If you think dating websites and social media apps are destroying relationships today, you would have steered clear of cars in the 1900s (pun intended). Cars didn’t just speed up a historical shift from teenage codependence to independence, they fed the growth of an entire sub-culture.
Think about it: Buses began to drive students further from their homes. One-room schoolhouses eventually gave way to large buildings (schools) filled with unsettled crowds of adolescents and their hormones.*
According to historians and spiritual leaders, this is pretty much what started the moral decay of young men and women of teen age years and what eventually led to, or influenced in some way, the sexual revolution of the 1960's in the USA.
Things have come a long way since then.
They are way worse.
There is a new line being crossed
When talking with a younger couple, not yet married, it does not take long to get a sense of whether or not they have passed the line. (I know, some of you are thinking, Did he just go there?)
Their emotional dynamics have nowhere else to go because they have already exhausted them. In other words, they had sex outside of marriage. You could see it in their eyes, on their face, in the way they talk to each other (or don't talk to each other), how they interact physically, etc. It's sad to see. What started off as a casual interaction on an app has now escalated to a serious problem.
As a minister, I realize the need to be sensitive and caring in such cases but at the same time, I need to be uncompromising. To be clear, I'm not saying there is no redemption in this type of situation. Where there is genuine repentance, the relationship can be restored and strengthened, by the grace and power of God. But it may never be the same. The sin can be forgiven, but we live with the consequences (be it physical, emotional, etc.).
Why or how does it get to this point?
There are many reasons. The digital revolution is one of them. Young men and women have been exposed to a digital phone or tablet since they were young. It's how they relate to the world around them. It's easy and it's accessible. Type, tap, send, the rest is history.
In her article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, Jean Twenge says:
"The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health."
In other words, it's worse than we think. The article goes on to say that rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen (those born between 1995 and 2012) as being on the edge of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. A lot of this decline can be linked back to their phones.
In the past, physical lines were the only ones being crossed. Today, it's in the digital space.
One might say that it's easy for me, married now for almost 17 years (a beginner by some standards), to talk about this or give suggestions. That's exactly why I'm talking about it! I wouldn't have given this advice before I was married. By the grace of God, I'm wiser now and have been exposed to more situations so as to be able to put discernment into practice. It's mine and Daniela's responsibility to speak these things.
In the past, our parents and grandparents would give advice like don't hold hands together or kiss before you're married, don't be anywhere alone, don't stay out late, talk to him/her when you are with a group of people, etc.
While this advice may seem dated to some of you, the principles behind them are still valid today - Purity, honoring God and one another, acting wisely, obeying your parents, and so on. Even though you may not agree with the letter of the law, so to speak, you need to carefully consider the spirit of these principles.
Today, a guy and a girl don't even need to be physically near each other in order to commit sexual sin.
If parents viewed the automobile as an enemy in the past, today they need to be paying attention to things like sexting and social media. As a parent, I will probably end up viewing this the same way my grandparents once viewed TV, radio, or drive-thru movies.
How many teens are actually engaged in sexting?
New research published in February (2018) in JAMA Pediatrics attempts to answer that question, reporting that a “sizable minority” of teens admit to either sending or receiving sexually explicit images, videos, and/or messages: 1-in-7 teens report sending a sext, while 1-in-4 report being the recipient of a sext.**
Just because it' a sizable minority doesn't mean it's not dangerous. Plus, the statistics could also be off.
Are mobile phones and apps the culprit?
No and yes.
We can't blame a spiritual issue, with deep roots in the heart of man, on hardware or software. The problem is vast, far beyond something created by a savvy software engineer in Silicon Valley. (Interesting note: My grandparents saw television as the devil. I even remember my grandpa throwing my uncles small television out the window from the second floor. Non-repairable, to say the least. Imagine what they would think of the gizmos and gadgets of today.)
On the other hand, if you use a digital platform in all the wrong ways, then yes, it's obviously wrong. There are people around the world being saved and coming to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, through digital platforms. But there are also people who are in bondage to pornography and gambling because of so-called innovative technology.
In light of all this and much more, here are some boundaries single men and women need to set for themselves, before marriage. Starting with the most important:
1) DON'T GET INTO A RELATIONSHIP UNLESS YOU PLAN TO GET MARRIED
This is definitely not a new boundary but one that needs to be reinforced.
Don't be quick to dismiss this as old-school and/or impossible. It's not. By God's grace, my wife and I did this and we know plenty of other couples who have as well (DM us if we're connected and we can get you in contact with healthy couples for advice).
You don't have to 'try it' before you 'buy it.' That's the world system. Plus, he/she she is not a car.
For two people that have each a relationship with God, compatibility is something that can be felt and identified within a matter of hours, days, weeks and months; it is not something that needs to be tested for a long time. Compatibility is something a single man and woman are committed on creating, in the covenant of marriage.
PRINCIPLE: Don't stir up love when it's not a wise time to do so (see Song of Solomon 8:4). Notice I didn't say the right time. Young men and woman often focus on whether or not it's the right time or wrong time to get married, and there's a place for this perspective. But it's better to search your heart to see if what you are doing is wise or unwise.
