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A Defense of Dating

By dating, I understand a special relationship of fellowship between an unmarried young man and an unmarried young woman, the nature and purpose of which is the possibility of marriage.
There is some biblical defense of dating. Jacob dated Rachel seven years with a view to marrying her (Gen. 29:20). In the New Testament, there was the peculiar practice in the covenant community of “espousal.” Joseph was espoused to Mary (Matt. 1:18). Espousal was not the same as present-day dating. It was more solemn and binding. Nevertheless, it was a relation between a man and a woman that preceded and had as its purpose the full reality of marriage. It was a special relation of a man and a woman that did not include the sexual relation (Matt. 1:18). It was a relation that could be broken off, as marriage cannot be, and could be broken off privately (Matt. 1:19).
Dating can also be defended practically, and this is the defense I offer, and commend, to the young people, in this article.
The purpose of dating is not to play sexual games, that is, to play with fire. This is the threat always to dating. Dating is not marriage, and marriage alone permits, indeed requires, sexual intimacy.
But the purpose of dating is to be assured that this man or this woman is the one chosen for you, and given to you, as your mate for life.
“Mate for life” underscores the seriousness of dating. A mistake in marrying has life-long consequences. One is bound to a disagreeable man or to a shrewish woman for all of his or her life. Then the unique intimacy of marriage becomes the most intense misery—for life. The poet gave expression to the consequences of a hasty, careless decision to marry: “Sin in haste, repent at leisure.”
Even then, although the married person laments, “I made a mistake,” God, who rules over miserable marriages also, did not make a mistake. Although the miserable husband or wife repents of his or her decision to marry, the will of God constrains him or her to live as best he or she can with the miserable mate his or her life-long. God’s grace will enable him or her to do so. But the marriage will be a lifelong burden, rather than a lifelong delight.
What is preferable, what is wiser, what is far more enjoyable is that the young men and young women marry one about whom they are as sure as they can be in this world of woe that the one whom they marry is one with whom they will be able to live happily, one who will prove to be, not sinless, but godly, one who will show himself or herself to be, not perfect, but fundamentally loving, one who will not seek himself or herself with a cold, callous, cruel selfishness, but who will seek the other, putting the other first, before himself or herself. At least, the mate will take the other into consideration!
Essential is that the other is a genuine, sound, practicing Christian—a brother or sister in Jesus Christ. Without this, the marriage of a Christian is the severest misery. The Dutch have a rhyming saying about a “mixed marriage,” and its built-in misery: “Twee gelooven op een kussen; daar slaapt de duivel tusschen,” that is, “Two faiths on one pillow; there, the devil sleeps in-between.”
Such a marriage is a real marriage, unbreakable until death parts the two (the Christian thinking in such a marriage is, “unfortunately”), but such a marriage is fraught with sorrows and sometimes insuperable problems. “Will he allow me to attend church?” “Must I go with him or her to the ungodly parties he or she insists on attending?” “Will he or she allow me to have the children baptized, and then reared in the church?” “What about the Christian school and its tuition?” “Who will control the children’s upbringing in the home, with its effects for time and eternity upon my own dear children?” “Will his or her hatred of God soon become hatred of me?” And many more such distressing questions. Many more!
It is also important for dating that the young man or young woman worships God according to the gospel of grace in a true church. This consideration directs a Protestant Reformed young person to another Protestant Reformed young person. “Date and marry in the churches” is good parental counsel to their young people.
But dating in the churches is not the end of the matter. For one thing, not all members of the Protestant Reformed Churches are necessarily true believers and saved children of God. There are hypocrites, tares in the wheat field, sowed by Satan (see Matt. 13:24–30). The unique activity of dating can reveal that the young person whom the Christian young man or woman is dating is unspiritual and unsaved. The Christian young person may have another calling with regard to this member of the church as well. But one thing he or she must do is break off the relation of dating with the prospect of marrying.
For another thing, a young person in the Protestant Reformed Churches, although a Christian, may have traits that make him or her a very poor choice as a husband or wife.
The girl may be intensely selfish, concerned mainly, if not only, about herself. The will and happiness of her boyfriend mean absolutely nothing to her. She has no intention of living for him, as a help to him. In her thinking, he is for her sake. She wants a husband, merely because all girls have husbands. In addition, she likes to have children, for her own sake, not for God’s sake or her husband’s sake. If he displeases her in any way, she is immediately as cold as an iceberg. While they are dating, she shows these ugly, unchristian traits. If the young man sees these wretched characteristics, he must run from her—fast and far. She will make his entire married life miserable. Dating has a purpose in this regard.
Or, the young man may have and yield to, a sinful nature consisting, in part, of abusiveness. Even though he is Protestant Reformed! He too is self-centered. He regards the young woman as someone he can use, unlovingly, even brutally. He does not intend to guide, as the head in marriage. But he intends to dominate, like a slave-owner. The girl, and later the wife, exists for him. To enforce his abusive thinking, he uses degrading language, language that will reduce her to nothing in her own estimation. Already while dating, he will use or threaten physical force upon her. Or, he will deliberately ignore her, especially in public, in order to impress upon her that she is nothing to him, and worthless. The biblical truth of loving, honoring, and serving the wife as Christ loved, honored, and served his beloved church (see Eph. 5) does not so much as enter his warped mind. He may be a Christian, although his abuse of his girlfriend, and later his wife, makes this questionable. But he will not behave as a Christian husband. Dating is likely to expose all this to the young woman. Seeing the signs of her impending cruel, destructive slavery, should she marry him, she ought to end the relationship, quickly, and run for her marital life.
A godly young man, who will make a delightful husband in a joyful Christian family, woos the young woman, showing himself attentive to her and her welfare. He does not force, demean, threaten, or generally leave the distinct impression that he is her self-seeking master.
Dating serves these good purposes.
I do not know of an alternative, other than the unsatisfactory imposition of a mate upon the young man or the young woman by the parents.
Young people, date! Date with these right purposes!
There is also legitimate pleasure in dating. One enjoys the companionship, pure and innocent, of one of the other sex.
But the purpose, ultimately, is marriage.
Marriage to one about whom you are sure, as sure as is possible, by accompanying prayer, that he or she will be the husband or wife with whom you can live a godly and happy life until death parts you—perhaps 50 or 60 years!
Marriage to one at whose funeral, you will weep naturally, as at the loss of one who has become half of yourself—the better half—rather than faking sorrow while secretly thinking, “Thank God, I am finally delivered.”