I have often reflected on how and why dating has become so difficult in the 20 years since it was of any real concern to me. Something has changed between then and now so that what once seemed relatively simple has become strangely complicated.
In the wider culture, hookups have become the norm. A couple of generations ago, it was the societal consensus that the right and appropriate context for sex was marriage.
However, the revolution has since advanced so far that sex is now a kind of opening act. Sex has gone from a rite of consummation to an act of initiation.
It is a pre-love, pre-commitment ritual that people insist has no real significance. Now imagine a young man and woman who are vaguely interested in one another. A couple of generations ago they could admit this mutual attraction and perhaps go out together for a no-commitment, no-pressure date. The invitation to dinner and a movie was essentially the invitation to get to know one another.
But in a hookup culture, any date carries the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, of sex. Meanwhile, in the conservative Christian subculture, courting has become the norm, or at least held up as an ideal. For years we were told that dating was unsafe and would lead inevitably What is christian hookup and courtship fornication, and further, we were told that dating was unbiblical, that it dishonored God and his vision for Christian families.
They were told that any God-honoring relationship must see marriage as the goal.
The courtship model was lauded and held up as the God-ordained means of bringing couples together. To know whether that vague interest can grow into romantic attraction, they need to get to know one another. But they cannot do that without securing the permission of her father, and to secure that permission, the young man needs to express his interest in her as a potential wife. Any desire to spend any time together is understood as interest in marriage.
On the one side, the world means to convince young people that relationships begin with sex in the immediate background while the church means to convince them that relationships begin with marriage in the immediate background. The world insists dating has no real meaning while the church insists dating has the ultimate meaning.
Courtship and hooking up are two very different approaches for a relationship, but they share a common consequence: They put too much weight on too weak a relationship. The challenge is to give young adults the freedom to get to know one another without attaching the weight of sex or the weight of a lifelong commitment.
It may have been appropriate for some families or settings, but certainly not for all. Additionally, it was taught with the force of biblical imperative where the Bible only ever describes, never prescribes it.
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