I come from the generation that kissed dating goodbye, as one rather popular book chose to phrase it. Christian teens and young adults everywhere opted to forgo traditional dating and just wait for “The One.” This meant dating would only be permissible among those who had intent to marry, as it were. As some still say, dating without the intention of getting married simply robs someone of their spouse for an indeterminate amount of time. And so casual dating was out; “I’m having my first date tonight with my future husband” was in.
Few relationships could withstand that sort of initial pressure. To place that kind of expectation in a relationship at the outset before you even truly know if you’d enjoy marriage to the other person . . . well, it has caused many a relationship to fail. I mean, dating is a way to get to know someone for who they are, not a way to immediately size up one’s marriage potential. I should be married to you to know you as my spouse; dating is the pathway, the vehicle to get that far. It’s the time for getting to know you, getting to know all about you — not a time for naming the kids or picking the color of the kitchen curtains.
All of that — the waiting, the learning — was deliberately kicked to the curb by my generation — by the Christians of my generation, specifically. The others aided the rise of our contemporary hookup culture, thereby also abandoning dating qua dating. If the only options were “God told me to marry you” and “Wanna come back to my place?” it’s little wonder things evolved into our current mess.
And a fine mess it is, too. Real dates, real romance seem to be non-existent. You’re on a date? Because it looks surprisingly like “let’s stare at our phones while in close proximity to each other.” No interaction with each other, no learning about the other and falling in love with the cute freckles on her nose (because you’re not even looking at each other). Just a passive co-existence near one another facilitated by technology. Of course, I have to be fair: there’s the opposite extreme of one’s level of interaction, the notorious (and infamous) “Netflix and chill.” Which, oddly enough, seems to involve a minimum of Netflix and practically zero “chill.”
What more can we expect of a culture where people meet by swiping right (left? up?) on a smartphone app or after a cursory glance at an online profile? We’ve lost our intentionality in even looking for someone to date; why should we expect any higher degree of purpose or deliberate action during the pursuit itself? It’s a bit sickening to watch the average guy treat the average girl (and vice versa) like a product in a shop window, someone who is so much more than a thumbnail image on the Internet. And there’s no desire to date an online construct, especially when so many of them are available.
You may think I’m just jaded since the traditional dating methods have failed me. I am, after all, a single male without a girlfriend who is weeks away from turning thirty. You can point to my failed relationships, including a failed engagement, and say, “This guy is just bitter. He’s stuck in the past because that’s the only game he knows how to play.”
Well, no. I just believe that to see another human is to look upon someone bearing the image of God. I think it means to see Christ in them. It’s not some sort of utilitarian pleasure calculus. It’s about recognizing the other for who they are, caring enough about them to want to get to know them sans agenda, and to treat them with the dignity and respect they deserve.
So maybe we should hug dating hello again.