Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Biblical Dating: Intentional

So far, I’ve talked about how Biblical dating is Christ-centered and pure. This week, I’ll discuss how dating should be intentional. 

First of all, our number one intention in dating (as in everything else) should be to please God. I’m sure you could figure that one out with no help. But the question that many people are asking is how to please God in a dating relationship. After all, the Bible doesn’t exactly mention dating. So how do we implement Christian principles within a dating relationship? 

There are several intentions that a person should have as they approach a dating relationship, but the main intention, the main purpose of dating, is to find a godly spouse. For believers, dating should be for the purpose of determining whether or not two people will make a good Christian married couple. Dating for recreation, just “having fun,” is wrong for a number of reasons. 

First of all, when you engage in a romantic relationship, you are making some implicit promises. You are saying with your actions that you want to get to know someone in a romantic way. Romance inherently creates an emotional bond between people – a bond that should be leading toward commitment in marriage. To toy with someone’s emotions by engaging in a romantic relationship with no intention of committing is to defraud them. It is promising something with your actions that you don’t plan to follow through with.

Secondly, dating without a plan to move towards marriage is using the other person to meet your emotional needs (even without physical involvement). We are to love one another and to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, not use each other. When you approach dating as simply a way to make yourself feel good or to “have a good time,” you end up seeing the other person as an object to fulfill your desires rather than the unique child of God that they are.  

Not only does recreational dating objectify another person, but it often leads to wrong patterns of thinking that will negatively impact a future marriage relationship. A person who engages in recreational dating often sees relationships as being fundamentally about making them happy. However, no earthly relationship will ever fully satisfy us. We were created to long for a relationship with God. No romantic relationship – not even a good marriage – can satisfy every one of our needs. The thing is, God did not design marriage to make us happy (although it often does), but to make us holy. A marriage relationship is fundamentally about giving of yourself for the other person. As in the rest of the Christian walk, we have to die to self. That goes against our nature anyway, but recreational dating just reinforces our natural selfish tendencies and makes it even harder to learn the kind of self-sacrifice that is necessary to build a good marriage. 

So, if dating should be focused on finding a spouse and should not involve using another person, how does one go about it? The best way to both determine whether someone is a good marriage partner and to avoid hurting and using them is to maintain clarity in the relationship. That means clearly communicating your intentions from the beginning. When a man asks a woman for a date, he should be clear that it is in fact a date. When a man simply asks a woman to “hang out” with him or says they’re just friends, but wants to spend time alone with her, he’s giving mixed signals. Similarly, if a woman allows a man to spend time alone with her without clarifying the situation, he may think he’s dating her while she thinks they’re just friends. In either case, one or both of them may be unnecessarily hurt when the relationship lacks clarity.

Not only is it important to be clear that a dating relationship exists, but it is important to maintain clarity about the depth and direction of the relationship as it progresses. In a worst case scenario, a person may either date for years and years with no direction or else end up marrying someone they really don’t know well enough. To avoid both of these pathologies, it is important to keep the focus on determining compatibility for marriage. That means prioritizing your time and efforts at getting to know one another. A dating couple should be learning the most important things about each other first, followed by things that are useful, but less important, and finally growing in emotional intimacy as they learn more deeply personal things about each other. It is a process that should not be short-circuited by getting the steps out of order. Emotional intimacy should not begin until both people are satisfied that they are at least roughly compatible (meaning that there are no major incompatibilities) and much of it should be reserved for the engagement period and then continued into marriage as they grow closer and closer to one another.

Another thing to consider is that breaking off a dating relationship shouldn’t be considered a failure. It just means that the two people are not compatible. That’s useful information to know. In fact, finding that out was the whole purpose of the relationship in the first place. If the goal is marriage, then figuring out that a person is not right for you should free you to end the relationship and look for someone who is a good fit. If a dating couple has refrained from premature emotional intimacy, ending the relationship should not be a devastating blow. Granted, that’s difficult in practice because we are human and we find it easy to bond emotionally when in a dating relationship. Just the thought that a person is interested in us and that a marriage may be in on the horizon is enough to get our hearts involved in many cases (especially for women). But measures can be taken to help avoid premature bonding and the angst that often arises when a breakup occurs. 

