Ferdinand Hui writes,
“So… if I met a guy, and he told me that he’s never dated before – no experience with dating whatsoever – that’s like … minus 500 points.” — from a friend.
Agree? Disagree? Why or why not?
I assume here that dating is for the purpose of finding someone to whom to bind oneself in marriage, not for “practice”, though practice there will always be, but for the serious prospect of marriage to this particular person (for a person’s heart is not to be trifled with: we would be loath to say “you were my practice date”).
The One Who Is “Callow”
For the person who has never dated, the issue will be maturity and dating convention (the structure/rules), as far as I see from what everyone has commented so far. For the person who has previously dated, the more likely issue is ability to appreciate pain that must and will come with love: “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.”
A person’s heart is never to be trifled with.
The one who has never dated, how old is he or she? Or rather, how mature in spirit, mind and temperament? How willing to be corrected? Age is not an absolute bar, of course, but I would daresay that middle school students and the majority of high school students don’t have what it takes (and please, O high school student, do not say “we’re different” until you can realistically pursue your goal). Adultescence is also not a good sign, whatever the age. So if raw age is not the most fundamental issue, what it?
I would rather be yoked to one who has much to pick up but is willing to learn than one who has grudgingly seemed to have learned a lot, whose attitude mirrors that of the fool who despises wisdom and instruction (Pro. 1.7). Learning that came from such an attitude is worth little compared to the ability to learn. Whether or not the person has seriously explored the path of marriage or “been in a relationship”, he or she must be ready and receptive to God’s instruction both from His Word and through other people, despite previous relationships or lack of dating experience. Beyond this, what is an acceptable volume of knowledge, and what is not? Discussion could be interesting.
The One Who Has Been Hurt
“True love is love that causes us pain, that hurts, and yet brings us joy. That is why we must pray to God and ask Him to give us the courage to love” — Mother Teresa
And for one who has been hurt, will he accept the certainty of pain, of loss, even of betrayal (viz. Hosea)? Can he marry without being preoccupied with protecting himself from hurt, instead accepting the beauty of sorrow? We are not called to ignore the other person’s flaws. We are called to love in spite of these problems and spur each other on to good works, which will often, not just sometimes, involve confronting the other person about sin or character immaturities. Now of course this issue is not limited to those who have been hurt in a relationship before. However, the depth of pain previously experienced demands greater effort to be open to learning from pain rather than rendering oneself impervious to pain by shutting off the ability to love deeply.
Love hurts. It is one thing to seek to be a blessing and not a curse and quite another to wish for oneself to avoid pain at all costs. The former develops sacrifice and love, while the latter develops lack of trust not just in the other person but, perhaps, in love itself. It is foolhardy to follow an unknown thing blindly and call it “love”, but it is also of no benefit to avoid faith in a perfectly reliable Lord, and His faithfulness and providence, for the sake of not getting burnt by love.
So back to the original question. I would venture to say that perhaps the fact itself of having dated or not is not the most pertinent thing. I’d rather look at her (or, if you’re a woman, his) ability to love, which comes through her faith in God’s goodness, and willingness to acquire wisdom and understanding, which requires humility. Equilaterally with the these two, I would look also for her existing character maturity, which increases the depth of both of the above and conversely gains strength from them, because I cannot change her. All three of these are necessary to build a lasting family that does not become conformed to this world, but is instead transformed by the renewal of the couple’s minds, that by testing they may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12.2). This is a good fire, not a volatile petrol fire. It is still fire, with all its risks, but with practice it shines as a light into the world.