My first experience with a Christian dating book was less than positive. I was in college and at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship retreat where the theme of the weekend was relationships. My then-boyfriend and I wanted to extend the wisdom of the weekend so we bought a book there about dating to read together. I don't even remember what it was called — something about dating and integrity, I think — but it had a bright green cover so we referred to it as "The Green Book."

Our motives were good — and I think the motives of the author of The Green Book were, too. But the results were disastrous. After telling us to view, treat, and honor people of the opposite sex as brothers and sisters in Christ (a paradigm we could buy), The Green Book laid out a plan in which you don't really date, but find a best friend of the opposite sex by hanging out in groups. Then — shazam! — one day the guy of this best-friend relationship asks the woman to be his bride and they live happily ever after (that is, after the guy picks the girl up off the floor because she's broadsided by his proposal!). According to the book, one-on-one relationships are a no-no, as is any kind of physical contact. Maybe some hand holding — but only after you're engaged. And then only in well-lit public places. (Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a tad here!)

Well, as you can imagine, my then-boyfriend and I already had a one-on-one relationship. And we'd not only held hands before betrothal, we'd actually kissed. The more we read, the more guilty we felt. So what had started as a quest to honor God in our dating relationship, led only to an overwhelming sense of confusion and guilt (for things we weren't quite sure why we should feel guilty).

My next experience with a Christian dating book happened about a year ago. This time I wasn't even the one who'd read the book. A guy I met at a church-sponsored swing dance had read it — and had "kissed dating goodbye." After that dance, "Dale" and I started hanging out together more and more — attending concerts, taking ballroom dancing classes, renting movies, and going to church together — sometimes in groups but often just the two of us.

Finally one day when we were at one of those romantic outdoor concert venues having a picnic together, I asked what on earth this relationship was if it wasn't dating. After some hemming and hawing and at long last some good honest talk about expectations and getting caught up in semantics, we finally came to the conclusion that dating wasn't necessarily the root of all evil, that it could be done in a God-honoring way — and, in fact, that we were pretty much doing that already. There was a palpable sense of relief after that — at being able to call a spade a spade, at not being paralyzed by "Christian" fears and expectations, and being free to follow God's unique purposes for our relationship instead of a formula.

I know many of you will disagree with me, but I'm not so sure "kissing dating goodbye" is a good idea. Yes, I know we need to be careful with others' hearts. I understand it's difficult to remain pure in our sex-saturated society. And I've witnessed much harm and hurt accomplished in the name of dating. I'll even admit that for certain people and in certain situations non-dating is probably the best option, even God's best. But I also think that many times it's a cop out.

I've seen singles use non-dating or courting as an excuse to hang out with a lot of different people of the opposite gender (non- dating around, if you will) — leading to all kinds of confusion. I've seen these non-dating philosophies used as a way to escape responsibility and commitment. And mostly I've seen them used as a means of avoiding the hard work of following God in our day-to- day lives and relationships. While dating can be wonderful and enriching, when it's done poorly it can also be painful and messy. So instead of learning to do it well, some would have us just not date altogether.

But I think that in avoiding this potentially messy part of life, we miss out on the chance to learn about and practice discipline, integrity, obedience, responsibility, seeking God's will, and following God's unique direction for each of our lives and relationships. I think the goal should be honoring God, not avoiding pain or responsibility. There are no easy answers here — whether it's kissing dating goodbye, following some "Rules," or adopting any other 1-2-3 formula for relational success — there's only a God who desperately desires for each and every one of us to be in an intimate relationship with him. In my view, that's the only true source for healthy male-female relationships.

Blessings!
Camerin Courtney

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