I’m not sure who Ellie Goulding had on her mind when she wrote her hit song, but I can tell you that dating is on the minds of most teenagers and young adults. Period. No matter what survey you look at, one of the top interests of people ages 15-25 is relationships, and specifically, dating relationships. Some believe in arranged marriages. Others have Kissed Dating Goodbye (book by Joshua Harris). Many teens want to date early and often.
What’s the right age to start dating? Rather than answer that question, I write this article for teens who are considering dating relationships, for teens already in relationships, and for parents looking for have that weird discussion with their kids about dating. Let be clear, you DO NOT need to date! But if you are seeking or are in a relationship, remember to always honor God with your actions (1 Corinthians 10:31), and consider the following 7 tips for teenage dating:
1. Focus on being the right person more than finding the right person.
Many magazine articles focus on making lists to help you “find” the right person. However, if you spent more time “being” the right person, you would actually become more attractive to the person you’re trying to reach. Relationships often reveal your character and true self, so why not spend time working on YOU? Being an unhealthy single person doesn’t lead to healthy dating relationships. Spiritually, are you pursuing God? Physically, are you working out and eating healthy? Emotionally, what do your family and friend relationships look like? Mentally, how are you continuing to learn, mature, and grow? Instead of worrying about finding the right guy or girl, run hard and long after God and eventually look up and see who’s running with you.
2. Think long-term implications and short-term applications.
Not every date leads to marriage, but marriage should be your ultimate goal. Don’t compare the start of your relationship with a long term relationships of others. Not every fight leads to a breakup. You might not know if the person you begin dating is going to be your spouse, and that’s OKAY. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or the other person. Laugh. Tell stories. Have fun. However, if you know that you are NOT going to marry the person you’re with, then it’s time to break up.
Change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Choose to grow through your dating experiences. Don’t cling to a relationship merely for comfort when you know in your heart that it’s not going to have a good ending. Dating for convenience ultimately leads to greater scars down the road. The longer you wait to make the change, the harder (not easier) it will become to make the right move. A crash at 5 mph is a lot less damaging than one at 50 mph. Everyone makes a wrong turn now and then, but driving two blocks in the wrong direction is a lot different than driving twenty miles in the wrong direction (especially if you know you’re heading in the wrong direction). With marriage as a long term goal, you can keep perspective with the person your with right now, and have fun and less pressure in the process. If the person you’re with becomes your spouse, then you have plenty of time to experience life together. Don’t rush.
3. Pursue only one person at a time.
I feel sad having to clarify this point, but in a growing culture wear dating multiple people at the same time is becoming more accepted, respect yourself and the person you’re pursuing by only seeking a dating relationship with one person. You are not The Bachelor or Bachelorette who gets to hand out roses to whom you please. Along the same lines, “friends with benefits” is NOT a relationship. If you’re in that situation now, stop. Get out immediately. You’ll thank me later. Your future spouse thanks me as well.
Guys, if you have girls on the “side”, you’re not a man… you’re a boy pretending to be a man. Do you want to be a man? Then pursue a woman who is created in the image of God with respect and honor. Step up. Ask her out. Treat her well. If it doesn’t work out, then you’re free to try again, but pursue the heart of one, not the heart of many.
4. Think of a relationship as river: right direction, healthy boundaries.
Every relationship has the DTR talk eventually (define the relationship). What direction is your relationship heading? What do your close friends and family say? One of the most attractive things about dating my future wife, Samantha, was that I wanted to be a better man of God when I was with her. She brought out my best. I’d like to think that I brought out her best. I’m guessing you can think of couples who began dating and soon you didn’t like hanging around them. Don’t be that couple. If both people pursue God first and foremost, you’ll naturally grow closer together. What direction is your relationship heading?
Healthy dating relationships have conservative physical boundaries. Set up guardrails before hand to put yourself in the best situations possible. Guardrails are set up before hazards, not in them. Chances are you will not have a great purity discussion or strong will power late at night, alone together, watching a movie in your parents basement. Choose ahead of time the best boundaries for your relationship. Don’t put yourself in situations where you’ll be tempted to compromise the integrity of yourself or the other person. Then you’re free to enjoy each other in relationship, knowing that you’re headed in the right direction, with agreed upon standards ahead of time. When people pursue holiness before happiness, you often end up with both. When you pursue happiness over holiness, you usually end up with neither.
5. Ask better questions.
Believe it or not, God wants you to have the best sex possible (yep, I just said that). God doesn’t want you to stay sexually pure before marriage because sex is bad, but because sex is great, when done in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Asking how far is too far is framed from the perspective of wanting to know what you can “get away” with and still be okay. That question comes from our flesh. You’re already headed in the wrong direction when you ask that question. Instead, ask how can I best honor God, myself, and him/her (your boyfriend/girlfriend)? That question comes from the spirit side of you, with the goal of purity. Restraint in the present demonstrates faithfulness to your spouse in the future. For further reading, check out 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, Romans 13:12-14, Ephesian 5:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8.
Temptation is not the same thing as sin. It’s natural to desire physical connection. I hope that you’ll be physically attracted to and have a great sex life with your spouse one day. But as a fish is created for water, sex is created for marriage. A fish out of water cannot survive long, and sexual activities outside of marriage lead to dangerous physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences. If you struggle in this area, ask yourself the question, are you desiring God first or yourself first. If you’ve been sexually active in the past or are currently involve in sexually immoral activities, pray and ask God for forgiveness. Trust God with your future, and choose purity in the present. Struggles are real, but through the power of God, choose to pursue God first, and He will honor your commitment.
6. Be creative in your dating experiences.
Just because you’re not sexually active does not mean that Christian dating relationships are boring. Beyond a movie and dinner, think outside the box of ways to connect with him or her. Be intentional, plan experiences ahead of time, make him or her feel special, and look for ways to be experience life together. Now is the best time to invest in your friendship side of the relationship. Consider some of the following ideas to get you started.
- Go hiking
- Go to a museum – Sounds boring, but take your childhood field trips and turn them into fun date nights
- Take a dance class
- Try a new restaurant
- Host a game night with friends
- Go to a spring training game
- Create a scavenger hunt
- Have breakfast for dinner
- Find a way to serve together
- Go to a festival
- Go to a dollar store and pick out items that remind you of the other person
- Host karaoke night with friends
- Hang at Barnes n Noble
- Watch sunset together
- Try the golf driving range
- Putt putt golf is a classic
- Bowling is another dating classic
- Cook dinner together
- Build a fort together like you made as kids
7. Don’t drop your friends, but build a support system.
We’ve all seen it happen. Your friend gets a new boyfriend or girlfriend. Friend disappears for length of relationship. Friend reappears after break-up. Repeat.
Don’t be that couple. Life is tough alone, and dating relationships are tough without the support of people who love you. Find older couples who are farther down the relationship road than you and seek advice. Find friends to validate how you feel during various stages of your dating life, but who will also speak truth into your life when you need it. Guys, build into other guy relationships because iron sharpens iron. Girls, make sure you have a support system in place because let me tell you… guys do not understand girls. Good friends tell you what you need to know beyond what you want to know. Bad relationships pull away from friends and turn inward. Good dating relationships still invest in their friendships around them.
This list of 7 tips for teenage dating is by no means exhaustive, but I hope you found it helpful. Please share with anyone or everyone who you feel might benefit from these tips. Please comment below with additional tips you have for teenagers looking to date or already in relationships. What other comments, questions, or concerns do you have? I would love to hear from you. Make it a great week, and God bless!
High School Pastor
North Ridge Community Church