My first real relationship with a guy ended in bitterness and lies. My 16-year old heart was crushed. My head, which should have known better, was spinning. In a few short months, my identity and my future had become so wrapped up with this young man that I had no idea how to disentangle myself.
After the breakup, I started losing weight. My cheeks and eyes became sunken. If my friends noticed, they kept quiet. My high school principal did not. He called me into his office and showed me a drawer full of snacks, giving me freedom and strict instructions to raid the stash daily. My parents worried and threatened me with medical attention. Thankfully, I snapped out of my fog before I had done any damage to myself.
I was not anorexic or bulimic. I didn't think I was overweight or that I'd be more appealing if I was thinner. I stopped eating because I had lost the center of my world. I had bought into the lie that my worth was found in a relationship with a guy.
It was a lie I believed for many years to come. As an unsaved young woman hooked on nighttime soap operas and romance novels, I had no hope of believing otherwise.
By the grace of God, my daughter does have hope. She has Christ, but she does not have guaranteed immunity against Satan's lies. Leslie Ludy writes about the struggles she faced as a Christian girl trying to navigate the waters of secular dating:
I had dreamed of living a perfect fairy-tale love story someday. I had pictured a blissful and carefree dating life, just like what I watched on those old-fashioned black-and-white TV reruns. But I hadn't known about the ugly side of the temporary dating cycle: the inevitable heartbreak, confusion, and compromise of my spiritual values...Each fling ended with heartbreak and shattered emotions...Before I even graduated from high school, I literally felt like I had been through the turmoil of about five divorces. I had no more confidence, no more security. I didn't know who I was anymore.
~When God Writes Your Love Story
Why would any girl, even a good Christian girl, allow herself to get so caught up in a guy? We may rightly blame television, magazines, and friends; however, we must also look at the messages we're communicating to our daughters. Ludy explains,
In spite of the current cultural emphasis on feminine independence and even superiority, most of us as young women seem to be on an obsessive search for male attention and affirmation...We are programmed to believe that if we are not constantly surrounded by lustful male attention, we have very little worth as young women...the pressure is everywhere - often even from parents and Christian leaders - to prove that we are active in our pursuit of the opposite sex. "Do you have a boyfriend?" was the never-ending question I heard from relatives, pastors, youth leaders, and friends throughout the early, young-adult years of my life. This, combined with the loud and incessant messages from the world around me, made me feel that I was incomplete as a young woman without touting a string of guys over my shoulder.
Many Christian parents expect their teens to date and encourage romantic relationships by giving the boyfriend/girlfriend a ticket to family gatherings and vacations. I wonder if, in our efforts to make our children happy, we are disregarding our responsibility to guard them. Even if they act as if they are grown, teenagers do not have the maturity to correctly judge the benefits of a romantic relationship apart from our guidance. Paul David Tripp offers this exhortation to parents, "Your goal should be to get your teenager to step outside of the emotion and commitment of the relationship to give it a long, honest, biblical look." (Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, pg. 84) He is speaking of friendships, but certainly we are wise to heed this advice for romantic relationships as well.
If we do not want our daughters to fall victim to the trap of finding her worth in a guy, we must start reprogramming them. We must be willing to launch an aggressive counterattack against the cultural norms. We must be diligent in teaching her that a wise woman "doesn't need a man to fulfill her life's purpose...She has a profound sense of mission. More than anything, she wants to know Christ and make Him known." (Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, p. 89). Most importantly, we must be willing to model this truth in our own lives.
~If you haven't already done so, read and discuss Hosea 1 - 3 with your girl. (see this post for discussion starters)
~Guard your daughter's heart and mind against Satan's lies about romance by monitoring what she reads and watches. Read and watch along with her, and encourage open discussion about the relationships depicted.
~I recently committed to stop asking my girl about her friends' relationships. It only lends them importance and calls attention to her lack of a boyfriend. I don't want to make her feel left out or unworthy. However, if she brings up the subject, we will certainly talk about it!
~Suggest that your husband and daughter have regular time alone (even if they just go out for ice cream). If her dad isn't available, perhaps a grandfather or uncle would consider making this investment in your girl's life. An older man who exhibits godly character will make a lasting impact on her.
~Encourage other interests that will allow your girl to feel important and fulfilled, such as mission trips, sports, or new friendships with girls who aren't so boy-crazy. In Lies Young Women Believe: And the Truth that Sets Them Free, one formerly boy-crazy girl accepted her mother's challenge to spend one year focusing on her relationship with God. Within two months, she was cured of her "boy-fever." Pray about how you might challenge and encourage your girl in this area.
~Kim has had some great things to say on this topic at her own blog. You can read her posts here and here.