In the previous article in this series on biblical manhood, we looked at the calling of men with regard to their sexuality. Related is the subject of this article: the calling of Christian young men in a dating relationship. Much could be said about the subject of dating in general, but here I want to focus only on how young men are to behave in dating.
The world exerts a powerful pressure upon young men with respect to how they should act in a dating relationship. The world’s idea of a young man in such a relationship is quite simple: he’s interested in self. He’s not really interested in his girlfriend or in the direction of their relationship. Everything he does is directed toward the goal of his own satisfaction (often his own sexual satisfaction). He will be funny, charming, respectful toward her parents, sensitive, and affectionate, but he does it all to manipulate his girlfriend into serving him.
Obviously, the Christian young man dates in a very different way. He is “not conformed to this world” but is “transformed by the renewing of [his] mind” (Rom. 12:2), specifically with regard to how he is to act as a Christian young man toward the Christian young woman in whom he has a romantic interest.
To understand something about the calling of a young man in dating, we need to understand a few basic truths about dating.
The most fundamental truth is that dating is for marriage. Everything that is done in dating must have marriage as its ultimate goal. This does not mean that you have to know you are going to marry someone before you even start dating them, but it does mean that your dating is intended to see if you can marry that person eventually.
Part of your calling as a young man, then, is to find someone that you could marry. The essential thing is that she be a believer. If we are to marry “only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39), then we may date only in the Lord. In addition to her being a believer, there are other things that you will want to look for in a woman whom you could eventually have as your wife. To give just one example out of many, she must be adorned with the inner beauty of “a meek and quiet spirit” (1 Pet. 3:3–4).
A brief word of caution at this point: don’t be overly picky. It can happen that a young man comes up with a long list of requirements that he must have in a wife, only to find out that no such woman has ever existed since the Fall.
But not only does the principle of dating for marriage mean that you get to know a young woman to see if she could be your wife, it also means that you must be the kind of man that could be her husband one day. Even more important than finding the right person to marry is being the right person that someone else would want to marry.
What this means for a young man is that he must show in his dating that he can one day serve as a faithful husband. He must give evidence of possessing the qualities that God demands in a husband. Since God calls a husband to be the loving head of his wife (Eph. 5:23, 25), a young man must display loving leadership toward the young woman he is dating.
Let’s flesh out what exactly that looks like in the following three points:
1. As a future husband, a young man must show himself in dating to be a wise leader, initiator, and decision-maker.
In calling a husband to be the head of his wife, God is calling him to be the leader of his wife, to be the initiator in the relationship, and to serve as the ultimate decision-maker (always taking into account his wife’s input, of course). This means that a Christian young man must give evidence of these same traits at every stage of the dating relationship.
He must take the lead at the beginning of the relationship. He ought to be the one to initiate a conversation with the young woman in whom he is interested, and he ought to be the one to ask her on a date. Too often young men are tempted to cowardice already at this point. We might fear rejection or struggle with insecurity, and leave it to the young woman to initiate the relationship. This ought not to be. Young man, if you are interested in a young woman, step up and ask her out!
This does not mean that young women have no say in the initiation of a relationship. Rev. C. Hanko put it well: “This does not mean that she sits quietly at home waiting for a phone call for her first date. If my observations do not deceive me, most girls have the natural ability to attract the attention of the young man who interests them. ,..[H]er winsome ways and pleasant smile can do much to attract the boy’s attention.” Oftentimes, young men need all the help they can get. Young women can help with this, in subtle ways letting the young men know that they are interested.
Having initiated the relationship, the young man must continue to guide the relationship as it progresses and develops. This includes such things as planning what to do on dates, initiating conversations about spiritual things and other important subjects to be covered prior to marriage, and even leading in brief prayers together.
The young man is also responsible to take the lead in where the relationship heads. This might mean that it ends in a breakup. It might be the case that both realize that the relationship will not last and that they ought not marry one another. Rather than weakly waiting for the young woman to make the first difficult move, the young man must gently initiate the breakup of the relationship. Obviously, if the young man wants to continue but the young woman does not, she ought to be the one to initiate the breakup rather than waiting for him finally to get the hint. But, as much as possible, the young man ought to lead.
