To Date Or Not To Date?

To Date Or Not To Date?

Should we allow our kids to date or not allow them to date? If so, what age will they be allowed? These are the questions my husband and I are up against now that our daughters are reaching that mysterious age.  Sure, Matt still insists that 30 sounds like a great age for them to begin considering these issues. But we already see the signs of attraction. We hear the whispers with their girlfriends. And in this new age of technology, we read their texts and stalk their social media accounts. There have been plenty of "talks" about boys in our home.

And there are rules that we never in our wildest dreams thought we would need to make: under no circumstances is it okay to pucker your lips for a selfie. But we always knew that we would need to figure out this whole dating dilemma. Of course, teens now say they are "dating" when no one has a job, and no one can drive. As of matter of fact, they don't need to actually go anywhere together to be "dating." It's more of a status, a label deeming a boy and a girl in some sort of nebulous relationship. Matt and I have no idea what to do with this unstoppable madness. It seems that teens have put the cart before the horse. The relationship status comes before any actual dates.

An interesting article is being shared all over Facebook today, speaking out against the courtship movement.  Apparently, Thomas Umstattd Jr. used to be such a proponent of courtship relationships that he started But now he has changed his mind. Now that some time has passed to look back at the whole "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" craze, Umstattd sees some major flaws to the courtship model. Foremost, many of the advocates of this model still find themselves single, and not so much by choice. Secondly, he is now discovering that some of the couples that did get married are now divorcing. That wasn't supposed to happen!

Umstattd exposes the problem with courtship:

The courtship movement eliminated dating and replaced it with nothing.

Or, put another way, they replaced dating with engagement. The only tangible difference between an engagement and a courtship is the ring and the date.

Suddenly, asking a girl on a first date has become entirely too weighty. One must ask permission from an over-protective father to enter a courting relationship with the intention of marriage. Does asking a girl to share some burgers and milkshakes have to mean that you intend to do that for the rest of your life together? How do you get to know people anymore? How do you get experience to learn what type of person you are compatible to spend the rest of your life with? Can dating be an actual activity again instead of a heavy category one is labeled by?

So Umstattd said he finally humbled himself to ask advice from his grandmother, who never thought courtship was a good idea in the first place. You know, the grandma who did find a good husband and remained happily married until death did them part. And his grandmother told him she began dating in middle school. I'll have to admit, I choked on my coffee at that point. I have a daughter going into the 10th grade, as well as one going into the 7thgrade...but I continued to hear Umstattd's grandma out. Her parents had an important rule: You can't date the same guy twice in a row:

So if she went out for soda with Bob on Tuesday, she had to go to a movie with Bill on Thursday before she could go to the school dance with Bob on Saturday.

That sounded crazy to me. So, I asked her the rationale behind it. She explained that the lack of exclusivity helped them guard their hearts and kept things from getting too serious too quickly. The lack of exclusivity kept the interactions fun and casual. "The guys wouldn't even want to kiss you!" She said.

The lack of exclusivity helped the girls guard their hearts and kept the boys from feeling entitled to the girl. How could a boy have a claim to her time, heart or body if she was going out with someone else later that week?

This does have some good logic behind it, something to work with anyway. Matt and I have begun to encourage group dating for the future. You know, keep things casual. I'll let you read Umstattd's argument yourself for why group dating also has its flaws.

But the whole time I was reading, I was of course thinking back to my own dating days. One thing that struck me when I was in college was what actually qualified as a date. Mostly, I would be asked out as a date to a party or social gathering. Or, "Hey, do you want to come over and hang out?" Sure, there are times for this, but it seemed there wasn't a category for actual dating or courtship. If they wanted to ask me specifically to be their date for the night, I wanted there to be some planning and some sacrifice on their part.

In hindsight, I don't think that the hook-up culture blossomed from dating, but from this casual "hang out" approach to going out together. There is the one danger of exclusive dating that makes one more susceptible to thinking it is okay to be less guarded both emotionally and physically. But there is also the danger of being too comfortable in the "casual coupling" scene. Suddenly, nothing is serious.

This makes me think that we should advocate more formal dating. By "formal," I don't mean serious talks about the future with the father and dinner and a movie every time. But I do mean planning, calling a girl or asking her (gasp!) to her face to go out somewhere with you rather than by texting, and, yes, some exclusive time one-on-one to get to know one another for an hour or so. This would be with age-appropriate boundaries, of course. Oh, there will still be a meeting of the father. And by exclusive time, I don't mean totally alone. There are plenty of places to take a date that are public, and yet you are exclusively there with one another, not as a group.

And I'm totally saying this all in theory right now. The idea of my daughters and son dating horrifies me. It does. But in three years one of them will be off to college. I want her to have some coaching now while her dad and I can step in in call an audible if need be. There are some great guys out there, and many we would like to beat with a stick. We would like her to build some discernment between the two with our help before we send her off. But at what age? What are our rules? Where can we go for help? Do we have to? Can't we just keep her here forever?

Sure, we've been doing some preparing, talking, reading, and praying. I will say that one of the more helpful books I enjoyed is Sex, Dating, and Relationships, Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas. And Umstattd's article is certainly worth more discussion.  I invite you to add to the discussion here.