5 More Minutes on Dating in College

During last Sunday’s post-service Q&A someone asked a question about dating in college. I gave an answer that was directed more to the freshman students I’ve been meeting with, who are barely sleeping 3 hours a day, barely eating 2 meals a day, and barely maintaining an emotionally sustainable lifestyle. “Do you really have the extra time on your hands? Can you bear the extra emotional burden? How serious are you about succeeding in college?”

But if I had 5 more minutes I think I would’ve added the following.

Dating is exciting, and it can be really fun! Therefore, you should take dating seriously, too. And this means, like anything adventurous and enjoyable in life, you need to put in place a few safeguards if you want to survive (think things like skydiving, theme parks, and scuba diving that are all preceded by a cautionary mini-lecture).

There are three things I’d like to caution you about dating in college.

1. Avoid the tendency of college couples to become “a church of two.” The temptation is to become more intimate with your partner and seclude your pastor or your church community, which is to miss out on the counsel and accountability you need to have a God-honoring dating relationship (or any kind of human relationship). If your dating relationship is distancing you from God and the church, or enabling you to keep sexual sins secret, then it’s time to raise a few flags and get real about your motives.

2. Avoid poor motives. Dating and hooking up are not the same things. Are you sure it’s dating you want and not a hookup? Studies show that hookups are the new norm, and it’s leaving students desensitized and depressed. Are you regularly accessing pornography? Studies link students’ pornography usage with desire to experience multiple partners on campus. Are you looking for a coping mechanism for your loneliness? Many students search for relationships merely as a means to this self-serving psychological end. In other words, are you honest with yourself about your motives? Are they scriptural motives or purely cultural/psychological motives? God created sex for marriage, it’s the only context where you’ll truly enjoy it for what it is; do you even agree with this biblical mandate? Maybe you’re thinking, ‘I don’t think it’s realistic to keep sex out of dating.’ If this is your take on dating, then you’re simply not ready to date (at least not as a faithful follower of Christ). I don’t see why dating must be so sexually charged. Ask the person out, dress up, pick a good movie, enjoy a nice meal; but go back home, sleep in your own bed — alone. Be okay with aching and longing for more, it means you’re healthy. A guilty conscience is no fun. If you’re struggling with guilt, confess it to your pastor, be prayed over, and receive the gospel grace to move one (hence the first point).

3. Avoid the illusion of adulthood. College life resembles the real world but it’s not the real world. It’s got “fitness centers, cineplexes, food courts, huge coliseums” — but college is its own “cocooned city” (according to James K.A. Smith); it’s an institution centered on education, filled with financial dependents and vocational amateurs. Most college students have not been exposed to the real dynamics of the vocational and relational world. This means chances are students will enter the dating experience unequipped and unprepared. It takes maturity, and maturity takes discipleship. So the remedy, once again, is the local church where you can get discipled. Take it a step further and plug into an intergenerational church, where you interact with the real world — with young adults, married couples, parents, and even their little infants. It sounds almost too common sensical, but it’s worth repeating: If you want to become a carpenter, you hang around carpenters; if you want to become a barber, you hang around barbers; if you want to become an adult, you hang around adults. Make time for our community groups, hang out with people who have gone ahead of you in life and are willing to share their wisdom with you.

Solomon knows a thing or two about dating, and here’s what he says:

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20) 

“Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” (Proverbs 12:1) 

Let real people filled with real experiences speak into your life, let them humble you, let them instill patience in you, and let them show you that there’s a lot more to a romantic relationship than movies, dinners, and physical intimacy.

If you can implement these three safeguards, I think you’re about to “find a really good thing.” (Proverbs 18:22) Then my final advice would be, “Have fun, enjoy yourselves, and praise God for every minute of it!”

I’m sure you have more questions, maybe pushback? Let’s grab that coffee and keep our conversation going. Or ask a question during our post-service Q&A. I’m here to help and I’d love to talk with you.

John

Links to references I’ve made above:

Hookup Culture: The Unspoken Rules of Sex On College Campuses (NPR)

Why College Students Need a Class in Dating (The Atlantic)

Loneliness and the College Experience (New York Times)

The Influence of Internet Pornography on College Students (McNair Scholars Journal)

Dating Advice You Actually Need (The Gospel Coalition)

Sermon: Learning to Long (Song of Solomon 1:1-7)