You probably have some questions about dating. And you’re not alone! We got hundreds of questions about dating over the past two weeks for our Relationship Goals Q&A, and last Tuesday at the Porch we talked through answers to some of the most frequently asked ones. JP and David followed up with a live video session that’s posted on our Facebook page to cover a few more. This blog post includes some of those, plus others that weren’t covered, in areas like singleness, looking for a relationship, dating the right way, and getting serious. This is a mega-post with 20+ questions answered, the longest we’ve ever done. Let’s talk!
Singleness isn’t just a holding pattern while you wait for what you think you really want – the relationship of your dreams. It’s an incredibly valuable and important stage of life where serving God should be your biggest priority. I Corinthians 7:32-35 talks about a single person having undivided interest in serving the Lord, while a married person’s interests are divided because they’re also focused on serving their spouse. Use every moment of your singleness to love God and love others. Waiting for a relationship is fine, but not if you’re making the attention, attraction, and pursuit of the opposite sex into something ultimate. You’re not on the sidelines until you get married – you’re in the game right now! Spend as much time with God and His Word as you can. Serve selflessly. Live boldly. Be a disciple. Make disciples. Set an example for others in everything you do, and set your focus on the relationship that matters most – the one you have with God.
We talk a lot about waiting to date until you’re ready to marry. That does not mean that you have to be ready to commit to someone for life before your first date with them! It also doesn’t mean that you need to figure out your wedding date within the first three months of the relationship. It means that the purpose of dating should be to decide whether or not you should marry each other and want to marry each other. You should have the end in mind before you start. You also need to be connected in community with other solid Christians, because this is a decision you shouldn’t be making alone.
Here are three great questions to ask yourself and your community to help decide whether you’re reading for dating and/or marriage:
Do I know what marriage really is? You need to define it the way God does. For starters, read Genesis 2, Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, and Colossians 3.
Am I at a healthy place to pursue marriage? (e.g. Do I have any unprocessed baggage? Do I need to recover from any addictions or habitual sin? Do I view relationships as an idol? Am I secure in my identity in Christ? Am I committed to purity?)
Is the other person at a healthy place to pursue marriage?
OK, so technically this isn’t a question about dating, and it’s not a struggle that’s limited to singleness, but it was asked a lot and it’s relevant. Masturbation was a part of my life for years, so this is a sin struggle that I personally wrestled with. I guess I showed my cards there – yes, I believe it’s a sin. At worst, it’s an act of lustful adultery that you should take extreme measures to avoid. At best – even if you can do it without lusting – it’s an unwise short-circuiting of God’s plan for sexual intimacy and bonding in marriage, and it enforces a self-centered and undisciplined pattern of idolizing pleasure and release. I don’t say that with an ounce of condemnation – like I said, fellow struggler here. But I’m completely convinced that it’s not God’s best plan for you, whether you’re single or married.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself:
Does masturbation come from a place of faith in God? Romans 14:23 says that anything that doesn’t come from faith is sin.
Does masturbating increase God’s glory? 1 Corinthians 10:31 says that whatever you do, you should do it for God’s glory.
Does masturbation represent self-control? Galatians 5:23 says that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and Titus 2:6 urges young people to be self-controlled.
You may think that masturbating makes it easier to not have sex, so it’s a win, right? Wrong. God has given you other means of resisting sexual sin, and substituting another sin isn’t one of them.
LOOKING FOR A RELATIONSHIP
This one is easy – no, absolutely not! 2 Corinthians 6:14 makes it really clear that Christians should not marry non-Christians. If dating is for the purpose of marriage (which it should be), then you shouldn’t date a non-Christian either, or someone who is far from God. Missionary dating is a really bad idea. Instead of dating them, pray for them. Share the gospel with them. Invite them to church, and connect them with people of their same gender who can get to know them and care for them.
Attraction matters, but the million-dollar question is, what are you attracted to? Are you attracted to godly characteristics and qualities in someone, or are you just attracted to their face and physique? Do you value what’s inside, like God does? There’s nothing wrong with being attracted to someone physically, but if that’s the only thing you care about, or the first thing you evaluate to the exclusion of everything else, that’s a problem. If you’re looking at porn or lusting at the pool or gym, that’s going to inform what you’re attracted to. Your heart is going to be led by your never-satisfied eyes, and that’s a sin. Physical attractiveness is a depreciating asset, and you don’t want to invest there. Instead, focus your heart on what really matters, like someone who is walking with Jesus, and ask God to help you be attracted to the things that He values. And if you are consumed by lust and/or porn, heal from that first before pursuing a relationship, because it will kill any relationship you’re in.
