationships – serving others self-sacrificially, and not looking for tingles and amusement. She should be able to show that she is good at making commitments and solving problems by studying hard subjects in school like nursing, economics, biology, chemistry, physics, engineering or computer science. That shows that she is able to do hard things that she doesn’t feel like doing, and apply herself over time until she has a degree. Obviously being conservative politically and being good at apologetics are also important if she intends to raise children.
And for the man, he should be able to show that he is able to do his roles – protector, provider and moral/spiritual leader. He should be able to prove that he is able to mentor and guide other people to learn things and do things that will make them more effective Christians. That’s moral and spiritual leadership. He should have studied a subject that is going to allow him to find work. If he is committed to going to graduate school, then he can study philosophy and law and other “world-changing” subjects, like a William Lane Craig or a Ryan Anderson. Otherwise, he should study things like petroleum engineering, computer science, or other fields that will allow him to be stable and secure. It’s not enough to be a hard worker, you have to be able to pull in the money and save it and still have time left over to care for your wife and lead the children. Again, conservative politics and apologetics are a must.
I think there are other ways for men and women to show that they are ready for marriage, but those are some ways. The key thing is that people shouldn’t be dating until they are able to show that they know the roles that they are expected to fill in marriage as men and women. They should also be looking for the right things in others. They can’t be looking for the shallow things that give them tingles, like looks, athleticism, etc. They can’t be looking for sexual attraction, primarily. Marriage requires specific behaviors from men and women, which are derived from what men and women do in marriage. Before men and women start dating, they have to be able to show that they are working on being able to handle their responsibilities, and they have to show that their selection criteria for the opposite sex are at least partly based on the responsibilities that the opposite sex has in a marriage. Otherwise they are just training to be governed by their tingles and to be selfish and to break up when all that falls apart.