Today we come to one of most potentially destructive Christian myths about dating: “Dating is a test drive for marriage.”
Maybe you would never say it like that, but I think that this is where a huge chunk of Christian dating relationships live. If you’re dating, you’re most likely looking toward marriage somewhere on the horizon. So what is your dating relationship right now? It’s a test drive. It’s a probationary period. It’s a 90-day money-back guarantee.
I know, I’m being unfair. But we have all seen dating couples that essentially function as little married couples. I would go so far as to say that our Christian culture pushes dating couples into functioning this way. We give them the impression that every type of intimacy is right and good—except, of course, for physical intimacy. So become socially intimate (your identity is now as a couple). Become emotionally intimate (share every deep dark secret and every shimmering aspiration). Become spiritually intimate (the more joint Bible reading and prayer sessions you can have the more godly your relationship is). Basically, we give dating couples the green light on functioning as a married couple in every way except the sex and the cohabitation.
This is a bit of an aside, but I think this push toward social, emotional, and spiritual intimacy accounts for a lot of the trouble that dating couples encounter when it comes to physical intimacy. Intimacy is intimacy, and people are not wired to be intimate in every way but one. I’m not suggesting we teach dating couples to be cold and distant, but we shouldn’t push them to be marriage-like in general and then act surprised when the physical intimacy follows.
Here’s why we shouldn’t treat dating as a test drive for marriage. Biblically, we have two categories of male/female relationships: brothers and sisters in Christ, and husband and wife. You can throw in “betrothed” as well, but I’m just going to include that in the husband/wife category. Dating isn’t “partially married,” or “temporarily married without benefits.”
Until you are married, you are a brother and sister in Christ. That’s a huge connection, but it doesn’t give you the green light to function like a married couple. It means that a dating relationship is a subset of being brother and sister in Christ. Get to know each other, become more intimate in appropriate ways, but always be aware of the fact that until you enter the married/betrothed arena, you are brother and sister. I think that if Christian couples approached dating this way (regardless of what they call it), relationships would be way less awkward in Christian circles. There will always be some level of awkwardness, but I think this takes some of the pressure off of dating. You’re essentially getting to know each other better until you decide whether or not marriage is what God wants you both to do.
Let me add another reason that dating shouldn’t be a test drive for marriage: Breakups shouldn’t feel like divorces. When a couple lives as though they’re married (even without the sex), a breakup isn’t that much different than a divorce. Your world changes, and someone that you’ve been extremely intimate with (even if you have remained sexually pure) is suddenly an enemy, or at least an awkward acquaintance that you don’t want to run into. I’m not saying that a breakup won’t be awkward or difficult if you structure your dating relationship appropriately, but it shouldn’t look anything like a divorce.
Here is one other problem that comes when dating is treated as a test drive: you end up with a lot of confusion about roles. Marriage comes with certain roles, rights, and responsibilities. But these don’t apply in dating. You have no rights over your boyfriend and girlfriend. As a boyfriend, you are not the “head” of your girlfriend. You haven’t made an unconditional covenant with the other person—remember, you are still brother and sister in Christ. I have seen a lot of confusion result from boyfriends and girlfriends trying to function as pseudo husbands and wives.
Dating gives you the opportunity to get to know another person better, and from there you can decide together whether or not it would glorify God for you to become husband and wife.
But I think that’s decidedly different than “playing the field,” and I’ll explain why in the next post.