So, how can clarity be achieved and maintained in a dating relationship? Here are some practical tips to help clarify intentions and keep the proper focus: 

·       For men, when asking a woman out, be sure she understands you mean an actual date (not hanging out as friends). Step up and pay for it too. That tells a woman a lot. How she handles having you pay will also tell you a lot about her.

·       For women, if a man asks you to spend time with him and you’re unsure if it’s a date, ask for clarification. It may seem a little awkward to ask him that, but it’s way less awkward to ask now than to ask later if the last 6 months of hanging out means he is dating you.

·       Before entering a dating relationship, have a list (either mental or more concrete) of issues that are important to determine up front about any romantic interest. These things are the non-negotiable issues that you must find in a marriage partner. Then, when beginning a new relationship, have a plan to find out how the other person stands on those issues. Be overtly inquisitive. You need to know that the two of you are compatible on these issues before moving forward into emotional intimacy. Of course, you should be sure that these issues are actually important. Blonde hair, a good singing voice, or 6-pack abs are preferences, not vital issues of compatibility. Include on your list the values and goals that are very important to you since not sharing these vital aspects of your values with your marriage partner will probably lead to strain and marriage problems. The most important of these non-negotiables is that the two of you must share a common faith. As mentioned earlier, you can’t have a Biblical dating relationship unless you are both Christians. However, even within the Christian faith there may be doctrinal stances that are important to agree on as well. Differences on these issues may be deal breakers for some and not for others. You need to decide how important these issues are to you. Other major things to consider are major goals in life, political viewpoints, and your ideas on having and raising children. For a longer listing of potential topics to discuss, see my post on Items to Discuss Before Engagement.

·       By the end of the first couple of dates, you should have made it clear to each other whether you are planning to continue the relationship into something more formal that is headed towards marriage or whether you are not going to continue the dating relationship. Those are the two possibilities. This discussion may occur even before the first date if you already know each other, but should not be put off for long in any case.

·       As the relationship progresses, there should be frequent clarification of how it is progressing as well. Are you having doubts about your compatibility? Talk about it. Are you thinking that you make a good team? Talk about it. Not only does this foster clarity in the relationship, but it helps you learn patterns of good communication that will help in a future marriage (whether to your current boyfriend/girlfriend or someone else). This doesn’t have to always be a set time to have a DTR talk. You can just work comments into the conversation periodically. But you should both have an understanding that if either of you lacks clarification on how the relationship is proceeding, they should ask for it and receive an answer.

·       Be on the lookout for red flags. The time to put on rose-colored glasses is after the wedding. Before you say “I do,” you need to see the other person clearly in order to make a good evaluation of your compatibility. Watch for signs that the other person is using you, lying to you, or being very selective with what they share with you. You need to know the real person, not a sparkling fa├žade.

·       With that in mind…Be yourself. Be real. Putting on a show is counterproductive if the purpose is to find a lifelong marriage partner. You can’t keep it up forever so they will eventually find you out. Better now than after getting too emotionally attached (or, worse yet, after the wedding). The other person needs to know the real you now so that they can determine if you are right together. If they don’t like the real you, they aren’t the right one for you.

·       If the time comes to end the relationship, do it promptly. Don’t drag a relationship on with the futile hope that the other person will magically change to become the person of your dreams. That’s unfair to them and to yourself. Once you have determined that someone is not a compatible match for you, end the relationship gently, but firmly. Realize that they may have had some feelings for you and understand that they may be hurt. However, continuing the relationship would only lead to more hurt as they become even more attached in the meantime. You do perhaps owe the other person some details as to why you ended the relationship, but don’t make a list of their “failures” – simply point out where you are not compatible. Above all, do not leave open the possibility of resuming the relationship in the future. Leaving them hanging like that, wondering if you’ll come back, will only lead to misunderstanding and grief. Let them get over you and move on.

