Rules for a Reason

The June 2003 issue of the Washington Monthly ran an intriguing article by journalist Elizabeth Austin titled, "In Contempt of Courtship." Happily married herself, Austin nevertheless found it depressing to study today's dating habits. Everywhere she looked, from popular culture to real life, dating was portrayed as hard, boring, thankless work, more like "applying for a new job" than having fun. Many single people would rather sit home and watch a "reality" dating show than actually go on a date. "When did we start to consider dating a synonym for hell?" she asked. "Wasn't the sexual revolution supposed to make courtship more fun? Yet everywhere we look, we see single people bemoaning the loneliness, the despair, the just plain drudgery of dating." This led Austin to an astonishing conclusion: Maybe the sexual revolution, far from being the solution to a problem, was actually the cause of far bigger problems between men and women -- not that Austin believes in saving sex for marriage. In fact, she expresses some contempt of her own for "those counter-feminist conservatives" who are old-fashioned enough to wait for the wedding. But she has to admit, "The way it's been done lately, courtship isn't any fun. That's because there is currently only one broadly accepted rule of courtship: . . . If either party declines sex on the Third Date, it's a clear sign that the relationship is going nowhere." Austin thinks that, when you get right down to it, that's a sad way to live. We agree. Imagine starting a sexual relationship that fizzles out after a few dates, and having to go back out and find someone else with whom to start another one -- another one that will probably also fizzle out. No wonder people dread dating these days! Even Austin, with her mockery of so-called "Rules girls," has to admit that she misses the days when single people took some time just to get to know each other, rather than treating each other as something to be used and thrown away. After all, she writes, "in all forms of human behavior, there are rules." And they're not there just to keep us from having fun -- as Austin's single friends are slowly and painfully learning. They're there to protect us. As Wendy Shalit explained in her bestselling book A Return to Modesty, we all know that we need rules -- so much that when we discard them, we end up longing to have them back, and even trying to make up new ones. Austin bases her argument "not on morality but on sheer utility." We Christians base ours on the fact that our loving Creator designed us for something much better than a string of broken relationships and unhappy memories. But it's interesting that we've both reached the same conclusion. If Elizabeth Austin follows her train of thought to its logical conclusion, she may learn something from those women she dismisses as hopelessly prim and proper. Their lives, after all, are demonstrating an important truth: God's Word isn't just a set of arbitrary rules; it's a guide to the way the world really works. And this is a great apologetic opportunity to point out to people what happens when they turn away from truth: They discover that their own way of life is simply irrational. It doesn't work; it's not true. For further reading and information: Elizabeth Austin, "In Contempt of Courtship," Washington Monthly, June 2003. BreakPoint Commentary No. , "Family Values on HBO?" (Archived commentary; free registration required.) Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, "Why Men Won't Commit: Exploring Young Men's Attitudes about Sex, Dating, and Marriage," The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America, The National Marriage Project, 2002. Jennifer Roback Morse, "Why Not Take Her for a Test Drive?" Boundless, October 11, 2001. Candace Watters, "Finding a Husband," Boundless, 11 September 2003. Visit Boundless's "Beyond Buddies" page for articles on dating. Roberto Rivera, "Changing Hearts," BreakPoint Online, 1 May 2003. Gina Dalfonzo, "Not Dead Yet," BreakPoint Online, 2 May 2002. Wendy Shalit, A Return to Modesty (Scribner, 2000). Lori Smith, The Single Truth (Destiny Books, 2002).


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary