Marriage & Dating: Dating
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I want to talk about the actual issue of dating tonight. We’ve talked about relationships between the sexes in terms of our sexuality. And we’ve talked a little bit about how the different sexes approach each other or what they’re looking for. But now dating.
In case you didn’t know, dating is a relatively modern phenomenon. In the history of human relations, it is a newcomer. It wasn’t done in biblical times. Therefore it is difficult to go to the Bible and find material specifically on this issue.
Today, we having dating. Couples can explore each other in virtually every way before they make a commitment to each other.
So, there is a tension in dating. On the one hand, we say that every relationship needs to be conducted on the basis of godly love. By godly love, we talk about the kind of love that gives to other. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t seek to satisfy itself, but rather it seeks to sacrifice for others.
On the other hand, it seems like dating is something that you do for the thrill of it. Doesn’t it? When you date, you aren’t commiting yourself. You aren’t giving completely of yourself to another person like in marriage. But you are getting quite a bit. You’re getting a thrill. You’re getting good times. You’re getting some strong love feelings . . .
So, how are we to understand this tension?
Let me say that people are sometimes real imbalanced about this. Some go to the extreme of saying that you must never enter into a relationship where you aren’t completely sacrificial. In other words, you musn’t be looking for a good time. Let’s face the facts, dating is fun. It wouldn’t be so popular if it weren’t.
One of the ways you’ll hear this point of view is when we hear, “You can only date someone if you are thinking about marrying that person. If you know you’re not going to marry that person, then you’re just being completely selfish.”
Like I said, I think that’s an extreme position. To say that I can’t have a relationship with someone of some degree of intimacy, without having in mind a lifetime commitment on the scale of marriage, is a very strong condition you’re putting on relationships. To put it in the realm of other relationships, we know that we get involved with people very deeply. We get attached. And sometimes when we do this, we move on, physically or otherwise.
Example: One of my best friends ever, if not my best friend ever, Mark Batcheck, is going to go the mission field in a year or two. And he’s going without me! We’ve been together for over ten years in everything. There’s a lot of emotional attachment there. But I can’t say that somehow he has ripped me off! I’ve only benefitted from him. I’m better off. I sure am glad that he didn’t say, “Well, I’m not sure I can always be here, so maybe we’d better not get too involved.”
Now I realize that the attachment and the emotions are deeper in relationships between the sexes. But, the deep hurts–the scars–come not from the fact that people date without intention of marriage. It’s what they do when they are dating that hurts. And we’ll talk about that in a bit.
Then there’s some folks over on the other extreme. They feel like you should just be able to go around and jump from relationship to relationship, without any concern for how they might be effecting the other person. These people are dangerous. Their conscience seems to be dictated only by their desire. And that’s really a bad combination.
I want to talk first about the advantages to dating–why I think it’s good. But then I want to talk about some of the dangers which are present that lead to a lot of trouble.
The advantages of dating
When it comes to the advantages of dating, I think that they are enough that dating is a great thing. The order of my teaching might leave you with the impression that I don’t approve of dating. That’s definitly not true. I wish a lot more of it happened, and in a healthier way.
The need to overcome the mystery
I think that one of the best things about dating is that it enables us to overcome the mystery of the opposite sex. And we really need to overcome that mystery. In a general sense, whether we ever get married or not, this is our other half. We are supposed to benefit from all these other humans. But we’re separated from them by a wall of mystery and misunderstanding.
It’s really too bad, because this culture teaches us that the opposite sex is a group of people out there that you’re supposed to capture. Or, you’re supposed to become an object of desire for them. A lot of self-image is tied up with how well you can do this.
Example: Think if you treated the people of the same sex that way?! “My object is to get him to love me . . .” “I want those guys over there to notice me . . .”
It would be so wierd. And of course there are lots of people who are exactly this way! And that’s why they can never be themselves with anyone. They’re always putting on a show to try and impress or win someone’s attention.
But this is the falsehood that rules between men and women.
Example: Guys will do things like a moose in the rut. They will get together in the presence of women. And when normally they might just talk about an issue like football or school in everyday tones and manerisms. In the presence of a woman, they will start to talk louder, exaggerate more, and show their dominance, smartness or coolness over the other guys in the group. I have watched men at a table, when they knew they were being watched by women go on telling their stories, with over a couple dozen stories being swapped, anxiously, loudly, with lots of fanfare, without one person ever stopping to be interesting in the other guy’s story. Not one question, “Oh, really? So was that fun for you?”
For all the world, they might as well as be a bunch of roosters parading their feathers around!
So there is a barrier between the sexes which should certainly be broken down between us here. As Christians, Pauls says there should be no distinctions. There should be no divisions. And in Galatians 3:28 he specifically mentions that there should be neither male nor female in Christ.