What do you think? Are there any other ways you can achieve or maintain clarity in a dating relationship? What successes have you had at keeping a relationship intentional? Or, if you’ve failed to be intentional in the past, what might you do differently in the future?

Linked up with  NOBH, WLWW, WFMW, To Love Honor and Vacuum, and The Alabaster Jar.


  1. Good advice! I had a few times as a single woman that I wondered if I was on a date or not... lol

  2. This is great advice!

    I have a couple things to add on a more practical level:

    1. Recreational dating is also wrong because you are wasting precious time that could be spent finding or enjoying your spouse and building a family. This is especially important for women, since our fertile years are limited.

    2. Men should pay for dates, you are right. HOWEVER, many men today have come to associate paying for the date with certain inappropriate privileges. Before a woman ever steps out with a man, she needs to be certain whether he is paying for the date because he is a gentleman or because he isn't. Likewise, men need to be very clear about their expectations for the date. Guys: If you are paying out of chivalry MAKE THAT CLEAR. When I started dating my husband, my mother absolutely forbade me from letting him pay for dates (we went dutch), because she was afraid he'd get the wrong idea.

    Thank you for an organized, clear, and thoughtful post on the subject.

    1. These are both good points. Thanks for the input.

      You are right that, in our mixed up culture, some men think that paying for a date means they have a right to physical activites afterwards. I would hope that Christian men would not have this mindset and that Christian women would be able to expect a Christian man to act like a gentleman. Unfortunately, this may not be the case and both men and women should be careful in this area.

      I must say that if I ever had a date hint that he was entitled to more than just dinner, I would have set him straight in a hurry. I would have told him that my body was reserved for my future husband and that it was NOT for sale for any amount of money or attention. And then I would never have gone out with him again.

      I should probably point out here that when I said a man should pay for the date, I was thinking primarily of the first date. Men should be clear that it is a date and at least offer to pay. It should also probably be the norm that he pays for dinner when he takes her out. However, I don't think it's a hard and fast rule that the man should always pay for everything. I think it's fine for the girl to sometimes treat the guy or in some cases (especially for more expensive activities) for them to go dutch. For example, I surprised my now-husband for his birthday when we were dating and made him a cake and took him to dinner. I insisted on paying since it was his birthday and he hadn't planned on going out to dinner that night. I think being clear up front on these matters is key and saves trouble in the end.

    2. i am a christian man but i totally feel that in no way should a man need to pay for women at all.. why should a man pay for her? what does he get out of it? if he is not getting any sex, then why should she expect anything from him at all.. i understand if you think that sex should be reserved for after marriage and i agree. but to say that men just need to ask women out, then pay for them on dates is just plain ridiculous.. if he's looking to settle down, he'd be wasting so much money on dating women. and i personally feel that any decent christian woman would split the bill despite him asking to pay or at least have a genuine intention to split the bill.. if a woman cannot even have the decency to split the bill before marriage and expects you to pay, she's going to treat you as an atm machine.. she might not intend to treat you as one, but subconsciously she is... and it is all in vain.. for when you divorce which is possible, you still have to pay alimony to her.. you may think i am bitter, but i assure you i am not. i am realistic. gender roles were meant to be fufilled after marriage. before marriage, how can the woman display her gender roles.. is she going to stay in your house and clean your room or cook you food? no.. she stays with her parents till you guys are married.. so why should the man pay for her before marriage.. perhaps after marriage he should as he's the head of the household and she has proven herself to him that she is not some gold digger. btw, i think women who expect men to pay on dates are gold diggers.. its not about the amount of money but its not the intention.. even if its just a 1 dollar coffee which she expects you to pay..

    3. It's rather old-fashioned these days for a man to pay when he takes a woman on a date. These days, people don't often view dating as the man taking the woman out, but rather as a man and woman choosing to spend time together building a relationship. If that's the way you want to approach it, then that's your choice. But there is a reason that the tradition for many years was for men to take a woman out and pay for the date.

