Recently, the mom of a teenage girl asked me my “opinion” on dating. We also have really great young adults who work with us and I’ve had recent conversations with them on this topic. So, I’ve decided to write just a little of my two cents on the subject.

*My presuppositions about dating include: 1) you have a relationship with Jesus and commit to only dating a person who is a born-again Christ-follower 2) you considering dating as an opportunity in, not a necessity of, life – a want, not a need

In my humble opinion, there are two kinds of dating: dating with emotion and dating with intention. From personal experience, understanding the experiences of others, and reading the Bible, dating with intention will always be healthier and more God-honoring than dating with emotion.

Dating with Emotion

I will be the first to confess during high school I was likely dating with emotion. For context, I dated the same girl during all three years of high school and into freshman year. During those years, I took it upon myself to be the guy Nicholas Sparks would write about. I owned books of Shakespearean Sonnets, learned how to fold Origami roses, and even put a hand-made paper banner with song lyrics on the garage door of my girlfriend’s house (I can only imagine what her parents really thought of this sweet or(?) weird kid).

Emotions can become the priority. If the emotional feeling one gets from a dating relationship is his or her number one priority, then there will certainly be danger. For clarity, danger is not limited to “getting pregnant.” I know in the Deep South it often seems this is the unforgiveable sin. But instead, I am talking not just about physical impropriety but the danger of emotional immorality. A high schooler should be almost as concerned about losing their E-Card (giving away their intimate emotions) as they are their V-Card (a colloquialism for their purity). Whenever a teenager or college student prioritizes their emotional desires and allows themselves to experience emotional intimacy, in a way they are giving away a gift that is only meant to be shared with their future spouse. Then also, obviously, dating allowing emotions to drive the train you will be much more likely to derail into physical immorality.

Emotions can become the idol. In addition to giving away a gift which should be saved, a person dating with emotion will run a very high risk of making a god out of the person they are dating. This is a sin which grieves the heart of God. A dating relationship can be a blessing. But like many throughout scripture who worship the created instead of the Creator, the blessing of a boyfriend or girlfriend can turn into an idol which causes severe damage to a relationship with God.

Dating with Intention

Dating with intention organizes the priority. Emotions in dating are not a bad thing. God created our emotions and I fully believe emotions which are experienced in a healthy relationship are a blessing. Whenever a person who is dating dates with intentionality, they are on the offensive. The way this happens is by determining if the other person in the relationship moves you towards Christ-likeness or away from God. Ask yourself if you are a more mature Christian because you are in this relationship or is the relationship creating unnecessary temptations for sin – both physical and emotional. Rather than enter into a relationship and then react to who they are (I do like this about them, I don’t like that), decide in advance who it is you aspire your boyfriend or girlfriend to be. Notice I did not say what they do or what you hope they are like. Far too many people (perhaps women more than men) get hung up on a checklist. Both in the present and in the long-run, who a man or woman is becomes far more important that what they do. More simply put, rather than focusing on a guy’s career, a girl’s looks, or if you have similar taste in music, intentionally focus on learning who they are and what trajectory their life is on. This kind of intentionality in a relationship still leaves room for emotions, but without prioritizing how the other person makes you feel as the most important experience.

In my opinion this can be a game-changer for teenagers. If you can get your son or daughter to prioritize who the person is as valuable, rather than what the person does or how the person makes them feel, this will likely prevent a number of bad relationships in the early years. Change the standard of dating measurement from “how they make me feel” to actually considering who they are. In a world of superficial adolescents, sometimes all your teenager needs is for you to challenge them with this question. Of course, this is always easier said than done!

Dating with intention can prevent idols. Sure, who doesn’t want to be swept off their feet?! Again, this is not an encouragement to systematically remove emotions or excitement from a relationship. Instead, I’m encouraging you to consider “keeping your head about you” as you are swept off your feet! It is a common experience to create an idol of the person you are dating. Perhaps it has been a long time since you have dated someone. Maybe you believe it will help your social status or give you a purpose – or you just want someone to take a selfie with at the local coffee shop. But the truth is our identity is in Christ alone. Even when your head is swimming and your feet don’t seem to touch the ground, continue to swoon over Jesus Christ and His redemptive, unconditional, never-ending love for you. There are no guarantees in a dating relationship. Even if the guy or gal is a “good one.” Break ups happen. Feelings change. Spoiler alert: I did not marry the young lady I dated for 3+ years. Choose to intentionally worship Jesus daily in your life and allow His presence and His Holy Spirit to directly influence your dating relationship. Again, if you notice your relationship with Jesus begin to change the longer you date a person, this is a bad sign you are allowing that person to assume the throne of your heart – and Jesus is being demoted.

Relationships are an art, not a science. God has uniquely gifted all His creation with personalities, likes and dislikes, and especially our emotions. However, if you are dating or planning to date, aspire to keep yourself from dating with emotion. Instead, honor God with a consecrated heart and a holy life. He alone will never leave you, He alone will always love you, whether you are in a relationship with someone or not!