It’s a word Christians have wrote about, struggled over, and debated for years. Some Christians are okay with it, others are terrified with the prospect. Dating can be something that’s amazing and exciting in one moment, and the source of a lot of stress and heartbreak the next. But when is the right time to start dating? How do you know if you should date this person? Should people even date at all?
I went through some of these same questions recently in my own life as I was getting to know the young man that eventually became my husband. There’s a lot of wisdom you can glean from your parents and older mentors in your life. But sometimes we need someone nearer to our own age to tell us that there is hope in this cloudy game of the Relationship Realm. I’m not going to pretend I know all the answers to your personal relationship issues; but I hope to be another young person who can offer you some encouragement and advice as you navigate through this confusing stage of life. I am going to “risk” sounding old-fashioned at times, but hopefully, by being honest with the struggles I faced while dating Sam, I can let you know that you are not alone in your very real questions about it all.
1.) Don’t start too early.
It often surprises me how early many young people start “dating” and having “serious relationships” when they are still not old enough to drive or work a job. There was an incident when I was still dating Sam were I saw a girl and a guy in Jr. high rolling around in the grass, sitting on, and cuddling with each other at a public park. It made me a little sick and very glad that Sam and I waited until he was at least a senior in high school to start dating. Sometimes there isn’t a particular age when you can choose to start liking someone, but playing around with each other’s hearts, bodies, and emotions when you are too young to even consider getting married is foolhardy and dangerous.
Though it can be different for everybody, be sure you pray a lot about starting a relationship with that special someone. Also, it can be helpful to ask the advice of a trusted mentor to see what they think about the situation and if they perceive you are ready to begin dating someone.
2.) Have a clear goal for being together.
Sam was my first and last boyfriend. We knew that when we started dating that marriage was a realistic goal for the future. At first we were just getting to know each other better, but there definitely came a point that we knew that we were meant for each other. We weren’t just “dating for the sake of dating”. We weren’t in a relationship because everyone else our age was in one. We had a clear purpose from the beginning that our relationship was to see if we could or would be married sometime in the future. Personally, I think that dating should always be for this purpose–unless you define “dating” differently. If, by dating, you are just hanging out in a co-ed group doing “friend” things then I can understand the purpose being a little less serious. But if you are pouring a lot of time and effort into someone, sharing your heart, emotions, and romantic gestures… why would you want to share that with anyone else but the person who will be your spouse someday?
I had a respected friend and Christian mentor ask me after I told her that I was pretty sure I wanted to marry Sam, “Well… do you ever regret not dating around more beforehand?” I was a little surprised that she asked me that, almost as if she was wondering if I was sorry I hadn’t “tasted more entrees in the buffet line” before settling on my main course. I thought to myself. “No! Absolutely not! I am grateful that God spared me the heartache and emotional strain of going through multiple relationships.” My circumstances don’t happen to everyone; people break up all the time because they find ways that their personalities would not be compatible in a long term relationship. But I think it helps in the long run not to jump into a “serious relationship” if you can’t ever imagine yourself getting married to this person. Otherwise, what is the point?
3.) Respect your parents’ opinion about the relationship.
This can be a tough one. Not everyone has a good family life at home to turn to when they have questions or concerns. More often than not, kids are growing up in broken homes that offer them little support in their relationship decisions. But no matter what the family situation, it is almost always best to attempt to honor your parents opinion about that certain guy or girl you like. Sometimes they can see character flaws and red flags that we are blind to in that other person. Though hearing their honest opinion can be stinging and frustrating at times, it can spare you a lot of mistakes and regrets in the future.
I never would have pursued dating Sam if my parents were against the idea. But that’s not to say that my parents never said things I didn’t like to hear about my new-found Love. My dad was good to give me advice about what to be careful with while spending time with my boyfriend. Sometimes dad would tell me things that would make me scared that I was moving too fast in our relationship and needed to back off for a while. I always respected his opinion, but often left our conversations feeling nervous and guilty. (I am a highly guilt-driven person). It got to the point where sometimes I wouldn’t go to my dad for advice because I was afraid of what he’d say. Of course I am a little sorry for that now. I know he was always just wanting the best for me and wanted to protect me from a lot of foolish paths and decisions. His concern kept my conscience alive and kicking. Wondering what my dad would think made me second guess a lot of my actions. For that alone, I am grateful for it.
Something that Sam did before asking me to be “more than friends” is get together with his father and pray about his desires for me. He also took my dad out to lunch and asked his permission to get to know me better. Looking back, he told me that those were very hard and scary things to do, but they were things that helped my family see that he respected my parent’s authority over me as their daughter. The fact that he was willing to take those extra steps to gain my father’s approval made me respect and admire him so much more.
4.) Get to know this person a lot.
