The Evil of Dating

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On
April 20, 2002 I married Stephen
W. Carson
after a 4-month courtship and 4-month engagement.
Our marriage date marked for me almost five and one half years since
I stopped dating, a decision I made at aged 23. Now I date almost
every night — my husband!

Dating
became a rather disheartening and shallow way of finding a mate,
and so I made a rather unprecedented decision to stop. I say unprecedented
because, while I am not the first one to do this, I am one of the
only people I know, except for my husband who had independently
also stopped dating almost one year before I did. During my abstinence
from dating I received offers from men to go out and much to the
dismay of my mother, turned them down. "How will you find a
husband this way, Heather?" she asked, pining for grandchildren.
With all vocabulary about courtship having been disposed of, I had
no way of explaining that my heart's desire was for exactly that
— courtship, and so I usually said nothing or explained that I would
be praying for God to provide. Now before you deem me a holy roller,
allow me to elaborate on what brought me to this place.

During
my undergraduate studies I worked as a Resident Advisor in a freshman
dorm to help pay for school. My campus was rather unusual in that
all of the dorms were still same-sex since the school was private
and relatively conservative. At the beginning of the year I would
sit down with the girls and go over dorm rules and answer any questions
they might have. Many of these girls were away from home for the
first time and welcomed the help. Each year, I would learn that
many, if not most, of the freshman girls were virgins. One by one
these girls came to me, after only a few months at college, wrestling
with the desire of their new college boyfriends to be physical with
them. One by one I counseled them to wait to have sex. Unfortunately,
by the end of first semester, nearly all of them had become sexually
active and were now nursing broken hearts, unplanned pregnancies
or STDs, and were left with the question of how to cope with dating
experiences gone awry. By the end of second semester these boyfriends
had already broken up with the girls whose virginity they had taken
and were pursuing other girls. Even as I look back, I am amazed
at what I advised them since I was, at that time, actively dating
and certainly had not been taught any rules about proper courtship.

My
own dating experiences started out innocent enough. I began in high
school around aged 14. I remember feeling uncomfortable left to
make my own decisions about whom I would and would not date. I was
asked out by a senior during my freshman year, and timidly turned
him down feeling like I was making a major social blunder. I recall
one date when the guy didn't want to take me home right after the
movie, which ended in a minor physical struggle before he finally
agreed. My dating experiences in college were less traumatic, at
first. But after a while, the lack of parental protection, and seeing
so many of my peers going hog wild with their new sexual freedom,
I grew rather cynical and began treating men worse than they treated
me. My self-esteem plummeted. Finally, at aged 23 I decided to call
it quits.

I
see two main problems with dating as it is now. One is its purposelessness.
I'll illustrate this to explain. As a professional counselor, I've
been asked to speak on the topic of dating numerous times at church
youth groups. Youth pastors, church leaders, and parents are desperately
trying to impress some kind of moral constraint on their youth by
bringing in a "professional" to reconstruct the definition
of dating. At these speaking engagements I look out into the faces
of bright, eager youth and begin by having them think and rethink
about their definition of dating, to somehow mold a definition that
does not imply getting emotionally and physically involved without
the proper protection that marital commitment brings. The lingo
from the teens goes something like: "Dating means….being in
a relationship". Or…"having a boyfriend/girlfriend."
Or…"playing the field." Or (my personal favorite) …"getting
to know each other."

What
does all of this talk about relationships and boyfriends
and girlfriends really mean? When I venture to ask those
bright, eager faces they simply have no idea. This is dating: the
act of being in a relationship or playing the field or getting to
know each other for the purpose of ….the act of being in a relationship
or playing the field…You get the idea.

