Summer Love: Is This the One?

Happy african american love couple outdoor in the summer

Well, here we are again. This week many school years will be ending, and another summer will almost be upon us. And this means one thing: summertime romances!
I know I’ve told you before, but I think it bears repeating: the two times of the year that people tend to get into the most trouble are summer and Christmas time. Why? The answer is only one word long: “less”! There’s less structure; less supervision; and less schedule; and in my experience, all this “less” is a recipe for “more”: more time, more” temptations, and more trouble!

If you’ve been working hard and focusing on school all year long, but still kind of interested in that special someone, then summer seems like the perfect time for a harmless fling. But the problem is that, in almost 30 years of working with teenagers, I’ve never never known anyone who could honestly tell me that their teenage dating experiences were anything but horrible. It’s actually been traumatic, for many!

In fact, research shows that, to a large extent, (and I totally mean to scare you with this fact) the choices and decisions that you make in your life now will set the tone for the rest of your life! So choose wisely.

A Dire Warning
To help you choose wisely, over the years countless teens have asked me tons of questions related to dating and relationships, and to the question of “shouldn’t I be dating?” Let me give a direct and clear answer: No! You should not be dating when you’re a teenager! The entire purpose of dating is shopping for marriage. The only people who should be dating are people who meet a minimum of three qualifications:

1. Are near or close to their mid-twenties in physical age (because this means that their brains are near, or done full maturation)
2. Have some sort of marketable and realistic job skill(s) that they could use to support themselves (at a minimum), or their spouse/family (if they needed to)
3. Have their own place to live—away from their parents (and basements and attics in their parents’ homes don’t count)

Ignoring the Warning

Now that we got that awkward bit of information out of the way, the reality is that I’m not an idiot.

I know that the vast majority of you will totally ignore my warning, and will dive into the dangers of dating with both feet! Because of that, I share the following information.

Probably the number one question that teenagers interested in dating ask me is: “what kinds of things should you be looking for in somebody to date?” My answer is always, “What kind of person would you want your son or daughter to date?”
I know, I know, it’s kind of a sneaky answer on my part. But there’s something really powerful about helping a teenager get out of that “me-first” mentality—even if it’s only for a little while. They usually start talking a mile a minute, and I start writing equally as fast.

Dating Checklist

When we’re all done, they literally have a “checklist” of good character qualities. Now, I don’t normally believe in checklists. I believe in principles—both clear and implied—in order for them to live successful, long, and happy lives. But in this case a checklist is a good thing to create. By the way, it’s OK if your checklist grows as you grow and mature. By the time you hit your mid-20s, when, research shows is the earliest you should really be looking to get married anyway, you’ll be ready to look seriously and honestly at any potential spouses.

My list is based on 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and Galatians 5:22, 23. Further, I’m throwing in my experiences dealing with teens, my personal dating experiences–both good and bad, and what research shows to be important:

1. Does the person have a strong, real relationship with Jesus?
2. Does the person have a strong conscience, a strong moral compass?
3. Do my parents, friends, mentors, and other important and influential people who know me well agree with this relationship?
4. Does the person have clear short- and long-term goals or a vision for their life?
5. Is the person jealous toward appropriate and supportive relationships I have toward others of either sex?
6. Does the person act kind and loving toward family, friends, and strangers?
7. Are they joyful? (Joy is different than happiness—happiness typically is more shallow, and joyfulness kind of bubbles up from inside.)
8. Are they peaceful, generally calm? Or are they always in the middle of a crisis or always having a crisis?
9. Is the person patient?
10. Is the person self-controlled, or do they often curse, lose their temper, shout, scream, and just generally act out of control?
11. Are they gentle with others—specifically strangers?
12. Does the person have a strong sense of justice—do they get upset when other people are treated unfairly or disrespectfully?
13. Is the person assertive—do they stand up for themselves?
14. Are they optimistic?
15. How does this person treat their parents, siblings, and people of the opposite sex in their life?
16. Does this person have appropriate friends? What kind of company do they keep? People are like tofu—they soak up the flavor of the things they’re around. (This item is so important I included additional information for clarification)
17. Can they deal with conflict appropriately and maturely? Are they willing to solve problems and not bring up past hurts when you’re having a disagreement?
18. Are they pure—do they have pure thoughts and motives?
19. Are they trustworthy? If they tell you they’ll do something, can you count on them to get it done?
20. Do they always tell the truth?
21. Are they a gossiper? Do they spread rumors, or do they actively try to stop them?
22. Do they take care of their body by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating right?
23. Do they accept responsibility for their behavior and not make excuses?
24. Do they have good self-esteem/self-worth?
25. Do they like children?
26. Do they accept you just the way you are?
27. Are they supportive of your short- and long-term life goals?
28. Can they accept advice, guidance, and counsel even if it’s difficult to hear?
29. Are they willing to grow and change?
30. Are they unselfish and focused on others?
31. Are they appropriately affectionate, or do they pressure you to be overly physically
affectionate or to have sex?
32. Are they addicted to anything, or do they have any other glaringly bad habits?

Beautiful on the Inside

Did you notice that I didn’t mention any of the things that people normally first look at or base their decisions on? Such as: looks, style, or financial status? That’s because you should be looking for someone who is beautiful on the inside. Proverbs 31:30 points out: “Charm can be deceiving, and beauty fades away, but a woman who honors the Lord deserves to be praised” (CEV). This actually applies to guys, too.

While doing premarital and marital counseling, I’ve found that folks are drawn, ultimately, to the person on the inside. And when they fall in love with the person on the inside, that person starts to look really good to them on the outside, too, as opposed to the other way around. The bottom line is that if all you’re focusing on is what a person looks like on the outside, you’re going to be disappointed both in the short and long term. First John 2:15-17 makes it clear that we as Christians should be focusing on more in our relationships than what this world has to offer. This passage advises: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (NASB).

The Tofu Principle

You are like tofu. Don’t understand? Let me tell you a story.

Several years ago I made a promise to myself that I would start eating healthier, and this included getting rid of meat. So I bravely went to Wal-Mart (whose marketing line should be “Wal-Mart—If we don’t sell it, you don’t need it!”), bought some firm tofu (tofu can be used as a soy, meat substitute), and got it home and cooked it. At this point I should tell you all that I’m not a great cook of regular, naturally found food, much less thick, white, gelatinous, probably semi-intelligent food-like substances.

Well, I sat down with my tofu and my stir-fried vegetables and took a bite, and my tongue and my taste buds apparently had a meeting and decided to revolt that instant. No sooner had I taken my first bite than my mouth and brain said, “No, sir!” I spit that stuff out so fast it made my head recoil the way someone firing a powerful rifle gets thrown back. I realized an important principle: by itself, the tofu has absolutely no flavor, and it takes on the flavor of what’s around it. To make a long story short, I learned to cook tofu, but, honestly, I still don’t enjoy it very much.

This brings me to the long-awaited point of the story: you are like tofu! You take on the flavor of what and whom you’re around. The Bible puts it like this: “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NIV). My wife says it another way: “If you lie down with dogs, you’re going to wake up with fleas.” Don’t know who those types of folks are? Ask God for wisdom and discernment and then keep your eyes and ears open and look, listen, and think about this past school year, and then learn! If you’re still not sure, ask a trusted adult in your life their viewpoints and perceptions about certain people—but if you ask, be prepared to get some answers you may not necessarily like.

So as you begin to make your plans for what you’ll be doing this summer, and who you’ll be doing it with, take some time to seriously consider this truth and then make decisions in light of it.
God doesn’t want your summer to leave a bad taste in your mouth, just like that stinkin’ tofu!

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