It might surprise you to learn that dating is a relatively new concept in many societies. Traditionally, marriage was arranged in most parts of the world with the wedding happening sometime after a period of betrothment. As such, dating is typically considered a Western practice by most of the world, but as time progresses, it’s becoming ever prevalent on a global scale.
So, why did dating emerge? What purpose does it serve? As Christians, how should we think about dating?
Courtship (aka dating) was a societal luxury that really started to become common after the 18th century in Western cultures. As societies became less agrarian, marriage started to become less focused on strengthening political and familial ties and more on loving relationships. Dating developed into an opportunity to establish love between couples.
Fast forward to our modern-day, and Western culture in the 21st century sees dating as the precursor for multiple stages in a relationship. Each of these stages has a practical purpose of its own. Namely, each stage exists to establish enough comfort between couples and advance into the next stage of the relationship.
This article focuses on the practical purposes of those stages, and over the course of our conversation, we’ll also address the ultimate purpose of dating from a spiritual perspective as Christians.
Purpose #1: Romantic Relationship
Dating is a simple way to meet someone under the pretense of gauging romantic interest. Ultimately, a few dates (or a few more) tend to help people decide if the other person is someone to form a relationship with.
The ideal length of the dating period tends to vary depending on the person asked. It may only take a couple of dates for some people to know that this is a person worth investing in, but for others, the dating process may even extend into double digits. There is no right or wrong answer for how long it should take before making it an official relationship, but if you’re nearing double digits, it’s definitely about to be decision time.
The practical purpose of dating is to begin a romantic relationship with another person. The Bible doesn’t directly speak about dating because it didn’t exist in that era, but it does speak about romance and relationships. Biblically, they are rooted in the creation story and identified as a monogamous, heterosexual union (Gen. 2:23-24).
Although not yet married like Adam and Eve were, romantic relationships are the proving grounds for that kind of potential. They are the vehicles for determining the long-term compatibility of a couple. The course of a relationship determines whether the people involved choose to split ways and end the romance or go deeper and become permanent couples.
Purpose #2: Marital Engagement
“Will you marry me?” is a landmark question and made more popular in our culture by every romantic movie made. It’s every girl’s dream to hear it and an anxious moment for every guy who asks it. Popping the question is a landmark moment for every relationship.
There are only two answers to a marriage proposal: yes or no.
A “no” answer is effectively ending the relationship. The reason behind this answer is usually couched in desiring more time, but choosing to continue often results in a slower end to the relationship and more heartache. However, if the question was indeed a complete surprise, there may be some merit to giving the relationship more time.
A “yes” answer is a prize of its own and turns the relationship into a marital engagement. An engagement is a period of time before the couple officially ties the knot that’s full of joyful expectations. Although the engagement can still be canceled, so long as nothing out of the ordinary occurs, it usually culminates in a beautiful wedding full of loved ones.
The practical purpose of romantic relationships is to begin a marital engagement. The Bible definitely mentions engagements and records the most famous marital engagement of all time (Luke 1:26-27). Like Mary and Joseph were before, biblically speaking, engaged couples are betrothed to be married.
Marital engagements give the couple time to schedule a wedding that everyone can attend and plan for their future together. During this time, we recommend that Christian couples attend a premarital counseling program together. These programs help each person understand the expectations of their future spouse and prepare for the covenant of marriage.
Purpose #3: Marriage Covenant
Marriage is one of the most devoted demonstrations of love in existence, and as Christians, the covenant of marriage is a sacred union. It’s an everlasting promise to love the other person until death without abandoning or divorcing them, despite whatever circumstances might come. A vow is spoken by saying “I do” and should be taken with utmost seriousness.
Marriage is the end goal of courtship! It’s the final checkpoint on this long road of love, but the road itself extends into a lifetime of romance together and the discovery of even deeper forms of love. Ultimately, the road ends in eternity with God (1Jhn. 4:16).
The practical purpose of a marital engagement is to effectively plan for a lifelong marriage covenant. The Bible has much to say about marriage, and multiple pages have been written about it (including this website). However, the covenant of marriage is not the end of our journey concerning purpose because marriage has a purpose of its own.
Marriage is meant to be a physical representation of Christ’s love for the Church. It’s theological messaging in action and a living witness to the world of the love found in Christ. As such, it’s the duty of every married Christian to demonstrate the very love of Christ Himself to their wife or husband (Eph. 5:23-25) and uphold the sanctity of marriage (Heb. 13:4).
Therefore, the purpose of dating is to enter a romantic relationship, and the purpose of a romantic relationship is marriage. However, quite literally, the purpose of marriage is ministry!