Reflections on Dating, Love, and Marriage

Does our current courting structure bother you? You know, the one where people go into extreme ups and downs over a short period of time as they search for that special someone, and end up getting hurt and hurting others in the process? Perhaps this only makes us like the animals who lock horns or enter into kickboxing matches to determine who gets the girl, but I would hope that we are better than animals. Seriously, does it make sense to go from one crush to the next, one relationship to the next, searching for someone to love and be loved by, all the while thinking every single relationship is going to be the one, and having our hopes dashed and enter into a depression for a few weeks at least if it doesn't happen? Not that I've been any different in the past, but really, this is stupid!

I'm not intending to insult anyone here: I'm certainly just as guilty as many of you. But do we really have to run around like a chicken with its head cut off in order to accomplish this? Do we actually understand what it is that we are looking for?

Our common goal in life, at least as it appears to casual observers, is to fall in love and get married. Are people finding this? Considering that 1 in 2 marriages end in divorce and considering personal experience, I would have to say no. What is the purpose of marriage? Some say it is to raise a family. This is true, but most people don't use that as the sole reason to unite with another person, considering that isn't what people look for while dating. Others say marriage is an official union of two soul mates who have found each other, and wish to advertise it to the world. However, experience tends to show that there is no specific "Mr. Right", but rather a few people out there with whom one could live with; and dream marriages tend to remain fairy tales.

Rather, I would like to argue that the purpose of marriage is not primarily to raise a family or to unite with a soul mate: I deny that such a thing as that exists, at least in the sense that most humans believe it. Instead, I think that marriage is meant as a way for two people to join their lives together, in order to survive this sin-stricken planet. "Life IS tough," and as the high rate of suicide shows, can be difficult to survive. To have a constant, a friend at every corner who knows all your strengths and weaknesses can be a great assistance in life; we no longer have to live alone. Sometimes, a marriage complicates life rather than easing it, but this is often because people have unfair expectations in marriage, thinking that they married mister or miss perfect, something that obviously doesn't exist on this planet. Another reason for the high rate of failure in marriage is that people often refuse to practice Christian principles in marriage, something that won't work too well for an institution designed by God.

People generally need to correct these before they reach a perfect marriage; they need to realize that they are linking their lives with someone who has just as many faults as themselves, and they need to be willing to serve and lift up the other when they are struggling through the pits of life. Sometimes, a perfect match can be made, in which some problems can be overcome without this, but it is a rare thing, and whose existence I am not yet aware of. A fairly decent match is necessary, but today's dating process complicates even this.

In dating as we see it today, we have people who go on a first date, and when it turns out well they enter a relationship, which may last a month or longer. Both participants get emotionally involved until the point comes where they blind themselves to the reality that the person they're dating isn't right for them. This blindness continues on for a little while, then eventually one or both people realize the truth, but don't act and continue to date because they fear that this will be their only chance at love. The relationship starts to crash and burn as the unresolvable differences start to play a part, and eventually the couple painfully breaks up, and each member goes into a depression, short or long, that is inevitable from losing such emotional ties. Other times, the truth is revealed after the wedding date, and it turns into marital problems which either leads to divorce or an unhappy marriage, or at best, a truce. On rare occasions, one or both members of the couple may mature in Christ, leading to a good marriage, or in the times where only one member matures, an unbalanced but workable marriage.

The problems with this method are varying and prevalent. First, dating steady frequently reduces the number of people (potential partners) that you meet, and by simple odds reduces your chance of meeting a good match. Like all odds, they are beaten on occasion, but if the majority beat them, then they wouldn¡¯t be odds. The second problem is that once emotionally tied, one is not inclined to end the relationship, leaving them and many others like them in bad relationships. When one finally does get up the courage to end the relationship, it usually ends up hurting one or both members, leading to the third issue: getting seriously involved with multiple people increases the chances of bad memories popping up when we actually find a good match, often forcing us to stop a perfectly normal activity, even alienating the partner. Multiple partners also numbs us to certain activities that are supposed to be rare in a courting relationship, and thus takes off some of the lustre off of them, for example: "How long did it take until you two started kissing this time?"

Asking someone to a date should not be like a marriage proposal! So many people ask themselves before accepting a date, "Can I see myself with this person?" Whatever decision is made here can only be an uninformed one, unless they were friends before the date. For that matter, the very purpose of dating is to find out more about the other person! (On a side note, can this really be accomplished by taking someone out to a movie? Helping clean the other person's room would be far more effective!) Ideally, if both people realized that a date is not a marriage proposal, but rather an opportunity to find out more about another person, then there shouldn't occur instances where friends break up because one asked the other on a date. There would be no heart-rendering decisions on whether or not to accept a date, unless it was to the prom, of course. During these dates, we should have people finding out more about the other, in order to judge whether they would be a good fit. This requires openness on both parts, so that the person they are learning about actually exists, and is not a mask. But for this to be true, another problem needs to be solved.