      In the past, men were the leaders and initiators of relationships and women were the followers and responders. In any sexual relationship, the woman bears the greater risk because of her ability to get pregnant. Because romantic relationships are inherently about sex (even if you wait until marriage to have sex, which is proper), a man initiated the relationship by inviting the woman to consider him as a potential husband. He was, in essence, asking her to consider bearing his children. And his leadership in the relationship was designed to show her that she would be provided for, cared for, and safe if she were to marry him. Because she bears the greater risk if they marry, he is the one who is honored if she considers him and chooses to spend time building a relationship with him.

      Because the man is the one asking her to spend her valuable time considering him as a potential husband, he generally pays for the date. This has nothing to do with paying for sex. Instead, it is common courtesy not to ask someone to do you a favor, such as spend time at a restaurant with you, and then also ask them to pay for that favor they are doing you. The tradition of men paying is because the men were the ones asking.

      A relationship in which the man pays and then expects nothing in the way of sex signals to the woman that he values these traditional male and female roles and views her as having done him a favor by agreeing to spend time with him. For women who want a completely egalitarian relationship and reject different male and female roles, they may not like this. But for a woman who values the old-fashioned ways and wants a man who will take the lead in a traditionally masculine role of provider and protector, the man offering to pay is a good way to impress her and assure her of his interest in this role.

  3. That is just precious. The Christian wimin want commitment. But only from the man of your dreams. let's see how true that is by imagining an encounter with your Lord.
    "Birds have nests and animals have dens but The Son of Man has no where to lay his head."
    1) American woman response: "He's a loser."
    "But go and learn what this means:I will have mercy and not sacrifice."
    2) American woman response: "He places his enemies. Her is a wimp".
    3) American woman quip: "He is a 30 year old Jewish man and he is not married? He of a HUGE LOSER!

    That of exactly how you would treat Christ of you saw him during his days on earth.
    He was ugly and despised and you haughty church girls would have despised him too! Because you are arrogant self serving Christ hussy women.
    The very idea that you should exalt yourself and try to instruct me is disgraceful! We men, having been traduced by feminism for all these years perceive your impudence. We played the game, we understand the rules and were definitely keep score. How lofty were your eye lids. It is because of you and your arrogance that our nation is filled with divorce, abortion and homosexuality. The feminist movement promulgated those things and you have hearty approval to them. You must be judged as those who commit adultery and shed innocent blood. You with your insolent smart alleck comments tried to crush is men. We will bury you! You self serving materialism and frivolous divorces have blemished the garments of liberty. It is a stain that will require much blood to wash it away.

    American women are our misfortune. We men must close or hearts to pity and wage a war against you. Not a war for victory but a war of extermination. It's not murder; it's abortion. Don't be mad girls. We learned from you and now you can learn from us. Love is only for one night but hate is forever

    1. You are a very bitter man. I wonder what has happened to you that you are so bitter against all women. No doubt you have met some very bad women. But not all women are like this. To claim that all women are feminists is not only false (I, for one, am not a feminist and I speak against feminism and for traditional male and female roles) but insulting to those of us who dare to challenge the wrong ideas in our culture and live according to the Bible.

      As for me exalting myself and trying to instruct you, that's ridiculous. I write a blog of my own thoughts. If you don't want to receive my advice, don't read it. I didn't seek you out. You sought me out.

      It certainly is not because of me that the nation is filled with divorce and adultery. I'm a devoted wife and mother who spends her days serving her husband and children and speaking against abortion, divorce, and adultery and for homemaking, apologetics, and homeschooling. If you're so dead set against feminists and adultery and divorce, the least you could do is encourage women who are actually working to be good wives and mothers, who aren't divorcing and never will, and who do follow Christ.

      Yelling at the people who are against divorce and adultery and accusing them of being horrible people isn't very productive or very kind. If you want to yell at someone, find a woman who left her husband or an adulteress or whatever and you might have a leg to stand on. But accusing me, a person you don't even know, and who isn't the kind of woman you're mad at, is downright illogical (not to mention rude).