I pastor a church with a large group of young adult singles and have been so concerned with the way they go from 0-60 in their relationships. One week they aren't dating anyone and the next week they seem to be about to get engaged. Good kids, just no margin. But how to explain the potential dangers and damage without just saying quit it because I'm older and know better?
Hey Pastor R,
This is a big problem in Christian dating circles in both the UK and the USA.
I don’t know of many resources to point you towards (though if someone reading does, please paste a link below) that deals well with the problem of getting too exclusive too fast. But I’m happy to share some thoughts that I’ll post on my blog for others who may be interested.
In God’s eyes, if we are not married - or committed in formal engagement - then we are unbound (or ‘single’ in today’s speak). Thus dating has no moral authority. If one has a boyfriend or girlfriend, they are free to leave that person for someone else if they wish – that would not be divorce or adultery like it is for married people.
This culture of quick, exclusive relationships usually creates an enormous amount of stress for a guy who wants to ask a girl out in the first place. He may find her interesting, but he’s not sure if she’s interesting in a friendship way or in a romantic, perhaps-this-is-wife-material way. He just wants to get to know her better. But he’s afraid that if he simply tries to spend some time with her, there will be an expectancy for him to commit to an intense and exclusive relationship before he even knows her.
For the girl, it puts pressure on her when being asked out. ‘Does this mean something big?!’ And her romantic heart starts beating wildly. Maybe he just wants to be your friend. Maybe he finds you interesting - and thinks there may be romance there – but it takes time to figure out the other person as well as ourselves.
For unwed people, male-female friendships can lead to romance, but they don’t have to. Sometimes – when we are a young, unwed adult – we are unsure of which direction we want the relationship to go in. There should be socially accepted space to figure these things out. For young men here in the UK, there’s a fear that if they start spending time with various young women – in attempts to get to know them better – they will be seen as ‘a player’. For young women, they fear being seen as a flirt, or one who ‘leads guys on’. Granted that can happen – which is why communication about expectations is important.
I think part of the tendency to ‘go from 0-60’ may stem from a stifled need to connect with members of the opposite gender in meaningful ways. A girl who has meaningful friendships with other guys, may be less likely to go crazy and give her whole heart away when a boy gives her attention asks her out. I deal with this element to some degree in ‘Forbidden Friendships.’
My children are young now – but if they were older and going off to university, I would encourage them not to get in an exclusive relationship the first year. Date? Sure. But I would tell my daughter that before she goes out with Benjamin a second time, to go out once with Alex or Steve once. She gets to know more about young men and more about herself. What’s more, she is not giving her heart to anyone prematurely. When she’s grown in wisdom and fells ready to move more towards marriage, then it may be right to enter into one of those pre-engagement, exclusive dating relationships and give her heart to a guy.
I’ve talked to young adults who are in relationships that they’ve described as ‘suffocating’ – I suppose you have to. They spend more time with their girl/boyfriend than most married people do together. There’s little room for outside friends and friends of the opposite gender can be seen easily with jealousy and suspicion. This is because exclusivity that should be reserved for marriage is being imposed on a dating couple.
If I am a young man who’s dating a girl – but we are not engaged – then I have no Biblical right to think of her as ‘mine’. As Christians we can be zealous to show that we are ‘faithful’ - but there is a type of faithfulness that should be reserved for marriage alone. If we are not committed in engagement, then the young woman I am calling ‘my girlfriend’ is free to date other guys and it not be sin. She may choose not to do that - but I cannot morally demand it of her. Vows have not been exchanged and mimicking marriage - even if the two aren’t sinning sexually through fornication - can lead to problems. If you’re ready to be a true couple, get married. If not, then open up the windows and give each other freedom to explore.
The way we can best help our young adults is probably by addressing this issue from the pulpit. We can help create an alternative culture with our words of instruction and advice – give them permission to take their time in the midst of a culture that can be too demanding.
For more, check out our book Forbidden Friendships available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK