When I first met my husband dating him was the last thing on my mind.

We met at a Christian drama group. He was dating someone else. I was in love with someone else (and soon dating that guy). I didn’t even really consider dating Keith.

But we hit it off famously. And we started to do things together, mostly in a group. We’d hang out. We went to Bible study. We had lunch. We’d go out for dessert (none of us had money for going out for dinner).

And about a year into this friendship, after I had dumped the other guy, I realized that I actually liked Keith. Like, REALLY liked him. And so I told him. And we started dating.

My feelings for him grew out of a completely platonic friendship.

Do we focus so much on courtship and on stopping kids from dating that we make it too difficult for them to form healthy relationships? From a mom who used to be full-throttle courtship--some new thoughts as her kids grew older. A few years ago I wrote a post that has gone viral: 7 Steps to Raising a Teen Who Won’t Date Too Young. I wrote it when my girls were 15 and 13. Now they’re 18 and 16. And so I thought it may be time to revisit what I said, and talk about what I did right, and what I did wrong.

If you haven’t read that post, let me sum it up. I said that I believed that the purpose of dating was to figure out who to marry; anything else was just inviting temptation and playing with people’s hearts. So you really shouldn’t date until you’re in a position to marry. And even if you find someone wonderful when you’re young, those years are better spent trying to figure out who you are. Go on missions trips. Get part-time jobs. Encourage a wide range of friendships. When we date, our social world often becomes very small, and then we miss out on many of the chances to figure out what we like and what our calling in life might be.

I didn’t write about setting a series of rules for kids, because I honestly don’t think that works. In this age of cell phones and computers, kids will find ways to “date” even if they don’t go out one on one. So it’s really more about a mindset than it is rules. It’s about raising kids who have your values, and that means talking with them constantly, doing things with them, modelling a great relationship, and emphasizing your values.

I did all that. And now let me tell you how my girls have done, and what I now think as Becca is at the age where she is starting to date a bit.

Teenagers, Dating and Courtship1. My Girls Haven’t Had “Relationships”

Neither of my daughters has had a serious relationship over their teen years. My youngest is still determined to not to date in high school (you can watch a video of her explaining why here); my oldest has had a few guys she might have been interested in, but it went nowhere and it wasn’t that big a deal. She didn’t start getting interested in anyone until she was 17. So they both have held off dating. Yay!

2. My Girls Have Had a TON of Male Friends

One thing that they have done well, though, is that they’ve had a ton of male friends, and for this I’m grateful. I think it’s a good thing to have friends of the opposite sex. It helps them figure out what they like and what they don’t like. It gives them a wider circle of friends. And since my girls have grown up in a family of almost all women, it helps them understand guys. And that’s important!

My girls really are social butterflies. Perhaps because they’ve been involved in Bible quizzing (sounds nerdy; it’s incredibly fun), they’ve met kids from all over North America. And Katie (my 16-year-old) has almost nightly Skype “dates” (they’re not really dates) with a whole lot of different people, some of whom are male. She’s making some wonderful friends.  Rebecca has gotten involved in a college and careers group in a neighbouring university town from ours, and drove out there every Sunday night this year to meet up with some kids. Again, a wonderful experience. And they both go to a camp where there are a ton of Christians. So they have a very wide circle of Christian friends, and they talk to these friends with social media quite a bit.

They have not missed out on anything by not dating, in my opinion. They still have friends; in fact, they have more than if they had been dating. And they have spared themselves a lot of heartache. So I’m grateful.

3. My Girls Love God

First and foremost, both my girls put God first. You don’t have to take my word for it; here’s Rebecca’s blog, where she’s asking the question “why do we emphasize marriage and not God?”

So those are the good things.

Now for the things I’m not as happy about.

1. You Can’t Avoid Heartache–for Everyone

I was naive and thought that, “as long as they don’t date, they won’t have heartache”! To a large extent that’s been true. But my girls have still gone through periodic “will anyone really like me?” periods of angst. It hasn’t been that bad, but it’s been there.

