Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Should teenagers date?

I usually try to stick to material that the Catholic Church has officially weighed in on, and stay away from matters of opinion.  That way people know whether what they are reading is me or if it is the Church!  This question keeps coming back to me, though, so I figured I'd give my two cents!  While what I teach is grounded in Church teaching on stuff like Theology of the Body, and marriage, and the nature of love, to the best of my knowledge she does not authoritatively teach on dating!  (Seems unlikely that she would.)

This subject has come up lately as a number of the teens I work with have started dating each other-  or hope to start in the near future.  To be honest, I try to smile and be congratulatory when they share their news, but I always have misgivings.

One the one hand, if they have chosen someone good, I am happy for them because it is an affirmation of their own worth if someone good likes them and will commit to them!  If I don't think the person they chose treats them right, or has good values, or is too old making them creepy and immature to date a teen... well, that's another story.  But typically the teens I work with choose good people, and so I am conflicted-  I'm happy for them that they got a good catch, and are thus affirmed as being a good catch themselves-  but I dread the day that they break up!

According to Brad Henning (author and speaker on this subject) the average teen relationship lasts 2.5 months.  Most of the teens I work with seem to make it work longer than that.... but still, they break up in the end.  The question is, is it worth it?

From a youth ministers perspective, I'm working to build a little community of youth that reinforces their values to each other.  Typically when teens break up, they are awkward around each other afterwards, and often one or both of them will leave the ministry.  I hate that, and I'm sure it informs my bias.

But I also wonder if after dating the youth is more aware of their value, or do they just feel more rejected?  Are they trying to fill a void in their life with other people?

I dated a lot in High School-  6 girls in 2 years, with 'relationships' ranging from one day to 6 months.  Most of them were closer to the one day end of the spectrum.

After dating a girl for one week between grade 11 and 12, I decided not to date again until I was 'serious'.  I don't know why I made that decision-  I just felt that dating like that was beneath me.  And to be honest, in my adult years I no longer even regarded those relationships as 'real' after having had more significant relationships.  (Now being married, even my adult relationships look trivial!)

Catherine, on the other hand, never dated anyone before me-  although she did go on dates with guys who she knew she had a mutual attraction with. Technically though she never had a 'boyfriend'.  (Even the word 'boyfriend' strikes me as a juvenile term, indicative of a juvenile relationship, but the word 'manfriend' is even worse!)  I respect Catherine so much for not seeking the affirmation of other people in allowing herself to date in trivial ways!  Also, because Catherine never dated, not only was she a virgin when we got married, she had never even kissed anyone before me!  I feel so honoured by that, and wish that I had saved more for her. Incidentally when I did date, the more I respected the girl, the less I did with her.  I had French kissed a number of girls in High School, and was not even a virgin when I got married, but all of those girls were insignificant to me.  The ones I cared about I didn't mess around with.  Weird, eh?

The thing with dating is, it's supposed to prepare you for marriage.  When you get married, you make a vow to love the other person for the rest of your life, no matter what!  But when you date, you basically make a commitment that says "I promise to be faithful to you until you annoy me or I find someone else or I just don't feel like it any more, and at that time I will tell you that I am moving on before I do."  In other words, dating defines relationships by what you get out of them, rather than as a commitment.  Someone once said "Dating doesn't prepare you for marriage, it prepares you for divorce."  I think that's probably true!

I recognize that there's a lot of positives to dating too.... notably that it's fun and, hopefully, wholesome, and it teaches you to relate to the opposite sex. But I do not think the positives outweigh the negatives.

To be clear I don't think it's a sin for teens to date.  I respect the ones who choose not to more, as I think it shows wisdom, restraint, confidence, and maturity.  Ladies, there is nothing a man finds more unattractive than drama.  If you are prone to infatuation and wanting mens attention, ironically, that makes you less attractive!  On the other hand, there's nothing more beautiful than a woman who is confidently seeking God.  A Godly man will notice that.

So when should a teen be allowed to start dating, and what is the appropriate age of their significant other?

This is a little tongue in cheek, but here's the formula I like to use.  D= A/2 + 8.  Where D is the age of the person you can date, and A is your age.  So if you are 20, the youngest person you could date is D= 20/2 + 8 or 18.  If you are 30, the youngest you can date is D= 30/2 + 8 or 23.  If you are 16, the youngest you can date is 16.  But if you are 14, the youngest you can date is 15.... but they can't date you!  If teens accept this formula, they inadvertently don't allow themselves to date until they are 16.  But again, I'm joking.  I don't know what kind of rule I'll make for my kids... overall I think rules is the wrong way to go, and we should form character, and rules come into play where character is lacking.  So, I hope to raise my kids such that they see dating as something they don't want to do frivolously.

Here's the guiding principal.  Don't date someone if you think you will most likely break up with them!  If you think you will most likely marry them, then great!  Some teens do marry their high school sweethearts.  My parents did... sort of.   But you know something interesting?  I've been doing youth ministry now for 18 years, and have worked with hundreds of teens.  I can't think of a single example of a teenage couple from any of my ministries who married each other.... not one.  (I just checked.  Apparently one couple has been engaged since November 2004... so they may yet prove me wrong.)

So ask this question when you start dating-  do you intend to marry this person, or just to break up with them?  And if you're just going to break up eventually, are you loving them and loving yourself by dating them?

In the end, teens are teens, their relationships are frivolous, and maybe that's ok.  But for the teens I care about, I hope for more!


  1. This is by far the most refreshing post on teen dating that I have ever read. I have always been one of those teenagers who rebelled against the idea of "courtship" and not dating until you're older. Having the know it all type of personality made it frustrating to listen to advice about focusing on God and waiting for him to bring the right man along. I knew that I could handle myself and that I could pick out a good guy, or not be too emotionally attached if things didn't work out. So I didn't listen of course, but looking back I wish I had. I hate to admit that all those people were right but dating somebody really is to figure out if you want to marry them. At 15 you hardly even know what you want to go to college for. How will you know if somebody is going to be a good husband or wife. And personally I don't want a husband who's dated 3/4's of the girls in the school. I would like for somebody to pursue me who hasn't gone after them all. That's what's going to make me feel valued, like there is something special about me. Because if I am just another one on the list my value is not great and when the relationship ends then my self-worth is depleted. And while I can say that I know what I am worth I am not really proving it by saying yes to every guy who's nice and has a cute smile. I prove that I know my worth by making him prove himself for me. And I don't mean making him jump through specific hoops or making him grovel at my feet but I want him to prove his heart towards me. I think the same thing goes for guys, they need to make sure that a girls heart is worthy of all their attention. This all needs to happen BEFORE you decide to date. Hold on to your hormones! Because I have found that most of the time if I had just waited and watched a little bit longer I would not have jumped into some very hurtful relationships. I could go on and on but all this to say that I agree. Dating is for marriage and teens should probably hold off on it until they know what they want and can make mature decisions.

  2. Great read. I agree and as someone who waited until 18 to "'date" and never kissed anyone but my husband; I dont regret not dating, and not having those "experiences".