Being asked by my wife to comment on dating was a funny task. The subject is not funny, but her asking me to comment on it within the constraints of a blog entry, now that is funny. Why….
First: I’m naturally long winded, especially about issues I feel passionate about and dating is ….. well….up there on the passion chart…
Second: Dating, in my strong opinion, having been practiced badly over many generations of American history now, has possibly spoiled the “coming of age and growing up” process for tens millions of young people.
Thirdly: Dating, in just about every explainable circumstance is a waste of time, heart, soul and resources. Shanna knows that I feel this way, so it is funny when she asked me to seriously comment....but, she asked.....
Good: Dating is actually fine with me, if we define it differently than most of us came to know it. Some form of dating is actually necessary for a couple to get to know each other and build a relationship worthy of the next step.
Bad: It’s not the dating I have a problem with, it’s the version of dating we have allowed ourselves to practice. My history with dating, girlfriends, going steady and falling in love provided the same types of stupid memories most people have. It failed to provide the proper path for true love, lifelong friendship or trusted companionship. It did, however, provide cycles of “false starts”, that went too far, too fast then flamed out. I don’t miss any of those people, some of them I don’t even remember.
Best: After all the “false starts”, I separated myself from the dating game and spent time learning what God had in mind for these relationships. I then began to think and act differently. This led to the best discovery of my lifetime on earth, my college sweetheart, my best friend, Shanna Touchton-Ramsdell, who said “I DO”, at just the right time.
Real Life: I believe all the things I am saying. But, this does not mean that I teach them well or that my kids believe them. One thing I have done intentionally is to let my kids watch, listen and learn, but to develop their own standards. I pray and hope they believe what I have modeled and taught them, but they have to own their personal revelation of truth, practice it and learn to trust it in their own time.
“Dating” According to Dad
1. Wait Till You Are Ready - Pray, listen and pay attention to the level of distraction the issue of dating has become, in regards to your pursuit of God and His will for your life. Trust your parents, mentors, youth pastors and teachers. Don’t be in a hurry and wait until dating is a process of going deeper with the right person and not a distracting social habit. “A time to love and a time to hate…” Ecc 3:8, “…Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” SoS 2:7b
2. Date People with Alignment - in purpose, passion, priorities, and agreement in the process of getting to know each other. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers [do not make mismated alliances with them or come under a different yoke with them, inconsistent with your faith]. 2 Cor. 6:14 AMP
3. Protect your body. – This is simple, in my mind, no touching. We talk so much about how far is too far, when I think we should be talking about how to enjoy the best physical relationship possible. All touching is not wrong, but all touching does lead to more touching. So, my advise is to limit touching and don’t kiss until you find “the one”. I know this sounds ridiculous but what I really hope to communicate is that the physical intimacy enjoyed between two people can be better than most people ever dare talk about. Sexual activity of all kinds, outside of marriage, is less than best, and I desire the best sex, plain and simple. “let there not be a hint of sexual immorality” Eph 5:3, “Flee from sexual immorality….” 1 Cor. 6:18,
4. Protect your heart. – This is simple for me to know, but hard to describe in a way that teens will accept. It seems too black and white. It really has to do with the emotional relationship, the loyalty and devotion that grows between people through intimacy. One scripture talks about “loving the Lord our God will all our heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind….” Matt 22:37 ….this is our first priority. Then we must reflect back to Genesis, to the original design of the marriage relationship. In it we see that a man and woman will leave their mother and father to become one flesh. Of course, there is a physical aspect to this idea, but deeper into the intent of this scripture is the joining of souls, or the hearts. People long to give their heart to someone, but I have found that few wait for the right person. We rush things and give little parts of our hearts to people who are just casual dating relationships, and give up our innocence, purity of heart and true love. When we keep things in the right order, God first, then our spouse, we experience a deeper love than words can describe. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23
5. Protect your words. – With our words we make vows, we convey blessing and cursing, we share emotions and we let the intentions of our heart out. Two people in a dating relationship will naturally begin to feel things for each other. I believe they should exercise restraint, physically, emotionally and yes, with their words. What if we only told one person that we loved them. Wouldn't that bring more value when we say it? I believe our words are meant to be saved, then shared. I remember the first time I tried to bring up love between Shanna and I. We were in her car, sitting in front of her dorm. I said that we should talk about what was going on between us.....Baam...She got out of the car and went inside without saying a word. In that case, actions spoke louder than words. She knew, I knew, we just did not want to spoil things by saying it….we were in love. “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues.” Prov. 10:19 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…..no human being can tame the tongue…..with the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” James 3:5-9
6. Check your drivers. - Do not be “needs driven” or “flattery driven”. If your personal needs or the feeling of obligations to those who flatter or pursue you cause you to date, dating will send you in the wrong direction. Just be friends, test your heart and your motivation to see what is driving you before dating.
