by Rob Vitaro, 1999
I’d only known her a couple of months, and we hardly talked at all. But we were in the play together, so I knew she liked acting; she even helped me put on my stage make up. That helped me get to know her face quite well: she was pretty cute. That was about it, though, and I really thought nothing more about it. Then one day I found out she was looking at me the same way! “A girl I’m interested in might actually like me?” It was my first chance to get a real girlfriend, so I dove in headfirst. A week later we were dating; it was magical. We went to see Mr. Holland’s Opus, we went to each other’s houses, we kissed a couple of times. But a month later it was over, my heart broken. The magic was over. I was determined to learn from my mistakes, but then it happened again with a different girl years later; that one hurt even more. It’s a familiar story to many of us; it may have happened a lot in our past. But lately I keep getting this nagging feeling that it doesn’t have to be this way; there must be something better than this. That’s why I’ve decided not to date the way the rest of the world does anymore.
I see modern dating as almost selfish. When I think back on high school, I remember Brian who had a girlfriend every now and then; some of his relationships were serious, and some lasted only a month. But he could stay single when he wanted to. There was Matt and Erica, who by senior year were already on their fifth year together; college changed that for them, though, almost overnight. And Jamie seemed to have a new boyfriend each week, sometimes dating the same guys over and over. I never knew how she remembered all their names. Most people fall into one of these categories, or somewhere in between. Either way, I believe that the main reason we get into a modern dating relationship at all is purely for selfish fulfillment of physical and emotional needs. In a world where we can pop our bank cards in the 24-hour ATM on the way home from work, grab our McDonalds’s and rush home just in time to check our e-mail and take some fast-acting Tylenol for the headache we woke up with, we can satisfy most of our needs, get just about whatever we want, when we want it. But oddly, just as quickly as our needs are met, the satisfaction spawned from their attainment fades. Like buying a newer and faster computer every two years, we throw out the old without a second thought. It’s as if we no longer want to deal with inconveniences of any kind; our commitments are few. I think that this mindset has made its way to modern dating. My old friend Jamie proved that to me long ago; boyfriend after boyfriend, she never seemed satisfied. We all want to be loved, we want to feel ourselves love another, and we want to feel the physical aspects of love. When we have it, we relish it; when it starts to fade, we think our partner has changed, so we move on to someone new. This starts at an alarming early age, too. When a 14 year-old girl doesn’t feel complete or special without a boyfriend to love and hold her hand, something has gone awry. What should be called lust and infatuation is now called love. Unfortunately, this leads many people in their teens to have sex before marriage, which I think has some troubling repercussions.
I see so many problems with this modern style of dating. One look at the divorce statistics is simply heart breaking. More than half of all marriages end in divorce. I think this stems from our views of dating. Modern dating starts off with, “What can you do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for you?” or, “What can we do for each other?” Since we start dating in this selfish way, the thought, “If it doesn’t work out, we’ll just break up,” is subconsciously carried into many marriages. The promise of commitment is broken even before it’s made since it’s so easy to get a divorce today. I believe with each person we date, love, and then lose, a piece of our hearts is lost, never to be fully reclaimed. Over time, the more relationships a person goes through leaves less and less of a heart to give to the future spouse. I also feel that sex is the single most binding act of love between a man and a woman. It joins the couple together spiritually in what I call a “soul tie,” a very deep, long-lasting connection that gives a sense of oneness. If sex takes place before marriage, a soul tie is created prematurely. It is especially awful if the two are not fully committed to the relationship. They get involved in a steamy romance they know may not end in marriage, and yet they continue misleading each other and using each other’s affections for their own desires. When the magic fades, they move on to someone else, creating even more soul ties. And this is love? Hollywood would have us believe so, but I’m not fooled.
I believe in “purposeful dating.” It is a phrase coined by Joshua Harris in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. The philosophy is simply (but not simple) dating to find out if you and the other could get married. How is that different from modern dating? Because the idea of marriage is the focus of the dating, the purpose of the romantic relationship. It begins with a strong commitment to see if two people are compatible for a working marriage. This is contrary to the modern style of dating where at first all a person may know and like about the other is that he or she is physically attractive! Apparently, good looks have become the doorway to the inner, true self. Are we really this shallow? We don’t have to be. But how can we know we might be able to marry a person if we don’t really know them? you may ask. How else can we know a person if we don’t date them? The answer is friendship. A deep friendship must form before any romantic elements come into play. This allows the two to be themselves and to learn all about each other in a relaxed way, rather than with the awkwardness of dating and “putting on your best face.” This works best in small groups of close friends; having a one-on-one get together and saying “we’re just friends” is only covering the feelings a romantic setting is bound to stir up. Bear in mind this is not an easy process, by far. It involves having a constant awareness and control of one’s thoughts and urges. In my own life, I have to keep reminding myself to look at girls as potential friends rather than potential girlfriends. This may sound like I’m suppressing mostly sexual urges. It is a part of it, but it is more the suppressing of my need to be romantically loved by the opposite sex. My ex and I had a year and a half relationship that was emotionally very powerful. Ever since it ended, a part of me still yearns for the strong bond I once had, and it tries to cloud my judgement when I meet new girls. “Wow, she’s pretty, and she’s nice! Maybe she can love me.” It’s almost as if any girl will do, just as long as she loves me. But I know that patient waiting and diligent friendship-before-romanticism thinking will pay off.
The lasting effects of “purposeful dating” outweigh the temporary pleasures of modern dating. Modern dating may fulfill our physical desires and our emotional need to be loved, but it comes at a heavy cost. Without a firm commitment in the relationship, it only sets up the inevitable, painful breakup. It also wastes the other person’s time and energy, which could be spent on them. That may sound selfish, but staying single until one is ready for marriage is a wonderful gift if lived wisely. The single years should be spent finding one’s place in society and preparing for the duties of being a husband, wife, or parent. I plan to have found my career and be well adjusted in it before I consider myself ready to be a husband. I know many of my peers think I’m foolish for not wanting to “have fun before settling down.” (How truly sad it is that most of us view marriage as the end of all fun and excitement.) All I can I tell them is that I am having fun, just being friends. I know that “purposeful dating” eliminates any of the threats of soul ties and harsh break-ups, which I’ve seen end many wonderful friendships, including some of my own. Best of all, I won’t have to hand my wife a hollowed-out heart at the wedding altar.
Modern dating never seemed appealing to me. I couldn’t picture myself going from one girl to another in short-term relationships. At first there seemed no way around it, though; dating was something you just had to do to meet your future bride. So I played the dating game, but it didn’t work. Since then, the idea of “purposeful dating” has been with me, I just couldn’t seem to put it into words until I read Harris’ book. It’s not surprising to me that modern dating doesn’t work for a lot of other people either. We seem to forget that, thanks to the phone and the car, this style of dating is only about 100 years old. For centuries there was courtship, and it worked fine for them. I think I’ll give it a shot; what have I got to lose? Definitely not my heart.