Chemistry is hard to define and even harder to build a healthy relationship on – I’d encourage you to focus more on companionship. Do you enjoy one another’s company? Is the other person a great friend to you? Do you complement one another? Great romantic relationships are actually great friendships that keep growing. Look for a godly friend more than you look for a chemistry lab partner.
First, stalk her Facebook page. Then, show up at her gym and get on the treadmill beside her…NO. Don’t do that! As men we’ve invented all kinds of passive ways to show our interest, and they aren’t helpful. You need to use your words, preferably in person, or at least by calling her. If you’re typing that message, you’re wrong. Don’t be passive – man up and talk to her. God has given men the role of leading and initiating in relationships, and “the ask” is a great place to model that. The “how” is up to you – be who you are. You can be creative, clever, funny, straight to the point, or whatever. Your job is to remove confusion, not add to it. Make it clear that you’re interested in her, and that you’d like to take her out on a date. Don’t leave her wondering why you just had that conversation and what happens next. If she agrees to go out with you, great! If she doesn’t, don’t pressure her or lurk around and hope she changes her mind.
Ladies, you could do this, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You might get a date out of it, but you're just choosing your problems. Would you rather not go on a date, or go on a date with a passive guy? Well, you might enjoy the date more than staying at home that night, but you asking a guy out increases the chance of you getting a passive guy who might not lead you well in the relationship. You want a man who will pursue you and take the initiative.
Not asking a guy out isn’t a biblical command – you might even point out the story of Ruth and Boaz in the Old Testament, where she showed some initiative in indicating her interest to him – it’s more of a wisdom principle. If you want to get to know a godly guy better, try serving together, or getting your community groups together. If the guy you’re interested in just isn’t getting the hint or getting off the couch to ask you out, you’re better off moving on.
Other resources: Treasures Don’t Do the Hunting.
One of my favorite Proverbs is 19:3 – “desire without knowledge is not good – how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” In other words, wanting something without knowing much about it isn’t healthy, and moving too quickly could cause you to make a mistake. Both of these can apply to online dating. Profiles lie – that person can be anyone they want to be online. Is that even them? How old is that profile picture? Do they really love God as much as they say they do? That burst of interest you feel when you come across their profile – that’s desire without knowledge. Agreeing to go on a date with that person before you know anything about them or have anyone who can vouch for them – that’s hastiness that can lead you astray. Be cautious in online dating, involve your community, and don’t make any decisions about the relationship in isolation.
Proverbs 22:3 says that wise people see a potentially dangerous situation and avoid it, but foolish people keep going and pay the penalty. Part of being wise is helping your friends avoid a potentially dangerous situation too, in this case an unhealthy relationship. People are ultimately responsible for their own decisions, but as a Christian friend you have an obligation tospeak the truth in love, to remind them of what God’s wisdom says, and to encourage them to not get hardened by sin. Approach them humbly, affirm your care for them, be specific with your concerns, point to Scripture as the basis for your opinion, and encourage them to respond to God’s Word. Read Matthew 18:15-17 for Jesus’ words on how to approach a fellow Christian who is in sin.
I remember a friend telling me a math formula for figuring out the minimum age of someone you could ask out. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t actually work that way. As long as you’re following the laws of the land, are ready yourself for dating / marriage, and are dating someone who is also ready for dating / marriage, you’re probably OK. I’ve seen relationships work with people who are really close in age, pretty far in age, and everywhere in between.
I think the bigger questions to process are the why questions behind a potentially large age gap. Here’s an example for the ladies – do you want to date an older guy because of his wealth and stability? And for the guys – do you want to date a younger girl because she’s hotter than the girls your age? There could be a lot of fine reasons, but if you want to date a person far from your age because of reasons that Scripture doesn’t support, I’d stay away from it. This is another great one to process in community and get wise counsel on.
DATING THE RIGHT WAY
In short, leading well looks like following Jesus with all your heart, and following well looks like following Jesus with all your heart. If you are both doing that, leading and following well in dating will naturally happen. The reason that general guidance like that is more helpful for dating (though it may not sound as helpful) is because the Bible doesn’t lay out roles for dating at all, because dating didn’t exist in Bible times. So we have to apply general biblical principles on how brothers and sisters in Christ should relate to each other, and follow those in dating.