Maybe, by dating, we can learn that people from the opposite sex are just people. And they have a very different perspective. They have different attitudes, etc. They can really be a benefit.
Teaches us to serve
The second good point is that a dating relationship is often the first time someone will learn to care about anyone else besides themselves. Because if you are going to have a dating relationship of any depth, then you have to start to work on that person. You have to start becoming concerned about their character and try to change that person and minister to them.
And I think this is probably the most positive thing about dating. Don’t just leave that person the same as you found them. Like I said before, men and women are different and we should have an impact on each other.
And I think the opportunity is great because people will listen to someone they are dating before they’ll listen to anyone else.
Example: I was talking with one girl and she was fuming about her roommates. “They’re such bi . . .!” “What’s the deal?” “They had the nerve to call me mopey . . . and self-centered!” “That really bothered you, huh?” “How dare they! I could just as soon move out as take that kind of crap!” I had some insight into this situation because I knew her boyfriend real well. “Isn’t that similar to what your boyfriend was saying just a little while ago?” “That’s different?” “How?” “He loves me . . .”
Let’s face the facts again. I’m not saying this is good. But the fact is, people will take things from someone they are dating.
So, the opportunity is to learn for the first time what it means to try and change someone for the better. This is what we talk about when we use the term “ministry.” We’re talking about having an impact on someone’s character and changing that person in a godly way.
One of the most unfortunate things is when people don’t take the lessons they learn about service and apply them elsewhere . . .
Teaches us about ourselves
The third great benefit of dating is that it teaches us about ourselves. When we date someone, we start to see things about our style of relating. We see how selfish we are.
I remember myself dating this Christian girl where it was kind of rough. But the fact is, I learned so much. Lesson after lesson.
Example: I remember this girl would say things like, “I think we should break up.” Why? “Because I don’t know how to treat you right.” What does that mean? “I’m just a terrible person . . .” Well, don’t you think I should be the one to tell you that? And it came to light that she was feeling very insecure about the relationship.
I learned two things. For one, I learned that women are manipulative, which we’ll talk about in a second. Number two, I learned that the way I come accross is very harsh. I come accross like, “You have to live up to my standard or I’ll drop you. I don’t need you.” And this was an attitude that was effecting all my relationships, not just that one.
Example: Then I remember after a while I didn’t feel very excited about the relationship anymore. I was just kind of ho-hum. Now you all know that in a dating relationship, nothing could be worse. But I learned something just by mistake. I took her out on a date. Usually, we always went dutch, which I believe is the correct way to go on dates in our day and age. But on this date I paid. I laid out about $30 that night! And you would think, if you know me, that I would be groaning about how much money I spent. But the truth is, I was more excited about the relationship than I had been in a long, long time.
I learned an important lesson there: Your heart follows your investment. Wherever you invest, you fall in love. And it’s not just money either . . .
In all kinds of ways, you will see people change faster and come to terms with issues quicker when they are dating someone than maybe any other way. It matters to us. It’s intense. It effects our emotions . . .
The dangers of dating
But then there are the dangers of dating. And I think that the danger of dating can be seen in the principle Paul cites in I Thess. 4. In that passage he is talking about the danger of immorality, or using someone sexually.
In v. 6 he says that one of the issues at stake is that people “defraud” each other in the matter. What is it when I defraud someone? When I defraud someone it is when I con them. It’s when I get something from them by cheating them out of it.
Example: If I were to try and sell you the Statue of Liberty, that would be defrauding.
Defrauding is offering someone something that is not rightly mine to give. And when we are dating, the greatest danger is insinuating things that we have no right to insinuate. We do it because we want something–good feelings, sex, a cure for our insecure feelings. This is where the hurt comes from.
Think about defrauding in this way: If I’m not able to commit my life to someone, which is the way it is in dating, then how would I act? How would I act so that I’m not defrauding that person?
Or, to put it another way: If you know that you are going to break up with someone, what things would be inappropriate?
This is good insight from Paul here. Because he knows that this is one of the greatest dangers in male/female relationships. People defraud each other. I think it is this that accounts for the hurts people leave behind them when they date.
I think we can defraud in a number of ways.
Going for emotional commitment
One way we can defraud is by trying to secure more and more emotional commitment out of someone when the nature of the relationship is just dating.
Most of the dating relationships here will break up. And a lot of them should break up that won’t. But the younger you are, the better chance you have of breaking up.
And so, what if you succeed in getting them to say, “You are the most special one. You are my everything. I live for you . . .” and then we break up!? What is the impact of this?