7. Date someone you would marry. - Because I see dating as a committed relationship between two people who already know each other and who could be marriage material, I love the idea of dating a person you know “could” be someone you spend the rest of your life with. If the person is just someone you like to hang out with, just be good friends, stay in group situations and protect your heart, words and body.
8. Build a great track record. - Enjoy the opposite Sex, Build Positive and Fun History with them, develop positive relationships with many people of the opposite sex without dating them. Which means, just be friends….really, I wonder if young people even know how to be friends anymore. The art of friendship without physical obligation or casual sex, sexting or sexual activity has been lost. If friends can share ideas, experiences and fun together without saying too much, doing too much or even feeling too much, friends can go in either direction without baggage, hard feelings, awkwardness or obligation. The couple is free to move forward in joy or to just remain friends. I draw the line, most of the time, between “friendship” and “dating” with the amount and type of “alone time” the couple spends together. If the couple is just friends, then they won’t repeatedly go to the movies alone together. If they ride in the car with friends or visit each others home, while being around others, this is not dating. If either friend demands things from the other, or expects them, just because they spent time together, this is a red flag…run. Otherwise, enjoy friendships with many people of the opposite sex.
9. Going on Dates….is better than just “dating”. When moving from friendship to a dating relationship, “go on dates”. Let the alone time you spend together have beginnings and endings. I will explain more in the next point. But, an example is a birthday party at a friends. The boy picks up my daughter, with a plan, with clear communication and with commitment to be where they say they are. They go to the party, stay for the agreed upon time, returning home at a reasonable hour. The Dating Relationship allows the two short periods of time alone or with friends and family to get to know each other more, to enjoy each other and to responsibly share short spurts of life together. The two can spend time at each other’s home, but I draw the line when it begins to look like the couple is “playing house”.
10. Don’t Play House – I believe God has created men and women to want to spend their lived together. To share their homes, ideas, experiences and passions with each other. The problem comes when young couple moves past the friendship and dating phase, into any version of the “playing house” phase. This provides too much opportunity to spoil the relationship with physical, emotional, verbal and mental exchanges that are premature, in my opinion. Playing House allows a dating couple the freedom to enjoy the benefits a married couple might enjoy without the commitment. For instance. A teen couple might date a few times then get to know the parents. They may spend the day together then watch a movie back at his house. They share a meal, snacks, hanging out then a snuggle on the couch as mom and dad go to bed. They watch movies and text friends together until midnight, spending three or four hours on the couch together with no accountability. I think this is a problem and an example of an activity married couples get to enjoy, not dating couples. I mean, what hormonal teen boy can lay around on the couch with a girl he obviously finds attractive and not move closer and closer to a sexual encounter. If we are “not letting a hint of sexual immorality” enter into our relationship then, extended and late times alone in the car, in the house or at a friends house are not very smart. Another example is bedroom time. Boys don’t come into the bedroom of my daughters, period. When they get married or maybe engaged to a guy, the bedroom can become part of the picture, but until then, there is no reason for any boy to be on my daughters bed or hanging out, outside of my sight, inside my daughters room.
