One of the first things that will face us at the age when the opposite sex starts to look attractive to us is the question of dating. Dating is something that has become common recently in the western world. Many know nothing else and think that it has always been this way. It has not, and again if we want to know God's best for our lives, we must go back to Him for direction. It is here that we will be tested in our choice.
Perhaps dating may be defined in a number of ways. But I am referring to the practice of developing a one-on-one relationship with the opposite sex just for friendship or with the motive of getting to know the other person to see if they might be the "one for me." It ranges from just "going out to dinner together" to "going steady." At one point, it was primarily reserved for older teenagers, but today, even 12-year old young people are encouraged to have a special "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" and think that this is normal.
As we search the scriptures, we find no thought of this either by teaching or example. In fact, we find the opposite. In God's plan we find either single "brothers and sisters" in God's family, with no "special" relationship with the opposite sex, or those in courtship that is leading to marriage. A middle ground between these two is not to be found in scripture.
There are some very good reasons for this. First of all, it is not possible to develop a "special" relationship with the opposite sex without arousing emotions and desires that God intends to be worked out in marriage. They are different for men and women. Men tend to be aroused more by their physical desires, while women tend to be affected more by their emotions as they think of a life together with one who loves them.
Many young women do not realize how much a man is affected by very simple physical acts. Just sitting together or holding hands is enough to completely arouse a young man. That is why Paul admonished Timothy to treat the younger sisters "with all purity" and that "it is good if a man does not touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1). He meant exactly that, and going beyond that opens doors which should not be opened outside of marriage.
Most young men do not realize how they affect women when they single them out for special attention. They think they just want to be "friends" without any other intention, but such a relationship is not possible. Young ladies tend to build on any little indication that they might be the "special one." Dreams of a home filled with laughing children start to fill their minds. They are just made that way. A man may be thinking nothing of the kind and have no serious intentions at all, but he does not know how a woman is made.
"Pairing off" in a "special" relationship with no real intent of marriage is all that is needed to set the stage for misunderstanding and emotional pain. Physical contact is not even necessary to open up these emotions. Communication is enough. May I suggest one simple rule that if followed, will keep young people from much difficulty? Any significant communication between a young man and young woman should be done in the company of others. It is not wise and should not be necessary to communicate on a "personal" level. This personal one-on-one communication is what affects our emotions and desires.
If there are things you desire to communicate about that can only be done on a personal level, may I suggest that you communicate with a mature adult? In that way you can gain the help you are looking for while avoiding the pitfall of starting a relationship on a level you are not yet prepared to enter.
Young people today go through many of these dating relationships, and as they are ended for one reason or another, a pattern of entering and then breaking a relationship begins to take place. Instead of preparing for marriage, what they are actually preparing for is divorce. God never intended for us to enter into more than one intimate relationship, and that relationship is for life. The world around us bears witness to the results of rebellion against God's ways.
Lest we be caught in the flood of sin, let us be diligent to go God's way from the very beginning. It takes purposeful action before God to do so. We should not be rude to others or hide in a hole, but in God's wisdom, we can keep ourselves from situations that can lead to these wrong relationships. The Lord tells us to avoid even the appearance of evil. Our motives may be completely pure, but that may not be enough. Wisdom from God and a concern for His testimony will enable us to see clearly and take us farther.
Of course the next immediate question is how to proceed properly. Actually, the question is not nearly as difficult as one might think. First, if we are serious about God and knowing His will, we are looking for a spiritual relationship with every person. This is not accomplished in a special one-on-one relationship. It is realized together with all God's people. We can experience spiritual fellowship without singling out another person and spending special time with them. By the Spirit we can sense whether another person is responding to God. We can see their progress. Spiritual fruit cannot be hidden. It is this spiritual fruit that we are looking for. Without this, nothing else matters.
If spiritual fruit is evident in both my life and the life of another, and we are knowing the leading of the Holy Spirit, we can consider courtship. Needless to say, the Lord will not be leading this way until both are ready to enter into marriage. But before two begin to think on that level, they have been able to observe many things about each other. Good conversations that reveal much about how a person is thinking can take place in a group. This is God's way. If mutual respect and interest develop in a group setting, and if God is leading a man to initiate a relationship, he should first have the witness of the Spirit in his heart that God wants him to go farther.
A good step at this point would be for the man to get the witness of an older brother before actually making his intentions known to the woman. Many times older brothers will see things that we as young men do not see. They can bring up questions we may not have thought of. If a man has a true care for the woman involved, these things should all be done without arousing her hopes. This is beginning evidence that a man is ready to love as Christ loved the church. Once the relationship is initiated, it is very hard to break off without hurting both members. God's love gives the utmost consideration to such things.
In short, dating is a practice that should be avoided if we are serious with God and want to begin our marriage relationship on a solid basis. Courtship is a time of preparation for two people who have already established a foundation and are preparing for marriage. If something arises during this time that was not foreseen, the relationship may be terminated before marriage, but this is not "dating" and "breaking up." It should be rare.
Marriage is for life, so by following God's plan we trust to avoid mistakes. Although these principles may appear very old-fashioned and restrictive in our age, I encourage the serious-minded young person to consider them carefully. They may save you much heartache and point you in the direction that leads to a rich and rewarding relationship in marriage.