Elizabeth at Warrior Wives has had some thought provoking posts about divorce and how the church supports marriages in trouble. In the context of pondering how the local church can fortify marriages, something came into my head.
People are going to disagree with me, but here goes.
One of the ways I think the church can support strong marriages begins with how it teaches the young people about male-female relationships.
I will make a confession here that my son, who is 20, has had the same female friend for five years. Yes, five years. This young couple, who got attached very young, and who went off to the same bible school, have had their ups and downs, and they have both admitted that they were much too young to be so serious.
My 23 year old daughter got very attached too soon in high school, and it was devastating when it came to an end.
We did not want our children dating seriously in high school, because we feel that serious dating should lead to marriage, and who do you know who marries the person they liked at fifteen? My son seems to be an exception, but he is not the rule. Most teenage romances end without marriage.
Despite the choices of my children, I remain firmly attached to the belief that serious dating should lead to marriage, and therefore, should be undertaken with caution when a young person is chronologically so far away from being able to marry. I am also a fan of early marriages, so if a couple is serious at 18 and plans on getting married before they turn 21, by all means, go ahead. That, however, is not the trend. The average age of marriage is 26-27 years old.
This is why I think dating that is not approached carefully is problematic: the couple can end up "playing house." I've seen it first hand. They begin to act as if they are married, and I'm not necessarily referring to physical issues (although that is obviously a temptation). I'm talking about a young man who has to "check in" with his girlfriend before he goes out with his friends. I'm talking about a young man who gets annoyed and irritated when his girlfriend buys something he thinks she should not have wasted her money on. I'm talking about a young couple who go to separate universities and blow off their school work because the separation is too stressful. I've seen those things up close and personal, and my own children have lived through such things.
When a young couple feel married, the end of the relationship feels like a divorce. My son has been with his young lady (whom I love dearly) for longer than some people are married. If it was to end, I can't even imagine what the pain would be like. She is like part of our family; we would lose a part of our family and it would be difficult to maintain relationships if things came to an end. It's actually quite a big risk.
The thing is, however, is that the couple is not like a married couple. There are no financial pressures. There is no "for the rest of my life" in their thinking. They may dream of that, but the reality is they know they can walk away if they choose. Yes, a married couple can, too, but the legal issues will prevent that from happening very quickly, and we're still at the point where saving a marriage is a priority. Teenage dating couples do not have the responsibility for managing a home, paying bills, earning a living. It's all of the fun without the responsibility. It is not like being married, but I've seen how easily they can think they are.
How does this adversely affect how we support marriage? It has the danger of fostering a dating and break up cycle that is not a good habit to get into. It can be a very bad habit. It also detracts from marriage by masquerading as something it isn't. My son and his friend are not like my husband and me. Yes, five years is practically a lifetime in the world of young people, but it is five years where they have not lived togther, alone, and established a home of their own. The pressures are not there. Marriage is not the coming of two young people who just really like each other; it's about a coming together of two people whom God has ordained will be together.
Some people get down on me because I don't support serious dating at young ages. They ask me what my solution is. Young people are attracted to each other, right? We can't stop them, right? How does that advice work with a married man who has a wandering eye?
Young people have the order wrong. They meet each other, want to get to know each other, so decide to have a little romance in order to get to know each other. I think it should be the other way around. They meet, they get to know each other for a while, and then whey they know each other, contemplate the romance. My daughter has a male friend. They're just friends, and they've been friends since they were 13 years old. They know each other very well. There was a time when he began to investigate the possibility of a romance. She said no immediately. She said she knew it would be a bad idea because she knew him too well. A little caution is good. Young men and women need to learn to treat each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord before they begin getting romantic, and it is not okay to act married if you aren't.
There, I've had my say. I know people don't agree with me, and I understand that. I'm not looking to have my mind changed. I've been thinking about this issue for over five years now, and I keep coming back to the same conclusion. The bottom line is that dating doesn't prepare a couple for marriage. It certainly provides a vehicle for getting to know each other, but the only way to learn to be married is to be married yourself. Playing house with a high school sweetheart just isn't the same.