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How Should Christians Date?

Why it's time to simplify the puzzle of Christian romance.

A wise man once told me that there were only two outcomes for dating relationships: getting married or breaking up. “The secret,” he said, “is knowing how to handle a dating relationship so you know if the other person is worth marrying or he or she is honored in the breakup.”

Unfortunately, it seems like many young singles struggle to figure out just how to handle dating–and I’m not the only one who’s noticed how weird the Christian dating scene can be. As my friend Lindsey, married and in her thirties, recently remarked, “I’m sure glad I wasn’t much of a Christian when I started dating my husband!”

What if Christians just began to date like normal people—not dating toward immediate marriage and not “hanging out” in no man’s land?

Whether over coffee in my kitchen or on the hallowed ground of women’s small groups, I hear these murmurs constantly. “My daughter was interested in this nice Christian boy, but he strung her along for a year and a half. The next one did too.” Or, “Jeremy acted like they were friends but she told me later that they were hooking up on the side.” With that kind of dismal dating culture at play, let’s consider the options:

First, there’s “Duggar Dating.” Duggar dating is the modern-day form of arranged marriages. I don’t have first-hand knowledge, but thanks to reality TV, I believe it appears to involve asking the woman’s dad if she is available to date, and possibly not kissing until the actual wedding.

Outside the Duggar-verse, there is the less overt but just as prevalent “ideal spouse” dating. This involves judging a potential guy or girl for the 38 qualities you are looking for in an ideal mate—before even grabbing coffee together. It’s like arranged marriages where no one is making the arrangements, and it doesn’t seem to work very well.

At the opposite extreme, there is “Faux Christian Dating”—in which young Christians have no idea what to do with dating, so they avoid it. Instead of dating, lots of “hanging out” occurs. “Hanging out” leads to all kinds of mixed feelings. Does he like me? Is she flirting? What does this text mean? Why did he sit next to me at church? Did she want my sweatshirt because she was cold, or because she likes me?

Sometimes the “hanging out” leads to hooking up, sans dating, which is another uber-confusing side effect of the Faux Christian Dating cycle.

But what if there was another option? What if Christians just began to date like normal people—not dating toward immediate marriage and not eschewing dating for the less-desirable “hanging out” no man’s land? Here’s what I think it would require:

1) Date Indiscriminately

Stop evaluating whether the guy who’s taken an interest in you is strong and tenderhearted enough to raise your future kids. Stop evaluating whether the new girl at church is hot enough and “low-maintenance” enough for your liking.

The great thing about changing expectations is that it lowers the pressure on grabbing dinner together and figuring out if the two of you even like talking to one another!

If you take notice, if you are intrigued or interested, make a date! Get together—one on one. We are talking about one afternoon or evening together, not a lifetime. And unless someone’s making arrangements for you, it’s worth spending at least a little bit of time with the person before you decide if they are worth marrying.

2) Date Casually

Not every date needs to be a total success. But it’s foolish to think that the way a girl or guy acts in a group of friends is the same as how they’ll act one on one. Dating helps two people sort out what it would be like to be together, to be in a friendship. Most of marriage involves time together, one on one, in a friendship. And spending intentional one-on-one time—not too serious, just time—allows both parties to experience what it would be like to continue in the relationship.

I can’t say it clearly enough: Hanging out in groups will not be enough information to determine who is worth marrying. Everyone is different when you get them one-on-one.

3) Date Often

When we were still in college, my husband had 38 first job interviews before he landed a second one. He was horrible at interviews, but by the 38th one, he had learned how to engage with good questions, talk about himself an appropriate amount and gauge interest from himself and the interviewer. He didn’t get necessarily smarter–he got more experienced. Dating can be like that too. Sometimes we all need a little practice with figuring out what we really want–not in terms of our “ideal spouse” but a real flesh-and-blood human.

4) Date Toward Interest, Not Toward Marriage

“Do you think Christian girls make dating too serious?” I asked several guys recently. “I need a buffer of at least five dates before I’m thinking of any future at all!” said one young man.

What if you completely jettison the idea of finding your husband or wife via dating, at least for the first five dates? What if dating is about getting to know someone and gauging interest, not lifelong compatibility?

The great thing about changing expectations is that it lowers the pressure on grabbing dinner together and figuring out if the two of you even like talking to one another!

Of course, one of the biggest obstacles toward casual dating is the inevitable “ending.” So many of us equate kindness with never saying anything hard to anyone. In truth, kindness is not about passivity. Kindness is honoring someone in your treatment of them, but kindness is also honoring them by ending a dating relationship if needed.

If you’ve maintained boundaries and treated your date with respect, you’ve protected him or her from false and premature intimacy. Will it be awkward? Sure, it will! But the purpose of dating isn’t to just accumulate boyfriends or girlfriends—it’s to find a best friend and partner for life. And when you find him or her, chances are, none of those other guys or gals you’ve casually dated will matter much in the light of your spouse.

The reality is that you can’t have it all. You can’t have the attention of multiple dates and still be pursuing a God-honoring relationship with one. You can’t maintain 10 flirty friendships and expect to make space in your heart for one awesome husband or wife. But you can start somewhere—slowly, and casually—and trust God to lead you into more.