What
is particularly heartbreaking about all of this nonsense is the
aftermath. As a counselor I have seen numerous teens and young adults
wrestling with the consequences of this kind of dating. They are
bewildered by their emotional reactions. Dating is, after all, supposed
to be casual. One girl, I recall, felt so bad at the end of a dating
relationship that her parents sent her to me for counseling. She
was depressed and confused about her response and not sure how to
handle it. Young girls are taught that something is wrong with them
if they experience longings for commitment. After months of being
led on by her boyfriend with talk of marriage she began to realize
he had no intention of following through. Her biggest need at this
time was permission from an adult to break up with this young man
since she wasn't getting it from peers or parents. Once armed with
this permission, she ended the relationship, her depression ended,
and she became a much happier young lady. Another teen girl I counseled
was not so fortunate. She was very pretty, and had no idea how to
handle the attention from her fellow male classmates. Her parents
gave her no real guidelines for how to conduct herself, and yet
she had somehow managed to preserve her virginity. Nonetheless,
her low level of emotional maturity often led to putting herself
into compromising situations, not to mention the morally chaotic
excuses she used to justify her own behavior. She stopped attending
our sessions without any real change in her behavior, and I often
wonder how she's doing now. One thing nearly all of these cases
had in common is that their fathers are not providing the protection
needed.

"Isn't
our daughter cute…isn't she popular…she's dating now!"
parents proudly proclaim. What the above girls really needed were
protective fathers to help ward off unwanted physical advances honeyed
with deceptive talk of love and marriage.

But
it's not just young women who are heartbroken. I have heard from
young men too who have no idea about how to go about courting a
young woman toward marriage. If a teenage boy shows interest in
treating girls properly, with respect and gentility he is made fun
of mercilessly. One particular young man comes to mind who, when
his last relationship ended, was crushed. He had wanted to marry
her, but he really had no idea how to do anything but date and so
avoided the topic of marriage. The relationship ended with the young
man feeling empty, depressed and confused. Our young men do not
know how to initiate commitment, or pursue a woman toward marriage.
The cultural message is that this is not a quality valued in a man
anymore.

Some
may object and say that dating does have a purpose, citing the definition
I gave earlier (getting to know each other, etc.). But what does
this getting to know each other ever lead to? How long does it actually
take to "get to know each other," and if you finally do
reach the level of "knowing each other," what then? Usually
this aimlessness leads to the dating couple becoming lovers, and
many times bringing an unwanted child into the world. Or acting
as if they didn't know sex was procreative and killing the poor
baby, calling this the merciful thing to do as we have now deemed
the greater tragedy a living child who is unwanted. I hear complaints
about the shame and annoyance of unwanted pregnancy without any
attempt to address the true cause: irresponsible, unchaste behavior
and no boundaries to how men and women ought to be relating to each
other. Dating provides no structure for male and female relationships,
and our endorsement of this kind of coupling is only enabling the
very social ills we complain about.

The
above examples lead me to my second problem with dating. Where are
the parents? With regard to the college campuses, the answer is
easy: nowhere to be found. Year after year parents send their youths
off to get an education with no authority figures in sight to bring
some kind of restraint to their sons and daughters. In an effort
made by our parents to destroy convention another convention has
arisen to fill the void — dating, instead of courtship. Dating views
each possible eligible (and many times ineligible) person as a mate
— not for life, but for right now. I've heard it said, "I'm
looking for Mr. Right," but this is passé. I have actually
heard women say, "I'm looking for Mr. Right now."
I'm not fooled. I saw these same girls crying and depressed about
being dumped after a one-night-stand.

But
permissiveness about dating starts long before college, in junior
high and high school. I was amazed at the number of freshman girls
who were still virgins in college since at my own high school the
talk in the girls' bathroom indicated that the sexual revolution
was alive and well. Any girls who claimed chastity were promptly
deemed prude as if they were lepers. So…where are the parents? Well,
they are allowing their sons and daughters to date at ages 12 and
14. If the parents are really "uncool" they make the teen
wait until age 16. But wait for what? What does age have to do with
it if the parents will provide no guidance, no purpose, or responsibility?
It's simply not enough to hear it at their church youth groups from
a professional counselor. So off these kids go without parental
protection to embark on "getting to know each other,"
"being in a relationship."

