Sandy from the MAWB Squad was asked to opine yesterday on the lessons that could be learned from the highly publicized celebrity marital crack-ups that are keeping the tabloids in business. Of course she delivered admirably in “Advice to the Lovelorn.”
This got me to thinking, however, about the far less titillating but every bit as devastating romantic tragedies that happen all around us. Even, dare I say, in our own lives. My wife and I have been very blessed and happy in our 17-year marriage, but we both experienced emotion-searing, even mind-altering damage in our single days (stories for another day, but don’t count on it).
As we look to what may be ahead for our daughters, we’ve come to realize that the dating culture of serial monogamy and mini-divorces is not a good way to find a mate for life. And that’s based on our experiences from 20 and 30 years ago in the more idealistic days of the sexual revolution. With our oldest being of “dating” age, my wife and I naturally want better for our daughters than what we subjected ourselves to when we were their age.
Back then, at least, the culture expected couples to adopt the appearance of having a relationship. Now even the minimal commitment to someone else needed to simply make a date is optional in today’s hook-up culture among teens and older singles as reported here and in the New York Times, and even among ninth-graders. Somewhere along the line “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” went from being the height of selfishness to the point where merely throwing in the “thank you” passes for gentlemanliness. The glorification of sensation has ironically desensitized a significant part of a generation, and I can’t even picture how much “enlightenment” is required to make this look like a good thing.
Even in evangelical circles the challenges are severe for parents with an eye to preparing their youth for healthy, happy marriages. The book “Best Friends for Life” by Michael and Judy Phillips includes several case studies of kids who grew up in “churched” families and dated other “churched” youth and eventually married – and then crashed and burned. Though each example had different characteristics, the common thing I saw in each was the parents really had no vision of what they wanted for their kids or what was acceptable – or if they did, they didn’t communicate it. In many cases they gave in to the predominant dating model and were simply glad that their son or daughter was dating another Christian. As a result, the youngsters also fell into self-centered relationships in which they may have been physical, but they were far from intimate.
Is there another option? Well, I admit that the locking them in a tower until they’re 30 plan has its strong points, but that doesn’t do anything to prepare them for a strong marriage either. Our plan is the opposite of isolation, both the isolation of the tower where they are separated from others and the passion-induced isolation of being a couple where they separate themselves from others. We’ve encouraged our daughters to have a group of friends they can count on and do things as a group. Boys can be a part of this group, and are even encouraged, but no pairing up. The idea is to determine who can be trusted to be a friend – and not who just wants to get friendly.
What are the standards for friendship? The Bible lists some good ones (New Living Translation):
— Friends are few (Prov. 18:24) – “There are ‘friends’ who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.” We know the traditional concept of what a brother is, but think about what a brother is to a woman. A brother is someone who will stand by you and stand up for you because he wants the best for you, not because of what you can do for him.
— A friend lays down his life (John 15:13)”And here is how to measure it–the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends.” A friend puts your needs and well-being above his own.
— A friend loves unconditionally (Prov. 17:17) “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”
— A friend speaks the truth in love (Prov. 27:6)
“Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” A friend will tell you what you need to hear, again because he wants what is best for you. Someone caught up in infatuation or what he thinks is love will keep quiet so as not to jeopardize the physical aspects of the relationship.
— A friend encourages you and is sensitive to your needs (Prov. 26:18, 19) “Just as damaging as a mad man shooting a lethal weapon is someone who lies to a friend and then says, ‘I was only joking.'”
If true friendships can be established in a safe environment where the emotional stakes are not as high, then the ground is prepared for a possible courtship with an eye toward marriage. In a true courtship, both partners learn to trust the other with more and more of their innermost thoughts, wishes and emotions. This relationship is the key to a successful marriage. Most modern marriages fall short of genuine intimacy due to a distorted cultural image of romanticism that expects immediate intimacy. Too many want to jump right to the courtship stage simply because the other person is cute or a “hottie.” This might make for lovely wedding photos (or great tabloid covers) but is not much of a foundation for a lovely marriage.
I may appear pretty smug and overconfident seeing as how our oldest is just entering this dynamic time, but the rules and expectations have been set down and discussed for several years prior to this, and we do have wonderful examples in the lives of other parents and young marrieds we know who have crossed these waters ahead of us.
Truthfully, I don’t expect it to be easy, but right now the relationship my wife and I have with our children is still the most important in their lives aside from the relationship they are developing with God. And part of our responsibility in this relationship is to prepare them for a relationship with God and for a loving and godly relationship with their spouse – and ultimately their own children who they, in turn, must train. It won’t be the easiest course, but given what else is out there, I know it is the safest.