The whole dating thing is hard. That’s true (in different ways) at age 15, 25, 35… 65. The reasons abound for the complexity, but certainly cultural circumstances play a role:

  • People are in school for a long time.
  • After school they are in debt.
  • There is pressure to be in relationships but not to get married too young.
  • There is often little of the community support present in other cultures (c.f., arranged marriage).
  • (If this community or family “support” were present we would resent it as meddling).

Even if these dynamics weren’t in play, there would be others, countless questions.

  • When would you ever want your basic marriageability–or desirability–as a person to be evaluated? Dating does that.
  • Is a lifelong vow to a person ever really safe? What if the person turns out to be terrible? Sometimes anxiety points to something truly risky.
  • How will I know when I’m ready? How will I know the other person is ready? Your temperamental overconfidence or underconfidence, independence or overdependence will play a role.
  • Will I (or my children) be hurt again? How does a blended family work? Will my kids ever be ok with this? You’ve heard the stories.

Over 20 years ago, Joshua Harris invited (young) singles to join him in kissing dating goodbye. It’s hard to overstate its impact on the dating conversation among believers. He states it provocatively on the cover page of the website for his new documentary, I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye:

“What if your views as a 21-year-old influenced millions?”

Again, this isn’t an overstatement.

His comment does have an air of self-defense, which is appropriate, because as a Slate article explains,

“[Harris] has come to question many assumptions that undergirded his book: the urge of parents and church leaders to strictly control young people; the purity movement’s implication that sexual mistakes are somehow irrevocable; and his book’s “formulaic approach to relationships that somehow guarantees a happy outcome.” He now draws a line between Biblical principles and Biblical practices: The former are essential (e.g., raise your children to know God) and the latter are optional (e.g., home-school your children). Christian leaders like himself have erred, he said, when they blur the two.”

I’d known that Harris had some misgivings about the book for years–his sequel (Boy Meets Girl) seems poised to correct misunderstandings and give more clarity. But this is what he questions now, in my words:

  1. Whether parents and church leaders have been prepared to wield their power
  2. Whether sexual failures are redeemable in this life
  3. Whether a dating formula exists for creating a good marriage

I’ll be engaging these 3 reflections over the coming days and weeks because these issues come up regularly in counseling. Parents struggle to know how to exercise the power they have–that is, when they are even aware they have it (they/we often feel powerless). Sexual failure is uniquely discouraging in the experience of many believers, and the unresolved guilt can be almost as destructive as the sin itself. It’s always tempting to create a prescribed formula where the Bible teaches a learned skill (i.e., wisdom).

We’ll see how the challenges (and genuine griefs) many believers experience with respect to dating do not exist outside the parameters of regular Christian discipleship. Much of the Christian life is lived in enduring, listening, trusting, and waiting, which is much of the struggle of dating.

Also look for a seminar at this year’s CCEF conference that takes many of these themes further: “The Use and Misuse of the Bible’s Teaching on Dating and Courtship.”

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