Love, Dating and Marriage
(Ladies, this letter was written to the guys, but it would also be good for you to read. Most of the principles discussed are just as true for you in your relationships as for the guys, after all, they end up being opposite sides of the same relationship. This letter may also give you an idea of how you should expect to be treated by your boyfriend and eventual husband.)
It is very interesting, and even entertaining at times, to see many of my students and friends beginning to become involved in dating relationships. I will start by saying that I am not against dating in college. Like most things in life it can be either positive or negative depending on what you make of it. While I am not against dating in college, I do have some concerns as I see my students, whom I do care about very much, getting involved in relationships. My concern is not with dating itself, but rather with people’s reasons for dating and the way it is handled. I am also concerned with the lack of input from parents and others who have walked these roads and have the wisdom that comes from experience. The following is a collection of my thoughts on how to develop healthy relationships that are based on true love and not those things that the world presents to us as being love. It is my hope that in a time when the advice of parents is regarded as useless and “too traditional” because of a “generation gap” these words may be used to help those who are looking for love wherever it may be found.
My Assumptions and Definition of Love
All people have assumptions they hold to be true that affect their thoughts whether they realize it or not. I am sure that I have many assumptions that I do not notice, but rather than trying to avoid those I know I do have, I will acknowledge them right from the beginning. I hold the Bible as being the Word of God, which is true in its entirety and is the basis for not only how God wants us to live, but how the God Who created us knows is best for us. We were created for love both from our Creator and from other people. In fact God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18).” “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).” God made us to have fellowship with Him and with others. God created men and women, God created, and in fact is, love and God created sex. He created these things to be good, both pleasing and practical. God knows that we desire love. “What a man desires is unfailing love (Proverbs 19:22).” These desires are right and good. They are given by God. It is distortions in our views of these gifts that can lead to ruined lives and dreams. As we follow God’s plan for our lives, including our relationships, we will find the most fulfillment and joy. When we leave God’s plan, all of our relationships will suffer.
My definition of love goes beyond emotions. Yes, when you love someone you may “feel” love for them. But love is much more. Love is commitment. Love is considering the other person before yourself. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).”
Physical Contact Between Boyfriend and Girlfriend
People are looking for love. People are looking for acceptance, closeness, intimacy and oneness with another. People are looking for the person with whom they can share their lives, their hopes, their dreams, their failures and successes, their sorrows and joys. Physical closeness can fulfill some of these desires. It can provide feelings of acceptance and closeness. It can provide the desired intimacy at some levels (although not all). I understand these desires full well. One thing I miss while away from home is a good hug from my family. We do have a desire, and I would even say a need, for physical contact. Those who love us often show this love in part through physical contact. However, this connection between love and physical contact can be misunderstood. Instead of love being the motivator for physical contact, physical contact is often a motivator for what is thought to be love. This is where one of my concerns arises.
I see many students holding hands as they walk around campus. I live in an area of campus where couples come to spend time together. This has shown me that people do more than just holding hands. I have even heard students voice the opinion that “there is nothing wrong with living together before marriage. In fact, this is important to see how things will work out between a couple.” (I will deal with this in a later section. For now I will deal with less serious physical contact.)
I do not have anything against holding hands, and I will even concede a kiss now and then, but when physical contact is becoming a central part of the relationship an unhealthy trend has been created. (Note that I am conceding an occasional kiss, but not recommending it. If you feel that kissing is inappropriate or makes you feel uncomfortable, it is certainly fine to not include this in your relationship.) Love is built on respect for the other as a person, for their thoughts, their personality, etc. False love is built on physical contact. Physical contact can create a situation that is hard to get out of. It is nice to have another person hold us, etc. These things do feel good, and rightly so, but they can encourage us to stay in a relationship that should not be continued. They can falsely create the feelings of love and acceptance.
