We tell women, “Don’t give your heart away to a man who isn’t sure what he’s going to do with it.” And we tell men, “Don’t try to win the heart of a woman if you don’t know what you’re going to do with it.” We’re not against a man pursuing a woman. In bygone days, a man would woo a woman toward marriage. Women are giving themselves away—emotionally, romantically, sexually—to men who have made no promises. Yes, the trick is to happily anticipate sexual intimacy in a way that it doesn’t lead to immorality.
Ultimately, the “commitment” of a dating relationship is the commitment to be committed until one or the other doesn’t feel like being committed. The time to bring on the romance is when you’re ready to bring on the ring! However, you also argue that the standard of sexual purity for the neighbor relationship, even after engagement, remains the same. Certainly once a man and woman have agreed upon marriage, it is appropriate that they have a happy sense of longing and desire to experience the relational joy of sexual intimacy with one another.
In either case, the legitimization of dating relationships as a distinct category of male-female relationship has introduced an enormous amount of subjectivity into Christian pre-marital relationships.
A main problem with contemporary dating relationships is that they tend to grant license to sexual activity that we would otherwise intuitively deem inappropriate. In our book, we argue that a dating relationship is really just a subset of the neighbor relationship, and thus must be governed by its sexual guidelines.
Pastors and parents have, I think, dropped the ball here.
We’ve tended to push the burden of this dilemma back onto teens and singles.
By this definition, passionate kissing is clearly a sexual activity, and thus to be reserved for the marriage relationship.
I’ve heard a number of creative attempts to work around this logic, but none are very convincing.
Yet we treat these relationships as though they were a quasi-marriage, and thus grant them a measure of security that isn’t really there. You write, “To romantically woo a woman, or to give your heart away to a man, prior to a marriage commitment is to paint an unclear portrait of Christ and the church. It is never wrong to anticipate a good gift from God.
Likewise, the sexual ethic of the “neighbor relationship” is detailed in 1 Corinthians 7:9 and 1 Timothy 5:2—namely, that sexual activity is prohibited.
We go into this in more detail in the book, but the crucial observation here is that .
Even within marriage there will be times when sex will not be possible for certain seasons, and such times are not made easier by fixating on sexual intimacy; to the surprise of many singles, continence will be required even in marriage!
So I don’t recommend engaged couples, still months from their wedding, spending too much time thinking or talking about sexual intimacy, or even allowing their thoughts to wander in that direction for too long.