A Meditation on Christian Dating

Posted: 11 May, 2017 in My thoughts, Relationships, Worldview
I have heard and read so much on the subject of Christian dating. Some of it is helpful, but most of it is decidedly not. A lot of the current advice boils down to this:
“How can a young man or woman engage in a God-honouring romantic relationship?” The answer: “By not doing it.” This is often accompanied by the verse from Song of Solomon about “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases”
Having now successfully dated a damsel, and married her, I would like to write briefly about my experience and share what worked, and what didn’t, what I am proud of and what I regret.
The Purpose-Driven Date
Let’s get this out of the way from the start. Christians do not date as a form of social recreation without any purpose other than their own hedonic desires. That is not only asking for trouble, physically and emotionally, but it creates bad patterns, worldviews and attitudes for marriage, and skews your thinking about Christ and his relationship with the Church.
Marriage Isn’t Everything
It seems so obvious it almost goes without saying, and yet it must be said. Just because the goal is marriage, does mean that every dating relationship must end there. Let me explain. I think that for the Christian every dating relationship entered into should have a reasonable chance on the face of it of ending in marriage, but without spending time getting to know the person, you cant know for sure. If you see that you aren’t a good match, be honest with the person and call it off. There is a huge difference between purposeless, hedonistic dating and a relationship which doesn’t end in marriage.
Levels to Your Love
Dating is not some “next level” sort of social dimension. Dating ought to be in my opinion, the natural progression in a good friendship between a man and a woman. This applies whether the said man and woman are in their late teens, or in their late twenties or even thirties.
The concept is basically an attempt to restore the progression of a friendship to what it naturally is.
I believe that it is best for lovers to have been friends first in order to:
        prove to themselves that their attraction is more than infatuation
        to have a solid basis on which to build a more unique relationship.
Without a friendship, they are thrown right into the “deep-end” so to speak, and whilst I dont deny the very real possiblity that it will work out in the end, I believe that its much easier to love someone you know meaningfully, and to deal with problems which inevitably arise when you have been good friends first.
Thus the flow of a relationship ideally proceeds as follows:
Acquintance → Friend → Good friend → Best friend → Lover → Spouse
This is not to say that relationships cannot develop very differently, but it seems to me to be the most natural progression from friendship to something more. Marriage is the closest human relationship we can experience. If it is not based on friendship, then we might as well throw our names in a hat and draw life partners. This of course, does not mean that the friendship cannot move quickly into deeper waters, but it does mean that you should not date someone for whom you have no attraction or common interests. (Lets leave arranged marriages out of this for the sake of staying on topic)
Therefore – we would like to avoid certain cultural ‘pitfalls’ which are not conducive to what we believe is natural. One of them is the idea of too definite ‘categories’. Specifically in this instance is the category of ‘dating’. This is not because we want to be different for its own sake, but because the category carries unhelpful baggage which only makes a God-glorifying friendship more difficult. The baggage I’m referring to is the expectations that come with the term. Expectations are not intrinsically wrong, and in fact many are praiseworthy – but these good expectations can still be fulfilled because of biblically transformed minds and good discussion.
However, the vast majority of expectations associated with dating are unhelpful – for example, a sudden increase in physical contact – this is not natural, and just makes temptation more difficult to deal with.
A second example is that of exclusion and exclusivity – we want to avoid damaging other edifying friendships by creating too strong an “us and them” understanding in our friend’s minds.
A third reason is that making it known that “we are dating” might be ok for those who are involved in the relationship, but for others it appears very much as if the pair have gone from ‘nothing to everything’ in an instant – how is that normal??
It would be much better to prove the depth of their bond by their growing friendship over time. Just as faith without works is dead, so, just because you say you love someone, doesn’t mean you do. The time for announcing things comes with engagement, not before.
Not everyone would agree with this style of doing things because its quite different and it doesn’t take much contemplation to realize that this idea is a bit of a ‘Utopia’ which means “No place”. This assessment isn’t completely off the mark because the idea of a natural progression is not without its complications – physical contact, giving answers to curious friends and parental approval, just to mention a few.
Parental Approval
This is, a true paradox – its easily the simplest and most difficult part at the same time. It is simple in the sense that the girl belongs to her parents, not to the guy, and the Bible demands that children obey their parents and honour their father and mother even where they haven’t spoken to a topic specifically. That’s easy enough to understand and implement. 1 + 1 = 2 there’s really nothing to it except acceptance.
It is simultaneously difficult because misunderstandings are easy both positively and negatively and because rules that parents lay down may be discussed, but not ignored. They are not always pleasant to the ones they affect. You cannot change many of the rules given by parents, even those which you disagree with, but as far as the future goes, as well as parts of our circumstances that we can control Christians will want to submit  themselves to the loving sovereignty of God in doing whatever their parents would like. This will be worth it in the end for the sake of a good conscience, pleasing the Lord and because sacrifice proves the genuineness of the love.