Top Comments

Tyler Hernandez

5

Tyler Hernandez commented…

yeah...this article is full of bad advice. "What if Christian's dated like normal people?" If our first goal in figuring out how christian's should date is to live like "normal people" we have already failed. Normal people don't follow men who tell them to hate their family, carry an ancient execution torture device dying daily, eat his flesh and drink his blood. And I don't care when the topic of marriage comes up, (the fifth date or fiftieth) dating is always wrapped up in the prospects of marriage at some level. If you are certain that a person is not marriage material then you shouldn't be dating them. If you are uncomfortable with being married a year from now then you shouldn't be dating anyone. Dating casually? I couldn't disagree more, let's date intentionally. Dating like normal people? (First of all what does 'normal people' even mean except non-believers.) Let's date in a way that exemplifies Christ.

145 Comments

Tyler Hernandez

5

Tyler Hernandez commented…

yeah...this article is full of bad advice. "What if Christian's dated like normal people?" If our first goal in figuring out how christian's should date is to live like "normal people" we have already failed. Normal people don't follow men who tell them to hate their family, carry an ancient execution torture device dying daily, eat his flesh and drink his blood. And I don't care when the topic of marriage comes up, (the fifth date or fiftieth) dating is always wrapped up in the prospects of marriage at some level. If you are certain that a person is not marriage material then you shouldn't be dating them. If you are uncomfortable with being married a year from now then you shouldn't be dating anyone. Dating casually? I couldn't disagree more, let's date intentionally. Dating like normal people? (First of all what does 'normal people' even mean except non-believers.) Let's date in a way that exemplifies Christ.

Noelle

1

Noelle replied to Tyler Hernandez's comment

I couldn't disagree more with you more. I think the point of this article was to take the pressure off of finding "the one" when you first start dating someone because you cannot always be certain that someone is "marriage material" before you get to know them. It's not saying to take Christ out of the relationship or the possibility of finding a marriage partner. It is saying that going on dates with people to find out if they are marriage material is important. I'm currently in a serious relationship (headed towards marriage) and my boyfriend did not want to date me because he wasn't sure he could marry someone who was not as religious as he was. I convinced him to give us a try- to date more casually without an initial motivation that this relationship would lead to marriage. It was the best decision we could have made. Through our relationship we have both grown in our relationships with Christ and learned more about God and faith because of our differences. With honesty and openness about our faith and our values we found that we were very compatible – just at different points in our faith walks. If he hadn’t given our relationship a chance we would both be missing out on an amazing relationship that we feel is truly blessed.

Emily Bensinger

1

Emily Bensinger commented…

I think this advice is great! @Alexine, it is certainly grounded in Biblical principles. The writer isn't saying we should kiss on the first date, or have sex on the fifth, or become obsessed with the person. I am almost 22, and the last time I was in a "relationship" (first and last one to date) was at 18. It was certainly your typical awkward "Christian" relationship, full of physical and emotional struggle, and a "God is leading me to break up with you" ending after only a few months. I had to completely cut ties with this person, we are mutual friends, but we don't stay in any sort of contact, even through Facebook. Now, 3/4 of my way through college and with no prospects, I have taken a completely different view of dating. Courtship may work (and I truly believe it does) for the younger set (say 16-19), I have 2 very close friends who did it this way, and both are still in those relationships, and they're great. However, for me personally, I know my relationship/dating will look differently, simply because I'M different. There's nothing inherently wrong with casual dating, as long as your heart, mind, and body are in check with God. If I was to be asked out this very day by a man I hardly knew, but maybe met at church or in class, I would say yes with no guilt or shame. And if it ended up sucking terribly? Welp, that's that. BUT if it went awesome and we really got along? Hmm.

Henry Kim

10

Henry Kim commented…

So far, this is the best article I read in regards to dating. Problem with Christians when it comes to dating is that they make it very difficult for themselves. Attending singles seminar for the past 10 years at my church, every pastor has their own opinion and they all contradict each other. Sure, there should be guidelines as a Christian, but they get so complicated that if your visions for God doesnt match, it's a dealbreaker. My rule: As long as both of you are true believers and enjoy being with each other, then that's it, DONE! No complications as in, 'I dont know if this is the will of God' BS. My gosh, some christians these days....

Kyle Shuflin

2

Kyle Shuflin commented…

I think the term normal person is confusing. But I like your points and your perspective.

My experience is that the non-Christians are struggling with some of the same thing. I think that just like American couples went from a system of "calling" to a system of "dating" the system of courtship is moving towards a "hanging out." This is a dangerous system but I think people are getting better at navigating it and/or returning towards dating. I think it is important to not get hung up on gender roles or expectations, share your feelings verbally, and keep your interactions appropriate to your level of commitment.

That is just some thoughts, I hope they are helpful.

Chibueze Ngozi

1

Chibueze Ngozi commented…

It would be useful to see a scriptural basis for dating...my perspective is that dating is essentially an evaluation of a life partner by the use of our senses. Sense is flesh...it is a wrong tool for such a spiritual institution as Marriage. But then, my comment is largely for the consideration of the Christian who strives to be led by the spirit of God. Only by exposing ourselves constantly to the transformational experience of God's culture are we able to identify a suitable partner within the will of God. We should not conform to this world....nor its lifestyle patterns, indeed a modification of a godless culture, does not make it less sin before God.

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