I’m breaking from the Spiritual Growth Journey theme for this week, mostly because I already wrote a blog post about meditation (you can find that here) and because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about another subject this past week.
What is the difference between dating and being married? That was a question I was ruminating over during a sleepless night this past week. Obviously, to be married a couple has to have a wedding of some sort and go through the legal channels to be legally married, but that’s not really what I’m talking about. What makes a marriage relationship different from a dating one? Do you gain any additional rights or privileges when you get married?
In many cases for Christian and non-Christian alike, practically the answer is no. For non-Christians, that doesn’t surprise me. They don’t have the same views on marriage and sexuality and that’s okay. This article isn’t about condemning non-Christians for not holding Christian values. It’s about Christian couples and how they live out Christian values. I guess most Christians would say you gain the ability to have sex and not sin. Oh, and you can have kids and it not be a big deal. While those two things are very significant, shouldn’t there be something more than sex that differentiates the marriage relationship from any other? The answer is yes.
The Public and the Private
In previous generations, there has often been a very clear line between public life and private life. In our current world, we often blur that line. Before I continue, I should explain that. By public I mean around people, in the open, accessible to most. By private I mean things that are available to a select few, things like family life, finances, the more intimate parts of our life. One could argue that is a biblical separation of these two spheres. Genesis 2:24 says that “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and the two become one flesh.” A person leaves one type of private, intimate relationship, his birth family, and begins a new private, intimate relationship with his wife. In both the birth family and the marriage, the relationship includes certain rights and privileges that would be seen as invasive or inappropriate were it not for the family connection.
In a marriage relationship, you have full access to each other’s private lives. You are part of the same family. You share your finances. You can be alone and no one suspects anything fishy is going on (unless you’re just very suspicious acting). However, when you are dating, you have not yet officially (from a Christian perspective) gained access to the private aspect of each other’s lives. You’re not yet a part of one another’s families. Your finances are separate and they should be. You have no lasting tie that binds you together that entitles you access the most intimate parts of life. You’re still exploring whether you trust one another enough to commit to that. You might get glimpses into one another’s private lives, but you haven’t yet gained full access, and that is how it should be until you move forward to the next phase of your relationship.
What does that look like in real life? Below is a short list of things I thought of that blur the line between the public and private and which I would advise dating couples not to do. I’ll be honest, I did a lot of these things while I was dating. I’ll also be honest and say that doing these things did not ruin my life or my relationship with my husband. However, they did flavor my relationships and make me more fearful than I should have been about getting married. They didn’t help my relationship get stronger, instead it made me doubt it’s reliability. All of this made me super whiny and desperate about getting married. On top of that, doing these things caused a wedge between me and God. Though not all of them are sinful, I still knew they were unwise and I should have known better. I’d like to help you be as wise as possible if you’re currently dating, so here’s the list in no particular order:
I’m assuming no sex here, just sleeping in the same bed. It’s so comfy and it seems so innocent. It obviously veers into the “private” side of things (as you wouldn’t normally share a bed with a member of the opposite sex unless you were related to them, and even that would be weird in many cases) but I’m going to advise you not to do it for two additional reasons:
- It looks really bad. I know that we shouldn’t be ruled by what other people think of us. I’m not saying we make every decision based upon how it looks. However, the Bible tells us that there should be “not even a hint of sexual immortality” among Christians (Ephesians 5:3). Whether anything actually happens or not, sleeping over gives the impression that something is happening.
- Something could easily happen and most likely will if you make a habit of this. This is coming from experience. Sure, at the start you’re just cuddling, but things can easily take a different turn. You accidentally put your hand somewhere or you catch each other’s eyes and start kissing and suddenly things are in motion. It’s just putting yourself in a position to be tempted. Even if you don’t have sex, you can easily go farther physically than you should or than you would like to. It’s just not wise. It would be like someone who’s trying to lose weight bringing home a chocolate cake just because they want to smell it. More than likely, eventually you’re going to take a bite.
