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I certainly wouldn’t presume to call myself a “relationship expert” (or an expert in anything else), so take this with the appropriate portion of proverbial salt. I’d like to direct it to the “young people,” who certainly aren’t suffering from a lack of advice; the problem, however, is that 90 percent of the advice they get is total bull crap. This is especially the case when it comes to the prevailing “wisdom” about relationships and dating. It’s on that subject — the subject of dating — that I’d like to offer this to my fellow whippersnappers out there:

Don’t date just for the sake of dating. Sure, you can take a stroll through the park just for the sake of strolling through the park, but dating ain’t a stroll through the park. It’s a complicated and serious thing; it can also be fun, but it isn’t something you should do for pure recreation. Dating is supposed to be a means to an end. Or, maybe a better way of putting it, dating is a means to a beginning.

To put it simply: If you know for a fact that you would never marry a certain person, then you shouldn’t be in a romantic relationship with them. Knowingly staying in a relationship without a future is like riding a dying horse into the desert. It’s a slow, painful death march, and there is no chance of it working out in your favor. So go ahead and date, but date with a purpose. Date with a goal. Date with your eyes toward marriage. I know that might seem old fashioned. In fact it is old fashioned, which is why you should listen to it.

Back in those old, dark days, they didn’t have anything called “dating”; instead they had “courtship.” And courting would have looked a lot like dating, with one difference: There was a point. They had a purpose. They had a goal. They were interested in being adults and making a commitment, and the courting process would tell them whether they should or could make that commitment to each other. Marriage was the ultimate destination, and if it became apparent that this destination could not be reached, they ended the courtship and moved on with their lives. The modern dating strategy is different. You don’t have one common goal or desired destination. Instead, you spin in circles together until someone gets dizzy and jumps off. The sudden stop sends the other person hurtling into space, while you wander aimlessly away, searching desperately for another random stranger to latch onto for an indefinite period of false hopes and disappointments.

I’m not ridiculing the people who do this. I did it myself for many misguided years, before I met my wife. It’s hard to describe what a beautiful revelation it is: you emerge from the choking haze of the “dating game” and find a self assured, emotionally mature woman, who isn’t simply looking for some dude to “hang out with” for a few pointless years. My wife was in search of an actual relationship, one that could move forward, not one that could tread water until we both became too emotionally exhausted to continue. I picked up on this within minutes. Six months later I asked her to marry me. We never dated, it was a courtship from the beginning, even if we didn’t call it that.

Here’s the thing that everybody knows but few will say out loud: this pointless, confusing, heartbreaking, soul eating, nihilistic dating game we play nowadays is, in the end, a chaotic disaster, and you’ll gain nothing from it.

In fact, if you’re currently in a relationship with someone and you know that it will never actually progress into anything — end it. End it right now. Seriously, call your poor girlfriend or boyfriend on the phone and tell them it’s over. You’ll be doing them a service. They’ll kick and scream and argue with you, but they’re lashing out against an inevitability. They’re mad at you for forcing them to deal with a harsh reality that they thought you’d both agreed to ignore. You’ve both been lying to each other in so many ways for so long, that now the truth stings like hell. See, that’s all that our new dating philosophy is: A lie. You lie to yourself and you lie to them until you can’t maintain the mutual delusion any longer.

Let me assure you, the dating scene doesn’t teach you any skills that will help you build a successful marriage in the future. Pointless, directionless dating does not teach you how to be IN mature relationships, it teaches you how to get OUT of them. Dating — the sort of dating I’m talking about — is dress rehearsal for divorce, not marriage. You’re learning how to leave and refining your ability to forget. I don’t know how any rational person could claim that having a string of failed, shallow relationships could somehow prepare you for a serious and permanent union. On the contrary, failed relationships prepare you to deal with failed relationships. That’s it.

Drowning doesn’t make you a skilled swimmer. It just makes you afraid of the water.

Trust me, once you’ve actually made that final commitment to someone; once you’ve conceived children with them; once you’ve loved them so deeply that you’d literally die for them without hesitation, you’ll see that your entire dating history was a frivolous, embarrassing waste of time. At best. At worst it was a tragedy, and now everything you have to give your spouse is worn, rusted and secondhand. Really, isn’t it sad that so many of us will say “I love you” to a dozen people before we finally say it to the only person who really deserves to hear it?

I see folks on Facebook all the time throwing pity parties for themselves, posting things like: “I can’t trust anyone!” It’s pathetic, but it reveals a truth. This is what modern dating teaches people. It trains you to remain closed off, to avoid commitment, to be guarded and suspicious, to never make too many plans for the future, and to be fake and manipulative. The dating scene requires this disposition. You can’t parade around with trust and vulnerability when you’re playing the field. You’ll be ripped to shreds.

But this necessarily cynical demeanor will surely doom a marriage. That’s a problem. What makes you “good” at dating is precisely what will make you horrible at marriage. That’s what happens when you go through one relationship after another where both parties make a full emotional investment without any meaningful commitment. You wouldn’t invest 50 thousand dollars into starting a business that you plan on closing within the first couple of years, so why would you invest your heart and soul into a relationship that you plan on abandoning before next summer?

You’re just buying yourself heartache and betrayal, even if you’re putting it on layaway. You can only be thrown into an emotional wood chipper so many times before you suffer some lasting psychological damage. And then one day you’ll take those wounds down the aisle, and your spouse will have to pick up the pieces.

So the point is, do all things with a purpose. And that especially includes dating.

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