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Dating With a View to Marriage

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Julie and Lee were dating and were determined to remain morally clean. But one evening when they were alone, their sexual feelings began to build. Fortunately, they came to their senses before going too far and committing a serious wrong.

TRUE worship involves more than simply attending a weekly religious service. It is a way of life that influences one’s conduct and moral standards. Jesus Christ said that only those “doing the will” of God merit His favor.  To please God, we need to keep our relationship with the opposite sex honorable and date with a view to marriage.

How can you keep your relationship clean in God’s eyes, especially in view of the tremendous pressure on couples to throw moral restraint aside? First, recognize that God’s standards were set down with our very best interests in mind. Second, accept the truth about human nature. Third, lay definite ground rules for right behavior. And fourth, have God in your relationship. Consider these points one by one.

Standards Tailor-Made for Our Benefit

At Isaiah 48:17, 18, we read: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One causing you to tread in the way in which you should walk. O if only you would actually pay attention to my commandments! Then your peace would become just like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.”

Yes, the commandments and principles set down in God’s inspired Word, the Holy Bible, are for our benefit. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) They are evidence that our Creator really cares about us and wants us to be happy and successful in all aspects of life. (Psalm 19:7-10) Is that how you feel in your heart? If so, you are showing true wisdom.

Accept the Truth About Yourself

Like a true friend, Jehovah is honest with us; he tells us the truth about ourselves. For example, his Word warns us that “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The Bible also states: “He [or she] that is trusting in his own heart is stupid, but he that is walking in wisdom is the one that will escape.”—Proverbs 28:26.

How might a couple who are dating show that they trust in their own hearts? One way is by allowing themselves to get into circumstances where they may be tempted to become overly intimate, similar to the couple mentioned above. Another way is by disregarding the wise advice of God-fearing parents. Such parents know that sexual feelings, especially during youth, can be like a powerful engine that has to be well controlled.

Hence, young people who ‘walk in godly wisdom’ take parental guidance seriously. Yes, they take to heart the advice of parents who love them enough to say things that a son or daughter may not want to hear. Of course, the one who loves you most is your heavenly Father, Jehovah God, who advises you to “remove vexation from your heart, and ward off calamity from your flesh.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10) How can you do that? By not giving in to improper desires.

Lay Clear Ground Rules for Behavior

“With those consulting together there is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10) Early in their relationship, prudent couples apply those words by agreeing on Scripturally appropriate expressions of affection and by being determined to stay within those limits. To take liberties with each other or to be overconfident is like driving dangerously. It is too late to make resolutions about road safety when you are being pulled out of a wreck!

“A shrewd man [or woman] sees trouble coming and lies low,” the Bible says. “The simple walk into it and pay the penalty.”(Proverbs 22:3, The New English Bible) Couples can avoid much trouble by dating in the company of a wholesome group or a suitable chaperone. The penalty for foolishness while dating may include a damaged conscience, lack of respect for yourself and the other person, and shame for all concerned, including family members. So be shrewd; agree to apply Scriptural standards and stick to them!

Make Jehovah the ‘Third Cord’

Marriage is like a threefold cord, with God as the primary strand. “A threefold cord cannot quickly be torn in two,” says Ecclesiastes 4:12. The same principle can apply to dating couples. Those who want God’s blessing on their relationship receive that blessing when they stay close to God individually. Says Psalm 1:1-3: “Happy is the man [or woman] that has not walked in the counsel of the wicked ones . . . But his delight is in the law of Jehovah, and in his law he reads in an undertone day and night . . . , and everything he does will succeed.”

Yes, real success in life, including success in courtship and marriage, comes when we do things Jehovah’s way. After all, he is our Creator, and romantic attraction and marriage are precious gifts from him. As such, they deserve our utmost respect.—James 1:17.

Should We Break Up?

“Three months into the relationship, both of us were saying that it felt so right. We talked about spending the rest of our lives together as if it were just a given.”—Lizzy.

“I had a huge crush on him, and then a couple of years later, he actually started noticing me! I liked having an older boyfriend who would watch out for me.”—Cathy.

In time, both Jessica and Carol broke up with their boyfriends. Why? Were they foolish for giving up such great guys?

YOU’VE been dating for nearly a year. At first, you were sure that he was “the one.” At times, you can even rekindle the romantic feelings that characterized the onset of your relationship. But now you’re having second thoughts. Should you ignore those thoughts? How can you know if you should break up?

First, you need to face a cold truth: Disregarding danger signs in a relationship is like ignoring the warning signals on your car’s dashboard. The problem will not go away; likely it will only get worse. What are some of the danger signs in a relationship that you would do well to heed?

Things are moving too fast. Problems can arise when a romance moves too quickly. “We were e-mailing, chatting online, talking on the phone,” Carol recalls. “Those methods of communication can be more powerful than face-to-face because you can get way more personal, way too fast!” Don’t rob yourselves of the chance to get to know each other. A relationship should not be like a weed that sprouts up fast and then withers. Rather, it should be like a precious plant that takes time to grow.