Living Together Before Marriage
This discussion of physical contact is not complete without a brief look at living together before marriage. I have had students express the thought that “Of course it is fine to live together before getting married. In fact it is necessary to see if things will work out. You learn a lot about a person when you live with them, so this needs to be tested.” I do certainly agree that you learn a lot about a person when you live with them, however this does not mean that this “test” is ok before marriage. When you marry, you will learn many things about your spouse that you had not realized before, many of these things may surprise you and be negative in your eyes. Yes, it is important to get to know someone before you marry them, but this needs to be done without living together. It is important to get to know a person’s character so well, that you know that those details which will be discovered will not be anything that will destroy your relationship. This is one more reason why excessive physical contact can be dangerous. When “love” is created or maintained by physical contact it is easy to miss really getting to know a person. When marriage comes, and it is time to live together, there is more than only physical contact. The real issues of who the person is will be known. Even when living together without the commitment of marriage, it is possible to at least partially hide the real person, to hide the negative aspects. There is no commitment, there is limited dependency on one another. These factors leave a space for potential problems not to be found even by the “test” of living together. On the other hand, living together can create an unhealthy bond and dependency that is built more on physical and selfish love than on committed, giving love. It can also destroy future relationships, assuming that the present relationship ends, or decrease the value of the eventual marriage, if the relationship progresses to that point.
I want to make sure that it is completely clear that sex is to be saved until after you are married. Today’s culture says that it is ok to have sex before marriage. For the reasons listed above as well as many more, it is not.
(As a side note, I would like to mention that a good way to see how someone may be to live with is to see how they get along with their roommates. Do they get along well with their roommates or are there usually problems? This is not a guaranteed indicator, but it would be something useful to look at.)
“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure… (Hebrews 13:4).”
The Value of Marriage
In my view, both the purpose and value of marriage are commitment. (This is also a strong factor in my definition of true love.) Marriage is a commitment to be with a person physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, etc. forever (until death anyhow). Today’s culture has cheapened marriage by the wide acceptance of divorce and even of affairs within marriage. I commonly hear that “I will stay with my wife (or husband), but if we find that we don’t love each other or don’t get along we need to get a divorce.” This attitude does two things. First, it creates an atmosphere where divorce is more likely and I would even say very likely. Second, it lessens the importance of taking the time to really get to know a person before marriage.
If the possibility of divorce is left open, then a husband and wife will be less committed to working through their difficulties and differences. If divorce is ruled out as a possibility right from the beginning, spouses will know that they need to work though these problems. Love is commitment. Love is not only an emotion. The emotion of love will come and go. There will be times when even the best married couple will feel frustrated and will not feel the romantic feeling of “love”. However, love as a commitment pushes through these times and says “I love you and am committed to you no matter what. We will make this work.” This commitment to each other will then cause both people to work through difficulties and to have a deeper love and understanding in the end.
Moving Towards Marriage
In our desire to have relationships, many guys have a girlfriend that they know they will not marry. They may desire to have the experience of having this type of relationship with someone. They may be lonely. They may feel that this will fill a need in their life. They may even have the desire to bring someone else happiness. The desire to make your girlfriend happy should be present, but it too can be a selfish reason for dating if having the feeling of making another happy is your motivation for dating. When I was young, I wanted to have something or someone to take care of and show my love. At that time I got a pet hamster. Yes, my desire was to show love to something, but this was because of my desire to give (and receive the good feeling of giving), not because of a genuine love for the one receiving the love, in this case the hamster. This may be a childish example, but it is still true that we can even have the desire to care for others out of a need to feel the value of giving to others. Each of these reasons for desiring a girlfriend has selfish desires and needs at its core. Relationships should be out of a genuine care and desire to see the best for the other. Their needs should be considered before your own.
With a hamster, this selfish care is not a problem, but when dealing with people this is a problem. Emotional bonds develop between people that are not easily broken and can result in deep hurt. Anytime a relationship ends it brings hurt, but to create these bonds knowing that they will be broken can cause a deeper hurt. This is especially true if your girlfriend is taking the relationship seriously while you think of it more casually. This dishonesty throughout the relationship can cause deep hurt to your girlfriend as well as lessening your own view of love. It creates the view that love is something to be used to serve your own purposes and desires, to make you feel good.
