Every time I visit a Christian bookstore, the section on teenage dating has grown. Many of these books advocate for alternate dating methods like courtship, others promote sexual purity and some denounce the dating process altogether. Each book has its own angle, but it’s apparent that a substantial number of books are tackling the issues associated with adolescent relationships.
Two of the most recent releases in this rapidly developing genre are Dateable: Are You? Are They? and its companion book The Dateable Rules. Authors Hayley Morgan and Justin Lookadoo provide a set of rules for dating, which are intended to minimize the pain and regret that often result from broken teenage relationships.
Dateable, the first book in this series, expresses Morgan and Lookadoo’s general philosophies on dating, while The Dateable Rules breaks down the concept of being “dateable” in a more practical manner.
A Narrow Interpretation of Gender Roles
An integral concept of the Dateable series is the idea that “men need to be men” and “women need to be women.” Independence and competitiveness are “guy qualities.” Readers are told, “Dateable guys know that they aren’t as sensitive as girls and that’s okay. They know that they are stronger, more dangerous, and more adventurous and that’s okay too. Dateable guys are real men who aren’t afraid to be guys.” At the beginning of The Dateable Rules, Lookadoo says, “Since the day the first caveman swatted at the giant pterodactyl, men have been the tough ones. We fight the wars, save the country, and rescue the beauties. It’s God’s plan so we can’t argue. We gotta break stuff, kill things, and get dirty. It’s just part of the male nature.”
In The Dateable Rules, Morgan focuses less on what girls should be and more on what they should not be. She introduces readers to Melissa, a hypothetical high school girl who can’t get a date. Melissa is “a strong girl. She’s confident in herself. A good student. Great athlete. An all-over solid girl. She’s also totally independent….She’s her own woman. She’s strong enough to open the door for herself, thank you very much. She doesn’t want guys to think she’s weak and dependent. So she acts strong and independent.”
Morgan explains that Melissa doesn’t have a boyfriend because she has no need for one. “She’s got it all under control. She’s doing everything he would normally do for her.” Melissa’s independence “becomes a deterrent instead of an attractant. It deters guys from offering a helping hand, from getting a door, from being the stronger of the two.” Lookadoo inserts a note here, telling the girls, “…when you never need me, you take away your beauty.”
Instead of encouraging girls to present themselves as unable to handle the “guy things,” both genders should be encouraged to look to the Lord to fulfill their needs. As teens grow and mature in the Holy Spirit, they will be able to present themselves as whole people ready to compliment the life and gifts of other whole people.
Male and Female Differences: To be Celebrated or Tolerated?
Most of us acknowledge that differences between the sexes exist. Yet, rather than presenting the unique qualities of each gender as glorious God-given gifts, Morgan and Lookadoo portray these differences as irritating defects that each gender must learn to endure.
Both books portray the male “nature” in a negative manner. In Dateable’s chapter, “Guys Will Lie to You to Get What They Want,” Lookadoo and Morgan urge girls not to forget that, “in the end, no matter how sweet he is, he is male first. And that means he has one goal, and that is the physical pay-off.” Later Lookadoo claims, “Guys are male first, and Christian second.” Although he does acknowledge that as Christians “we let God begin to change our character,” he still maintains that, “our basic nature comes from being male. And our first thought is sex.”
The males aren’t the only ones receiving criticism. In The Dateable Rules Lookadoo and Morgan explain, “Girl’s faults are really obvious and they all start with the mouth.” Guys are told, “She bonds by talking, so listen. At all costs, listen. She will shut up eventually.” In The Dateable Rules, Morgan teaches girls to “shut up and be mysterious.” On the quest to increase their mystery quotients, Morgan even encourages girls to choose a day to stop talking altogether.
Lookadoo and Morgan take their ideas of proper female behavior a dangerous step further by stating, “You need to understand that when you take on the role of the guy (asking out, calling, paying, etc.) not only do you mess up your dating relationships but you also mess up your spiritual relationship by telling God you just don’t trust him. Don’t get caught in a lie. It isn’t okay for girls to be guys.” Not only is this claim not supported by Scripture, but Morgan and Lookadoo contradict many of their own assertions about appropriate female behavior throughout both books.
In Dateable, the girls are told that, “once you start being honest with yourself, you will become more beautiful. Guys start flipping over a girl who is confident, smart, and honest with herself. You will have a glow about you. An aura that attracts people. You will be more elusive and therefore more sought after. Remember, people want what is rare and hard to get.”
This girl doesn’t sound like she needs a boyfriend. Rather, she is “elusive and hard to get.” How can readers reconcile this image with the story of Melissa and its conclusion that guys “need to be needed?”
The Truth: Who is in Control?
The last page of Dateable contains what may be the most troubling statement of all, “This has not been a philosophy book or a “what if” book. It has simply been the truth. It’s like saying the sky is blue — that’s the truth.” This disturbs me because the only book we can and should count on for that “sky is blue” kind of truth is God’s Word.
Lookadoo and Morgan imply several times throughout both books that complying with their rules will guarantee the desired result: an ideal pain-free high school relationship. Some of these references sprinkled throughout Dateable include, “You’re entire social life is under your control, and you’re in the position of social power.” “You are in control of what you do and how much you hurt.” “You get to control your own destiny. Now when the relationship begins, you can read your own future.”
It’s quite possible that some teens will accept the content of Dateable and The Dateable Rules as Truth and resolve to abide by all of the rules in these books. These teens may believe that God will automatically honor their obedience to these rules with a lot of dates or a perfect relationship. But God is never bound by rules invented by humans.
While it wouldn’t be fair to lump every book in the Christian dating genre with Dateable and The Dateable Rules, I do believe the majority of these books encourage teens to focus on each book’s own particular set of “rules.” Rather than basing guidelines for healthy relationships on the salvation and grace of Christ, guidelines are based on the best ways to attain a perfect future mate or relationship. In the process, the characteristics and complexities of each sex are often oversimplified. Vast generalizations are made, and these generalizations have the potential to foster harmful stereotypes.
As teens mature, most of them realize that godly relationships between men and women are not as simple as many of these books suggest. They are then left in the undesirable position of trying to unlearn the things they’ve been taught about relationships.
A Healthier Focus
At the beginning of Dateable, Lookadoo and Morgan tell readers, “…so often we focus our energy and desire on someone else. A person. A crush. We never get to explore that destiny we were designed for because we’re so busy trying to get someone to like us.” What a true statement! Unfortunately, they spend the rest of the book undermining this message. Rather than discovering God’s destiny and design, the focus is shifted to rules intended to transform the reader into a “dateable” person. Energy and desire focused on becoming “dateable” isn’t any more useful than energy and desire focused on a particular person or crush.
At the end of The Dateable Rules, readers are encouraged to commit to a list of rules designed to increase “dateablility.” Some of the girls’ rules include letting him lead, needing him and being mysterious. The guys’ rules include standing up like a real man, controlling how far their dating relationships go physically and keeping the women in their lives “covered up.”
Perhaps the discussion with teens regarding relationships would be more fruitful if the focus was on a different list. I suggest we look to a list in Galatians 5:22-23, which includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. Immediately following this list, Paul reminds us that, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
As God’s sons and daughters, living by the Spirit should be our primary concern. The virtues on the list will develop naturally as the Holy Spirit’s power germinates within us. That means we don’t need to worry about our maleness, femaleness or dateableness. The “rules” associated with these classifications don’t bind us when we are living in the Spirit. Young and old, singles and couples, male and female; this is the sky is blue truth for every one of us.