You’re not married yet, so you don’t need to act like it. Ladies, he’s not your husband, so you don’t need to submit to him as if he was. Guys, you aren’t yet called to love this woman like Christ loved the church. But, both of you are called to walk in the way of love towards one another, seeking to honor the other person and put their needs above your own. Guys, while you are doing this you need to treat your girlfriend as your sister in the Lord, with absolute purity.
You should make it a priority to encourage the other person to pursue and deepen their relationship with Jesus, and to not hinder that in any way by how you relate to each other. If you do that, you will lead and follow very well!
Other resources: Should Women Submit to Men?
Here’s a short answer from a previous blog we did on this topic: share everything your potential future spouse wants to know or needs to know before you get married. Don’t intentionally keep anything from them. In marriage, you become one, and helping them know who, exactly, they’re choosing to become one with seems the loving thing to do. We are called to live in the light and be children of light, and that means we’re not hiding our sins in the dark.
The “how” matters too. Don’t share anything in two-hour, late night, emotional phone conversations. Don’t share over text (I’m grieved that instruction might be necessary). Don’t share alone, late at night, in your apartment with no one else around. Share in person, in a semi-public place. If it is really heavy, you might consider including your community group.
A full answer is helpful on a sensitive topic like this, so be sure to read the blog posts linked below.
Disagreeing theologically doesn’t automatically mean you shouldn’t date or that you would be unequally yoked if you got married. It depends on what you disagree on. If your disagreement involves the gospel being at stake, then you definitely should not date. But if you are on the same page about the gospel, and differ in other matters that aren’t completely clear in Scripture, you can still have a healthy relationship as long as you are able to extend each other grace, and the differences aren’t a continual source of conflict.
Here’s an example from church membership (bear with me!). At Watermark, someone can disagree with portions of our full doctrinal statement and still be a member, as long as they agree with the essentials of the faith that we’ve identified from Scripture. To apply it to dating, you definitely want to be on the same page with the “essentials of the faith”, and you can graciously give one another room to disagree on other non-essential issues.
While you’re dating, you want to set up healthy patterns for marriage. As a married man, I don’t have any significant individual friendships with other women, especially other single women. That doesn’t mean I don’t still have friends who are girls – there are women who I work closely with at Watermark, whom I serve with at The Porch, or who are dating or married to good friends of mine. I would consider all of those women to be my friends, but there are two main distinctions that keep it healthy:
I don’t pursue or cultivate a one-on-one relationship with any of those women, and I’m careful to keep all of our interactions fully above reproach.
My wife knows and trusts the women whom I spend any significant amount of time with, which is pretty much limited to the gals I work with.
Sure, you may not be married yet, but the habits and relationships that you have while dating are more likely to be the habits and relationships you bring into marriage. That doesn’t mean you need to drop all of your friendships with people of the opposite sex, but it does mean you should be wise in your interactions with them, and considerate of your partner’s feelings and perceptions. You should set and agree to healthy boundaries and expectations for each other in interacting with other guys and girls. Don’t be jealous or possessive, but do be wise and considerate. Lean on your community group for solid counsel here.
Keeping in contact with an ex just seems like a really bad idea. Why go back there? They’re an ex for a reason – keep it that way. Since they’re someone who you’ve been in a relationship with before, it may be easy to fall back into patterns of relational intimacy that are only appropriate in a committed relationship, and you should avoid it.
It’s good to be excited about having sex with each other in marriage! But it’s bad to fantasize about it beforehand. The fact is, you’re lusting after someone who is not your spouse (even if they are going to be, they aren’t yet), and that’s a sin. To justify it with “we’ll eventually be married” minimizes the covenant you make before God – you’re not married until you’re married!
Sexual sin happens in the heart just as much as it happens physically. Fantasizing about sex with your future spouse will make it harder to avoid having sex with them now, and even if you stay out of bed with them, it takes your focus off of Christ. Flee sexual immorality – don’t toy with it.
It’s not OK, and it’s not wise. Not only is it not fleeing sexual immorality to spend the night together, it’s not avoiding the appearance of sin, and it could discredit your ministry by making other people stumble. Whether it’s a one-time thing or a longer-term cohabitating relationship, it’s a bad idea. If you do end up getting married, you don’t want to have spent time establishing a platonic “roommate” relationship – that’s not a recipe for a healthy married sex life. While you are single you should look to set an example in purity, and not expose yourself to additional temptation.
