Young People Ask . . .

When Can I Start Dating?

“At school you feel like you’re only half a person if you’re not dating someone​—anyone!”​—Brittany.

“There’s a ton of pressure all around me to date. There’s also a ton of cute guys.”​—Whitney.

▪ You see a boy and girl holding hands as they stroll down the school corridor between classes. How do you feel?

□ Don’t care

□ Slightly jealous

□ Completely envious

▪ You’re at the movies with friends when you realize that everyone is paired off​—except you! How do you feel?

□ Don’t care

□ Slightly jealous

□ Completely envious

Your best friend has recently begun showing interest in a member of the opposite sex and is now dating. How do you feel?

□ Don’t care

□ Slightly jealous

□ Completely envious

If you checked “slightly jealous” or “completely envious” in response to any of the above questions, you are not alone. In lands where dating is the custom, many youths would answer the same way. “Sometimes you feel left out because all your peers have boyfriends and you don’t,” says 14-year-old Yvette.

The urge to be with someone special​—and to be with someone who thinks you are special—​can be incredibly strong. “The desire to have a girlfriend gets stronger every day, and it is so hard to deal with!” says one teenage boy. Some actually begin dating at an early age. For example, a Time magazine survey revealed that 25 percent of the 13-year-olds were already “going out or dating.” Do you think they were ready for it? Are you ready to date? To answer that, we first need to address a more basic question.

What Is “Dating”?

You regularly go out with a certain member of the opposite sex.

Are you dating? □ Yes □ No

Several times a day, you text-message or talk on the phone with one particular friend of the opposite sex.

Are you dating? □ Yes □ No

 You and a member of the opposite sex have a secret friendship. Your parents don’t know. You haven’t told them because you know they’ll disapprove.

Are you dating? □ Yes □ No

Every time you get together with your friends, you pair off with the same person of the opposite sex.

Are you dating? □ Yes □ No

Likely, you had no problem answering the first question, but you may have paused before responding to the others. What exactly is dating? In this discussion we will define it as any social activity in which your romantic interest is focused on one particular person and that person’s romantic interest is focused on you. Whether in a group or in private, whether on the phone or in person, whether in the open or in secret, if you and a friend of the opposite sex have a special romantic understanding, it’s dating.

But are you ready to go down that road? A consideration of three questions will help you to find out.

What Are Your Intentions?

In many cultures dating is regarded as a legitimate way for two people to become better acquainted. But dating should have a noble purpose​—to help a young man and woman determine if they would be suitable marriage partners for each other. Why?

The Bible uses the phrase “bloom of youth” to describe the time of life when sexual feelings and romantic emotions become strong. (1 Corinthians 7:36) To maintain close association with one particular member of the opposite sex while you are still in “the bloom of youth” can fan the flames of desire and cause you to learn the hard way the wisdom of Galatians 6:7: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”

Granted, some of your peers might date without any intention of marriage. They may view their opposite-sex friend as nothing more than a trophy or an accessory to be  seen with in public to boost their own self-esteem. Playing with someone’s affections in that way is cruel, and it comes as no surprise that such relationships are often short-lived. “Many young ones who date break up with each other a week or two later,” says a youth named Heather. “They come to view relationships as transitory​—which in a sense prepares them for divorce rather than for marriage.”

Recreational or casual dating​—pairing off merely for fun or for the sake of having a boyfriend or a girlfriend—​can easily lead to hurt feelings. Consider Eric, who at age 18 was innocently enjoying what he thought was just a close friendship with a girl. Then he became aware that for her the friendship meant something more. “Wow! Was I surprised at how fast she got serious,” Eric says. “I really thought we were just friends!”

Of course, it’s not wrong to mix with members of the opposite sex in properly supervised group settings. When it comes to dating, though, it is best to wait until you are past the bloom of youth and in a position to contemplate marriage seriously. That is what a youth named Chelsea came to appreciate. “Part of me wants to say that dating should be just for fun,” she admits, “but it’s no fun when one person is taking it seriously and the other isn’t.”

You’re How Old?

At what age do you think it is appropriate for a youth to start dating? ․․․․․

Now ask one or both of your parents the same question, and fill in their answer. ․․․․․

Chances are, the first number you wrote down is lower than the second. Or maybe not! You might be among the many youths who are wisely putting off dating until they’re old enough to know themselves better. That is what a young Christian named Sondra has decided to do, even though she is already of legal age to marry. Sondra reasons: “In the dating process you want someone else to get to know you. But if you don’t know yourself, how can you expect someone else to figure you out?”