He’s critical and demeaning. “My boyfriend was always putting me down,” says a girl named Ana, “but I wanted to be with him so badly.” She adds, “I tolerated situations that I never dreamed I would have allowed!” The Bible condemns “abusive speech.” (Ephesians 4:31) Demeaning words—even if they are delivered calmly and quietly—have no place in a loving relationship.

He’s got a volatile temper. “A man of discernment is cool of spirit,” says Proverbs 17:27. Erin found that her boyfriend had problems in this regard. “When we had disagreements, he would shove me,” she says, “and at times I ended up with bruises.” The Bible tells Christians: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath . . . be taken away from you.” (Ephesians 4:31) A person with little self-control is hardly ready for dating.

He’s secretive about our relationship. “My boyfriend didn’t want others to know that we were dating,” recalls Angela. “He was even upset when my dad found out!” Of course, there may be valid reasons for a couple to maintain a measure of privacy. But secrecy—a deliberate attempt to keep the relationship hidden from those who have a right to know about it—spells trouble.

He has no intention of marriage. Among Christians, dating has an honorable purpose—to help a young man and woman determine if they want to get married to each other. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you need to make wedding plans the moment you start dating. In fact, many people do not end up marrying the first person they date. At the same time, a person shouldn’t date if he or she isn’t ready to shoulder the responsibilities of marriage.

Our relationship is on-again, off-again. Proverbs 17:17 states: “A true companion is loving all the time.” Not that the two of you will always agree. But a relationship that constantly seesaws between breaking up and making up could indicate that something deeper needs to be addressed, as Ana came to realize. “The many times I broke up with my boyfriend brought me so much heartache!” she says. “I kept going back to fix a relationship that I would have done better without.”

He pressures me for sex. “If you love me, you’ll do it.” “We need to take our relationship to the next level.” “It’s not really sex if there’s no intercourse.” These are all manipulative lines that boys have used to pressure girls into sex. Says James 3:17: “The wisdom from above is first of all chaste.” You deserve a boyfriend who is morally clean and who respects your chaste sexual boundaries. Don’t settle for anything less!

Others have warned me about him. The Bible says: “Get all the advice you can, and you will succeed; without it you will fail.” (Proverbs 15:22, Today’s English Version) “You can’t ignore what your family and longtime friends think, any more than you can ignore those little alarm bells that ring in your head,” says Jessica. “The more you ignore what others are saying, the harder you’re making it on yourself.”

Above are just a few danger signs that could mean trouble in a relationship. If you are dating, how does your boyfriend measure up in the areas discussed? Write below any personal concerns you may have.

How to Break Up

Suppose you determine that it’s best to end a relationship. How will you do so? There are a number of ways, but keep the following in mind.

Be courageous. “I had become so reliant on my boyfriend that I was afraid to leave him,” says a girl named Trina. It takes courage to speak up when a relationship needs to end. But standing up for yourself is healthy.  It enables you to establish firm boundaries as to what you will and what you will not tolerate in a dating relationship—and, later, in a marriage.

Be fair. If you were on the other end of the breakup, how would you want to be treated?  Surely, your boyfriend deserves more than a brief e-mail, text message, or voice mail saying “We’re through!”

Choose the right setting. Should you talk face-to-face or over the phone? Should you write a letter or have a discussion? Much depends upon the circumstances. You should not meet in any setting where your safety would be put in jeopardy, nor would it be wise to be in an isolated area where wrong desires could be stirred.

Speak truthfully. Talk honestly about why you feel the relationship cannot continue. If you feel that your boyfriend has not treated you properly, say so. Stick to viewpoint statements. For example, instead of saying, “You’re always putting me down,” say, “I feel put down when you . . .”

Be willing to listen too. Is there something you’ve misunderstood about the situation? Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by clever words, but at the same time, be reasonable and consider all the facts. The Bible wisely admonishes Christians to “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking.”—James 1:19.

Should I Try Internet Dating?

“We E-mailed each other every day. We made plans regarding a place to live and work. I was supposed to take care of the engagement rings. We had not even known each other a month and had not yet met in person.”—Rebecca, Austrialia.*

YOU would really like to meet someone—someone you can get to know, someone you might want to marry. But, thus far, none of your efforts to find someone like that have worked out. Attempts by well-meaning friends and family to set you up with someone have done nothing but embarrass you and have left you more discouraged than ever. So you are wondering if maybe you should turn to technology for help.

In this age of the computer, finding a compatible mate may seem to be just a few clicks away. All you have to do, some say, is log on to a Web site, chat room, or bulletin board that has been specially designed for singles. The New York Times reports that in one month in the United States alone, 45 million people visited on-line dating Web sites. One Internet matchmaker claims to have more than nine million people using its service in 240 countries.