Can I be honest and say that I’m amazed how many Christian couples think that this is totally acceptable for a Christian? It’s never been acceptable in any age before our own and I don’t think you make a good argument for it biblically now. Once again, it’s “more than a hint” of sexual immortality and even if you aren’t planning to have sex while living together, it’s an unwise position to put yourself in. It’s basically just playing marriage, claiming every right as husband and wife when you haven’t committed to that. Why not just get married? I don’t get it. To top it all off, some studies show that if you live together before you get married, your marriage has a lower statistical probability of success. There just don’t seem to be a lot of pros here. However, I’ll give some leeway on this one depending on the circumstances, especially if you are engaged. Sometimes it’s just practically the best solution for a short period of time or you may be living with a whole group of people in a house. That’s a little different and it’s not really what I’m talking about here, but I just want to point out that there may be some short-term exceptions.
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have a theological reason past the public/private divide for this one, but I think there’s enough practical evidence to show this is a bad idea. You have no legal recourse if someone you’re dating and you give access to your accounts steals your money. You have no legal recourse if you’re combining bills, you end up paying for their stuff, and then they leave you. There are a whole host of ways this can go wrong. Should you know how each of you views finances while you’re dating? Yes, that will be important in your marriage. However, you shouldn’t be paying for one another’s stuff and you shouldn’t have access to each other’s bank accounts.
Acting Like You’re Part of the Family
Don’t pretend you’re members of each other’s families. You’re not. You can have close relationships with your families, but don’t ever lose sight of where you actually stand. You don’t need to be a part of every holiday celebration. In fact, it’s probably good that you aren’t. That doesn’t mean you don’t ever hang out with them or that you shouldn’t try to get along with them or anything like that, but it does mean that you recognize there are still boundaries between you and your significant other’s family. You’re not one of them until you get married, no matter how well you get along. If they invite you to a holiday gathering, you can go, but don’t presume that you should be invited just because you’re dating a member of the family. Also, don’t invite your boyfriend/girlfriend to every single family event. There are some events where having a non-family member there can be awkward (Christmas gift exchange, for instance). This isn’t just about the two of you. Family events are about family. Until someone is actually a member (or is officially soon to be a member), they don’t always need to accompany you to every family event.
This one is hard. There are some places/times/situations where vacationing together is totally cool. If you’re going with a group of friends, or your family wants you to bring your significant other to family vacation, sure. Maybe a mutual friend invites the two of you to travel to see them. Those things seem fine to me. However, if just the two of you are going on a vacation together, you’ve got the same issues here as sleeping over. There’s more than a hint of sexual immorality here. Plus, being in a different, exciting, and new environment can also tempt you to mix things up physically too. While going on a trip together is exciting and bonding, maybe hold off until you’ve actually tied the knot.
What I’m Saying and What I’m Not
So there’s my list. There’s probably more things that could be added to it. What I’m not saying in this list is that if you do these things, you are necessarily sinning. If you cross sexual boundaries, yes you are sinning, but it’s possible to do the things on this list without dong that. This isn’t about sin, it’s about wisdom and prudence. The Bible says we should try to be as wise as we can. I don’t think the things on this list are particularly wise. In fact, many of them are downright foolish in certain circumstances.
Why? These things and other activities that blur that public/private line make you look and feel like you are something that you aren’t yet. You might be those things someday, but for now, you don’t have those privileges. Like in my own case, they might not ruin your future marriage, but they may make you feel more intimate than you really have reason to be. This may cause you to overlook things you shouldn’t because of how you feel. That can have disastrous consequences. They may just make you more unsatisfied with where you are today, in the place that God has placed you at this particular season. Regardless, though it won’t ruin your life and God’s grace covers all (even if you venture into “sinful” territory), I urge you to be wiser than I was. If you’re not married, don’t act like it.