With regard to speaking to the girl’s father – I’ve always been of the opinion that the conservative Christian practice of “speaking to the father” has been grossly exaggerated to the point where asking the father to date his daughter is tantamount to asking for her hand in marriage – as far as I’m concerned, that is just ridiculous! Having said that, I will concede that “a good Greek boy would have come to me and asked to date my daughter” at least informing the father is only polite and right. It always helps to explain your intentions and bring parents on-board as far as your thinking goes. This is honouring to your potential future in-laws and shows them that you respect them and are mature enough to warrant trust. 
The Physics
The general rule is the principles laid down in Scripture, but there is a need to be more specific, without at the same time undoing the ‘naturalness’ we were aiming for by going the unconventional route we have outlined above in the first place.
More specific guidelines need to take into account parental advice/rules and mutual discussion, along with the desire to be godly on the one hand and on the other not to be unnaturally rigid so as to squash all displays of affection. Ecclesiastes speaks of a time for everything. The time for most physical contact is after marriage, but before that, there are times when touch is appropriate and times when it is not. I believe that this can be best controlled in a natural friendship, rather than a sudden implementation of a set of expectations that come with the ‘dating category.’
This is an area where I do have regrets. It is helpful to remember that with raging hormones, you are often not thinking straight and are able to justify behaviour which is sinful, and so if I were to do it all over again, I would err on the side of caution for the sake of honouring God.
The Law of Diminishing Returns
Be aware of the fact that what is really exciting and enjoyable now, will in all likelihood not remain that way. As sinners we are not easily contented and therefore always looking for more. This is especially relevant during the engagement period.
The Actual Dates
Avoid seclusion.
Choose dates which will enhance your relationship and knowledge of the individual. By this I mean – don’t let every date be a movie. Go out for coffee, and picnics, and walks. These activities will give you the opportunity to speak to each other and get to know each other more.
Go out with other friends too – this will give you a chance to see how your partner interacts with other people and in a group, and is a good opportunity to see your friends and your date together.
Worship
Set aside time to read the Bible together and discuss what you read. Follow this up with prayer. Kerry and I used to travel to university together quite often and arrive early and read, discuss and pray. This not only helped us to start the day off with truth and light, but also to form good habits, and orientate our relationship around the Lord
Answering the Curious Georges (or Georginas)
Its impossible to hide an attraction from onlookers forever, and there comes a point when there really is no reason to do so. When presented with the common question, “So are you dating?” it would probably be best to answer the person according to who they are. Closer church friends can be answered by either an explanation, or simply, “no, but I understand what you mean – and yes, we do care for each other” or something generic. To non-Christian friends, trying to explain is just a waste of breath – they’ll never understand so just answer them according to their expectations – telling them you’re not dating eventually gets seen as untruthful because to them
Love = date
And trying to explain to them seems like a matter of ‘nitpicky’ semantics which is not the case. The best response is probably a, “yes.” It might turn out to be an effective evangelistic opportunity when they see how we treat each other, and how different it is to relationships they’ve had or are currently in.
Friends
Take some opportunities to see your friends as individuals – this goes a long way to showing your friends that you haven’t forgotten about them.
Communicate
Friendships, and by extension, dating relationships are based on communication. If not, then your partner may in fact be a straw man called “Infatuation”. All straw partners eventually show their true colours, but some only too late.
In my observation of other couples, I noticed that a large majority of fights and problems arise out of either misunderstandings or lack of communication.
In my relationship with Kerry we therefore resolved to always speak about everything as early as possible. This way the risk of misunderstanding, and small molehills turning into mountains is minimized. In addition this allows for mutual submission and service. Naturally, this requires a commitment from both parties not to take criticism personally, and to be willing to rethink and work through any topic. True love does not insist on its own way, and therefore if fights are arising commonly because one or both of you will not budge on an issue, then I think that there needs to be some serious self-examination.
The Fade to Normal
Remember that no matter how hard you try to keep the butterflies and the feelings of magic and romance, there is an inevitable familiarization which occurs in a relationship. Holding hands once thrilled your soul, but after a while you notice that it makes your hand sweaty and useless. Getting a message from your loved one used to make your day, but now its the norm. In a sense, and to a degree, there is nothing wrong with this, although I would urge people to fight to keep fanning the sparks into flames throughout life, there is a lesson to be learned. Your partner is on their best behaviour during the dating period. Therefore, if they are overly irksome and there are many disagreements and altercations during the dating period, beware – marriage will not magically make everything better. On the contrary, with familiarization, the chances are good that all of these negatives will be intensified.
Don’t overdo it
Proverbs 25:17 says, “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbour’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you.”
This is wise advice and there is an application in the dating realm too.
Dating when you are seeking to honour the Lord is not easy, but things of value seldom come cheaply. Dating can be a wonderfully fruitful and productive time of getting to know someone you are attracted to. It has many pitfalls, and many opportunities for temptation, but the Christian who sincerely wants to pursue marriage and goes in with his eyes open, having a prayerful heart and in dependence on God’s divine aid, will find the process well worth the effort.
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