Author’s Note: This is the first part in a 5-part series called “Refocused Romance,” in which I explore different aspects of dating that often get little attention, particularly in the high school context. By this, I hope to simply bring up thoughts and questions by which we as a body of Christ can grow in our understanding of one another and of how we can honor God in the dating realm.
This first part is about how dating in high school is a good idea.
I remember not even as long as a year ago, maybe even six months, that I’d never allow my kids to date in high school. I said, “Not in my house.”
Since then I’ve realized two things. First, sometimes it doesn’t really matter all that much what you say as a parent. Kids will do things behind your back and “dating” in your eyes might be different than what “dating” looks like in your kid’s eyes. Second, dating in high school is a good thing.
Full disclosure: I had three dating relationships in high school. One lasted three months, one lasted three weeks and one lasted over a year. These were all Facebook official relationships, and they were cornerstones of my high school experience. I’ll share bits from them throughout this series.
Of course, one of the things to keep in mind when you talk about something like “dating” and “relationships” in the high school context is that there are different definitions for different people. For the sake of this piece, this is my working definition of relationship: you have romantic affection for one another and it’s mutually agreed upon that, at least for the foreseeable future, you’re not looking for anyone else.
OK cool. Now that we’ve got that established, let’s get into the real stuff.
One of the main reasons Christians give for not dating in high school is the “distraction” idea. Bloggers can go crazy on this idea. One blogger I read wrote this:
For the Christian teenager this whole business of dating can be very distracting. As Christians, our primary focus, especially in our single years, should be on our relationship with God. Rather than spending their energy pursuing the Lord, they are distracted by the dating culture. Rather than spending their evening in prayer with the Lord, they spend it texting their girl friend. (FYI, Teens don’t talk on the phone anymore, they just text) Teenage dating is unwise because it can distract you from pursuing the Lord.
First of all, I don’t know if anyone spends their entire evening in prayer with God. If you do, please know you don’t have to do that. God doesn’t judge us or our faithfulness based on how many minutes we pray.
Second, and this is the bigger point: every single situation in your life is going to have distractions. If you’re going to have this caveat that you can’t get into something if it’s going to distract you from your walk with Christ, might as well not get a job, get married, have kids, own a pet, have a hobby, etc. Maybe this is a logical fallacy, but if we follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, from my perspective at least, we shouldn’t do anything if it distracts us from following Jesus. Eating can distract us, going to the bathroom can distract us.
One of the reasons you date is so that you can learn how to be a Christian and to be in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. It can be a delicate balance, but it’s a balance you’re not going to learn by sitting on the sidelines.
Another reason some give is the temptations for sexual intimacy that come in dating relationships in high school. I can speak from personal experience – it’s not like it gets easier once you get older. I’d argue that it gets harder. If we ran away all the time because of that, we’d never get married.
Yet another reason I saw is that “break-ups are messy” and they’re likely to happen. Yet again, if we spent our whole life avoiding awkward situations, we’d never grow and we’d be nice, sheltered little Christians who never took risks.
Not dating in high school just because you might sin or you might do something bad is a cop-out of the highest order. We encourage kids to take this route in order to “follow God” when really we might be scaring them out of one of the most beneficial and beautiful experiences of their lives.
Let’s be honest: the only difference between dating in high school and dating in college and beyond is the age and the likelihood of marriage. Everything else is exactly the same: overanalyzing text messages with your friends, awkwardly wondering when to go in for that first kiss, the nervousness of meeting the parents, the goofy nicknames, all of it. A dating experience is all about learning about yourself, your significant other and how to love someone, whether or not you use the word “love” in the dating relationship. And those are skills that are best developed, oftentimes, within the context of a dating relationship.
What we’re often afraid of is that our kids “can’t handle it” or “they’re too young” or “they don’t know what they’re doing.” I got engaged last week, and I don’t know what I’m doing.
The point of having God on your side is that He can help you through everything through His Holy Spirit, through His Word and through fellowship with believers. Even you teenagers who are dating in high school, pursuing things with your boyfriend/girlfriend in a godly way can be an exciting and challenging thing that, by God’s grace, you can learn a lot from.
Yes, odds are your relationship will fail. But that doesn’t mean it’s pointless.
The story is told about Thomas Edison when he invented the incandescent light bulb that he failed 999 times to get the construction and engineering of the bulb just right and succeeded on the 1,000th time. A reporter asked him what it was like to fail that many times. He reportedly responded with something like this: “I didn’t fail 999 times. I just found 999 ways to not make a lightbulb.”
If you date 30 girls and marry the 31st, you didn’t waste the 30 relationships prior. You just found 30 girls you weren’t going to marry.
Dating in high school isn’t a waste of time. I promise. And I hope over the next few posts to share some wisdom I’ve gotten, however little, in the dating scene, based on questions and thoughts I’ve heard from real teenagers about dating.
I think the Church has often failed youth on speaking to the real thoughts, real difficulties and real questions about dating because we treat it so superficially. There are people who do tackle it properly, who do go about it the right way. But it’s rare, so kids are still left with these questions.
Let’s go for it.