Even if both people are fully aware that the dating relationship is not leading towards marriage, it can still cause problems. It strengthens the view that love should fill your desires and needs. It also strengthens the desire to have a romantic relationship. Once such a relationship has been experienced, it is harder to be without a relationship. It is harder to be patient. This can create a cycle of going from relationship to relationship, to fill the need of having someone to care for and to care for you. The cycle of beginning and ending relationships and the view that love can be used to serve your own purposes can become habits that carry over into marriage.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying that you will or should marry a person you date. You may very well start to date someone and then as you get to know her learn that you will not marry her. At this time you should end the dating relationship. It is hard to end relationships, but the sooner it is done the easier it will be. Ending the relationship will only become harder with time (or the relationship will slowly deteriorate and cause continual pain for both of you).
It is difficult for me to give specific guidelines defining the difference between good friends and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. Different cultures have different limits between friends. (In some cultures you may even kiss your friends when you greet them.) Knowing what type of relationship you are in is something that you will need to determine for yourself.
Internet relationships, boyfriend and girlfriend type relationships as well as more casual relationships, are becoming more and more popular. I can see many reasons for this. People long to share their lives with another, to share their deepest thoughts and desires. At the same time, people are becoming more and more worried about sharing these thoughts with those they know. It is not safe in the same way that internet relationships are safe. If something goes wrong with an internet friend, they are not able to talk to others about you. You are able to simply shut them off. Many times it is easier to express your deeper feelings and desires when you cannot see the person directly. This is true even if you are writing with someone that you do know. Somehow, talking online adds enough distance to make this communication seem less dangerous. I agree with all of the things I have just said. I agree they are true, I do not necessarily agree that they are the correct way to share our lives.
Developing real friendship does require risk, and may result in getting hurt at times. If we are more concerned about protecting ourselves than developing real friendships then we can do so. However, if we want to develop friendships that will reach down into our souls, that will bring some of that fellowship we are looking for, we do need to take a risk. We need to be willing to invest ourselves in those around us. When we find our release and our openness in a friend online we will be less likely, not to mention having less time, to invest in friendships with those in our day to day life. I regularly hear about feelings of loneliness. People have gone to the internet to find a solution to this loneliness and, in my opinion, have only made the situation worse.
There are further complications with developing relationships online. These relationships are built with the emotional closeness of sharing deep feelings without the need for real trust. This is not a good situation. Openness in a relationship and trust need to develop together, at the same time. Openness, followed by faithfulness, should develop trust which leads to more openness, and so on. Openness online can lead to false feelings of love. We long to have open relationships with others. When we experience this with others over the internet a “love” can develop. However, real love is based on loving the person for whom they are as a whole person, not just how they make us feel by filling a need we have to be open with others and to have others be open with us. Real love is based on whom the other person is, not on how they make us feel. Don’t get me wrong, real love should have both deep and real openness and deep and real trust. However, these should come from the love of the other, not be the cause of those feelings of love.
(Notice that this section talked about relationships in general, including ,but not limited to, dating relationships.)
Keeping In Contact With Others
As I have talked to, and heard about couples on campus, as well as having been introduced to my friends’ girlfriends and boyfriends, I have seen several different ways that these relationships are handled. Some students are open with their relationship, both with their friends as well as their parents. Others are open with their friends, but have not talked to their parents. Some are closed to both their friends and their parents. Some spend most of their free time with their boyfriend or girlfriend and some try to balance their time among several friends as well as their boyfriend or girlfriend.
As I referred to in the introduction, I feel that there is much wisdom to be gained in talking with parents about dating relationships. Your parents have had a relationship (I can say that with confidence. ?) as well as having the wisdom that comes with experiencing life through the years. Yes, times change, but in their heart people are the same from generation to generation. They may express themselves differently in different generations, but people’s desires and needs have not changed. Also, concerning areas where society and culture have changed, change does not always mean advancement. Parents can give a different perspective from modern culture on what is moral and right. It may just be that they are correct.
It is also important to spend time with other friends. All of your support and emotional closeness should not come from your girlfriend. Your other friends can help you gain perspective on your relationship. Whether you want to hear it or not is a different question. Developing your other friendships also gives you more than one source of support. When all of your support and closeness comes from one person, it is not only difficult to leave that person, but also difficult to see the need to leave a bad relationship.
(Note: This section is true for dating relationships. The rules and support systems change after marriage. After marriage, it is still good to have other friends, but your primary support should come from your wife and you should defend her against anything that is said against her.)