Not only does he lead in the sad necessity of a breakup, but he also is responsible to lead to the happy goal of engagement and marriage. He is the one who talks to his girlfriend’s parents to ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage and their blessing upon the union. And he is the one who ought to propose marriage to the young woman. Even this simple point is corrupted in the world, where it is not uncommon for a brazen young woman to drop to a knee and ask her boyfriend to marry her. Young man, be a man and take the lead!
2. As a future husband, a young man must show himself in dating to be an honorable guardian and protector.
As the Bridegroom of the church, Christ is the refuge, fortress, and shield of His people. As imitator of Christ, the Christian husband is called to exercise his headship of his wife by guarding and protecting her. By extension, a young man must guard and protect the young woman he is dating.
Obviously this means that if his girlfriend is attacked or threatened in any physical sense he must come to her defense. But there is more to his protection of her than fending off potential attackers.
The Christian young man must also protect the young woman emotionally. God has wonderfully made women to be emotional beings, usually more emotional than men. Recognizing this, the young man must be careful not to play with her emotions, manipulate her emotions, or stir up her emotions toward him prematurely.
Another way he guards her emotionally is by assuming the “risk” in the relationship. Rather than waiting for her to initiate the relationship, he assumes the emotional “risk” by asking her out. Rather than waiting for her to put herself out there in advancing the relationship, he assumes the emotional “risk” by seeing that the relationship progresses. Rather than waiting for her to express love for him, he assumes the emotional “risk” by first confessing love for her.
The Christian young man also has the responsibility to protect his date sexually. Rather than acting like a man of this world and being driven by his own unholy lusts, he guards his girlfriend (and himself) from all sexual sin. He is conscious of protecting her honor, preserving her reputation, guarding her virginity, and upholding her good conscience before the Lord. And he is mindful not only of his obligations to her, but also to her parents who have entrusted her into his care. He is also conscious of his obligations to her future husband. That might be he, but it also might be another man, if the two eventually break up. Will you be able to look that other man in the eye someday, perhaps as members of the same church, and assure him that you did nothing to undermine the purity of his wife?
What is helpful in this regard is to consider your girlfriend as your sister in Christ. Paul instructs young man Timothy to deal with “the elder women as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). What you would be comfortable doing with an actual, blood sister is about all that you should be comfortable doing with your girlfriend.
3. As a future husband, a young man must show himself in dating to be a loving servant.
As the Bridegroom of the church, Christ loves His beautiful bride. And He showed His love in that He “gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). So God calls the believing husband to love his wife and to give himself for her. By extension, this means that a believing young man must show himself to be a loving servant in dating.
In many ways this encapsulates all the responsibilities of the young man in dating. The danger in dating is that he seeks self and serves his own wants, desires, supposed needs, etc. But, with his eye on Christ, the Christian young man is temperate, self-controlled, and self-denying. In genuine love for the one he is dating (not selfish lust), he serves her and seeks her wellbeing.
I want to conclude by encouraging young men to be balanced in their dating and in how they view their role in the relationship. Being balanced they will avoid two unhealthy extremes.
One extreme is that a young man has a lazy, thoughtless, self-centered view of dating. He does not act like a man and take the lead in the relationship, but rather is content to be passive or to let the young woman take the lead. This danger we have largely addressed in what we’ve considered already in this article. The young man who takes seriously the responsibilities we’ve discussed above will avoid this danger.
But there is another extreme that must be avoided as well. That extreme is when a young man is overbearing, controlling, and even sinfully domineering in the relationship. He acts as if the young woman he is dating is already his wife and he is her husband. He might think that all decisions in her life have to be made by him. He might think that he has to manage her time, her money, her appearance, and her friendships with others.
It is important for such a young man to be reminded that although the goal of dating is marriage, while you are dating you are not yet married. You are not her husband, and she is not your wife. Earlier I argued that the calling of a husband toward his wife informs the responsibilities of a boyfriend to his girlfriend, but this does not mean that the callings are one and the same. In dating you must show that you can assume the responsibilities of a husband in the future, but that does not mean that those responsibilities are yours now.