Of course it’s extreme pain! It hurts. Of course this is one of the reasons that people layer mistake on top of mistake and go ahead and get married. They feel that after all the things that have been said they can’t face the pain of letting go.
Well, those things shouldn’t have been said in the first place. But even when they are, two errors just make a bigger mess. You can’t put out a fire by spraying gasoline on it. There are a lot of mistaken marriages that bring a lot of unneccesary pain because people grabbed for too much in the emotional realm.
We do these things because we are insecure. We can’t handle just being kind of low key. We have to heat things up.
And the burn is that when we do move on, we tear a lot of that person away because some very serious things have been said. I believe that even if you make the mistake of saying very serious things about your love for someone or your commitment, when you know that you’re not ready to get married to that person, then you should apologize. We should realize that we were messing with their emotions.
Now of course, the other person will not let you apologize because it felt good for them too. But you have to make a statement that says, “I do not want things to heat to a boil in the emotional realm here. It’s just not time for that in a dating relationship.”
Too much time
A second, related way of defrauding is spending too much time. By this I mean that you spend too much time dating. We’ll let the relationship go on and on without deciding wht we’re going to do with it.
Let me say, there is no way you can date for years and not become deeply intertwined with that other person’s emotions. And then when you finally do rip away?!
This can happen for any number of reasons. But usually it is because neither party wants to face the pain of breaking off the relationship.
Let me tell you something about love relationships. You cannot have them without pain. We’re so insecure we feel like we can’t face the prospect of some emotional pain. “It’s the worst thing you could do to someone!”
Example: Here’s the conversation. I’ve re-enacted it dozens of times: “Well, you should just break up with her then.” “I can’t do that!” “Why not?” “It’ll hurt her!” “Oh no! Not pain!! What could be worse?”
And of course the reason we feel guilty about the pain is because we have been defrauding the person! We have been commiting ourselves to them by our words, by our sexuality, or by our indecision.
If you want to know how it is for me, when I was dating, I could only go for a very few months before I got to the point where I knew, “I’m going to have to decide either to break this off or pursue something more serious.”
And when you reach that point, and you’re not seriously ready to pursue a relationship that terminates in marriage, then you are opting for greater pain and emotional turmoil later.
And let me add that even if you feel like you are ready to pursue this relationship to the long term, there is still a very high chance that you will break up. And for that reason, there are still a lot of things that are downright inappropriate to say and do.
When you’re ready to commit to that person, then you can ask them about it and get engaged. Then you can start talking about how you want to live your life together, how I’ve never loved anyone as much as . . .
The third way we defraud I have already mentioned, it’s sexual involvement. And this one is certainly the most damaging and hurtful to people.
There is a pressure on in our culture for men to be so persistent and aggressive in the area of sexuality. For one thing, men are taught from a very young age to equate sexuality with emotional love. I could go on and on about that. But sufice it to say, as men, we have a very warped view of love with the opposite sex. And the result is that men feel it’s their job to push for more and more sexual involvement.
Women, on the other hand, are not exactly innocent. The fact is, most women believe that they are in a relationship that could wind up in marriage. Jeff talked about that last week. And here’s the foolishness: girls will give in to sexual advances or even initiate them, because they believe that the result will be more intimacy and more commitment.
There’s this romantic ideal where girls believe that they can rope a man in. “I’ll finally win that man who breaks down and admits `I need you. I need you like I’ve never needed anyone!'” And they’re willing to engage in whatever to get to that point.
If you rope a man in like that, you are a very stupid person. I don’t know how to say it any kinder. Because even if you succeed, you did not win that man’s love. You won that man’s guilt. I’ve talked to man after man who wanted to be able to walk away from a relationship, but they couldn’t because now they knew they had used that girl sexually.
Nobody wins anyone’s heart by manipulation. And we need to call some of this sexual involvement for what it is: manipulation, defrauding.
And as you saw, it upsets God very much.
When we fail: Gospel
And that is the thought I want to conclude on. I don’t want to leave on a negative note.
When we fail, in the sexual realm. And by that I don’t mean just that we used someone sexually. I mean when we fail in our relationships with the opposite sex, it is because of our selfishness. It is because we are using the opposite sex as a crutch for our own insecurities. It is because we have no consideration for the pain we cause others.
When we fail here, it is a serious thing. I don’t need to point that out to you. I’ll guarentee that some of the most powerful pains we carry with us have to do with our sexuality.
But here is the good news: With God, there is forgiveness and healing. You may not realize this, but the Bible says that ultimately, all the wrongs we commit against others in this area are against him. They are his people. He is the one we ultimately hurt and offend.
But the Bible says that with God, there is forgiveness and healing like nowhere else . . .