But
the real problem with all of this purposelessness and lack of parental
control is the false perception of human nature that is the driving
forces behind it. Human beings need constraints to guide our behavior.
As it is now, we call our weaknesses strengths. We praise our lack
of self-control and restraint and call ourselves "liberated."
We talk about the innate goodness of mankind and then fail to make
good on our promises. "I promise I'll love you if you'll just
sleep with me." We elevate predatory sexual behavior calling
it "playing the field" and say we are following our animal
instincts. I have yet to see an animal mate out of anything but
an instinctual drive to procreate. As it is, we have sunk lower
than the animals since we don't even want to discuss that sex
is procreative anymore. This is dating. "For although
they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks
to him, but their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed
to be wise, they became fools…."(Romans 1: 21-22)

If
I have made any kind of case against our current dating practices,
I know that was the easy part. The solution is not necessarily obvious,
and our current cultural atmosphere simply does not provide any
support for a return to old courtship practices. In the past, these
practices were the backbone of any community since it was mostly
through courtship that new families were begun to become productive
members of a community. This simply is not the norm anymore. But,
there have been a few of us, disheartened by current practices that
have stopped dating altogether in exchange for abstinence, and courtship,
and those that are interested in doing so. Just this past weekend,
for the second Sunday in a row, I had a teen girl approach me and
express a desire to meet with me and talk about alternatives to
dating. Some of my friends have begun to forsake the dating scene
for a more respectful and less predatory way of interacting with
the opposite sex, and are the happier for it. While the effects
of the sexual revolution have been devastating, I am seeing a flicker
inside the hearts of many youths that indicate they are beginning
to desire something more, something deeper, which is a real cause
for hope and rejoicing.

I
began this article by saying I recently married after a 4-month
courtship. This was both a bewildering and exciting experience
for Stephen and me as we grappled with the resurrection of a ritual
that has long been dead. Leon and Amy Kass define courtship as "to
woo with a view toward marriage." I believe our courtship was
a success. We avoided the purposelessness of dating by setting boundaries
on our time together and made it known that marriage was the overall
goal, whether it would be to each other or someone else. We made
sure our actions protected each other from the embarrassment and
awkwardness of getting too emotionally involved too fast by each
having the accountability of our parents and elders in our life.
No talk of marriage was made until an actual proposal was given,
and there was no kissing until the ring was on my finger,
(how exciting that night was!!). We remained physically chaste until
our wedding night. I am so thankful that our courtship was a wonderful
and memorable process that I will want to share with our children
some day, and without all of the embarrassing mishaps and broken
promises that a lack of structure and purpose brings.

While
I cannot, at this time, give a concrete and historical dissertation
on courtship, I can recommend several books that I have read and
two that I am currently reading on the subject. Starting with the
ones I have read:

Passion
and Purity
, Quest
for Love
— both by author Elisabeth Elliot. The first book
deals with her own courtship experience with her late husband Jim
Elliot, and the latter focuses more on general courtship practices
and answers specific questions for how to proceed in our current
atmosphere.

I
Kissed Dating Goodbye
written by Joshua Harris. This is
a great book for young adults interested in learning how to pull
back from dating.

I
am currently reading: Wing
to Wing, Oar to Oar
written by Amy Kass and Leon Kass. This
book is a historical anthology of writings on courtship. I am so
excited to have been directed to it by my husband. I am nearly finished
reading A
Return to Modesty
by Wendy Shalit, which addresses the effects
on our culture of losing the virtue of modesty, a key aspect of
historical courtship.

So,
go ahead…stop dating!!! Liberate yourself from the baggage that
dating relationships always leave you with. Read up on courtship
and enjoy the mystery and excitement that modesty and self-restraint
bring.

September
7, 2002

Heather
M. Carson [send
her mail
] has a Masters in
Counseling and works as a therapist for Biblical Christian Counseling
Ministries in St. Louis, MO.

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