For many, the way dating is done today can be a frustrating process. Is it possible that there’s a better way?
Do you want to marry the man or woman of your dreams?
Here’s the popular route many people take to try to find a mate and have a happy, fulfilling marriage: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, boy asks girl out, boy and girl date, boy and girl break up. Repeat as often as necessary.
The road to “happily ever after” seems to involve a lot of heartache.
What’s wrong with “dating”?
The heartache isn’t the only problem that can be seen with the modern concept of dating. In the book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Joshua Harris lists what he identifies as “seven habits of highly defective dating,” which are:
- Dating leads to intimacy, but not necessarily commitment.
- Dating tends to skip the friendship stage.
- Dating often mistakes a physical relationship for love.
- Dating often isolates a couple from other important relationships.
- Dating distracts young adults from preparing for the future.
- Dating can cause discontentment with God’s gift of singleness.
- Dating creates an artificial environment for evaluating someone’s character.
Whether you agree with his analysis or not, there are some problems with “dating” that can be reflected in the way many relationships turn out today. This is not to say that dating is entirely bad, but the way it is done today creates a host of problems and difficulties, such as the difficulty in getting to know one another.
Many times we date strangers. This is not to say that we go on a “blind date” with someone we’ve never seen before in our life—although that happens too. More often, we date someone we know on a superficial level, but don’t truly know.
There can be a lot of different ideas about what the term dating means, so it’s good to establish a working definition. At times in the past, dating simply referred to two people doing something together, say going for a hike, going shopping, going to church together or going out for dinner in a restaurant, without sexual overtones or implied long-term commitment. This way of getting to know others is at least potentially a good thing.
But the definition has changed over time, and now dating normally refers to exclusively seeing someone with romantic intent and (sometimes) the eventual goal of marriage. This will be the definition of dating in this article.
The declaration that we date strangers, then, means that we’re pursuing a very serious relationship with someone before we know him or her well enough to fully recognize if such a committed relationship would be viable.
One underlying reason this occurs is because very few of us know exactly what we want in a lifelong partner. We each need to seriously ask ourselves what we need in a companion we will spend our life with. We don’t need to have an actual checklist for each member of the opposite sex we meet, and we shouldn’t rush over and ask the person out as soon as we find one who matches everything. Instead, we need to consider what matters most.
When we decide to date, generally the reason is because the other person is visually appealing, has a decent personality and is kind enough (at least for the moment) to put up with us and all of our quirks. In other words, we generally date others for shallow reasons.
What really matters? In some ways, the answer will be different for each person. If someone’s biggest habit is also your biggest pet peeve, then dating that person would be inadvisable, even if he or she is a wonderful individual.
Some things, however, should matter to everyone: character, dependability, integrity, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, caring, a relationship with God, etc. These are the things that we should be looking for in a person before we ever enter into a serious dating relationship.
How do you know?
Knowing what you’re looking for is one thing, but finding out if others have it or not is a completely different matter. Things like character and dependability, as important as they are, aren’t always immediately apparent. It takes time and some perception to see if someone we’re interested in might have these vital traits.
Current dating practices are not usually the best way of discovering who someone really is.Current dating practices are not usually the best way of discovering who someone really is. Many of us try to put on our best face and impress the person we’re with. While this is an understandable reaction, it does create an atmosphere that makes it hard to truly know someone.
Instead of trying to get to know someone through an exclusive romantic relationship, perhaps we should try to get to know him or her before we enter such a relationship. Doing so helps alleviate some of the emotional turmoil that comes from a relationship and can help us see trouble spots before getting hurt.
While this isn’t always easy since many of us want to rush into the more intimate relationship, it can save us a lot of heartache later on. Here are a few ways to get to know people before serious dating starts:
- Hang out in groups: Being in groups can take some of the pressure off, while still allowing us to be with others, see how they interact, share mutual interests and create powerful memories.
- Observe how they deal with strangers and servers: How people deal with others can often tell us how we will be treated over time. This can also give us insightful glimpses into the character of others. A biblical example of this is the sign that showed who would be Isaac’s wife. She would be a woman who would go above and beyond to serve a stranger (Genesis 24).
- Spend time as friends: If you have a good friendship, then there’s nothing wrong with just spending time together as friends—having a cup of coffee or doing an activity together. It’s fine to go out for dinner one-on-one, based on the old-fashioned definition of a date, without feeling pressured to make a decision concerning a committed relationship. That said, this should be done with a mutual understanding that you’re just friends.
Premarital counseling is also advised for a couple that is considering marriage, but getting to know each other before we even start dating can save a lot of heartache and hassle. (For more on premarital counseling, read our article “The Importance of Premarital Counseling.”)
It can be hard to get to know a friend of the opposite sex. As soon as you start spending time together, people label you as a couple. The eyebrows are raised, the whispers start and even though you didn’t intend for it to happen, you are thought of as dating. To add to the problem, sometimes you’re genuinely attracted to that friend but aren’t ready to take it to the next step.
The pressure can be hard to resist, and friendships have fallen apart because two people were pushed into a relationship that one or both weren’t ready for. If we resist that pressure, though, we can maintain valuable friendships. Of course, sometimes that friendship will grow into something more, but that is something that shouldn’t be rushed or done because of outside pressure, but because of a growing appreciation, respect, love and attraction between the two.
When it comes to this kind of friendship, however, we must also be careful to avoid the appearance of wrong (1 Thessalonians 5:22). Don’t give people reason to think that you’ve done anything inappropriate. For example, instead of eating with a friend of the opposite sex alone at your house, perhaps go to a café. This can help keep the relationship entirely above board.
When can I date?
Given all this, then, when is it good to date? Dating, when it’s done right, can be a wonderful experience that helps lead to a happy and fulfilling marriage.
Whenever we think about serious dating, we should keep in mind that it’s a step that ideally leads to a happy marriage. This doesn’t just affect who we date, but when. Dating before you’re ready to have a family can lead to awkward situations. While prolonged semi-engagements have been done, they are not the preferred approach. Instead, we should prepare ourselves physically, emotionally and financially to be ready to support and care for a family before we start serious dating (Proverbs 24:27).
Dating should not be our starting point for every relationship. Instead, dating should be a phase of our relationship that we gradually and knowingly move into with forethought, wisdom and discretion.
Explore this subject deeper in the articles “5 Traits Men Should Look for in a Godly Woman,” “5 Traits Women Should Look for in a Godly Man” and the articles in the “Dating” section of Life, Hope & Truth.