Why Can't We Be Friends?
Today’s ideas about “biblical” love, dating, and courtship come from a variety of sources. Notable influencers in this area have been Bill Gothard, Joshua Harris (I Kissed Dating Goodbye), Josh McDowell and Richard Ross (True Love Waits). I’m sure all of us are affected by our own experiences as a young person navigating the mine field of romantic relationships, and all this combined together may add up to more confusion than clarity.
My biggest concern is the lack of Bible in “biblical” advice about The Search for a Spouse. The Bible guides us in several ways, including command, doctrine, principle, precedent, and illustration. Taking in all the preaching and teaching I’ve heard over the years would lead me to believe that there is a mandate for every Christian to focus on acquiring a spouse with an accompanying list of commandments so each can find The Right One.
We are not very quick to acknowledge the few clear Scriptural reasons we are given to pursue marriage: to avoid fornication, as a picture of Christ and the church, and to raise godly children. Even though Paul advocates for singlehood, we can ignore him whenever he speaks by permission and not of commandment. Right?
If we believe the personal work of the Holy Spirit combines with the revelation of Scripture to lead and guide us to truth, then every person has the freedom to seek a spouse, or not seek a spouse.
Since we as parents, teachers, and church leaders do not know which way God will lead those we guide and influence, what should we be telling them?
Why not teach them how to be a good friend?
Although romantic movies and Valentine’s Day emphasize love as primarily for those seeking a partner for life, love is not reserved for romance in Scripture. Far from it.
- God describes Himself as the embodiment of love (1 John 4:8).
- Love is a defining characteristic of discipleship: ”By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
- Love leads to sacrifice for one’s friends. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
- The “love” chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, doesn’t describe anything remotely like romantic love. Instead, it defines the optimistic, unselfconscious generosity of love.
There are many deeply meaningful friendships in the Bible, as well as verses about how to be a good friend. I think we neglect this essential and foundational aspect of character building because we are just flat out scared of our kids having sex before marriage—so we skip right over the part that will most likely ensure they will think twice about having sex!
- A friend looks out for your best interests.
- A friend is truthful.
- A friend is trustworthy.
- A friend will respect your choices.
- A friend will hold you accountable.
- A friend will forgive.
- A friend will seek your forgiveness.
Any relationship based on such principles of love and friendship will not quickly stray into sexual immorality.
We’ve tried to inoculate our kids against sexual immorality by making sure they are never alone with the opposite sex and that they don’t have access to a phone or computer without supervision. We’ve held True Love Waits ceremonies and given Purity Rings so young people will believe that their worth in the sight of God and man is based on their sexual purity. We’ve scared them to death with stories of STDs and HIV, and shamed unwed mothers mercilessly to make an example out of them.
Our scare tactics don’t work very well because they are tainted by our own insecurity and fears, and leave out the most important part of the human equation—love and friendship.
Instead of debating courtship vs. dating, why not focus on teaching our kids how to develop and maintain healthy relationships?
Principles of biblical friendship not only encourage our children to nurture the characteristics of love within themselves, but how to look for virtue in others, and surround themselves with people who are striving for the same things. They don’t have to share the same ethnic background, the same education, or the same hobbies—but they do have to share the same beliefs about what it means to have integrity and courage, compassion and generosity, and to search for meaning from God’s point of view.
It’s also important for our young people to view each other as human beings first and foremost, instead of potential sexual partners—which is the irony of focusing so much on courtship and dating.
I’ve spent many years as a parent trying to figure this one out, and quite by accident, I discovered that if my kids knew how to be good friends and to seek good friends, the rest mostly works itself out. They get to know people and have a good time, unburdened by the need to make life-altering decisions before they are old enough to graduate high school. They are less likely to view others as sexual objects if they aren’t hearing adults constantly referring to their friends as sexual objects. It’s amazing! Who knew?
I think it’s time to truly kiss dating and courtship goodbye, and embrace the simplicity of healthy friendships.
Susan R 2016 Bio
Susan Raber uses her 22+ years of homeschooling to write about teaching and parenting at Every Day of Education and Wide Open Stories, helping families on a budget use real books and real life experiences to prepare their children for the real world.
Before my wife and I were married we dated for a little over 2 years, but I feel (and have stated this many times) that the most important part of our relationship was the year that we spent as friends. Our story was one of being really good friends and then waking up one day and realizing that we liked each other more than friends. I tell people all the time not to look for a girlfriend or boyfriend, but rather find a FRIEND. I think that the post was very accurate in its assessment of teaching kids the importance of friends rather than just focusing on relationships. I am not sure if Susan’s post was referring to how we ought to deal with high schoolers rather than those in college or if her post was just across the board about dating/courting. I feel that makes a difference in one’s view on the topic, but overall I feel like she was right on. Our society pushes kids to “needing” a relationship. The fact is we NEED godly friendships to sharpen and grow one another.
If we are teaching our kids how to have healthy and meaningful friendships, then the earlier the better. If you wait until college to start talking about healthy relationships, then that horse is out of the barn and roaming free in Montana.
When teaching kids how a solid friendship makes a foundation for a better serious relationship, I think you should definitely be talking about this during the teen years, and then in more detail as they mature.
I like that—it does point out that sitting on the “davenport” with tea is every bit as contrived a situation as a typical “dinner and a movie” date. My wife and I were blessed to do a lot of long distance/letters, and our first date was building homes with Habitat for Humanity. Covered in sheetrock dust is a better way of getting to know someone, I’m persuaded. We still joke, per the old Rush Limbaugh schtick, about being on the vanguard of romantical evolution. We do dinners out and the like—everybody’s got to eat—but we’re still quite different.
I also remember that the key to my being ready to marry (as opposed to needing marriage but being terrified of asking a girl out) was watching my stepdad interact with my mom, as well as my interactions with college friends. Something “clicked” about the time I met my wife.
Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.
Something “clicked” about the time I met my wife.
I had a lot of girls who were friends but not girlfriends. This gave me a chance to get to know them and to realize that things were not “clicking” beyond friendship. That was fine, since I still had a lot of good friends. Then I met Crystal. Things clicked and we have been married for over 10 years now. She was worth waiting for, but I also value the many friendships I have had in my lifetime.
Recently I heard about a pastor that was talking to a young lady who would occasionally hang out with a young man about her age. She tried to make it clear that they were not dating. Her pastor asked about if they were at the same place together and then grinned and said, “so then you’re dating.” I do not think such rhetoric is healthy. She was wanting to make it clear to her friend that they were not dating, but the pastor was actually making that more difficult by not accepting that they were just friends. (BTW this was not an elderly out of touch pastor- he is a millennial).
Susan, thank you for some great advice.
Recently I heard about a pastor that was talking to a young lady who would occasionally hang out with a young man about her age. She tried to make it clear that they were not dating. Her pastor asked about if they were at the same place together and then grinned and said, “so then you’re dating.” I do not think such rhetoric is healthy.
Exactly, JD. I remember how in high school and college it was difficult to just have a conversation with someone of the opposite sex because everyone was so hyper-focused on matching people up. Friends and teachers would have you married with children just for sitting next to someone. If we don’t want our young people to view each other as sex objects, how about we as adults stop treating them like that’s all they are? Sheesh!
I was thinking a bit more about age-appropriate teaching on relationships, and as a parent, I had to start teaching my kids about relationships, romantic and otherwise, while they were still pre-teens because of how much teaching and preaching they were hearing on the subject. Basically, I was deep into deprogramming them from some of the more harmful messages they were hearing that were supposedly based on Scripture. IMO, if you have to go to Genesis to support your standards of romantic relationships, you are in heap big trouble.