I just turned nineteen, and I have never been on a date.
Seriously, no coffee, no dinner, no movie, no one-on-one — ever. That’s not because I don’t like boys. Or because I never want to get married. I do, on both counts. It’s because I’m waiting to date until I can marry, and I’m not ready yet.
Within a few years I think I will be ready, and the idea of dating with intentionality and gospel-fueled motives excites me. That’s why I’m trying to use this time now to cultivate the right kind of heart. I want to do as much as I can to avoid heartbreak, painful consequences, and naïve mistakes.
As I think about dating for the right reasons, in the right season, for the glory of God, I’ve considered five questions to ask myself before I start dating — five indicators that I’m ready (or not) to date.
1. Am I dating to find validation?
Dating is inherently validating. Here is someone who is living, breathing, chocolate-and-flower-giving proof that you’re interesting and attractive. And let’s be honest: that’s really flattering. But if dating is the source of your validation, it indicates soul-damaging idolatry.
A boyfriend or girlfriend won’t complete you, no matter how much culture tries to convince you otherwise. Dating — just like food or sex or television or money — does not secure (or create) your ultimate peace, happiness, and satisfaction. You can’t find your identity in dating. If you follow Christ, your identity is first, finally, and fully in him.
Before you consider engaging your heart in a romantic relationship, are you confident in your identity as a child of God? If you’re doubting that, now is not the time to tempt your heart toward idolatry. Wait to date until you can say with surety that Christ alone is the source of your validation.
2. Am I dating because it’s expected or pressured?
The pressure to date young is subtle, yet powerfully pervasive. Our cultural narrative weaves an overwhelming expectation for teenagers to date frequently and intimately. There it is in our sitcoms and schools, in our commercials and magazines, on our smart phones and in our homes — one theme pounding its way into our psyches: To be accepted in this society, you must date.
If conformity and expectation drives you to do anything, don’t do it, especially in dating. Other people’s desires or opinions may be the worst reason to go out with someone. Romance is risky and serious business and should never be entered from a place of pressure.
As teenagers who follow Christ, we shouldn’t want to conform or cave to culture’s standards for relationships. We should want something better. We should chase something higher. We should be different. And what’s more different than remaining joyfully single as a teenager? Wait to date until you are emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually prepared to pursue romance.
3. Am I dating in community?
If you watch two people date in a movie, it usually goes like this: The couple meets and there are intense and immediate sparks of attraction. So they go out together, just the two of them, to get to know each other. Then they keep going out together alone — an intense and isolated romance — until finally, at a big, dramatic moment in the relationship, they introduce one another to their parents. We’re told this is normal. We meet, we date, and then we involve our community.
What an emotionally unhealthy picture! Where’s the accountability? Where are the counselors? Where’s the outside protection from naïve heartbreak? Where’s the community that can come alongside the couple and provide spiritual maturity, insight, and objective advice? It’s all been killed by a culture of convenience and speed. In relationships we’re trained to want all the rewards without any of the work.
But pursuing this kind of reckless, self-contained relationship is inconsistent with the counsel of Scripture. Compare it with Paul’s sober words to Timothy: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul’s advice to young people: flee isolated romance and embrace purity in the context of community. Wait to date until you’re ready to be held accountable by others, and they’re ready to hold you accountable.
4. Am I dating with short-term intentions?
Most teenagers want to get married someday. I definitely do. But too many of us don’t want to wait to date until then, and so we suspiciously wonder, what’s so dangerous about dating purely for fun now? How can it be so bad when almost every teen we know has done it?
Ultimately, the problem with (and danger of) short-term dating is far greater and more serious than we imagine. These relationships distort and demean the sacredly beautiful, God-given vision of romance.
In God’s word, love, intimacy, and marriage are all profoundly linked. No-strings-attached flings are antithetical to this image. Thus godly dating should be a conscious movement toward marriage. Our hearts are not made to be put on the line for quick and casual intimacy, and the consequences confirm that. Wait to date until you can have long-term, marriage-motivated intentions.
5. Am I dating in submission to God?
When I was sixteen, I remember there being a lurking loneliness in my heart. I saw my peers dating and thought, “I want someone to prize me like that, too.” Yet my reasons for wanting to date were enormously selfish. They were fueled by a desire for satisfaction, significance, and self-glory.
Dating then wouldn’t have been in submission to God. It would have been outright, self-focused rebellion. Godly dating is submissive dating. We submit our desires, temptations, timing, preferences, and bodies to Christ, and sacrifice ourselves for the holiness and good of another person.
So wait to date until you can joyfully submit every part of your relationship to God’s loving authority. Wait to date until he brings you a person who will aid your sanctification and chase Christlikeness with you. Wait to date until you’re satisfied in Christ, when you’re free from expectation and pressure, when you’re supported by a gospel community, and when you’re committed to a long-term, lasting relationship.
Teenager, wait to date until it brings more glory to God in your life to date than to remain single.