Danielle, 17, feels similarly. She says: “Thinking back to two years ago, what I would have looked for in a potential mate was so different from what I would look for now. Basically, even at this point I don’t trust myself to make such a decision. When I feel that  my personality has been stable for a couple of years, then I’ll think about dating.”

Are You Ready to Get Married?

Since dating is a stepping-stone to marriage, you would do well to ask yourself if you can tackle the responsibility that comes with being a husband or a wife​—or even a father or a mother. How do you know if you’re ready for that? Consider the following.

Relationships How do you treat your parents and siblings? Do you often lose your self-control with them, perhaps using harsh or sarcastic language to make a point? What would they say about you in this regard? How you deal with family members indicates how you will treat a mate.​—Ephesians 4:31, 32.

Finances How well do you handle money? Are you always in debt? Can you hold down a job? If not, why not? Is it because of the job? the employer? Or is it because of some undesirable trait on your part? If you cannot responsibly handle your own finances, how will you do so for a family?​—1 Timothy 5:8.

Spirituality If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, what are your spiritual attributes? Do you take the initiative to read God’s Word, to engage in the ministry, and to participate at Christian meetings? If you are not maintaining your own spirituality, how will you encourage a mate to do so?​—2 Corinthians 13:5.

These are just a few things you need to consider if you are thinking about dating and marriage. In the meantime, you may interact with members of the opposite sex in appropriate group settings. Later, if you choose to date, you will have a better idea of who you are and of what you need in a lifelong partner.

The Secret of Family Happiness

More information can be found on pages 13-26 of this book, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

More articles from the “Young People Ask . . .” series can be found at the Web site www.watchtower.org/​ype

TO THINK ABOUT

▪ In what appropriate settings can you mix with members of the opposite sex?

▪ What quality do you most need to work on in order to have potential as a marriage mate?

[Box/​Pictures on page 28]

What Some of Your Peers Say

“I sometimes feel jealous of dating couples​—even married couples. But dating is not just for fun. If it is, you are playing with someone’s heart. I think that dating is to find out if this other person is really the person you want to marry.”​—Blaine, 17.

“I don’t think that you should date boys just as a ‘rehearsal’ for when someone you really like comes along. That would just lead to hurt feelings.”​—Chelsea, 17.

“I really think that you should be old enough to get married before you begin dating. Otherwise, it would be like going to an interview for a full-time job when you’re still in school and really have no intention of accepting the job.”​—Sondra, 21.

[Box on page 30]

A NOTE TO PARENTS

The dating issue is certain to be thrust upon your children sooner or later. “I don’t even have to do anything!” says Phillip. “Girls ask me out, and I stand there thinking, ‘Oh, what am I going to do now?’ It’s hard to say no because some of them are very beautiful!”

The best thing that you can do as parents is talk to your teen about dating. Why not use this article as a basis for discussion? Find out how your son or daughter feels about the challenges he or she faces at school and even in the Christian congregation. Sometimes such discussions can take place on informal occasions, such as “when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road.” (Deuteronomy 6:6, 7) Whatever the setting, remember to be “swift about hearing, slow about speaking.”​—James 1:19.

If your son or daughter expresses interest in someone of the opposite sex, do not panic. “When my dad found out that I had a boyfriend, he was so upset!” says one teenage girl. “He tried to scare me by asking me all these questions about whether I was ready for marriage​—which, when you’re young, can make you feel like you want to prolong the relationship and prove your parents wrong!”

If your teen knows that dating is not even up for discussion, something tragic may happen: He or she may drive the relationship underground and date secretly. “When parents overreact,” says one girl, “it only makes kids want to hide the relationship more. They don’t stop. They just get sneakier.”

You will get far better results by having frank discussions. A young woman, 20 years of age, says: “My parents have always been very open with me about dating. It’s important for them to know who I’m interested in, and I think that’s nice! My dad will talk to the person. If there are any concerns, my parents tell me. Usually I decide I’m not interested before it even reaches the dating level.”

[Picture on page 29]

Mixing with members of the opposite sex in appropriate group settings can be wholesome and beneficial