The longer I live, the more strongly I oppose the practice of dating among teenagers. The irony of my position is that I met and married my husband when I was still a teen. We started dating when I was seventeen and we were engaged when I was eighteen. Seventeen years later with seven children, we are happy and thriving, so I need to clarify what I mean when I say that I am opposed to teenagers dating…
I am opposed to teens exclusively dating before a marriageable age with a purpose other than serious marriage discernment.
I regret frequent dating as a teen girl. It’s not that all of those boys were monsters (although a couple were mighty strange) but rather that I did not have the time and the freedom to develop purpose and confidence outside of a relationship. I would gladly trade every positive moment with my teen boyfriends to have those years back as my own. Instead of giving me confidence and fruitful life experience, the teenage dating culture tore me down, stunted my understanding of real commitment and love, and trapped me in a pattern of superficial people pleasing.
When I began dating my husband, I was still influenced by those unhealthy patterns and needed time to heal. Our relationship developed differently than the others because he was older, more mature, and deeply rooted in his Catholic faith and love of Jesus Christ. He also made it clear that he wanted to marry me and directed our courtship with that end in mind. I had to learn how to relate to him in a healthy and Christ-centered way and it was a painful but fruitful period of intense personal growth. Once we were married, the graces of the sacrament blew the doors of grace and freedom wide open.
Now that I am the mother of a teenage boy, I often hear about his friends who are “in a relationship” with young gals. My heart sinks when I hear it. I can’t help it. I have a high opinion of many of these youngsters but I also know the weakness of youth and the emptiness of our cultural dating practices.
As my firstborn son inches closer to driving age, I admit to thinking: My word, what idiot decided that a 15-year old was even remotely mature enough to handle a vehicle in populated areas? Poor judgment with a vehicle can inconvenience, injure, or kill people; however, poor judgment in a relationship can wound the very soul. He will drive at sixteen but he will not date. As much as I honor his good nature and maturity, I recognize that permitting him to date would be like encouraging him to text and drive… with someone’s heart. Fortunately for me, he shares his parents’ belief that modern dating does not honor the purpose of Christian courtship…which is to prepare for marriage. So he chooses it for himself in spite of his healthy appreciation for the feminine person.
If a dating couple does not have marriage discernment as the specific and spoken end goal of their relationship, then what is their goal? Fun? Distraction? Confidence building? “Practice” for marriage? Does that really honor the dignity of the object of affection? If the greatest relationships are rooted in love and service to Christ, exclusive dating according to modern trends is not necessary to build that kind of rock solid foundation.
During a good talk we had on the subject, my son did some thinking out loud…
“By dating a 16-year old girl, I would basically be asking her to stop considering other options — other guys or other vocational paths — so that she could just focus on me. And if I wasn’t ready to give her an engagement ring then that would probably be a bad thing to do. The best way to love her would be to let her have the freedom to discover God’s plans for her life. Then if we still liked each other a couple years later… well, that might be a different story.”
It is much simpler with my 13-year old daughter:
Your burka is coming in the mail today. Don’t talk to boys. Ever. As soon as you graduate, you’ll be taking the veil.
The beauty of Christian life is not about being holed up in restrictive darkness, but in the blazing glory of the freedom of authentic love. The entire purpose of my parenthood is to pass the key to that freedom and joy on to my kids. May the good Lord guide our every step towards His most Sacred Heart!
For those with dating teens, I highly recommend a small book called Would You Date You? by Anthony Buono. It is written clearly in manageable chapters and is a good barometer for evaluating dating readiness. If it is too challenging for your teens to read or implement, or you are uncomfortable with the mature subject matter, then I respectfully suggest that they may not be ready to date.