Relationships are a keystone of our lives. Whether we believe in God or don’t, one thing is certain – when our relationships flourish, we flourish. As human beings, we are social creatures that are hard-wired for relationships. That’s why one of the worst punishments for a person to experience is isolation from other people.Christians believe that human beings are made in God’s image and that this accounts for our relational bent. God is eternally in relationship – Father, Son, and Spirit – and when God made us, we were made with the capacity and desire for relationships baked into us.
The human desire and capacity for relationships apply to all kinds of relationships. One realm of relationships, and the one we’ll focus on, is the romantic relationship. This may not be for everyone – some have voluntarily chosen to be celibate, but for those eager to form the other half of a couple, they can find this area of life to be equally daunting and perplexing.
The conversation about dating is a complicated one in Christian circles. There are a variety of approaches to the subject, and this article forms one attempt to help you make sense of it all. The article will by no means be comprehensive. Think of it as a chat with a friend or your favorite aunt or uncle about dating.
Rather than laying down rules and a list of dos and don’ts, questions will be asked, some answers will be given, and a lot will have to be figured out along the way. As someone once said in another context, ‘The way is made by walking’. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to dating, and you will have to figure some of this out for yourself as you go on your way.
What makes “Christian” dating from “regular” dating?
One thing about “Christian” dating is that the term seems to imply a subspecies or subset of dating. There is something about this type of dating that seemingly differentiates it from other types. In other words, it resembles regular dating, but with a twist.
At its root, dating is about getting known by and getting to know the other person and forming a relationship with one another. Presumably, Christian dating is different because of who is doing the dating and how they are doing it.
In thinking about Christian dating, one thing to note is just how much it’s an ordinary part of life. Instead of thinking of it too much as a relationship that exists in a rarefied atmosphere, it may be more meaningful to think about how it fits into everyday life. After all, if dating turns into a firmer commitment, that commitment will be carried out in day-to-day life.
The plain human decency that applies in every other area of life – being considerate, honest and trustworthy – also applies to dating. Honesty and integrity mean being upfront with what you’re about, and just being yourself. It can take an enormous amount of courage to be yourself, but better that than trying to fake it till you make it.
Being considerate of others may look like not ghosting someone – let them know if you lose interest rather than leaving them hanging and guessing whether you lost their number on purpose or by accident.Being considerate of others may also look like being intentional about what you’re doing. The stakes are high – if not for you, then for the other person. People enter the dating scene from different spaces and with a diverse range of expectations. It’s always good to ask questions to understand where the other person is coming from. It’s also helpful to others if you know what you’re expecting and wanting from a date, and you communicate that clearly.
Dignifying the other person and valuing them as someone made in God’s image looks like paying attention and listening to the other person when they talk and not objectifying them. It is also found in holding with care the pieces of themselves that they share with you, be it memories, thoughts, or stories they share with you. The skills and traits that we use and exemplify every day are just as applicable in the dating scene.
Not a hint
Christians form part of a community of people who recognize that they no longer belong to themselves, but to God and others. “You are not your own,” writes Paul, “for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
The Christian life becomes one where they seek to please God in all things “…we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thessalonians 4:1). The Christian, empowered by the Holy Spirit, seeks to grow in loving God and our neighbor.
When you date someone, presumably you find them attractive in one way or another. One of those ways is probably physically. This is normal and natural – things are as they should be. The way we’ve been hardwired can work against us though. Once aroused sexually, our instinct is to consummate that desire, not to slow down or stop.
That’s why it makes sense to not board that train so that it doesn’t take you to places you’ll regret. Knowing yourself and your weaknesses is helpful in this regard. We’re exhorted that among God’s people there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, because it isn’t fitting. It’s like wearing a tux to go mud wrestling or putting on six-inch heels to run a cross-country marathon – it’s out of place, and it’s simply not who we are anymore.With an awareness of the complication of sexual attraction while dating comes the need for wisdom, purity, and self-control. Wisdom means not being led by your loins, instincts, or your emotions, but by a deeper set of considerations.
Our instincts and emotions are for temporary decisions of the moment, like what flavor ice cream you want to have for dessert or what to catch on Netflix. While important, they’re simply not equipped for the heavy-duty, adult decision-making process of who to have kids and spend your life with.
As one Biblical writer put it, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
Keep it chill
Earlier we mentioned being clear about expectations when taking the plunge to ask someone on a date. Clear communication is key in all respects of dating. We need to keep a guard on our own hearts too, to not read more into things than we ought.
A cup of coffee may become more, but it may be better to keep it chill and simply think of it as a cup of coffee, and not a marriage proposal. Disappointment and heartbreak are part of the landscape when dating, but we can help ourselves along by maintaining a sense of proportion while we do it.
When a Christian is dating, they don’t set aside who they are; instead, their day-to-day lives should come to bear on the choices we make and how we date. Who we are should bleed through into our dating, leading us to be just as kind, considerate, honest, godly, courageous, and authentic as we are on any given day. We are hard-wired for relationships, and with wisdom, we can navigate these relationships and flourish, even if things don’t work out as hoped.
“Coffee Date”, Courtesy of Jonathan J. Castellon, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Crew, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Standing on the Road Holding Hands”, Courtesy of Edward Cisneros, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Sitting and Waiting”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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