There's never a 'right' time to get married. Why? Because you will never fully be prepared for all the eventualities of marriage! It is a journey of perpetual learning.
But there is a wise time or an unwise time. For example...
2) SET FIRM BOUNDARIES ON DIGITAL PLATFORMS (AND, MOST IMPORTANTLY, IN YOUR HEART)
Again, we can't ignore social media today when talking about relationships.
Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and many other apps have ruined relationships between guys and girls, maybe forever. Why do I say that? They don't seem to know how to communicate face to face anymore. I'm talking deep discussions and eye to eye contact, not cute emoji's or quick reactions.
Guys are timid. Girls play hard to get (but often times because they don't know what they want so they're just buying time for the next thing).
Their attention spans are shot. They have been overstimulated with digital graphics, cartoons, movies, and video games since a very young age and are now relating to the world around them through that prism.
The digital world is their escape. Escape from reality, from responsibilities and, in our context, escape from real relationships. What happens inside the app is their own business, or so they say.
The danger we now see, and it's backed by research, is that it has created a space for relationships as well.
The explosive growth of smartphones and digital technology has increasingly brought dating into the world of technology. Overall, almost three in 10 American adults (28%) have either tried online dating once or twice (14%), use it regularly (5%), or have used it previously, but not anymore (9%). But almost three-quarters (72%) haven’t tried it at all, and more than half (52%) would never do so. That said, of those who have never tried it, 16 percent are still open to it. Gen-Xers (7%) and Millennials (6%) are the most regular users of online dating, and Gen-Xers are also more likely to have tried it (37%) than any other age group.***
On a side note but related, unmarried young adults need to stop using the phrase 'we're just talking.' There's no such thing. Instead, refer to it in one of two ways:
a) "We are at the beginning of our relationship"
This clearly shows that you ARE in a relationship. In other words, you both know it and are intentional about moving forward. You're not just talking, you have a purpose.
b) "We are not in a relationship (i.e. we are not courting) but I would like to get know him/her better"
This clearly shows that you are NOT in a relationship but are interested in one. When one and/or both of you know that it wise to do so, you will make it known to each other that you want to enter into a relationship (i.e. courting; a relationship towards marriage).
A call to transparency
A young man and woman can be 'just talking' and the people around them may not have any clue because it's all on a digital platform. Don't ask, don't tell.
There are good and Godly relationships that can start off this way. However, please note, it should not be the regular and sustainable mode for building the relationship.
The more you 'connect' via a digital platform, the further the two of you will be willing to go, especially since no one knows about it. And because no one knows about it, you think it's not harming you. But once you've invested your emotions into it, the risk is automatically there. At first, you may start by just sending each other cute, funny or romantic emoji's. Then you share videos or memes that you can both relate to. Then you start talking over the phone. Then, you share pictures. You share feelings, hurts, dreams, ideas, joys, etc. Then, you meet. Then...you see where this is going? All this from just talking. Get real.
This type of couple, if we can call them a couple, has quickly allowed themselves to grow in emotional intimacy and have become physically affectionate beyond what would be normal between friends or brothers and sisters in the Lord. They have made no covenant commitment to one another and they have no idea if they want to even move forward in a relationship. Their flesh has taken over.
Look up. We too quickly forget that God sees everything.
Getting back to where we started, none of this was possible thirty years ago because guys and girls had to meet face-to-face in order to talk; and by talk, I mean with their vocal chords, the way God designed us to talk. Plus, people knew about it. Even if they didn't know right away, word eventually got around. Also, back then, the guys would approach the parents of the girl to express his interest in courting their daughter. Although this is not unheard of today, it is rare.
This is why we need to re-evaluate the boundaries unmarried men and women today are setting.
Digital platform guidelines for single men and women (short list):
3) END OR SET LIMITS TO SOME OF YOUR OTHER FRIENDSHIPS
A lot of you reading this are very smart. The problem is, your friends are not. They're hurting you. You may not see it but people around you probably do.
Some girls and guys never grow up and advance in areas of life, especially in a relationship that leads to marriage, because they are too attached to other guys and girls that restrain them financially, emotionally, spiritually, vocationally, and so on.
It's time to move on.
The duration of a relationship does not validate the need for it's existence.
Now, I know someone might say, I can't just end a friendship, we've been friends for so long.
I get it. But the duration of a friendship does not automatically validate the need for it's existence.
Here are some guidelines for determining which friendships you need to end and which ones may require some clear limits...
Friendships you should end (the sooner the better):
Friendships that require clear limits:
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Take it our leave it (I trust you will take it).
As your friend and, to some, a big brother in Christ, I urge you to consider this call to set boundaries in your life, before marriage. If it's not for you during the season you're in right now, share it with a friend.
Keep the fire burning,
** https://www.ifsstudies.org; Source data from 2018
Short, Biblical lessons and free resources on all things love & marriage. A pocket-guide for married couples and for single adults who want Gods best for their life.