Before dating Sam, I got to know him in a friendship setting. We talked a lot beforehand about our common interest in different kinds of weapons and Lord of the Rings (yes, we’re geeks). I got to observe him serve in our church as a part of the children’s ministry and by stacking chairs after the services. By watching and interacting with him on this friends-only basis I got to see if he would be someone worth trusting and getting to know with a more serious goal in mind. Once we began dating we chose to wait to share our first kiss with the person we got married to–whether that was each other or not. Limiting our physical contact forced us to talk more and get to know each other’s character in deeper ways than if we had gone ahead with everything we wanted to do physically right away.
5.) Have standards but not unrealistic expectations.
This being my first relationship ever, I had a lot of expectations set up for how our relationship should look. The only thing was… I was in a relationship with a totally different person than myself, and despite how much we agreed on certain issues, we often thought about things very differently.
Sam was more open with his affections, I was more reserved. Sam could be brutally honest, I hated conflict. We disagreed on how much, how often, and what we would do while we were together. We agreed on the basics, but often clashed on the details. This often led me to question whether I could really be compatible with him, but a lot of the time it also made me step back and reevaluate my stance on certain issues and why I believed the things I did. There are some things that are non-negotiable like dating a christian over a non-christian, the essentials of your faith, whether or not they are leading you to sin, etc. But some things need to be talked out and brought to compromises in your relationship.
Basically, we all have a mental picture of who the perfect “Mr or Mrs Right” will be and a lot of the time the one God gives us is a lot different than what we expect. Read my previous blog The List: A Note to Christian Girls About Mr Right for more on the expectations thing.
6.) Set Boundaries and have accountability.
Christian purity classes love that word “boundaries”. (Yaaay! Electric fences!) The thought of placing boundaries in our lives sometimes seems aggravating and like extra work. Having those lines and stopping points put into place before you get deep into your relationship can be so helpful. The problem with boundaries though is that you have to be the ones to uphold them. You can’t just say, “We have a boundary in our lives not to have sex before we’re married” and then spend a lot of time snuggling in your room when no one else is around. Sam and I set a boundary not to spend time alone in the house together. Though we weren’t always perfect on this, if we knew beforehand that Sam’s parents were going to step out to do errands we were quick to go outside or somewhere else where we could be seen by other people. We had a lot of boundaries set in place that were really difficult to keep. (Try NOT kissing, even on the cheek, for a year and a half… yeah… our blood was boiling!)
I’d like to brag and say that we were perfect with our boundaries and did it all ourselves, but that would be vomiting out lies like a volcano spits ash. We had a lot of prayer and support from our parents and godly friends and mentors. We struggled, we argued about the pace we were going, we made mistakes, we made up and kept moving forward together. In the end, God gave us sufficient power and restraint to keep ourselves from making choices that we would deeply regret. It was an amazing feeling to know that a lot of the things we saved for that year and a half we dated, we get to share with each other freely and without guilt for the rest of our lives. Yes waiting is hard, (really, really hard.) but it is so worth it to finally reach your wedding day and realize that God’s grace brought you through all the temptations to that point.
7.) Don’t assume things.
Once you are in a serious relationship, it is easy to assume that it will last forever. The sad matter of it is, most dating relationships don’t last. With these assumptions we can be tempted to give away pieces of ourselves to this person we are in love with–whether emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. Sometimes Christians fall into the lie that “Well, we’re going to be married anyway so…” and they use that to justify sinful thoughts and actions.
I approached my first relationship with great caution… maybe too much at times. We didn’t hold hands until we were a month or so into our relationship, and after I did it for the first time I was plagued with guilt over the fact that it felt good and I liked doing it. I actually had to have my mom tell me that it was okay that I liked being with Sam and enjoyed those little things about being in a relationship. (How pathetic is that?)
There were definitely some things I am glad that I was so cautious about. For one thing, I was careful not to write down a lot of gushy things in my journals about each crush I would have during high school. I’m grateful that I don’t have a whole lot of embarrassing journal entries and stories of how I pursued multiple people that I would have to explain to my husband.
Dating can be really hard, but it can also be one of the most fun experiences of your life. Probably the best advice I can give to any young Christian looking to get into a relationship is:
8.) Let God have control and write your love story.
I know it sounds cliche to say that you need to make God the focus of your relationship, but really… why wouldn’t you want God’s best for your life? So often I got confused and stressed out with all the little details over my relationship with Sam. (Going back to the embarrassing journal entries). I do wish I had trusted God more with my future instead of just sitting in my bed and worrying the heck out of it all. I am convinced that God writes the best romance. He won’t stick you with some ugly mate that you despise just because you surrendered this area of your life to him–though sometimes we think of it that way. I know sometimes I think if I lose my right to “control” something that God will go “A-ha! I got her right where I want her! Now I can throw all this bad stuff into her life that makes her miserable and teaches her how to be more spiritual.” But God doesn’t work that way. He is a loving, gracious father that will give us good things. Whenever I am tempted to think that way I love to turn back to that passage in Matthew 7: 9-10:
9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
God knows what’s best for me, he knows what’s best for you, and he will always give you what’s best, even if it’s not what we first expect.