But one thing I forgot was that even if THEY don’t have heartache, guys can. And my girls have had to turn down quite a few guys, and it’s been difficult. There is no way to avoid awkwardness with the opposite sex as a teen, unless you stop talking to those of the opposite sex altogether. And so I wish I had been more proactive in talking to my girls about how to talk to guys when it’s obvious someone likes them.

But the most important thing:

2. “Courtship” May Distort Their View of Marriage and Dating

We emphasized dating=marriage so much that I was worried my girls were fleeing in the opposite direction if they didn’t think they could marry someone. So if one is out for coffee with someone, and she can’t picture herself marrying him, she doesn’t go again.

Yet for about an entire year I couldn’t picture myself marrying Keith. Our love grew out of a friendship. So if you write off everyone you don’t think you can marry after one cup of coffee, you write off an awful lot of people.

We’ve talked and revisited this quite a bit this year, and so my girls no longer have that feeling. But I am afraid that with all the talk of courtship going on in Christian circles, we may be setting up many of our kids never to marry–or to have a hard time finding a mate.

My daughter wants to blog about this soon, and I’ll link to her when she does. (Update: Here’s her link, “Why I Don’t Court“). But her feelings have evolved on this one, as have mine as I’ve watched her grow up.

I still believe that we shouldn’t seriously date someone we won’t marry. But my definition of “dating” has perhaps changed. I think it is a good thing, once you’re old enough to start considering marriage or getting ready for marriage, to see as wide variety of people as possible (not to get PHYSICAL with a wide variety, but to hang out with a wide variety). You really don’t know who you will like unless you do this.

And whatever you do, don’t put pressure on yourself to marry everyone you go for coffee with (Here’s my daughter Katie talking in a video about this phenomenon!). The problem with courtship is that we emphasize marriage so much that kids start thinking there’s something wrong if they’re just having fun. So they start convincing themselves “I’m going to marry this person” when they really don’t know them. After all, they’ve been told since they were young that the only purpose for dating was to get married, so if I’m dating, I must be about ready to get engaged!

This whole idea of courtship puts marriage on the front and centre with every relationship they have. That’s very serious awfully fast.

Then they can feel stuck. I can’t break up with this person I’m dating, because you’re only supposed to date to marry. So they stick it out when they shouldn’t.

But I think it may also discourage many people from making friends of the opposite sex. They’re waiting for the “right one”. Yet how does one meet that right one? By going out there and meeting people! I met the “right one” by having a really close platonic friendship for a year. If I were not seeing anyone, unless they were “the one”, I’d be sitting at home alone today.

I also am afraid that we’re emphasizing “the right one” too much. As Gary Thomas said in Sacred Search, I don’t believe there is only one person you can marry. God lets us choose. And if we start thinking that there is only one person who can complete us, we set ourselves up for disappointment in marriage.

Marriage is about learning to become the right person, not just marrying the right person.

Yes, we need to be very careful whom we marry. But that’s because we should marry someone we can glorify God together with, not just someone who “completes” us or who gives us those infatuation feelings.

I’ve known a lot of girls who “courted” who married the first man they dated. For some that was a really wonderful thing. For others, I’m not so sure. So I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like my girls to not feel as if every guy they go out for coffee with is someone they must marry. And I’d like them not to throw that person aside if they think they can’t marry them after sharing an hour together.

These years, from 18-22, are when we start figuring out who we are and what God has called us to be. We change so much, and we’re not always sure what we do want. I can’t go back with Becca, and she has a very good head on her shoulders, so I’m not worried about her.

But what I’m telling my 16-year-old is this:

Wait until you’re 18, because relationships just distract you from friendships and experiences and God when you’re in high school. But when you do start to date, get to know a ton of people. Have a wide social circle. Have fun! Don’t play with people’s hearts, but don’t put pressure on yourself, either. And keep close to God, so that when the person He has for you does come along, you will know it. And remember that our purpose isn’t to get married; it’s to glorify God. It’s great if we can do that with someone else, but if God has other plans, He will be big enough for you.

Does that make sense? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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