Chapter Four: Before Marriage
Who are you going to marry?
Dreams about Prince Charming eventually fade away, to be replaced with day-dreams about that muscular boy on the football team or that really cute guy at Church. And eventually, we get interested in one boy seriously enough to consider marriage.
In modern America, school, Church, and similar group events are common ways for boys and girls to get familiar with a wide range of people of the opposite sex, allowing them to explore among all the eligible marriage candidates.
When such exploration results in a boy and girl being attracted enough to each other to want to consider more than a casual relationship, dating is the most common social method that allows them the opportunity to get to know one another better, which in turn allows them to determine how well they really match each other.
Many teens spend years going through the process of exploring and matching without having a clue what they're doing, what kind of result their efforts may lead them to, or even why they're doing what they're doing. The most clueless just drift along with the social currents, without a goal or a care.
At the other end of the spectrum are the teens who know they want to get married, know when they want to get married, and know the kind of person they want to marry. For them, dating has a very specific goal. These folks may date some of their directionless cohorts and struggle to realize that not everyone is as focused on long-term relationship issues as they are.
Most teens are somewhere in between these two extremes, and float back and forth over time. Sometimes one will get serious about a possible a mate, and other times they'll go on dates "just for fun" as a couple or in groups, though for most, even "fun" dates have at least a little spouse-hunting interest buried in there somewhere.
So all social occasions let people explore for potential mates, and dating is a social process that allows tentative couples to apply very informal evaluations to match their interests, to find the ones who are most appealing, narrowing the field until each finds "the one".
Dating is not the only option, however. Some cultures practice arranged marriages, in which the parents do the exploring and matching, but this is rare in the United States, and parents cannot legally force marriages on their children here.
Another option, although its relatively uncommon in the U.S. today, is courtship. This is usually a more formal process than dating, and closely involves the parents in the efforts of exploring and matching.
We might point out that today, the term "dating" is also used to refer to a long-term boy-girl relationship that acts as a substitute for marriage. In this kind of relationship, the boy and girl are having sex just as they would as if they were married, and often even live together. The biggest differences between this relationship and marriage is just the lack of a ceremony and the legal rights of marriage. This is not the kind of dating we're talking about in this book.
For many young Americans today, the process of exploring and matching is so informal, they don't even realize they're doing it. Unfortunately, that also means they often do a bad job of it, which leads to many heart-rending breakups.
By paying at least a little attention to the issues covered in this chapter, a young woman or man may be able to be a little more careful in deciding who to date and what becomes of it. It may, for example, help you avoid a Sexual Meltdown (discussed in a previous section). Some of the ideas here may help improve your ability to prevent your emotional and physical passions from overwhelming the equally important mental and spiritual considerations when seeking a mate.