As amusing as the heading may sound, that is the reality we face today, and this should be a concern for everyone.
Marriage, for Christians, is a divine institution involving not only the man and woman but also the Trinitarian God and a lifelong commitment. For traditional believers, it is a significant union between two individuals (man and woman) and two families. Unfortunately, in recent times, the value of marriage seems to be depreciating, in contrast to dating, which is a stage of a romantic relationship in which two individuals engage in activities together, often with the intention of evaluating each other’s suitability as future intimate partners (Wikipedia). Couples can spend years dating, investing a considerable amount of time, effort, and money, only to end the marriage abruptly.
“Till death do us part” is a phrase often associated with marriages, but today its impact or essence has dwindled, with all efforts shifted to dating. Although dating does not have a stipulated timeline, its name and meaning suggest that it is for a period of time. It is not surprising today to find people dating for ten years, fifteen years, and more for various reasons.
Most romantic relationships today between consenting adults, male and female, are challenging to describe. Sometimes, you find people who are dating, living like married couples, and married couples living like people who are dating; those dating assume all kinds of responsibilities like married couples, while the married ones shy away from such responsibilities.
In the olden days, factors like ageing and family pressure prompted couples to transition from dating to marriage promptly. The opposite is true today. Most people, especially men, are not in a hurry to move past that stage.
Certainly, several factors seem to have changed the “good old” ways of enjoying long-lasting marriages to shorter marriage lifespans and longer periods of dating.
The first factor is dishonesty from both male and female parties. It takes an honest person to distinguish between the lustful feelings they have toward the other person. Love and lust may feel similar, but they have entirely different meanings. A dishonest person in a relationship may use the term love when they actually mean they have lustful feelings towards the other person. There are signs and symptoms that accompany dishonesty when dating. A person who lusts for another often does not care much about the welfare and well-being of the other person, and even if they do, it often culminates in sexual affairs as a reward.
A second dishonest act is the number of men or women companions or ‘friends’ one keeps. The liberty and luxury of having multiple options could make one so comfortable that they are not prepared to move on from the dating stage.
The third factor is the economy. When the economy is in shambles—no jobs, no money in the system—many young people are reluctant to commit to any serious relationship and may pretend to be ‘serious’ in a relationship just for monetary gains. Some young people want to commit to marriage but are hindered by the instability created by the absence of money. The harsh economic conditions have also led some to settle for what I call “dating-marriage.”
Avarice or greed for material things and status have kept many relationships at a snail’s pace. This vice keeps one dissatisfied in a relationship. In the olden days, our grandparents or parents had just a farm but took care of the needs of up to 11 children and even some extended family members. Today, we want to have everything, both needs and wants, before committing to a relationship or moving from dating to marriage. This same vice has propelled some partners from a good and lasting marriage once they realised that all that glitters was not gold.
Mutual sexual benefits in dating are another serious factor for longer dating. Others may have different opinions on this, but it is a strong factor. As long as some dating-men want to eat their cake and have it, and some dating-women tie monetary gains to their relationships, dating will last longer than expected. Among the many benefits one looks forward to in marriage is the freedom to express oneself sexually with their partner, and for women mostly, security and provision. However, if one gets all these benefits in dating, then expect nothing less than longer periods of dating and courtship.
The fourth factor upholding longer periods of dating are attitudinal shortcomings like indiscipline, disrespect, and weak stress management abilities of persons. A bad attitude towards one another could stretch a dating period into decades. Life itself comes with its own twists and turns (pain and disappointments); therefore, many people try to safeguard their well-being or peace of mind from the onset. Once they are not certain about their partner upholding their mental health, commitment becomes a problem, and they hop from one person to another in search of someone who will do a better job at it.
Holding on to bad past experiences is another unfortunate factor that can keep couples dating for years! The past is there to help us learn from and navigate rightly in the next relationship, but not to stagnate us. Many people stay glued to their past out of fear and lose sight of the good in their current relationship.
Negative parental influence is also a factor. Nowadays, some parents have become overly protective and choosy about who their son or daughter marries. This can keep a genuine relationship on hold for years.
Social Media is another fast-growing factor. This has become the best place for many young people who are dating to compare and contrast their lives with others who could, in actual fact, be living fake lives. Such a person could be engulfed in a feeling of insignificance and dissatisfaction, affecting the commitment they have towards the growth and sustenance of their relationships.
Indecision is another reason. There are several relationships marking time at the dating stage where the persons involved are attracted to both singlehood and married life. They simply cannot make up their minds! Even the Holy Bible encourages us to make up our minds in Revelation 3:15. Some people do not want to lose certain rights and want to always remain in control. This is most times the crux of the matter. Some also find it hard to part ways with certain single lifestyles and attitudes. This obviously can make a person either consciously or unconsciously derail their decision to move forward in the direction of a stable marriage.
Finally, the prominence of failing or failed marriages in our media spaces, against that of successful ones. For most people who are dating, good marriages or successful marriages are a huge source of encouragement for them. When people dating see friends and family members (especially parents) thriving in exemplary marriages, it propels them to bring their dating quickly to an end. More successful marriages should be highlighted and shared! Unfortunately, people are afraid to jinx their marriages by sharing that they are happy in theirs and therefore keep quiet about the successes they enjoy.
In conclusion, dating should be seen as a means to an end and not an end in itself. Dating should be regarded as a process into marriage. Dating is a precious moment in every relationship, an opportunity for partners to acquaint themselves with one another and, above all, to commit to marriage, which is the ultimate goal. For sure, whether longer dating or shorter dating, it does not guarantee an easy marriage. However, it is a necessary ingredient to foresee and alleviate any problem and to cope with any unforeseen circumstances in one’s marriage in the future. Dating helps the couple to iron out the basic rough edges in a relationship. Therefore, to do away with unnecessarily long dating periods, focus has to shift back to what dating means, respect for the process, and respect for one another in the relationship.
Marriage and family life, which is an institution that keeps our human race intact, are very much disregarded, unfortunately. Presently, staying in a marriage “till death do us part” has been reduced to a mere show. After most couples struggle to get their marriages blessed or registered, working for its success becomes a matter relegated to the background: business and work get in the way, lack of stress management and anger issues aggravate problems, and, worst of all, the individualist attitude also gets in the way. If some of the above factors that have been outlined are guarded against, all things being equal, unnecessarily long dating periods will be reduced, and marriages will thrive on companionship, procreation, and, above all, glorify the creator, as is His original intention.
Nicholas Nibetol Aazine, SVD
JPIC Coordinator: Divine Word Missionaries, Ghana-Liberia Province