Imagine a simpler time: A well-dressed single gentleman pulls up to the front of a single lady’s home in the early evening, steps out of his car, and approaches her front door. The two of them were introduced to one another by a mutual friend at a social function some weeks prior.
It is their first date.
As she steps outside, he offers an umbrella to shield her from rain showers, walks with her to the passenger side of the car, and opens the door for her. She notices the interior of the car is spotless.
The pair takes a scenic route to a special destination: a reserved table at an elegant restaurant. Conversation flows naturally for a couple hours, with each beginning to learn about the background and interests of the other.
After dessert, the gentleman pays for the meal and then drives the lady home. Accompanying her to her door, he thanks her with a warm smile, and departs.
This may be repeated on a regular basis, and could eventually lead to courtship and marriage, as the two get to know one another through hours of conversation, spread over months.
To older readers, the scenario above may have at least a vague, distant familiarity. But to younger readers, it may be utterly foreign, antiquated, unrealistic—like viewing a scene from an old black-and-white film in a world accustomed to the rapid-fire images of a high-definition action movie.
How much has dating changed in recent years?
Over the decades in the Western world, traditional dating was gradually overtaken by the high school “going steady/boyfriend-girlfriend” approach. Those who did not find a romantic counterpart in this way would then often be initiated into the bar/nightclub scene, sometimes derisively referred to as a “meat market.”
While all of this was far from ideal, a look at 21st-century dating can be downright grim. Step back for a moment and ask: Is modern dating truly normal? Is it healthy? Is there a better way? Or must all single people settle for this path?
Numerous companies specialize in hosting “speed dating” events for busy professionals who would rather speed up the process and dispense with small talk. One of the more popular forms uses a system of eight dates in one night, each lasting eight minutes.
A more extreme form of this is called an “Eye-gazing party”: Single men and women sit across from each other, and spend three minutes looking deep into each other’s eyes (while somehow refraining from staring, according to the standard rules), before moving on to the next table.
Another way to “find love” is by using the Internet to search for that “special someone.”
A number of popular websites function as a giant, continuously updated archive of personal ads. Users check out one another’s profiles, which feature descriptions and photographs, and eventually arrange for in-person dates. There are sites that cater to specific ethnic groups, those in a specific career field, particular kinds of relationships (for example, “sugar daddy” sites—designed to help wealthy men find younger women, or wealthy women find younger men)—the list is endless.
Such sites were initially viewed with suspicion and disdain. But any stigma has largely evaporated, since “the first generation of kids to come of age on the Internet are now young adults, still mostly single, and for them, using the Web to find what they need is as natural as using a lung to suck in air. They get jobs and apartments and plane tickets online—why not dates?” (The New York Times).
(An extension of this, using mobile phones with digital cameras, is the phenomenon called “sexting”—sending nude or semi-nude pictures from phone to phone. Several recent news pieces detailed high school students involved in this.)
As the “holiday for lovers” approaches, many begin to think about what they will purchase for their significant other. Pressured by flashy advertisements, men scurry through malls looking for the perfect diamond bracelet or bottle of perfume, while women peruse designer colognes or articles of clothing. Mothers and fathers even participate, encouraging their young children to buy cards to exchange with those they have a “crush” on. Chocolate, candy and flowers are often also among these popular gifts.
In the search to find the perfect way to show their affection, most never ponder the true origin of this holiday. Valentine’s Day traces its roots to the ancient Roman pagan feast day Lupercalia, which was celebrated on February 15 to honor Lupercus, the god of fertility and husbandry. He was believed to be a mighty hunter who protected the Romans and livestock from wolves.
The day before the festival in Lupercus’ honor, Feb. 14, teen-aged girls would write their names on small pieces of paper called billets, and drop them into a container. Adolescent boys would then randomly choose from it the name of a young girl, and the two would become a couple for the day, engaging in erotic games at parties celebrated throughout Rome. For the rest of the year, they would remain sexual partners.
Also, the Luperci (male priests) would run about Rome, clothed in loincloths made from sacrificed goats and smeared in their blood, striking women with februa, thongs made from skins of the sacrificed goats. The Luperci believed the floggings purified women and guaranteed their fertility and ease of childbirth. February derives from februa or “means of purification.” To the Romans, February was also sacred to Juno Februata, the goddess of febris (“fever”) of love, and of women and marriage.
These customs were observed in the Roman Empire for centuries.
In A.D. 494, Pope Gelasius renamed the festival of Juno Februata as the “Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.” The date of its observance was later changed from February 14 to February 2, then changed back to the 14. It is also known as Candlemas, the Presentation of the Lord, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin and the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.
After Emperor Constantine had made the Roman church’s brand of Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (A.D. 325), church leaders wanted to do away with the pagan festivals. Lupercalia was high on their list, but the Roman citizens thought otherwise.