11. Strive for Best, not just good for now – Love, Fun, Intimacy, Sex and Private Experiences of every kind are better after two people have counted the cost and chosen the one person they will love forever. Even the experiences of struggle, stress, loss and loneliness are dealt with better when you are in a covenant relationship with one person. Why can’t young people restrain themselves until the “best” guy or girl shows up? Somehow culture has trained us to fear the process of waiting or denying ourselves any pleasure. We think we must have everything we want, NOW. But....,what if sex is better when you wait.
What if love is deeper when you wait. What if life together is better when you wait to share every life experience together. Don’t settle, don’t be cheap, don’t be easy, don’t feel obligated, don’t give yourself away. Maybe it’s because I have 3 daughters to protect, but these are some ideas I have tried to instill into them from the time they were young. I prayed they would see themselves as special and that every day they would know they are loved, without giving themselves to some young dude, in any way. I encourage them to strive for the best, not just for “good for now” and to operate out of trust that God is preparing that special person for their future so they don’t have to fear and settle…
12. Let It Linger – I really don’t know how to say this well, other than to be cheesy. I believe there is a mystery, a secret passion, a loveliness and joy found in true love. When a boy really likes a girl, or a girl really likes a boy, “true love” may be on the other side of that attraction. The attraction is normal and great, even if it is physical. And if we are committed to the kind of friendship, dating and marriage relationship process I have talked about, you can understand the value of this point. “Let It Linger” means that the couple may be aware of a growing attraction, the X factor that energizes the time they spend together and that thing you really love about the other. The couple that “Lets it Linger” will go home each time they visit without acting upon the attraction they feel. For example: The couple may be physically attracted to each other, but they will let that attraction linger, let it marinade and just enjoy the mystery of the attraction with hopes that one day in the future that mystery will become reality, in a powerful way. I wish young people would value the idea that they are not required to share everything, right away. They can allow someone to be attracted to them and can decide to hold back, even if the other one pursues them or pushes the issue. Shanna and I waited till were married to have sex. I kissed her for the first time after we asked her parents if we could get married and decided we were moving forward as an engaged couple. I can honestly say that our first kiss was the best kiss I have ever experienced. The next few months could have been the beginning of our sexual relationship. Instead, we “let it linger”, the desire, the wonder and the attraction, we just waited. Later when we were finally married, we said “I DO” without going to the honeymoon feeling like, “well, we already did”. Rather, there was a holiness, an expectation, an intimacy that was more than physical. We enjoyed deep levels of trust, intimacy, conversation, planning, dreaming and physical pleasure, because in the end, our honeymoon was about more than sex, it was a fulfillment of the scripture that talks about her leaving her family, me leaving mine and us becoming one flesh. Everything about our honeymoon was better than we had imagined!!!! I want my kids to wait before they give out their cell phone numbers, to wait before they get alone with a guy, wait before saying I love you, wait before holding hands, kissing or treating that guy like he is Mr. Awesome. Let them wonder and let them grow in desire and be tested by time, circumstance and character. Let it linger and stop being in a hurry.
13. It’s not about rules, It’s about our heart – I want my kids to follow God with all their heart, not just some of it, some of the time, but all of it, all of the time. I’m not raising my kids to be good or acceptable. I’m not raising them to be perfect either. It is not about the perfection of their actions, but the heart with which they live, including Dating. I don’t give them too many rules for fear that they will use the rules to please me and keep me off their backs. Rather, I want them to have a heart after God, and a heart yielded to the plan God has for them in regards to dating relationships. If they do, while they learn and grow, they will remain teachable and will allow me to protect and coach them. They will protect their heart, mind, body and words and will be free to experience the ups and downs of growing without regret. Life will be challenging, so keeping their heart right will allow grace to flow. So, stay away from too many rules and stay away from no boundaries at all. Find boundaries and focus the eyes of your heart on the love and person of God and like I have promised my kids, that it will be worth it, beyond what they can now imagine.