How You Should Treat Your Girlfriend (and eventual wife)
Guys, here are some thoughts on how you should treat your girlfriend (and eventual wife). I hope this will give you some idea on how to build and maintain a caring relationship. I have not dealt with specific ways to show your love to your girlfriend since these may change from culture to culture. I have dealt more with the broader issues that are true for any culture that focuses on love centered relationships. (Some cultures do have utilitarian marriage customs.)
Your girlfriend should be treated like a princess, the most important person in your world. She should know that you would give anything for her (including not only your finances, but also your time, respect, honor, etc.)
Valuing her and treating her as a princess means many things. It means that you respect her. You respect her thoughts enough to listen and genuinely care. You value her relationship enough to be willing to put in the time and effort to do what it takes to maintain and strengthen that relationship. You trust her enough to not feel the need to watch her every move and to know what she is doing at all times. (You may desire to know what she is doing out of a genuine interest in her life, but not out of jealousy and distrust.) You should value her as a person and not see her as lower than yourself. You should serve her, as she too should serve you. (You should not demand that she serve you. Your job is to serve her, not to make sure she is serving you.) Your relationship should be one of mutual respect, dedication, love and service out of love for one another. You should value her needs above your own. She should know that she is completely accepted and loved for who she is, not for what she can do for you or the way she makes you feel.
Most people desire to be married. This desire, together with pressures from those around us and the fear of not getting married, can lead people to marry someone that they know is not best for them. They may enjoy the person’s company, but at the same time know that this is not the person that they would most desire to spend the rest of their lives with. I cannot promise that each of you will get married. (Hey, I don’t even know who all will end up reading this letter.) However, as I think of those I do know and care for, I can only urge you to wait. My mom told me that the person whom I choose to marry is the second most important decision I will make in life. While the most important decision, accepting or rejecting God, affects this life and all of eternity, the decision of whom you marry can make this life more like heaven or a living hell.
Wait for that girl who treats you as you should be treated and is committed to loving you for whom you are, and not only what you can do for them or how you make them feel.
So What Is Healthy?
I have spent much time dealing with what is not healthy in relationships, but the fact is that we are still looking for love. People do want to have open, intimate relationships with others whom they trust and respect. What is appropriate? What is healthy? What is beneficial to finding and maintaining true lasting, committed love? These are great questions, these are the right questions to be asking. I will begin by admitting that I want to say “I have no idea.” It is easy to look at relationships and see what is being done incorrectly. It is much more difficult to figure out exactly what others are doing correctly, to see what works. For this reason, the answers I give will be broad and deal with larger issues and attitudes, rather than listing specific ways to approach relationships. Let’s look for some answers.
It is good to have relationships which are based on truth, trust, openness and mutual care and concern. We were made for such relationships. This is true not only for romantic relationships, but in all of our friendships.
If one of your friendships does move into a dating relationship, the same, or greater, respect and mutual concern that was expected from and given to all your friends should still be present in your relationship with your girlfriend. These relationships of mutual respect and desire to see the best done for the other are healthy. Relationships which are built on an enjoyment of each other’s company, enjoyment of knowing the person for who they are and getting to know them better with the passing of time and in different circumstances is good and healthy. Relationships that give, and put the other first, are good and healthy.
Physically, it is hard to say what is good and healthy. However, I will give this advice towards developing healthy relationships. Know your standards, what you believe to be good and right, before you are in a dating situation. When you are with your girlfriend it is easy to desire closer physical intimacy. Know in advance where your limits are. I would also suggest staying as far away from impurity as possible instead of seeing how much you can do without being improper. Keeping physical contact where it should be, as a way to show love, rather than as the source of the feelings of “love” is good and healthy.
Seeking the Source of Love
Even the best, most fulfilling marriage, or any other human relationship, is not perfect. God created marriage as a reflection of the love He has for us, but it is only a dim reflection. The only place to find the perfect love we desire is to know God and have a relationship with Him. We were created for the purpose of knowing God and enjoying His friendship and love. He loves us perfectly and purely. It is because we have turned from Him and His love that we are missing the greatest love of all. Only in experiencing the love of God can we fill the longing we have in our hearts, and only in experiencing this love can we truly learn to love others. God desires to give you His love in abundance. Holding to a high moral standard will never bring us to God, it will never bring perfection. It is only through admitting we have turned away from God’s love and by accepting His forgiveness, which He has provided through Jesus, that we can come back into relationship with our Creator. Come to Him through Jesus and experience the love He has for you.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”
I would like to thank my parents for their amazing example of what it means to be truly committed and giving as well as every other virtue I have mentioned in this paper. Thank you for your example of true, selfless love in both the good and the hard times, through forgiveness and commitment as well as through shared joys and blessings. I would also like to thank you for the insights, which you have learned from experience and time, that you have taught me, many of which have been included in this paper.