Powerless to get rid of Lupercalia, Pope Gelasius instead changed it from Feb. 15 to the 14th and called it St. Valentine’s Day.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “At least three different Saint Valentines, all of them martyrs, are mentioned in early martyrologies under the date of 14 February. One is described as a priest at Rome, another as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and these two seem both to have suffered in the second half of the third century and to have been buried on the Flaminian Way, but at different distances from the city…Of the third Saint Valentine, who suffered in Africa with a number of companions, nothing is further known.”
Several biographies of different men named Valentine were merged into one official “St. Valentine.” The name comes from the Latin Valentinus, which derives from valens—“to be strong, powerful, mighty.”
The Bible describes a man with a similar title: “And Cush begat Nimrod: he began to be a mighty one in the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord: wherefore it is said, Even as Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord” (Gen. 10:8-9). Nimrod hunted with a bow and arrow.
To the Greeks, from whom the Romans had copied most of their mythology, Lupercus was known as Pan, the god of light. The Phoenicians worshipped the same deity as Baal, the sun god. Baal was one of many names or titles for Nimrod, a mighty hunter, especially of wolves. He was also the founder and first lord of Babel (Gen. 10:10-12). Defying God, Nimrod was the originator of the Babylonian Mystery Religion, whose mythologies have been copied by the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans and a multitude of other ancient peoples. Under different names or titles—Pan, Lupercus, Saturn, Osiris—Nimrod is the strong man and hunter-warrior god of the ancients.
But what does this have to do with us today? Why should we be concerned with what happened in the past?
Here is what God, the Creator, tells humanity regarding the origin of worldly holidays and traditions: “Learn not the way of the heathen…for the customs of the people are vain” (Jer. 10:2-3). Those who engage in idolatrous worship, God calls heathen.
Throughout the Bible, God describes “heathens” as those who worship things that He had created (animals, the sun, the moon, stars, trees, etc.), or man-made idols, or anything but the one true God. He calls such people and their practices “pagan.”
Practicing pagan traditions and customs is serious in God’s eyes. When He delivered the 12 tribes of Israel from Egypt, He warned, “After the doing of the land of Egypt, wherein you dwelt, shall you not do: and after the doing of the land of Canaan, where I bring you, shall you not do: neither shall you walk in their ordinances” (Lev. 18:3).
God also commanded the Israelites not to practice the idolatrous customs of the nations nearby: “Therefore shall you keep My ordinance, that you commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that you defile not yourselves therein: I am the Lord your God” (vs. 30).
Clearly, God does not condone such pagan customs—but is it possible to “whitewash” or “Christianize” pagan practices and make them clean? Is it okay to practice these as long as you “worship God”?
The church at Rome attempted this. Regarding Valentine’s Day, instead of putting the names of girls into a box, both boys and girls drew the names of “saints.” It was then each child’s duty to emulate the life of the saint he or she had drawn. This was Rome’s vain attempt to Christianize a pagan observance—even though God never gave man the power or authority to do this. Though the church had banned the sexual lottery, young men continued practicing a much toned-down version, sending women whom they desired handwritten romantic messages containing St. Valentine’s name.
Today, Lupercalia is alive and well, but with a different name: Valentine’s Day. Our article “The Truth Behind St. Valentine’s Day” offers greater historical detail and explains how God views this and other worldly holidays.
Dishonesty, often in the form of misleading self-descriptions, is part and parcel of the online dating experience. “The first thing you can do when touring online dating sites is throw out any precept of honesty; this is hardcore self-aggrandizement at its finest. Take everything you read, see or believe with a grain of salt. Make that a salt mine” (Associated Content).
The causes for this include “the anonymity and fantasy that is part of our everyday virtual lives. Both parties in the dating exchange imagine and create alternative realities much more easily than a real-life introduction allows. It may rub avid online daters…the wrong way, but especially in the realm of romantic relationships the artifice of virtual communication probably raises more barriers than it breaks down” (The New York Times).
Another undesired side effect of this is grossly unrealistic expectations. One veteran online dater gave up the practice “because he found people started thinking they could place an order for a perfect partner” (ibid.).
Sites such as OmniDate and Second Life take the intersection of dating and the Internet further. These allow customers to create avatars—user-controlled, glorified video game characters—through whom they can interact with other users.
The result is an artificial world, but one that has effects that can spill over into reality: “Second Life certainly holds a great allure to a great many people; around 15 million have become ‘residents’ since it was founded in 2003, and more are joining every day. Exponents insist it’s not a game—there are no rules. Rather, it is a ‘synthetic world’…the real people behind the avatars carry their heightened emotions back into their first life—sometimes with devastating consequences for their marriage or relationship.
