This post is for my younger readers who are curious as to when they can start dating. If you’re already at the dating stage, then go and read today’s guest blog post on Dating with Purpose, and also review step 1 and step 2 below to make sure you’re on the right path.
Whenever I give a talk to teenagers about dating, without fail, I always get the same question every time, “When can I start dating?” It’s a very good question, it shows that they are seeking guidance in this area. My answer is always the same; I say that there is no specific age that works with everyone, but it’s definitely not in high school. The answer to this simple question is a multifaceted one. But first, let’s define what dating is, because it can have very different meanings between today’s western culture and the conservative immigrant culture.
When I mention dating I am talking about the kind of dating you do to see if you’re compatible with someone that could potentially be your spouse. Maybe a better term to use is Courting, which is getting to know someone for the purpose of marriage. I believe dating should be intentional, serious, yet fun. Dating for the wrong reasons or at the wrong time (for example, teenage years) can lead you down the wrong path filled with temptations, heartbreak, and many challenges.
The first question I want you to ask yourself is, “Why do I want to start dating?” Is it out of a desire to be wanted and loved? Is it because I feel incomplete without a significant other? Is it because everyone is doing it, and I don’t want to feel left out? Is it because I like someone and don’t want them to get taken by anyone else? The reasons are endless, but if it’s not for marriage in the near future then I urge you to reconsider.
There are two very important loves you have to know first before you can start looking for true love.
1. God’s Love
God is the source of love, so unless we are filled with that love we cannot give love to anyone else or even ourselves. Your relationship with God is so important (I cannot stress this point enough), because on it you build everything else. Understanding God’s love for us will help you understand the true meaning of love (1 Corinthians 13), and be able to give that love.
Loving yourself is essential before starting to love someone else. You have to be comfortable and confident in who you are first and foremost. When you enter a relationship needing someone else’s love for self-approval it becomes a very unhealthy relationship. There is a whole series I wrote about self-love that I urge you to read if you’re struggling with this point.
You are always growing these two loves. You should never stop investing in your relationship with God or yourself, but you must have a strong enough foundation to move onto having a relationship with someone else.
There are many different elements to know if you’re ready to find true love. You have to be spiritually, emotionally, socially, and mentally mature enough to start dating. Here is a basic guide to start with. This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s sometimes forgotten: your parent’s permission. You never want to start a relationship based on lies and sneaking around. There should be no fear in being seen together in public. There is no shame in dating if you’re doing it the right way.
It also helps to have guidance from your father of confession and a mentor. When my husband first approached me about dating I told him I was skeptical that my parents would agree. I was still in college and had about a year left until I graduated, and I knew my parents would not want me to get distracted as I finished my education. So I first spoke to my father of confession, who very wisely told me to do whatever my parents say. My parents were a little reluctant at first, because coming from Egypt, to them dating meant engagement. After a few chats of me explaining how we would date, they finally gave me their blessing.
Even if you think you’re ready to start dating and your parents disagree, there is a blessing in honoring your father and mother and obeying them.
Also, I want you to keep in mind that your peers might have different rules or guidelines than you. It’s not your place to judge them or their parents for being too strict or too lenient. Just focus on yourself and what you’re expected to do.
I want to end this by saying that while dating and marriage is in the majority of people’s future, it might not be for everyone, and for those people dating might never workout. Just look at how St. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 7:
“...let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband… But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that… But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.”
What you should remember is that your salvation is the most important thing. For some that comes through marriage, and for others that comes through singleness and celibacy (whether that’s in a monastery or the world). I don’t ever want you to view singleness as failure, view it as God’s will for your salvation. So make sure you’re always seeking God’s will and praying for Him to guide you.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
P.S. If you're a church leader or parent interested in a curriculum about the topic of purity and dating for teens, Bridges to Orthodoxy is releasing a great resource on it soon. If you'd like know about it please subscribe on my home page, and you'll get an email when its out.