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Marrying young a reasonable reality

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Updated: November 27, 2011 1:20PM

So my teen and tween daughters are at it again: pushing me to allow dating relationships for them now, or in the cases of the younger ones, pushing for a promise that I will allow them to have such relationships when they are teens.

I think the advent of the school year has something to do with revisiting the issue. Sigh.

In February of this year, just before Valentine’s Day, I wrote about this very thing. How I feel confident that intense, exclusive dating relationships for teens, when they are in no position to marry, are a little crazy. Yes, I realize that pegs me as being slightly insane, at least according to my children. No, I don’t think I can fully prevent such relationships even with my own kids. I get it. Eventually, I won’t, I can’t be their conscience anymore.

But with my oldest daughter being only 15, I think I still have a lot of “conscience duties” in their lives. Anyway, what I didn’t talk about so much in that piece is what I have long believed in, and it’s the flip side of the “I think dating relationships in your teens are nuts.” It’s that I advocate young marriage (meaning, finishing college at a minimum) or moving any legitimate dating relationship along quickly toward marriage. And if it’s not clearly moving in that direction and in a reasonable time frame — end it.

Back to kids. I know parents who know their teens are in an intense dating relationship and assume (often rightly) that they are having sex in some form. But I also see parents, particularly in my evangelical world, who focus on helping teens have chaste romantic relationships for long periods, since the young people are in no position to marry. And so there is a lot of focus in this world on “chastity balls” and “purity rings.”

In contrast, I think long-term chaste romantic relationships — teen or otherwise — are, well, unnatural.

Sure a lot of Christians, and even Christian parents, will disagree with me. But here’s my point: Even where truly chaste romantic relationships are possible over the long term, barring some extenuating circumstances, it’s not supposed to be that way. Romantic love and sexual love go together. Hello. That is simply how we are designed. It’s how we are wired. We are supposed to combine the two. They are good things and are meant to go together.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that having a long-term, sexually chaste romantic relationship can be just about as perverted as having a sexual relationship without marriage.

No wonder, as sociologist Mark Regnerus pointed out in his provocative Christianity Today piece, “The Case for Early Marriage,” almost 80 percent of young adult, conservative, churchgoing Protestants who are dating are engaged in some level of sexual activity. When it comes to young people, where evangelicals have tried to kick it up a notch and promote chastity balls and promise rings, it’s for the most part not working — at least, if the youth enter long-term dating relationships. Hello, again. It is not supposed to!

Regnerus says that what we should be doing is better equipping our youth to marry young and have successful marriages. No, not just so that young people can have legitimate sex, but so that they can grow up and live fully. He laments, I think rightly, that even the Christian world increasingly sees marriage not as “a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed.”

Regnerus’ research shows that it’s not young marriage, per se, that is the problem in many marriage breakups, but, rather, a lack of preparation for the realities of marriage.

Back to my children. I would love for them to delay serious dating relationships until marriage is an option. Then date a lot, but not for long, and get married in a reasonable time frame and at a relatively young age. With the understanding, of course, that marriage is about a covenant, it’s not “all about me.”

OK, I admit it: It would be so much easier for me if my children would just let my conscience be their guide.

Scripps Howard News Service

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