Ask yourself a question: why aren't people always open during a date? Admittedly, this isn't always the case, but it is true enough of the time to merit mention here. Usually, the reason is that each person wants to make a good impression on each other, and so they put up a front, reacting to what they see in the other person, and trying to establish some connection. There are two problems with this. The first is somewhat obvious: either person will have to judge the person based on the front that they put up. Thus, they either fall in love with, or reject, the front that was put up; the problem being, the person that they either fell in love with or rejected doesn't actually exist. You may argue that people change, and that if you find love you will try to become the character that helped you find love, but changing your character is far more difficult than most people believe; if it was easy, there would be no excuse for sin in the world. (This is a different essay, of course.) Whatever the case, the important question is why you are trying to put up a front for your date anyways?

The problem is the whole "love-at-a-distance" thing, often found in something we term "crushes." In said scenario, person A "falls in love" with person B, who is oblivious to the whole situation, usually. Person A usually lacks the courage to express their desire to person B, and so for the time being they are content with simply dreaming of person B. In their dreams, person A learns of person B, and grows relationally with their image of person B, who may or may not match the real person, though more likely not. Through this "affair" with the person of their dreams--literally!--their passion continues to grow to the point where they begin to feel that they cannot live without the person. At this point, person A may finally get the courage to express his/her feelings to person B, and finally ask them on a date. A few things happen at this point. Person B may be totally uninterested in person A, and out of discomfort/fear, as person A is obviously madly in love with them, they may give person A the silent treatment for a number of months, to the torture of person A. Person B may actually accede to the request and go on a date, but finds that person A is rushing them, pushing them on--because their relationship is at two different levels, due to the fantasizing that person A did--and as a result, the relationship may break up due to the stress placed on person B, regardless of whether they were a good match. Person B may also turn out to be nothing like the person B of person A's imagination, at which point person A will likely continue to deceive him/herself for a while, but will inevitably taste the bitter conclusion that he/she was in love with a mirage. On rare occasions, the experience may be mutual, and they go on a passionate love affair, but even this would yield complications, since most of the first steps were done separately, and thus there is little shared experience.

Lesson to be learned: don't let feelings get out of hand! If you are attracted to someone, ask them out and find out more about them; meet the real person! If you aren't right for each other, then find out early so that you don't end up with hurt feelings, and a depression that will effect your job/school performance and attitude for a few weeks. If you are right for each other, then congratulations: but now, your relationship can grow together! Strangely enough, this is also supported by the Bible, where Jesus says "Do not look upon a woman to lust;" a situation like that can only lead to heartache. (And yes, that applies to women looking at men, too.)

While this will promote openness in of itself, because without passionate feelings, you will have no reason to try to impress the person to the point where you deceive them about yourself, it is still important to remember to be open during the dates. You are looking for a person, not a charade! If someone plainly isn't interested in you, do you really want to sacrifice yourself and change who you are for them? Therefore, don't hide! Any love that requires you to change who you are in order to receive it isn't real love!

This brings us to another important topic: what is true love? Is it "love-at-first-sight," that instant connection with someone else in the world that develops into a passionate relationship? What about the point in time during a crush when you would rather die than be without your desired partner? Perhaps it is that time in a relationship when you can complete each other's sentences? No, I would argue otherwise, the first two instances not being love at all, and the third instance simply resulting from being around each other a lot.

Instead, I wish to define true love as when you care about someone else more than you care about yourself. Love in its simplest form is caring about the welfare of someone else. This is opposed to our modern world's definition of love, which tends to occur during crushes and the like: wanting something or someone more than anything else in the world. This is not love: rather, it is lust. Lust does not have to be sexual--one bible translation puts it "the lust of money is the root of all evil"--but in relationships, imaginary or real, it often is. In lust, the concern is about yourself: you want something badly enough that you are willing to do almost anything to get it, like attempting to change who you are and put on a mask, or in terms of material goods, cheat and rob. What you do is not for their benefit, but rather your own: you want him/her because of what they can do for you. This has many problems: it requires the other person to be the one to change when differences occur; it is withdrawn if the other person refuses, whether over time or instantly; and even if the other person changes/doesn't need to change, lust, like all other passionate or violent emotions, is only temporary, and when it ends, there is nothing left to attract one person to another, usually resulting in a break-up.

The ideal, the alternative, is a love that is focussed on the other person. This love doesn't concern itself about how the giver fares in the relationship, but rather concerns itself about benefitting the recipient. Obviously, a love like this can be exploited, so for the relationship to be ideal and perfect, this needs to be mutual. Love does not require change in order to be given, but is given in spite of the faults of the other person. At the same time, real love doesn't allow its recipient to remain in the mud: if you are a crack addict, expect someone who loves you to try to get you off of it. The difference is this: false love requires change as a condition for itself; true love desires change because of itself.

