In walking through this whole dating thing, there are a couple of questions we have had, that seem to be at the core of the issues.
What is the purpose of dating?
Do I think that all relationships should end in marriage. NO! But, I do believe that the intention behind dating someone should be with an eye toward marriage, ALWAYS. I believe that you should be able to look at the person you want to date and think, “this is someone I want to pursue, because I believe that they would be a good spouse for me”. You might come to find out later that this isn’t the case. However, aimless dating, for the purpose of “testing the field” and gaining experience, teaches you to downplay commitment, and breaks off little pieces of your heart. One day you will regret not being able to give those pieces of your heart to your spouse. So, for our girls, if there is no intention to get to know a young man better because he seems like someone they might want to marry, then there is no reason to date him. Dating just to date is not only purposeless, but ultimately, it leads to wounds and heartache that I would love for my girls to avoid, if at all possible.
Also, and just as a total side note/tangent, I fully believe that young people need to have some time to really find their identity in Christ. While this is something we will always need to do, I believe there needs to be a firm foundation in this area before any type of relationship with the opposite sex is entered into.
At what age should kids start dating?
I hear a lot of parents advise their kids to wait until they are in college to start dating and I don’t necessarily agree. I went to college with a LARGE number of people who should not have been dating. They were not ready. I have also known some high schoolers who were ready. Not many, but certainly a few. As a rule, I think it is probably not the smartest idea to date in high school, but I don’t think being college-aged makes you magically ready to date. I really love the criteria that Matt and Lauren Chandler lay out in this quick clip. I really believe these issues are at the heart of whether or not anyone is ready to date, at any age. I also believe that being ready, will look different for each individual. As parents, we are committed to really knowing our kids and their friends, because we realize even within our own family, there might be some variation. I think that living in community is critical for helping to determine this as well. Having believers (parents, youth leaders, campus pastors, pastors) speak into this part of your life at any age is crucial. All that to say, I don’t believe there is a specific age when someone can or should start dating. Our girls don’t have one, and never will. (That being said…we really won’t even consider discussing this until our girls are in high school. Middle school is filled with enough drama of it’s own. Adding anything else to the full plate that is hormone filled-insecurity ridden- middle school seems really silly).
What type of person should you date?
As a believer, you should always be looking at the people who make you want to pursue Christ more. They don’t have to be perfect. No one is! However, if their heart is inclined to know Jesus more, than I think there is something there worth looking at. We also regularly remind our girls that just because someone is doing all of the right things on the outside, doesn’t mean that they are pursuing Jesus. Finding someone who has a deep desire to know God more fully, and who encourages you to do the same, is a good first step. Paying attention to someone’s attitude is helpful too. Are they self righteous, wearing their good works pridefully? Do they look down on others who are “less holy” than they are? Or, do they recognize their own sin, and know that they too need Jesus? Do they walk in humility and grace or with a critical, judgmental spirit? After those things, I think finding someone you enjoy, finding someone you actually want to hang out with, even as a friend is so important. Choose someone you have fun with, someone who makes you want to know God more. Hopefully, you will do the same for them!
What are the rules?
We don’t have many rules when it comes time for our girls to begin dating. So far, the only rule we have is that if someone wants to begin dating one of our daughters, they need to meet with my husband first. That means that some young man needs to call my husband, sit down face to face with him, and ask him if he can pursue one of our girls. We aren’t sure what this will look like when they are in college, but so far it has been a good filter. Obviously, our girls have to like the guy enough to even give the boy my husband’s number. Jen Wilkin’s blog post about expecting our girls to make wise decisions, is a must read for girl moms. This was a real game-changer regarding my view on dating. We have told our girls more than once that we expect to say yes to whoever comes and asks, because we trust them to bring home a guy worthy of that honor!
Most of the time, my husband and I feel a bit like we are walking in the dark here. However, we have talked with some older, wiser people, have read a few things and have prayed, and prayed for wisdom regarding this. We don’t know exactly how things will play out, but we are asking God to lead us, our girls, and their future spouses well.
I truly believe that each family has to look at their own situation and begin to adjust these things based on your specific daughter’s needs. There is no hard and fast rule that will ensure the perfect desired outcome for our girls. Honestly, I am not even sure thee perfect, desired outcome is the same for every girl! So, prayerfully move forward with your girls, knowing that God’s promise of wisdom in James 1, is applicable to parenting your girls through dating!