The Appeal of On-Line Dating

Are you shy, and do you find it difficult to meet people? Do you fear rejection? Or do you simply feel there is a lack of potential marriage mates in the area where you live? Then computer dating may appeal to you. For one thing, on-line matchmaking services promise you control over your “dates.” Search boxes that display age groups, countries of residence, personality profiles, pictures, and anonymous screen names are provided. Armed with the power of choice, it may seem that dating on-line is more efficient and less stressful than face-to-face encounters.

What is the reality? Does dating in cyberspace really lead to lasting happiness? Well, consider this: During a six-year period, one matchmaking service had 11 million subscribers. Yet, only 1,475 marriages took place among them. Another dating service with over a million members listed only 75 confirmed marriages! What is wrong with this trend?

A True Picture of Each Other?

“On the Internet,” said one newspaper article, “everyone tends to be attractive, honest, and successful.” But how realistic is the information people provide about themselves? Another news article put it this way: “It is taken for granted that everyone lies a little.” An editor of a popular teen magazine did some personal research into this claim. She joined three of the most popular dating Web sites and shortly received a number of responses. These led to dates with several men. The result? Real failures! The men had blatantly lied about themselves. She warned: “Based on my experience, they lie.”

Misrepresenting one’s height or weight may seem like a little thing. ‘Looks are not that important,’ some may argue. True, the Bible itself says that “charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain.” (Proverbs 31:30) But is lying about seemingly little things a good way to begin a relationship? (Luke 16:10) How confident can you be about other things the person might say about more serious issues, such as personal goals? The Bible says: “Speak truthfully with one another.” (Zechariah 8:16) Yes, honesty provides the foundation for a relationship that can grow.

Dating in cyberspace, though, often involves unrealistic fantasies. A report in Newsweek makes this observation: “Users can carefully edit their e-mails and present themselves in the most flattering way. . . . The result is a positive-feedback loop: they seem nice and interested in you, so you’re nice and interested in them.” As a professor at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies on-line relationships observes, a strong attachment may form very readily in such circumstances. Yet, as often noted, this can’t be counted on to lead to a happy marriage. One man wrote about his experiences with on-line dating: “It’s a trap. Your imagination fills in the blanks with exactly what you want.”

Close Encounters

Some may believe, however, that the lack of personal contact has distinct advantages. They may feel that on-line dating allows couples to focus on what a prospective partner is like on the inside without being distracted by personal appearance. True, the Bible encourages us to focus on a person’s inner qualities. (1 Peter 3:4) Yet, the problem is that in a computer relationship, you cannot observe gestures, smiles, or countenance. You cannot see how he or she treats others or behaves under pressure. And such things are critical in determining if he or she is someone you can come to trust and love. Read the Bible’s description of love found at 1 Corinthians 13:4, 5. Notice that love is defined by behavior, not words. You must therefore take the time to observe a person to see if his or her actions and words match.

Lacking such vital information, couples often start sharing intimate feelings and thoughts early in the courtship. Throwing caution to the wind, some couples hastily make serious romantic commitments, even though they hardly know each other. An article entitled “On the Internet, Love Really Is Blind” tells of two people 8,000 miles apart who met on-line. Three weeks later they met in person. “She wore heavy eye mascara,” said the man. “I don’t date women who wear mascara.” The relationship quickly ended. The results of another in-person meeting were so disappointing that the man, who had paid for the visit, canceled the return portion of the woman’s airline ticket!

A young woman named Edda recalls her own experience with on-line dating. She says: “The relationship was too good to be true. We were planning on getting married.” But when they saw each other in person, the relationship completely flopped. “He was not what I expected but was critical and a complainer. It was just not going to work.” One week later the relationship broke off, leaving Edda totally disillusioned.

In the fantasy world of computer dating, emotions can become intense prematurely. This can leave you vulnerable to emotional devastation if the relationship does not work out—as is likely. “He that is trusting in his own heart is stupid,” warns Proverbs 28:26. Yes, it is unwise to make serious decisions based upon fantasy and emotion. The proverb thus continues: “But he that is walking in wisdom is the one that will escape.”

The Dangers of Haste

Rushing into a relationship when you know little about each other is certainly unwise. The English writer Shakespeare is quoted as saying: “Hasty marriage seldom proveth well.” The Bible counsel is more direct: “Everyone that is hasty surely heads for want.”—Proverbs 21:5.

Sadly, many of those engaging in Internet dating have found that to be true. After corresponding with someone for just one month, Monika, quoted at the outset, hoped that she had found the answer to her desire for a partner. Despite making plans for marriage—even arranging to obtain engagement rings—her hurried relationship ended in “great sorrow.”

You can avoid heartache by heeding the Bible’s counsel: “Shrewd is the one that has seen the calamity and proceeds to conceal himself, but the inexperienced have passed along and must suffer the penalty.” (Proverbs 22:3) However, disappointment and hurt feelings are not the only dangers you might face in computer dating. A future article will consider additional problems.

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