My friend wrote a helpful blog post on dating that got my writing juices flowing. I haven’t written down most of my thoughts on dating and pursuing marriage. I have many lessons I’ve learned from others and from pastoring high school, college, and post-college brother and sisters in the faith. I’ve also learned a lot from being married that would make me do things differently if I could go back. I’ve seen many hearts broken, bodies and souls violated, consciences deformed. I’ve felt the grieving and anger of God. I’ve also seen hearts guarded and restored, bodies honored, consciences cleared and strengthened. I’ve felt the joy and approval of God. Sometimes I’ve seen both sides in the same relationship. There is much wisdom and truth for dating learned by those who’ve gone before and it is in this spirit I pray it helps you walk in the advice of the righteous not wicked, stand in the path of saints not sinners, and sit in a group of worshippers not mockers.
1. KEEP THE GOAL IN MIND
The goal for Christians who date should be marriage. If they don’t end up getting married, they should still make it their goal to glorify God and edify each other in the process such that if and when they marry someone else, they can look back on the past dating relationship with gratitude to God and little regret. There are ways to do this. Here are some other principles of dating that can help accomplish this goal.
2. REMEMBER YOU ARE BROTHER AND SISTER IN CHRIST, NOT SORT-OF-SPOUSE
In dating culture today your boyfriend or girlfriend is more like a spouse than a sibling. You don’t kiss your sibling on the lips, hold hands even when they’re sweating, or share prolonged hugs. That would be awkward. But you would do that with your spouse. And most do these things with their boyfriend or girlfriend. If actions on the outside are an indication of the heart on the inside, then you’re probably thinking of your boyfriend or girlfriend more as a “sort-of-spouse” than brother or sister in Christ. You have to think and feel the “siblingness” in Christ more than the “sort-of-spouseness.” If that’s on the inside then it will show up on the outside. Be careful that “dating” isn’t a license to sinfully touch your sister or brother who you may not even end up marrying (James 4:13-16). Embracing this biblical mentality is key for the next point.
3. CLOSENESS LEADS TO PHYSICAL INTIMACY AND SEX, SO BE INTENTIONAL AND PROGRESSING TOWARD MARRIAGE OR GOING SEPARATE WAYS
We were designed as man and woman to be intimate in marriage. Intimacy happens on all levels: physically, emotionally, intellectually, relationally, and spiritually. The closer (more intimate) you are emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually, the more intense will be your desire for physical closeness. It’s a package deal. To intentionally grow intimate on 4 or 5 levels and take out one is not only unwise, it’s unnatural. This means the closer the relationship over time, the harder it is to stay physically holy and pure avoiding sexual immorality.
Therefore, I suggest two things: (1) do not date long and (2) intentionally progress toward marriage or break up as soon as possible. I tell those who date often that I’m praying that they would discern as quickly as possible whether to marry or break up and to do it as soon as they can. If a man can’t marry that woman in about a year I generally advise against dating. How can two grow in intimacy and not fornicate (that is sex-acts that disregard and dishonor the marriage covenant) dating and getting closer on all kinds of levels for 18 months? 2 years? It’s not always true, but in my experience, if a couple has been dating for over a year the default in my mind is that they are probably sinning sexually against God and each other. There are many exceptions which I praise God for (I wish all were excepted from this sin!).
The key to intentionality and progress is to know how soon you can feasibly get married and live and know what you’re looking for in a spouse.
4. KNOW WHAT YOUR NON-NEGOTIABLES ARE AND LOOK FOR THEM ASAP
What would make you immediately break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend so that you would no longer consider marrying them? Know what you’d have a hard time living with, align those desires according to Jesus Christ and the Bible and examine if your boyfriend or girlfriend have any non-negotiables. If they do then you know you need to end the pursuit of marriage. Here are some I think all Christians should include: (1) Is he/she Christian and born again by the Spirit through faith in Christ? (2) Is he/she a member of a church? (3) Is he/she investing in other Christians applying the Word to them so that they grow (discipleship)? If he/she can’t disciple how can they partner in discipling your kids and grandkids? If he can’t invest in other men don’t think he can lead you spiritually. Others that are not as foundational but I think still important: (4) Does he/she have regular input from more mature saints and does he/she show humility and teachability? If they can’t receive correction from others, they won’t easily do it when you’re married! (5) What do my parents and church leaders think of him/her? (6) Is he/she good with children?
These and other things you list should be discerned quickly. Talk about them. Ask direct questions. Ask questions about the person to church leaders, parents, and others who know him/her.
5. KNOW THE LIMITATIONS OF DATING
I commonly hear the objection that 1 year is not enough time to get to know someone. Maybe not, but I argue that you can know someone is better fit for marriage by being they’re friend than being they’re boyfriend/girlfriend in most cases. Why? Because you don’t have to impress the other person. You don’t have to put your best foot forward or worry that the other person is. Andy Mineo captured this well in his song, “Superhuman” when he raps, “and if I ever get a day with a dime, I’m sendin my representative, the version of Andy that’s cropped and edited! I’m killin this first impression and I’m hidin the evidence! yea! photoshoppin the blemishes! these lies of perfection are the cry of the deperate! men who want acceptance!”
So if at all possible, get to know him/her apart from dating in the shared life of church or common friends as much as possible. You’ll get a clearer picture.