There are many, many articles, books, and sermons on Christian dating, and a lot of them are legitimately good and helpful. You’ll get advice like, “Wait to date until you know yourself and what you want” or “intimacy should only grow alongside commitment.” But one thing I have noticed is that many conversations on this topic can feel like a warning to not date at all. Being attached to another person is too tempting, distracting, and life-consuming. While this may be okay advice for the high-schooler whose relationships are unlikely to go anywhere, it is similar to saying to a fourteen-year-old that driving is bad. One day that teenager will have to get into the car and drive. If we only tell people that something is bad when it really depends on timing and circumstances, we only cripple them when suddenly that things is not “bad” anymore.
The lies I believed thankfully were set to rest when I entered my first serious relationship. In fact, it was because I let some of these go that I was able to date without the guilt or fear that they inflict.
Lie #1: He/she has to fit my List
I admit it–I had a List. The “List,” whether written on paper or floating around somewhere in our heads, is the collection of qualities that a guy or girl must have in order for us to consider them as marriage-worthy. For instance:
- Godly character
- Wants two kids
It was important to have some standards when it came to dating, especially because I hoped to marry someone with the same values, faith, and goals. The reason I broke away from the List was because I finally realized that my mental list included things that no one person could possibly be. I couldn’t ask for a guy to be my moral compass, my pastor, my personal comedian, my nurse, my counselor, my jogging buddy, and my cook. The pickiness I had been proud of was actually a barrier to my ever being content in a relationship. When I expected my future spouse to be my sole companion, I had forgotten the importance of community. He does not have to be everything to me because I am surrounded by people with different qualities who can fill different roles in my life.
The reverse is also true. I realized I couldn’t be everything for my future husband. I had to accept that he would sometimes need some time to hang out with his friends or seek help from mentors.
While there were certainly conversations Jon and I had about our common goals and values, it was necessary for me before we ever started dating to accept that no one could ever be the sole source of my satisfaction. Because of that, I didn’t date Jon out of need but out of love. We do fill a lot of each other’s needs, but knowing we cannot fill all of them allows us to have grace for one another and ourselves.
Lie #2: Ring by Spring
At the Christian university I attended, we teased about getting our MRS. degrees or our “ring by spring.” I later learned that the pressure to be engaged or married before graduating college is an issue that exists almost exclusively on Christian campuses. Students at secular schools in general are far more comfortable waiting until they are older. The sad thing is that I have seen so many early Christian marriages fall apart because they were not ready to commit or because they had false expectations about marriage or the other person.
We have unintentionally created a culture where being single is synonymous with being abnormal or incomplete. Even though most of us would never judge another person for being single, we still think there is something wrong with us when can’t get a date. We live with insecurity because our time hasn’t come yet.
I believed my life was pretty much on hold after I graduated because, without a boyfriend, I couldn’t fully plan out my life. It was only when I realized this was not true that I mustered the will to apply for graduate school and began making plans for my life again. My romantic life would just need to be in God’s hands. I wasn’t avoiding opportunities to date, but I had to learn to pursue my other goals.
Lie #3: Dating is a distraction from God
I remember hearing this a lot growing up, and it was one of the main reasons why I didn’t date. Dating was bad because it would keep me from growing in the Lord. I briefly mentioned this in my last post on infatuation. Paul writes that, in carrying out our duties toward our spouses, we have less energy for carrying out the Lord’s needs. The idea made me think that a boyfriend would drag me away from God.
I knew this was a lie the first time Jon prayed for me, pointing me back to God when I needed be redirected. Dating, like anything else, could have been a distraction, but we committed from the beginning to point each other to God.
This is a daily commitment, and we do often fall short, which is why I would warn dating couples to never become codependent on their partner for their own spiritual growth. Each of you will have seasons when you are more faithful in your devotion to God or when you are doubting or apathetic. If you rely on your SO’s faith or commitment, then you will stumble when he or she stumbles. Your relationship with God must be your own, and their’s must be their own. We can encourage each other, pray for each other, and push one another, but we cannot save one another–only God can. Let your hope rest in God alone.
One danger we are warned against is putting our SO before God. The danger is not in feeling more for him or her–God never asked that we have romantic feelings during worship. I’m going to point to C.S. Lewis again, because that’s what I do when I don’t have a better way to say what he has already said (which is always). In The Four Loves, he wrote:
“It is probably impossible to love any human being simply ‘too much.’ We may love him too much in proportion to our love for God…The real question is, which (when the alternative comes) do you serve, choose, or put first? To which claim does your will in the last resort yield?”
The answer must always be God. In loving God, we learn to love others more. I would also add that, in being loved by others, we can better recognize God’s love. Every time Jon sacrifices for me–far from causing me to idolize him–I am reminded of Jesus’s greater sacrifice.
Lie #4: Casual dating is necessary practice
When I was sixteen, I decided that I would not date anyone, casually or seriously. I was waiting for the right guy. Some people showed concern about this because they believed dating was good practice for when you finally date the one. By dating, you get to know what you like and don’t like. You learn about the other genders’ quirks. You become more comfortable with the other gender. I know many people who are grateful for past relationships because it showed them what a bad relationship looked like and helped them choose the right person in the end. I’m not saying that’s bad, but the reason why I think this idea is a lie is because it assumes dating is the only way to achieve these things.
In college, I had many great friendships with guys that made me very comfortable around them. Like I wrote about in my last post on infatuation, I did like some people whom I wanted to date, but, in the end, I was thanking God that I never did. I didn’t want to practice short-term relationships–to get a small taste of marriage and divorce.
Yes, going on dates is almost always necessary for finding someone you want to marry unless you are regularly around this person anyway. No, dating is not wrong. But no one should feel like they have to enter into intimate, short-term relationships because they are a certain age, or because it makes them more experienced, or because it is embarrassing to admit they have been perpetually single.
One more thing. When we do date, and when dating turns into a relationship, we should never feel like a failure if that relationship does not work out. The purpose of pursuing someone or dating them is to figure out if you should be together. If that was accomplished, then it was a success. Things do get messy, and I’m not trying to oversimplify it. Sometimes we give too much to a relationship that we will never get back. But ending it now, even if it hurts, is better than giving more of ourselves.
Lie #5: Guys only want one thing
Debunking this lie is so so important to me. I was fearful of guys for a long time. I was not a man-hater, and I was not paranoid. I just questioned their motives. If a guy flirted with me, I was disgusted and angry, and I couldn’t even explain why.
It’s true that so many guys, unfortunately, are not trustworthy. But then there are some genuinely gentle, patient, selfless guys out there. Find that guy. Be that guy’s friend, even if he’s your “just friend.” Thank that guy, because he needs to know he’s doing it right.
Resting in truth
The truth is that marriage is a wonderful thing, but it is not the best thing. It does not have to consume our lives whether we are single, dating, or married.
The truth is that we can find true worth and intimacy and meaning within our communities, particularly our churches. Single, dating, or married, we need to seek this community out. Our longing for companionship can not have to be filled only by a boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife.
The truth is that we all find our own way in our own timing when it comes to marriage, and that’s okay. We are okay. Every single one of us is capable of being loved.
The truth is that romantic relationships are good, healthy, and beautiful when placed within the context of God’s greater love for us. When we put God first, goodness flows out in every other area of our lives, and we will never run dry.
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