There’s an old expression for kids who fall in love: “puppy love.” Puppy love is wonderful—if you want to catch rabies.
One of the most frequently asked questions I hear is, “what is the right age to get involved in a relationship?” My first answer is a joke—I tell them “30.” After the students stop laughing I give them my real answer.
What is the right age? You are ready for a relationship if you are prepared to get married within a reasonable amount of time. I agree with many Christian authors on this point—dating/courting should be preparation for marriage. If you cannot seriously think about marriage, you should probably not be involved in an exclusive relationship with the opposite sex.
I see “puppy love” all the time here in Manila. I see high school kids walking around the mall holding hands. The college students also make decisions that are unwise and directly contradict their own plans. I often ask a crowd of students what age they would like to get married. Most of them say “25.” This is how I respond: “Guys, you are all about 17 years old (some groups of students are even younger). Do you plan to court someone for 8 years?” Teenagers are often eager to find a boyfriend/girlfriend without considering the real future of the relationship.
What do I mean by being ready to marry? I’ll give you a few factors.
Emotionally Ready: Marriage is for people who are emotionally mature. From a scientific/biological standpoint, we know that the brain continues to mature into the mid-twenties. This does not mean that we are automatically matured by age 25, nor does it mean all teenagers are immature. I have met some 30 year olds who act like they are still 13. I’ve met some 17-year-olds who are quite level-headed and mature. Even the most mature teenager, however, will probably be wiser by the time he/she is in the mid-twenties.
Here are just a few questions to evaluate your emotional maturity:
Are you easy to get along with?
How do you respond when you don’t get your way?
Do you know how to compromise?
Can you discuss disagreements without fighting?
Do you fight with your friends or girlfriend/boyfriend over petty (unimportant) things?
Can you put someone else’s needs ahead of your own?
Are you ready to share 100% of your life with someone?
Do you understand your goals/purpose in life?
Can you honestly express what you feel?
Are you overly jealous?
Are you honest and trustworthy?
Are you too sensitive or insensitive?
Are you overly dramatic?
Of course, all of us could improve in these areas, but the average teenager needs a lot of improvement (especially a young teenager). This is why most teenagers are not ready for marriage. Of course there are exceptions—there are people who get married at 18 and live happily ever after. Generally speaking, however, most teens are not ready for a lifetime commitment (especially when considering the other factors that I’m about to tell you).
Financially Ready: Men, don’t bother pursuing a serious relationship if you are not financially ready to take care of a family (or able to get to that point soon). Women, don’t commit yourself to a man who has not proven himself to be a good provider. I know this sounds materialistic or unromantic, but there’s nothing more unromantic than wondering where your next meal will come from. I don’t mean that a guy has to be rich, just financially stable. Both men and women should look for someone who is disciplined financially.
Spiritually Ready: A marriage relationship should glorify God. The Bible often compares marriage to God’s relationship with His people (the Church is called the Bride of Christ, for example). You can only glorify God with your relationships if you are spiritually mature yourself. Focus on your relationship with God before focusing on romantic relationships. I do not mean that you need a perfect spiritual life to be ready. I simply mean that you need to learn the basics of walking with God.
Let me make a few more observations based on what I’ve seen and even my own experience. Again, these are just observations, so there are exceptions. Regardless, I think it is good to pay attention:
1. High School crushes rarely produce marriages. In other words, you most likely will not marry your teenage crush.
2. Some of us are very thankful that #1 is true. No offense to the girls of my high school/college, but now I’m glad that those relationships didn’t happen or work out for whatever reason. The reason is this—we often don’t really know who/what is good for us when we are still teenagers. Sometimes we look back and say, “what was I thinking—why in the world did I even like that person?”
3. Generally speaking, more harm than good seems to come out of teenage romance (especially for younger teens). I see a lot more broken hearts than happy endings. One might argue that having crushes and having your heart broken is simply a part of being a teenager. This may be true. My concern, however, is that many young people make their suffering worse by pursuing relationships when they are way too young.
After reading this article, you may think I’m the “anti-cupid.” I’m not (promise). I’m actually a very romantic guy. I simply want you to approach relationships realistically, with eyes wide open.
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, not to awaken love until the time is right.
-Song of Solomon 8:4
This is one of the many articles that you’ll find in my book: Basta Lovelife: Making Wise Relationship Decisions.
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