But the problem with these dating methods that are taught in youth groups is that they only work within in the artificial environments of high school and college. Once you are in the real world, there are very places where you are naturally getting to know a group of girls your own age large enough for it to be likely that you can find someone compatible. This is why the church has created on-line dating services, and special single groups to help facilitate these kinds of meetings. Especially since it is evil to go out with someone for one date and to then find out that they aren't Christian.
We need to think about this differently, so that there is an ability to go out there a meet prospects, not just simply wait for something to come your way. The method that I used myself I think is much better than what it currently being taught in youth groups, so I wanted to present it here. It is a four level method of approaching dating:
- Dating: The actual dating level for me is setting aside dates on a calendar to do an activity with someone of the opposite sex. The purpose is simply to get to know the person on a one on one level. When actually dating, you are still friends. There is no commitment here. You are just two friends hanging out.
However, the point is that you are asking in the back of your mind if you want more. This is a contemplative state. You are asking questions, and testing compatibility. Also, you should only need about 4 or 5 dates to determine if you want something more. If you need more than that, then the answer is probably no (or you are just being cowardly). Whether or not you stick to 4 or 5 dates, you should have a maximum number in mind that you hold yourself to. However, you are not considering whether you want to marry her. You are just considering whether you want to court her.
It is OK to date someone you believes things radically differently than you, especially since part of the dating process is to determine what they believe. Essentially, given availability, there should never be a reason to not ask someone out on a date.
- Courting: By courting, I am referring to the classic idea of going steady. At this point, you are in a relationship and responsibilities. There should be some ground rules that the two of you establish, like no sex for instance. This is also the level where you getting to know her family and you are integrating each other into your lives.
Courting is basically a trial run on marriage. It is testing the relationship before the big commitment to see whether you two really work together. The entire process is about determining whether you want to marry this person. Also I held myself to courting for at least 1 year, which I think was a good number. My wife and I actually courted for 2, but 1 year was only a minimum. There is no need for a maximum.
You should not court a person who believes radically different things than you though. There should be standards you have about who court and who you don't. You should some of these standards in mind, but as you date and court, you will be able to refine what your standards are.
- Engagement: After courting someone for a reasonable period, eventually you'll want to advance to marriage, so you enter engagement. Engagement is a preparation phase. It is for preparing for marriage, not for the wedding. During this time you should be talking about where you want to be in 5 years, discussing conflict resolution, strategizing your finances, exposing past mistakes and regrets, and also talking about sex (just talking though). I highly recommend a pre-marital counselor to help you go over these things.
I cannot stress the need to practice and talk about conflict resolution. You need to understand not just how you solve problems, but also how your fiance solves problems. How you communicate can be very different than her. You need to respect that, which not only means learning how she communicates, but train her on how you communicate. Communication is the fundamental tool you will have to solve your issues in you marriage. While it won't guarantee a solution, its absence will guarantee failure.
I also held myself to a minimum of 1 year for engagement. Sometimes wedding plans will cause this anyway, but it is so you can really sort through the changes that are about to happen, and keep the transition smooth.
- Marriage: While this is the goal of the marriage process, it is not a static state. Your relationship goes on, and continues to grow and be challenged. In many ways, marriage is the most difficult level, for now you are truly reliant on each, and bound together. I do not believe in divorce, and I believe that all divorce can be avoided if couples sacrifice for each other. Your life is no longer your own, but belongs to your spouse.
If you are careful in the dating process, then you can be sure you are putting your life into the hands of someone you can trust. After all, trust is the foundation of a good marriage, not passion. Passion fades and becomes forgotten, but trust only grows and deepens. If you keep trust and faith at the forefront of your marriage, and leave your lives in each other hands, instead of trying to control the other, your marriage will last.