I have a bookshelf entirely devoted to books I've accumulated over the years that speak to relationships. My favorite thing about the shelf is that Joshua Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye spends every day next to Jeramy Clark's I Gave Dating a Chance (okay...this is isn't brain surgeon level material, but still...a whole shelf). Dating is somthing we all think about from time to time, right?
So, here are some of my thoughts on Dating, specifically on the "when are we ready?" aspect of it. Please feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments section. :)
First off, I think we get our best picture of love relationship in the Trinity. In the Trinity, we see a unique unity: a deep intimacy and an inseparability. In our human relationships (including dating) we reflect to varying degrees the relational unity of the Trinity. I think this means that intimacy and inseparability (commitment) go hand and hand. In our relationships, as in the Trinity, the depths of intimacy and inseparability - unity - were never intended to be separated. Does this make sense?
What this practically means for our dating relationships is that a relationship that grows significantly faster in one of these areas (intimacy or commitment) than in the other is bending away from God's design. This is one of the core reasons why God designed sex (a very intimate act) to be reserved for marriage (a very intimate relationship). But this principle goes way beyond sex and marriage.
I had a friend who dated a wonderful young woman and was evaluating whether or not it would be wise for them to marry. This was a highly committed relationship: it would be tough for them to separate. But my friend was really failing to share his emotions and thought processes with his girlfriend, and they both knew it. This was a case where commitment was in danger of running ahead of intimacy. Can you guess what happened in their relationship when their level of intimacy caught up with their level of commitment?
So, thought #1...because our relationships reflect the unity of the Trinity, in our dating relationships we can't find deep intimacy without commitment (or vice versa).
Second thought, connected to the first: I think that there are necessary levels of dating. What's that mean? It's pretty simple. Dating can be considered either "appointments to meet socially" (Clark, p. 16; I would call this "intentional friendship" or "going on dates") or an intentional relationship to consider the possibility of marriage (Harris, p. 55-56; I would call this "courting" or "dating with intentionality").
At the broadest level, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need non-exclusive dates with members of the opposite sex because in Christ we are committed to both men and women. For me to have no relational intimacy with women would rob me of some of what God has for me in the gospel. To be clear, I don't seek wife-like intimacy with every woman, because I've only been united to one woman in that way. I have one wife, but in the community of Jesus, I have many sisters. And though at times I think it might be easier to make all my "appointments to meet socially" with other men, I wrestle against my disbelief in non-romantic friendship with women because that disbelief reflects a deeper disbelief in a reality of the gospel, that God in Christ has really united me to the men and women who are in Christ.
So, we need low-level dates to enjoy the fullness of gospel-relationship. (Do you believe that or do I need to keep building a case?) When are we ready for dates at this level? In one sense, we're ready for these dates as soon as we're in Christ. In another sense, we're always going to be growing in our readiness for these dates as long as God's at work in us to make us more like Christ. We all know it's hard at first and at times to grow and maintain opposite-sex, non-romantic relationships. I recommend that it be done with wisdom, caution, and holy joy.
At another level, as men and women that God may be leading to a married life, dating in our culture can serve the purpose of helping us discern who to marry. Another way to look at it is that as you grow in unity with your brothers or sisters in Christ, some of these relationships may begin to stand out as relationships that may further God's purposes for you if they grow to deeper levels of intimacy and commitment. Can I tell you what that process was like for me and continue this conversation tomorrow?