I had the privilege of teaching an Adolescent Development & Faith Formation course at Grand Canyon University a few years back. One of the topics that came up as we were dealing with the social context of adolescents was "dating". As we began to work through the content, I asked the students to technically define the term "dating"...from a dictionary. One of my students expressed what I believe is the sentiment of the culture at large. They replied, "I had never considered looking in a dictionary to define dating." To this I replied, "rightly so".
How many of us ever consider where we get our definitions from? It seems we have bought into the idea that anybody can define a term how they choose and that be okay. Most of us engage conversations based on a widespread cultural definition, but fail to undergird our ideas with legitimate, concrete evidence. This is one thing I love about the doctoral process. You cannot be considered a doctor, or an expert in a certain field of study until you have learned to stand firmly on "justified" information that has come before you. Doctoral students do not get to simply articulate their thoughts and concepts based on what they think or feel. Maybe this analogy is a bit better. If I started to articulate to others that "2+2 is 5" I am not sure how far I might get with this claim. It won't work for my kids in school, or for me in the bank. We must be careful when defining terms that we do so rightly. Unfortunately, we haven’t followed this principle within the culture at large…especially when it comes to dating.
How does the culture define dating?
Cultural dating is defined as two persons who engage in a season of exclusively being with one another. A few terms synonymous with this type dating include hanging or going out; going together; "just friends", "we're talking", boyfriend or girlfriend and I am sure there are other terms you may have heard that could be added to this list. Normally the focus is rooted in what you can get from the other person as opposed to what you can give. If I ask, "why we're dating a certain person", more so than not our answer will revolve around the person's attributes and how they make us feel. This posture is self-centered, sizing up the other to see if they are good enough or worthy of our time and affection. You are trying to see if they may be right for you.
When you look at the term dating according to the Dictionary.com, the term is defined as a social appointment, engagement or occasion that is arranged beforehand. This is interesting as the technicality of the term has very little to do with our cultural definition. In light of the technical definition, we actually date more people than we might consider. We make many social appointments with others. This ranges from family members, to co-workers and yes, even those that we may be affectionately interested in. In essence we are always dating multiple persons. Yea, I know there's even some tension in that statement. This is the very reason why dating must be approached differently than the cultural norm. For this we look at a counter-cultural approach.
Counter Cultural Dating
When you engage dating that is counter cultural, it becomes a season of learning. Dating in this context is creating proximity - time, place & relationship solely for the purpose of seeking to love and bless the other person. You are in pursuit of who they are rather than what they have. You aren't sizing them up, but you're serving them. You're not exploiting them, instead you are experiencing life with them. This is a shift from self-focused to others-focused. This is what dating begins to look like when it is redeemed.
I find it within my personal mission to recalibrate our relational contexts. In a culture where people are drawn to the idea of authentic relationships it becomes imperative that we help them understand what healthy relationships look like and how we are to engage them. Initially we can begin by rightly defining terms such as dating and not loosening such terms to fit what we want them to be. This we will do as we continue to discuss Dating Redeemed. Stay tuned as we will look at rightly defining Courting next.