“Earlier this year…a prescient BBC documentary, Virtual Adultery and Cyberspace Love…featured the extraordinary transatlantic tale of Carolyn, a wife and mother of four from the United States, who became so obsessed with her Second Life relationship that she grew increasingly estranged from both her longsuffering husband, and her angry, confused children” (Telegraph).
This new technology-aided infidelity, sometimes called “cyber-adultery,” will likely become much more common as a growing number of Internet users establish online identities.
A term used for essentially random, casual physical intimacy, “hooking up” includes anything from kissing to sex, between uncommitted “friends” or even strangers.
The book Hooking Up, by Tom Wolfe, provides a shocking account of this practice: “From age thirteen, American girls were under pressure to maintain a façade of sexual experience and sophistication. Among girls, ‘virgin’ was a term of contempt. The old term ‘dating’—referring to a practice in which a boy asked a girl out for the evening and took her to the movies or dinner—was now [dead]…In junior high school, high school, and college, girls headed out in packs in the evening, and boys headed out in packs, hoping to meet each other fortuitously. If they met and some girl liked the looks of some boy, she would give him the nod, or he would give her the nod, and the two of them would retire to a halfway-private room and ‘hook up.’
“‘Hooking up’ was a term known…to almost every American child over the age of nine, but to only a relatively small percentage of their parents, who, even if they heard it, thought it was being used in the old sense of ‘meeting’ someone. Among the children, hooking up was always a sexual experience, but the nature and extent of what they did could vary widely. Back in the twentieth century, American girls had used baseball terminology. ‘First base’ referred to embracing and kissing; ‘second base’ referred to…‘heavy petting’; ‘third base’ referred to…oral sex; and ‘home plate’ meant…intercourse, known familiarly as ‘going all the way.’ In…the era of hooking up, ‘first base’ meant deep kissing…‘third base’ meant going all the way; and ‘home plate’ meant learning each other’s names.”
“In the year 2000, girls used ‘score’ as an active verb indicating sexual conquest…In the twentieth century, only boys had used ‘score’ in that fashion…women had been persuaded that they should be just as active as men when it came to sexual advances. Men were only too happy to accede to the new order, since it absolved them of all sense of responsibility, let alone chivalry.”
According to some, traditional dating has been overtaken by hooking up: “Under the old model, you dated a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider having sex. Under the new model, you hook up a few times and, if you really like the person, you might consider going on a date” (The New York Times).
It has been observed that most people simply continue in the traditions, behaviors and mindsets learned from family, without question. They are content to be a product of their environment, with little desire or motivation to exercise judgment, examining why they do what they do.
For many younger people, weak family bonds, absent or otherwise preoccupied parents, and a lifestyle in which daily interaction with father and mother is far outstripped by time with others their own age (in person, by computer or by phone), has led to the same “follower” mentality—but with the examples set by peers. The result is the same: Young people go along to get along, following the crowd into the next trend, unconcerned with the consequences.
Consider for a moment: Choosing a mate, the potential mother or father of your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is one of life’s most important decisions. As recently as a few generations ago, dating was commonly viewed in the West as the first step toward a potential marriage. Dating and courtship once often involved families who were familiar with one another in a town or neighborhood.
Today it can involve nothing more than two people and two computers. Standards have gradually lowered over the decades, but the speed down the slippery slope has accelerated.
What now passes for dating may be the most tragic example of the shallowness of the modern age. This unthinking approach to relationships allows almost no time for real human interaction, the shared experiences on which a commitment to another human being is built. And it speaks of a profound lack of commitment.
The rushed building process could be likened to spending mere minutes constructing the foundation of a house, when many hours are required.
Women are arguably the biggest losers in this situation. They have by and large been fooled into thinking that casual sex carries no consequences. (Most men seem to have accepted this assumption.) However, studies show that the release of oxytocin (sometimes called the “bonding hormone” or “cuddle chemical”) during sexual activity promotes emotional attachment within the female, regardless of whether she intends to become attached to anyone.
Any thinking man or woman eventually reaches the conclusion that the practices above do not work. But how far must dating deteriorate before things change for the better? And what will be the lowest common denominator? Many see recent changes as progress—but do the results support this view?
It has been said that there are two ways of life that a human being can choose, and this overall choice trickles down to most every decision. Dating, courtship and marriage are areas in which these choices are made very plain. These can be summarized as the “way of give” and the “way of get.”
We are either motivated by love—genuine, outgoing concern for another—or by lust and self-interest. Real dating involves growing to love someone, rather than “falling” in lust.
When it comes to dating, there is a better way! Would you like to learn about it? If so, read our book Dating and Courtship– God’s Way.