I would also thank my sisters for letting me live without fear of their decisions in relationships. As I see it, my role as an older brother has several important responsibilities. I am to encourage, support, teach and protect. I am able to encourage my sisters though I rarely see them. I may not be there physically for them, but I am able to encourage them in other ways. I am able to support my sisters through our separation. I can keep them in my prayers before our Heavenly Father. I am able to teach my sisters through our separation. I am able to tell them what I am learning. Furthermore, I feel that my job of teaching in some ways is done. It was my job to show them such love and respect so they will expect no less from any boy that they eventually date and marry. I feel that they have learned what it is to be loved and respected. The final role as I see it is to protect. That I cannot do while apart from them. They are, in many ways, out of my ability to protect them. I cannot protect them physically, mentally or from making bad decisions in life. This is where I would like to give my thanks to my sisters. They have chosen to live lives that I am not concerned about. I am not at all worried about them making a wrong decision about whom to date or marry. I am not worried about them acting inappropriately with a boy or to be in a hurry to find a boyfriend. I know they will wait on God’s perfect plan for their lives. This knowledge has allowed me to live apart from them without regret, knowing that the only area in which I am not able to fill my role as a brother does not need to be filled. Thank you. Thank you. I am more grateful for this blessing than you know.
Let me know if you think these sections are worth including
Notes to Self – I am not content with my value of Marriage being so strongly placed on commitment. While this is certainly true, there is more. I can’t put my finger on what it is. Mom/Dad, do you have any suggestions or thoughts?
Dating – The word dating, as I have used in this paper, refers to romantic relationships, which are often exclusive in nature. It does not refer to simple friendships. For example, when I was in college one of my best friends was a girl. We both knew that we were not going to get married, but we did have a good time together so we would often get together. There was no exclusivity to our relationship. We often did things with groups, though not always. While we did take the school dance lessons together, there was no physical relationship (holding hands, etc.) between us. We were simply good friends. In this paper, I would not consider this to be dating. However, I would not argue with anyone who claimed that this was dating. Dating could be used to refer to any time spend with someone of the opposite sex for the purpose of getting to know them more and/or to enjoy their company. I agree that this is also an accurate definition of dating, but it is not the one that I have used in this paper. In this paper, the term “dating” is used in much the same way that the terms “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” would be used.
Boyfriend/Girlfriend – The definition of “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is the same as “dating” as I have used them in this paper.
Notes to myself on Definition of dating – some people have a very casual view of dating of sex in dating. I need to make sure to be clear that the paper applies to all such relationships, not only committed ones.
A glimpse at the movies and the popular view of love
The movies present sex and love, if you really love a person you will sleep with them. The commitment is there even if you are not married.
Titanic, a movie that has influenced the entire world, presents selfishness as love. Jack was selfish in that his motives were to use Rose. He used her for several reasons. Most blantently was his using her for sex. He also used her emotionally to have someone to be with and to fill a desire for companion ship. Rose used Jack as a way of escaping from the bad situation she was in (I will not deny that she was in a bad situation, but her way of getting out was inappropriate). Rose used Jack for the emotional closeness that she was not receiving in her present relationship.
The movie was well made and presents Jack and Rose as having real love. In reality, they were both motivated by their own selfish desires, not by a love for the other. Truly wanting the best for the other would mean putting the other first. This would involve Jack controlling himself, instead of taking advantage of Rose’s desire for emotional attachment, and waiting until they got married to sleep together.
Breaking up and starting over
Don’t start dating right away. The desire certainly exists to continue having a close relationship with another. This can lead to quickly finding another girlfriend to fill that hole. Quickly changing relationships in this way is bad for both people involved.