It’s common for Christians to teach that you should only “go out” or “date” if you have marriage in view. I completely agree. The Bible teaches there is singleness and marriage; there is no third state called “going out” or “in a relationship”. This third ambiguous category of “going out” does not help us think biblically. Of course, there’s going to be a period of transition between singleness and marriage; it’s appropriate for a man and a woman to have a period of deliberately getting to know each other. But “transition” from singleness to marriage is precisely the way to think about what it is you’re doing as you get to know that girl or a guy better.
You can think of it like two lanes on a motorway*. There’s the “single” lane and there’s the “married” lane. There is no third lane called “going out”, which you can happily drive along in to the glory of God. Yet, sadly, that third lane is how our culture has conditioned us to think. When you think about it, “she’s my girlfriend” or “he’s my boyfriend” usually means “this is someone with whom I’m entitled to some extra romantic/sexual excitement”. The assumption is that a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” is someone with whom there’ll be more physical intimacy than anyone else; in Christian circles, they’ll just try not to go “too far” (hopefully). This whole idea of a third lane called “going out” is leading Christians to sin against their brothers and sisters. It’s a failure to treat “younger men as brothers” and “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim 5:2).
So, we need to remove that third “dating” lane from our thinking. It’s far more accurate to understand “going out” and “dating” as the process of checking your mirrors and putting your indicators on. It’s preparing to change from the “single” lane to the “married” lane. Now, I realise that process doesn’t take the mere five seconds it would take in a car! It would be nice if it did! Neither is the process going to be as mechanical as the illustration makes it sound! Obviously, the process involves the mystery of getting to know a person of the opposite sex; part way through, one of the two may change their minds, and not want to proceed to marriage, and they are perfectly free to do so. The point isn’t to make “dating” sound easy, but it is to get us to think clearly in light of Scripture. It’s all too easy for Christians to act as “couples”, and for the church to accept people as “couples”, who are not “couples” in any biblical sense.
My hunch is that as parents, we weren’t well taught on this subject ourselves. The teaching I got basically said: “go out with a Christian”, “don’t get too physical”, and “have marriage in view”. It never questioned the basic idea of “boyfriends” and “girlfriends”. We, therefore, have our work cut out to teach our children on this. Rather than watching our children “couple off” and thinking that it’s “cute”, we need to be talking to our children about the two lanes of singleness and marriage. We should teach them to question the language of “boyfriends” and “girlfriends”. What does he mean when he calls his Christian sister his “girlfriend”? Is that language helping him see his Christian sister in a biblical way? If we want our children to navigate this sexually confused world to the glory of God, then they need our help to conceive of “dating” in a way that doesn’t undermine, but reinforces the two states of singleness and marriage.
*Nb. the whole idea of two lanes is shamelessly stolen from Matthew Roberts, Minister at Trinity Church York, from the talk when he made the girls cry!