American culture has changed significantly in the past sixty years. The 1950’s marked the start of what we might call “teen culture.” Prior to the 1950’s, people were classified into the dichotomy of children and adults. Children were taught trades and homemaking skills so that they were ready for adulthood responsibilities when they were older. Marriage also often occurred at earlier ages (most of your grandparents were probably married before the age of 20). My grandmother met my grandfather during World War II. My grandfather became friends with her brother, her brother gave him a picture of my grandmother, and he began writing to her. He came home to visit her when she was fifteen and she prepared him a table full of food. When she was seventeen, he completed his service with the Army and they became married. She left everything she knew and moved to a new town with her new husband. She could cook, sew, and had little trouble setting up housekeeping. This was not atypical of young people in the 1940’s.
Due to the invention of television, and other factors, teen culture began to emerge in the 1950’s. Instead of just children and adults, people were now characterized as children, teenagers, and adults. People began dating around the time that they would be thinking about getting married. Since then, the average (initial) marrying age for adults has increased considerably by several years and the average age that people start dating has decreased by several years. The parents were usually much more involved in the process (chaperoning early visits and approving or disapproving of potential spouse choices). Not to say that this method was perfect by any means; however, dating (or what was previously called “courting”) did not begin until the young man and woman were old enough to start realistically considering marriage. This probably came around the age of 16 or 17.
In our culture now, it is considered “normal” for two thirteen year olds to go to the movies and have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. Yet, the average marrying age according to the 2000 census is somewhere around age 25 for women and age 27 for men. So, before the 1950’s, there was about a 2-3 year window between when a person started dating/courting and when they usually became married. Now there is a 10-15 year window between when a person usually starts dating and when they typically marry. In that 10-15 year window, many people seriously date a good number of people. It is not uncommon to see a young couple (ages 14-15) date for six months to a year, only to find someone new, date him or her for about six months to a year, so on and so forth. In having such a widespread timeframe, the dating system that has developed in America often sets people up for divorce. During the forming years, when kids are learning about relationships, they are experiencing what it’s like to move around carelessly from person to person. And when marriage comes… it is all the more tempting to look for other options when the going gets tough. The dangers of dating too early often educates a person in normalizing the process of breaking up (i.e., divorcing) and does not teach a person how to work through in order to have a happy, healthy, life-long marriage.
Just because the average American teen starts dating young does not mean that every teen has to follow that model. Some of the best well-adjusted adults I know are ones that spent more time learning about life as a child than worrying about having a boyfriend or girlfriend. Some of the happiest kids I knew growing up had full lives and no dates. My personal obsession with dating began around the age of twelve. While I was not allowed to go out alone with boys at that age, I found ways to still spend a lot of time with the boy I liked whether through friends, youth group activities, or through hours on the telephone. Sometimes I broke up with them and sometimes they broke up with me, but I moved through a number of short term relationships between ages 12 and 21. My teen years seemed like one long, exhausting soap opera. I slept with tissues beside my bed because I cried myself to sleep so many nights worrying about my latest relationship gone bad. It seemed like I’d never be old enough to get married and it’s all I wanted to think about. Adults tried to warn me that childhood is a short season and adulthood lasts forever, but I didn’t listen and didn’t care. I just wanted to grow up and get married.
When I think back to all of those years I wasted on pointless relationships, I have considered what I would do with all those years if I could have them back. I think I would have taken up horseback riding. Perhaps I would’ve played basketball on a real team instead of just in gym class. I would have explored several hobbies and probably gained a lot of skills that I wish I had today. I would’ve enjoyed my time with family more instead of staying locked away in my room on the phone. I would’ve cried less and smiled more. My friends would have had more of my attention and I could have given them more of myself instead of making them listen to my latest relationship drama. In short, I would’ve been a kid and enjoyed it.
When you’re young and growing, it seems like adulthood will never come. But it does come, and when it comes, it stays for the rest of your life. If you are reading this and you are not ready to make a marital commitment, consider waiting to date until you are ready to make such a commitment and explore what life has to offer. This is not to say that you cannot have members of the opposite sex in your life, but spend time with them in groups – in fact, it is good for you to do so in order to learn to relate to members of the opposite sex. Such experience will be helpful once you are ready to start dating (i.e., ready to consider marriage); however, the more casual dating relationships you have before getting married, the more baggage you will likely carry into your marriage. If you have dated a lot, you may want to consider taking a dating break for a year or so and discover who you really are during that period of time. The more you know about yourself, and the more time you’ve taken to understand relationships for what they really are, the better prepared you will be to commit to someone wholeheartedly for a lifetime.
If you are not married, do you think you’re ready for the adult lifestyle and responsibilities of marriage – why or why not?
If you are married, what would you advise unmarried people to consider before dating?