A love like this is not instantaneous, refuting the "love-at-first-sight" theory. I have yet to see someone stare at another across the room and remark, "Wow, I am filled with this amazing desire to help that person become better and lift them up throughout their trials and struggles in life!" (Note: I am excluding pity for someone who has got themselves into a position where that is expected; though it is true that love can stem from that, it is rare.) Rather, love results from getting to know someone over time. Because of that, love does exist in a lesser form among friends: with friends, you try to help them as much as you can, but you are generally not willing to sacrifice yourself to do it, i.e. "I couldn¡¯t study for the test because I was too busy tutoring others in the class." A love that is self-sacrificing requires time to grow: and therefore, love cannot be an indicator of whom you should date. If love is not an indicator of whom we should date, yet it is the primary indicator of whom we should marry, then should we really treat dating so seriously? Should we look on every person we date as our future spouse? Should we get very emotionally involved with someone we don't know very well?

What is the ideal? In recap: first, I would like to see people treating a date less as a marriage proposal and more as a chance to learn more about another person. If we all had that mindset, we would surely have less problems with jealously if we saw someone dating another, and we would also have less problems with people lacking the courage to ask someone they are attracted to out on a date. We should not see friends breaking up, because they don¡¯t want to take the relationship one step further and are afraid the other person will only settle for that; because their friend would ask for a date when they were only attracted, not profusely infatuated; and dating would not inevitably lead to a romance either, and so they wouldn¡¯t feel quite as nervous about going on a date. Dating would become an invitation to discover, for both persons, whether a romance between them would work, whether the two of them together could become more than the sum of the parts. It would be no attachment, no pressure, and no illusions, and would yield an intelligent decision as to whether a relationship between them would work: if the mutual agreement was a no, then it would settle the case in such a way that both people could very well remain friends afterward. It would allow for dating around, perhaps more than one person at a time (not on the same date, of course): because it wouldn't be a courtship, but rather a search.

There would be no problems with crushes: since it wouldn't be all that much to ask for a date, the attraction wouldn't ever develop into a crush. As a result, there would be less emotional baggage, because people wouldn't get hurt so often when they are rejected by the one they are infatuated with; and because there wouldn't be so much emotion tied into the relationship too early on. If the date was rejected (due to complete lack of attraction; people's tastes vary; one should try at least to find someone they aren't repelled by; although perceived beauty is generally influenced by what they know of the person), there wouldn't be hard feelings, because the attraction wasn't serious enough to fret about.

On dates, people would be completely open, in order to find a good mutual match: because they wouldn't mind if the other person didn't like them; because they are deciding whether or not they like the other person themselves. They would learn as much as they can about each other, looking for a hint of love. And when they find it, they will enter into a courtship--waiting, of course, for the other person to find love before embarking--and entering with their eyes wide open, with a true definition of love, they may go on to a happy marriage. Any faults they find in the other person would not be sources of contention, because they realize that they have just as many faults. (And if you don't realize this, learn to be honest with yourself.) Some faults may end up being a catalyst to greater love. When we don't expect our partner to be perfect, then we won't continually be disappointed in our relationship, and thus will be much happier within it. Each partner will be on the lookout for each other, searching for ways to help the other person achieve their dreams, and to make their life as enjoyable as possible.

This does not mean that all will be smooth sailing. There will be occasional disagreements, fights perhaps; but after time to let the blood cool down, a make up will not be so difficult, because they love the other person in spite of their faults. Whenever one member is hit by trials, the other will be there to hold them up through it, and provide a strong foundation. Thus, the marriage will be a source of strength to both individuals. Because, as I argued earlier, the true purpose of marriage is to unite with another wanderer, and support each other through the difficulties of life, watching out for each other, and guarding each other knowing exactly where their weaknesses are and therefore what they need to protect. Work is more easily done in pairs, as teachers have long suggested: and through marriage, God shows He is of like mind.

But, while I can talk about the ideal all I want, I cannot ignore reality. The reality in this world is that people do take dating far more seriously than they should. (I don't mean that dating should be taken lightly, but rather less seriously; but with the way the world is, there is no fear of that any day soon.) Many spectators expect to see a ring soon after a first date. Many people even think that an accepted date is a sign that they share a mutual 'love.' To unilaterally live the ideal dating-wise while assuming everyone else does could end up hurting others as we live in our own fantasy dream-world; to decide that a relationship won't work after having gone on a few dates, and to do it multiple times may just end up ruining your reputation, which is something that should be of value to you.

So I suggest complete and total clarity in your dating relationships. Let people know where you stand. Explain your reasons to people (the number one thing kids hate about parents). Don¡¯t cheat yourself, but be sensitive to others as well. Personally, I will try to learn from this as well, because I too have been guilty of many of the things I condemned above. (Imagine where the world would be today if people seriously thought about their actions before they acted?) In the meantime, happy hunting!

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