Young People Ask . . .

Young Dating—What’s the Harm?

“Lately, some of the boys at school have been asking me out or to be their girlfriend.”—Becky, 11 years old. *

“Most of the kids in our school date. In fact, it is not unusual to see boys and girls kissing right in the hallways.”—Liana, a 10th-grade student.

MANY youths begin to date at a very young age. The media promote this practice as normal—as if it were harmless recreation. Twelve-year-old Oneyda relates: “Almost everyone in school has a boyfriend or a girlfriend.” A young woman named Jenifer recalls: “I remember kids in the third grade who were going steady.” She adds: “I started to feel the pressure to date when I was 11 years old.”

Understandably, then, if you are not dating someone, you may feel left out. Indeed, you may even get teased and ridiculed for not doing so. Feeling that she was too young to date, Jenifer turned down boys who asked her out. Their reaction? Jenifer recalls: “They made fun of me and joked about it.” No one likes to be ridiculed. But should you date just because others are doing so? Just what is dating? And what purpose does it serve?

What Is Dating?

‘We’re not dating. We’re just friends,’ many youths claim, even though they are spending a lot of time with someone of the opposite sex. But whatever you call it—dating, going together, or just seeing each other—when a boy and a girl single each other out and start spending time together socially, more than friendship is usually involved. And dating does not have to be in person. Discussions in Internet chat rooms, on the telephone, through the mail, or by E-mail can also be forms of dating.

The question is, Just how serious is it to spend time almost exclusively with someone of the opposite sex?

Dating—The Dangers

At Proverbs 30:19, the Bible speaks of “the way of an able-bodied man with a maiden.” This expression suggests that male-female relationships tend to follow a pattern. When  both parties are mature and hold to godly morals, dating can lead to love and, eventually, to honorable marriage. After all, God created man and woman to be attracted to each other. But what if you are not old enough to handle marriage? By dating prematurely, you are setting yourself up for a fall.

Why? Because if you spend a lot of time around someone of the opposite sex, it is only natural that your emotions will become aroused. Before you realize it, you look forward to seeing that one. When you are not together, you find yourself thinking about him or her. All too often, though, the feelings are one-sided—and someone gets a broken heart. And even when the feelings are mutual, frustration and heartbreak still result when one or the other is not mature enough or old enough to get married. Really, where can such a relationship go? A Bible proverb says: “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?”—Proverbs 6:27.

Consider a youth named Nina. She relates: “I met a boy on-line. We talked in a chat room for hours every day. I became emotionally attached to him, and my life revolved around him. The relationship didn’t last for long. When it ended I became very depressed. Then he called me and told me that he was going to kill himself because of the breakup. That made me even more depressed.” Looking back, Nina concludes: “It was not worth it! The relationship ended two years ago, and I’m still suffering from depression.” Nina was simply too young to become emotionally involved with someone.

Interestingly, when the Bible speaks of “the way of an able-bodied man with a maiden,” it may refer to sexual relations. In today’s world, dating is often a prelude to sexual relations. It may begin innocently, just by holding hands. A quick hug and a kiss on the cheek may be next. It is one thing for two young adults who have made a serious commitment to each other to make such expressions of affection. But when two people are too young to get married, such behavior does little more than needlessly inflame sexual desire. Acts of “affection” can become increasingly inappropriate or unclean. They can even lead to some form of fornication. *

The fruits of fornication are bitter. Some who engage in it contract sexually transmitted diseases. Others suffer a loss of self-esteem and damage their conscience. Some young girls find themselves pregnant. No wonder that the Bible gives this command: “Flee from fornication”! (1 Corinthians 6:13, 18; 1 Thessalonians 4:3) Avoiding  premature dating will help you to heed this command.

When to Date

This does not mean that you will never be able to date. But if you are a teenager, you are probably in what the Bible calls “the bloom of youth.” (1 Corinthians 7:36) You are just beginning to blossom into the man or the woman that you will eventually be. During this period of time, you begin to mature physically, emotionally, and sexually. Your feelings—including sexual desires—may be as strong as they will ever be. However, those feelings may also be subject to rapid changes. For this reason, teen romances tend to be very short-lived. “When I’d date,” recalls one teenage girl, “it was usually on one week and off the next.”

Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to date during “the bloom of youth.” It is best to wait until you know who you are, what your likes and dislikes are, and what goals you wish to pursue. Also, you should be old enough to carry out the responsibilities of marriage. For example, Jehovah expects a husband to provide for his family—physically, materially, and spiritually. If you are a teenage boy, are you prepared to get a job and care for a wife and possibly children? Are you in a position to assist them in maintaining their spirituality? And what if you are a young girl? A wife is required to love and respect her husband; she must support the decisions he makes. Are you really prepared to do so on a long-term basis? Also, are you ready to manage a household day in and day out—to prepare meals and take care of children?—Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-31; 1 Timothy 5:8.

To illustrate: In Western lands young people dream of driving the family car. But what does a youth have to do before he or she is allowed to do so? In most lands you have to get some training and take a test before you are given that license. Why? Because driving is a serious responsibility. Your life and the lives of others will be in your hands when you get behind the steering wheel. Well, marriage is also a very serious responsibility! As a teenager, you may simply not be ready for it yet. In that case, you would be wise to resist the temptation to date, since dating is a step toward finding a marriage mate. Put simply: If you are not ready for marriage, you shouldn’t date.

To make a wise decision in this regard, you need what the Bible calls “knowledge and thinking ability.” (Proverbs 1:4) It might be a good idea, then, to take advantage of the knowledge and experience of someone older. Christian parents are usually in the best position to help you assess your readiness for marriage. And you may also want to get some advice from mature members of the Christian congregation. If your parents do not want you to date, you do well to cooperate with them. Their desire is to help you “ward off calamity.”—Ecclesiastes 11:10.

If they feel that you are not ready to date, they may recommend that in the meantime, rather than restricting your attention to one person, you widen out your circle of friends. Associating with people single and married, old and young, as well as with those your own age, can help you to round out your personality and get a more realistic view of life and marriage.

Waiting until you are ready to date will not be easy. But it is worth the wait. By using “the bloom of youth” to grow up into a mature, responsible adult, you will spare yourself a host of problems. You will give yourself the time to develop into the kind of person who can handle the pressures and responsibilities of marriage. You will also allow yourself time to grow into a spiritual person. That way, when you are finally ready to date, others may very well see you as someone really worth getting to know better.

[Footnotes]

^ par. 3 Some of the names have been changed.

^ par. 14 The original Greek word for fornication is por·neiʹa. It refers to sexual activity involving the use of the genital organs, carried on outside the bonds of marriage. This includes the manipulation of genital organs and oral sex.

[Picture on page 26]

Acts of affection often lead to trouble