There are so many different views on dating. Even within the sub-culture of Christianity, the "right" way of dating (or not dating at all) is debated.
Some say that dating is a good thing and and should be utilized as much as possible. Some say that dating should be restricted to serious, marriage-only prospects right from the beginning. Some "Kiss Dating Goodbye," some join Christian Mingle.
There are lots of extremes in the realm of Christian dating.
How do we decide the best way to go about dating and eventually finding a spouse?
Well, I'm not going to endorse either side of the spectrum, really. (You're thinking, "Oh, so not helpful." But stick with me, here.)
Ultimately, the commonality between the two extremes- dating a lot and dating only for marriage- is that in both scenarios, the key to Christian dating is to guard your heart.
If you're dating a lot and meeting lots of guys, casually and easily, you won't get too attached to a guy who isn't right for you.
If you only date a guy who is a very serious prospect in marriage, you won't get too attached to a guy who isn't right for you.
See how that works?
The "guard your heart" thing has been used in some great ways, and also in some not-so-great ways. Here's what I think...
The Wrong Ways to Guard Your Heart
Rushing in Headlong: or, you know, not guarding your heart at all. The trouble with rushing in headlong to a relationships... well, there are a lot of troubles.
If you get emotionally entangled early in a relationship, it can lead to self-image issues (like changing yourself to fit that other person), sex before marriage (because emotional intimacy and physical intimacy are so closely tied), not leaving an unhealthy relationship or a relationship that just doesn't fit, and if the relationship ends, you will be hurt more severely.
Hibernating or Hiding: "Guarding your heart" doesn't mean that you avoid all contact with the other sex. It doesn't mean that a conversation with the cute guy you meet in the bookstore is out of the question. You will make yourself vulnerable in some way, yes, because a vulnerable heart is a soft heart. There's a difference between avoidance or shutting someone out, and guarding your heart.
Holding onto the Reins: So many of us have high expectations for a relationship. Super, super high. We can get into the reasons behind this- from blaming Disney or romance novels or what have you- but the important part is that when we try to completely control how our lives are going to go, we're putting trust in our own abilities and ideas instead of in God's plan. Hand the reins over to Him. Pray about your future, and then trust that He'll show you the way to go.
The Right Ways to Guard Your Heart
Cultivate Friendships First: Find some friends who happen to be the opposite gender. Maybe you have something in common with a guy in your class or club. Spend time with friends in groups- some of my wonderful guy friends were dating (and some even married) gal pals of mine. Focusing on friendships first makes it easier to get to know different people, guys and girls, and also keeps the pressure off.
Set Clear Boundaries: One of the strongest things that came from my time figuring out who I am was a clearly defined set of boundaries. Sounds exciting, right? Well, I thought about the mistakes I made in all of my former relationships, as well as the things that I would absolutely not tolerate in a dating relationship. I had three dating boundaries.
Your boundaries might look different, and that's okay. The important thing is to think about it, to determine what's a no-go with you, and then make sure that you go over those boundaries before you decide to start a dating relationship. Zeke knew, from the very beginning, what I expected of him in our dating relationship- and I do think that fact made a huge difference.
1) Honesty always. I wasn't honest with the guys I dated (the whole "turning into something else" thing didn't help with that), and they weren't always very honest with me. And that led to a host of problems, so this boundary was born.
2) Do not say "I love you" unless you're going to marry me. In all three of my former relationships, those three important words were said. Because it seemed like what you do after six months of dating. Did I love them? No. Did they love me? No. Love is more than fuzzy feelings and holding hands. Love is a sacrificial and lasting thing. And I should not have said that I loved someone that I didn't. It caused more hurt, to me and to them, and that wasn't healthy.
3) I won't have sex before marriage, so don't ask and don't pressure. Pretty self-explanatory. I didn't want to be pressured at all, and I wanted to be clear that any pressure and I was gone. Pressure to have sex was something I'd experienced in other relationships, and it wasn't okay. It was a red flag that a relationship wasn't a healthy one.
Focus on Faith: Most importantly, the focus of your life at this time should be on God. Wrap up your heart in Him- He's the safest place to be. That sounds really vague and kind of "Well, how can I do that?" but it's really different for everyone. Start with the basics. Work on those spiritual disciplines, try to live out your calling, spend time in prayer. Trust Him. He knows what He's doing- He made you, after all.
This post is part of a series on Christian Singleness and Dating. For other posts in the series, click the link below: