Dating Isn’t Marriage (So Stop Pretending It is)

When I met Holly in 2005, I was a high school senior and she was a community college transfer, each registering for our first semester at Ouachita Baptist University.  We became friends and developed a close bond.  But in the summer before my sophomore year, things changed.  I realized I wanted something more than just Holly’s friendship.  I wanted to be her boyfriend.

After a few months of cowardly saying nothing, I finally told her how I felt.  She responded with those words every guy dreads – “I just see you as a brother.”  Now I’ve dealt with more rejection than I care to admit but this time was different.  Despite going down in flames, my feelings for Holly only grew and so did our relationship. I’m not sure if I was brave, crazy, or both.  Whatever the case, I approached Holly five more times over the next six months.  We kept hanging out, getting to know each other better, and building a powerful friendship.

After months of perseverance, I finally got my date with Holly.  Just two and half years later, we were married.  Though marriage beats a dating relationship any day, I often look back on those years nostalgically.  Our dating years were a special time for us that built the foundation for the rest of our lives together.

Dating & The Bible

The concept of dating is a tricky one.  It didn’t exist until fairly recently and it was a foreign concept in biblical times.  As a result, the Bible has nothing to say about it.

I am amazed by how many books are written to teenagers about dating despite this reality.  Some have concluded that dating must be evil since it is absent from the Bible.  (Then again, so is driving, the Internet, and electricity.)  Others try to find more spiritually charged terms for it, like “courting” and use them to sound more mature.  Some have even come up with a whole set of legalistic rules to govern it.  But in the end, it’s all conjecture.

One of the most concerning trends I have seen among Christians of all ages is the tendency to ascribe spiritual meaning to the institution of dating.  I’ve watched couples apply marriage principles to their dating relationships, treating it like the same thing.  I’ve watched others get engaged years before they could even begin planning for a wedding, simply because they thought it was the more spiritual thing to do.  While I definitely believe there is a right and wrong way to date, I also believe that ascribing these principles to dating is a dangerous game to play.

Dating isn’t marriage.

Let’s be clear.  A dating relationship does not even hold a candle to the commitments a married couple makes to one another.  Equating the two relationships is an offense to the institution that God has ordained.   Marriage is a covenant relationship between a man and woman that is designed to mirror the relationship between Christ and his Church.  It is sealed by vows made before God and his people and is consummated through the sacred, God-ordained act of sex.  Marriage is the only relationship between two humans in which the Bible ascribes spiritual, emotional, and physical responsibilities. Quite simply, it is a holy covenant that demonstrates God’s reconciliation to a broken world.

Paul paints a beautiful picture of this in Ephesians 5:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” — Ephesians 5:22-33

Dating, in contrast, is not bound by any covenant.  It is not biblically ordained and these sacred roles simply do not apply.  When we attempt to apply the weight of marital roles to a relationship outside of that covenant, the results are crushing.

For example, your boyfriend cannot demonstrate Christ’s love for the Church in his love for you.  If for no other reason, you will eventually break up unless you get married.  That kind of love is an undying commitment that requires forfeiting his individual calling to embrace a new one with you.  In marriage, that is beautiful.  Outside of marriage, it is nothing less than sinful disobedience.

Additionally, you can’t submit to his spiritual leadership. That’s because he is not your spiritual leader.  Simply put, God has called you to do something with your life.  That likely involves pursuing an education, a career, and some kind of church involvement.  Not only that, you are responsible for your own spiritual growth, even in marriage.  Honoring Christ with this is your chief responsibility.

When you do get married, your calling will become one with your husband’s.  The two of you will seek God’s will for your lives together.  Until then, you are not one flesh and pretending that you are can be catastrophic.  You may live in obedience to Christ alongside one another. However, you must be ready to continue following God’s will for your life, even if that means separating from your boyfriend to do so.

Where It Comes Off the Rails

When you take your dating relationship too seriously, you miss out on the other experiences God has for you prior to marriage.  I’ve seen too many couples shut out their friends and family or exclude themselves from ministry to ‘work on the relationship.’    Additionally, it becomes easy to take the physical aspects of the relationship too far.  When you adopt marital roles, it would seem only natural that you might express those roles physically as well.  (For the record, the Bible’s position on that one is very clear.)

Dating can be an amazing experience and while it may not be addressed in Scripture, it is still an edifying and vital part of preparing for marriage.  However, it’s important to keep the relationship in perspective until you finally meet your husband at the altar.  If you think you might be taking the relationship too seriously, take some time to discuss it with your boyfriend.  Look for ways to slow things down to an appropriate speed.

DISCUSS:  How can dating couples better maintain a proper perspective about their relationship when the Bible is silent on the matter?

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