So, Daddy, this one's for you. :)
I was in my early teens and my sisters were still middle-schoolers when my family joined up with another family with daughters my sisters' ages and started a Bible study on dating. Our dads got together and wrote the curriculum themselves, incorporating skits, object lessons, and guest interviews from actual couples. All were QUITE memorable-- ask any one of us 6 girls, a good decade later, and we all still remember a lot, if not all, of what we were taught. It was also a lot of fun. Seeing your dads dress up as Pet Smart employees, jocks & geeks is really hilarious. Someday if I get a publisher's ear I'd LOVE to get that curriculum published!
But I digress.
First, our dads laid the foundational tenets of our family's view on "dating:" (this is my own interpretation, from memory, not a word-for-word transcription...unlike the Three Rules)
A. It's a process that is part of children still functioning under the authority and protection of their parents (especially their fathers), NOT something kids figure out on their own.
B. It's primarily to be a way to evaluate suitability for marriage, NOT to have a good time.
C. It's for those who are secure in God's Love for them, seeking to serve God by serving others, NOT a way to feel loved and served.
D. Marriage is not the be-all and end-all. Though it's desirable and what we prepare for (statistically it's most likely), a life devoted to God is the goal, single or unmarried.
(Those familiar with the dating-vs.-courtship-vs.-betrothal debate will see that this fits under 'courtship.' Recreational dating is a better preparation for divorce than marriage, and betrothal is not realistic nor natural in our culture; but I could write a whole post on that. If there is interest, I can!)
All of us knew that our dating relationships would begin with our suitor asking for our father's permission, guidance, and ongoing involvement, as well as the incorporation of our whole families into the relationship. We were all still under our dad's authority & protection until the wedding day, not our boyfriend's nor our own. What a relief! Good parents know their kids pretty well, and can usually size up suitable partners for them pretty accurately, without the rose-colored glasses to cloud the picture.
Ok, the Three Rules are:
1. Only date those whom you find interesting and attractive. No pity dates, no revenge dates, no desperate dates. If you don't think they're fun to be around, you don't have to say yes, no matter how awesome everyone else thinks s/he is. Not to say you couldn't hang out a bit in groups to try and find out whether they might become interesting & attractive to you... but saying 'no' for no reason other than personal preference isn't wrong. See Song of Solomon -- we are supposed to find our spouses fascinating (and spouse-hood is the aim of courtship!).
2. Only date those who meet the criteria met upon beforehand by you and your parents. If you are a Christian, than Christianity is a non-negotiable (marriage between an unbeliever and a believer is expressly forbidden in Scripture, and it is also a great sorrow to all those who find themselves in one. Since dating is evaluating suitability for marriage, this is a no-brainer. 2 Cor 6:14) My criteria included being over 5' 11'', not having a temper, enjoying different cultures, being spiritually mature & able to lead me, and being open to missions & adoption (among other things). My dad added 'able to provide' to the list (something most girls don't think about). If you make the list BEFORE the Potential steps up, you won't be trying to make it "fit" any one person.
3. Only date when you are in a season of life when you could reasonably consider marriage (not necessarily immediately, but in the natural course of an un-rushed relationship). This would change for each person. In my situation, I was committed to pursuing a degree at a university, cramming several different programs into 4 years (with the help of lots of high school credit), and I knew I was not interested in marriage soon after high school. So my folks asked me to wait to get into a dating relationship until after my freshman year of college, allowing me to really get my bearings, to build deep friendships with girls, to be free to enjoy my new home without any one person monopolizing my time, and to figure out what my focus was to be. I wouldn't trade my days on campus for anything-- I grew so much, threw myself into my studies, made amazing memories, learned so much, loved hard and made really deep friendships-- none of which which would have been possible if I'd had a guy claiming most of my mind and heart space. **note that I did feel the freedom to go on individual dates with different guys in a non-romantic context (different school functions). We always went in groups and had a blast!
The main reasoning behind this last rule is to guard against temptation-- especially sexual but also towards discontentment. "Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires." (Song of Solomon 8:4) If you let yourself fall in love with The One when you are unable to be married (relatively) soon, frustrations are multiplied! I think this applies to kids who start to like each other in high school; you can keep an affection in check by not entering into a commitment until you are able to keep it, and keep it soon. You won't have to let immaturity ruin a great friendship. :)
So... those were our three "rules," and they have served me well. One of my sisters is also happily married, and in a wonderful twist, one of the other girls in our study is now dating my first cousin... HAH we knew they found each other "interesting and attractive"!! =D
What guidelines did you have in your families, or do you want to have in yours now?