JP’s book is good for those who are “dating”, looking for a spouse, etc. And he has a terrific chapter on the many reasons why cohabitation is a terrible idea.
He opens by noting that we ought to be much better at dating, especially with improved info in our times. But popular myths cause a lot of trouble, more than offsetting the modest advantages we might have (11-12). In this, I’m reminded of a point I make early in my Principles courses about the importance of theory (worldview, etc.). In any area of life, I’d much rather have an accurate/effective theory and less info– than more info and an inaccurate/ineffective theory. People’s theories about dating are not great, so the results aren’t going to be great either.
To summarize the book, JP is arguing that (one-on-one) dating should be aimed at marriage. Without that goal, dating is largely a waste of time, a catalyst for many temptations, the cause of many troubles. So, don’t date if you’re not ready for marriage. Don’t date someone if you’re not going to marry him/her. Break up with someone when you figure out it’s probably not going to end in marriage (ch. 10).
JP compares dating without (greater) purpose to shopping without money (27). And he draws a useful analogy to sales and notes that someone in sales would rather get a NO– than an EHH that’s probably a NO (131). He also compares dating to looking for a job and says it’s not fun (26). I get the point, but one might rather be looking for a job, than unemployed!
He notes that “being single” is a calling– if not for a lifetime, then for a time (34′s intro leads to ch. 2). So, as in any other aspect of life, it’s important to enjoy our context and find the blessings of our context as much as possible. Dallas Willard notes that God can only bless us where we’re at. So, spend less time/energy trying to escape your current state (although this is not a call to complacency either) and more time enjoying where you’re at (contentedness). Singles have many great opportunities– that are not available to married– so make sure not to miss out on those ops.
His best chapter is in blowing up cohabitation. He covers the stats (161-163). The marriage rates are low; the divorce rates are higher; the personal happiness metrics are lower. If you’re “into science”, avoiding cohabitation is best for individuals, couples, and any children that might emerge. Sure, you can smoke and not have trouble, but I can’t recommend it. Hey, maybe you’ll be the exception! (He also notes that wedding/marriage traditions are built on the traditional view: you may kiss the bride, carry the bride over the threshold, and the honeymoon [160-161].)
Why doesn’t it work well? What are the problems? “It’s not a precursor to marriage; it’s a replacement for marriage…removes most of the motivation for getting married…especially for men.” (162) Breaking up a bad relationship is tougher, so that’s not good. Ending a cohabiting relationship is surprisingly close to the pain of divorce, so what do you gain there. “The essence of marriage is permanence. And it is impossible to practice permanence.” (164) Well, and of course, it ignores a good God’s great design for sex and marriage!
It’s cheaper? Well, get married already or get a roommate. You’re living together but not having sex? OK, but there are temptations and perceptions. And why is it wisdom to practice living together and not having sex? Is that what you want your marriage to look like?! (166)
-JP says that Hollywood is focused on dating more than marriage– where it’s implied that “happily ever after” is understood or unimportant (57). I’m not sure how to measure this, but it does seem like the more memorable part of movies about this topic are focused on dating and “the game”.
-He advises Christians to focus on discipleship with Jesus– for themselves and those they would pursue for dating/marriage. I loved his advice to men and women: ask out the godliest single you know and those asked out should generally say yes (114-115).
-He advises against “playing games” (ch. 7). Two nuggets here: game-playing has made you insecure as you’ve “taught yourself to believe people won’t be attracted to your true self” (124); and the importance of questioning why you’re doing/saying things (125).
-He says it’s fine for women to ask out men. But he doesn’t recommend it, given the tendency for men to be passive– and for this to be a difficult attribute in a marriage (129-130). See: Genesis 3:6!
-He recommends “low-key first dates” (136)– e.g., coffee so it can easily be 30 minutes if it’s a bomb or three hours if it’s awesome– and using groups to figure out individuals.
-Asking “how far is too far” (about physical intimacy in a relationship) is the wrong question. Rephrase the question this way: How close can I get to sinning without actually sinning? (152) See also: should I tithe on my gross pay or net pay? Uhh…
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