This answer completely depends on what you mean by “pursuing purity.” If by that you mean you are both obeying and following Christ, confessing and forsaking sin, fleeing sexual immorality in every way possible, connecting in accountable relationships with other Christians, actively abiding with Jesus, and submitting to wise counsel, then your relationship is not doomed! The gospel is a message of restoring and healing. One of the most beautiful things about the Christian faith is that you can get up when you fall, and move on from the past and focus on a Christ-exalting future. God does not condemn you for your sexual sin, and He delights in forgiving you and showing you mercy.
But if what you mean is that you’re just not having sex anymore, but nothing else has really changed, then yes your relationship might be doomed.
The best thing that you can do for someone with an addiction it to help them get well, and to remove anything in your power that might hinder them from getting well. Use your influence to encourage them to pursue healing in any way possible, like starting a Christ-centered recovery program, getting into biblical community, and spending time reading and applying God’s Word.
If you’re in any way enabling their addiction, or if being in a relationship with you is hindering or distracting them from pursuing healing, then the most loving thing you can do is to end the dating relationship and encourage them to focus on getting well. Don’t use the threat of a breakup to selfishly manipulate them, but do let them know that the addiction is serious enough for them to need help, and serious enough for you to lay the relationship down so they can pursue healing with all of their energy.
Conflict and disagreements are natural in relationships. Getting in arguments and conflict isn’t necessarily a sign of an unhealthy relationship, but how you argue and handle conflict is a sign of your health and maturity as a couple. Are you often picking at each other about the small things and pointing out one another’s flaws? Do either of you get defensive and unwilling to talk about the issues in the relationship? Is your relationship more defined by conflict than peace? If so, chances are good you aren’t arguing well.
Conflicts between Christians should be marked by humility, grace, compassion, love, gentleness, kindness, patience, honesty, truth, and forgiveness. If you aren’t able to handle conflict well on your own as a couple, involve other Christians you trust to help you process disagreements better. The Bible should be your authority on how to argue. Scripture’s approach to conflict is laid out in an incredible resource called the Conflict Field Guide. Read it and apply it to your life and relationship, and you’ll find that you are handling conflict God’s way. If you or your partner are unwilling to follow the Bible’s teaching in this area, it’s a sign that the relationship is not in a healthy place to continue, since handling conflict well is incredibly important to a healthy marriage.
Long-distance relationships are hard. A relationship is about getting to know someone and spending time with them, and not being physically in the same place makes that tougher. Sure, FaceTime helps, but nothing is a substitute for actual face time. A few quick thoughts on how to do it well if you find yourselves apart:
Count the cost. Before taking on the project of a long-distance relationship, you should have an idea of what it might cost you. I don’t really mean that in financial terms (though plane tickets are expensive!), but more in the sense of knowing what you’re getting into and having healthy expectations. Talk to people who have dated long distance to see what it was like. Don’t just go into it casually.
Plan, work, prepare, and persevere – you have to be a lot more intentional to build and sustain a relationship when you’re not together.
Stay connected spiritually. Pray together. Memorize Scripture together. Talk about what you’re learning and where God is growing you. Listen to a podcast and discuss it.
Set healthy boundaries. How much will you communicate, and how? What does physical interaction and purity look like when you’re together? How often will you try to see each other?
Stay connected in community. You’re going to be really focused on that relationship, so you need to pay extra attention to staying connected in healthy friendships where you are. You’ll need biblical counsel and plenty of accountability to navigate the long-distance relationship well.
It’s challenging, but possible, to have a healthy long-distance relationship. Both of my brothers had portions of their relationships that were long-distance, and they are now happily married to those gals. I’ve known others who have done it well too. It’s possible!
Nobody “is” the one; they become the one when you marry them. Boom. Next question.
Oh, you want more? The search for “the one” is a fruitless search for perfect compatibility and effortless connection, born out of Hollywood’s broken model of relationships. Sin makes no two people truly compatible, so finding “the one” is a pipe dream. They’re not out there. They don’t exist. You shouldn’t be looking for “the one”; you should be looking for “someone who ____” and fill in the blank with what God says matters. Check out the linked articles below for the things that you should be looking for and basing your commitment on, like someone who is gentle, faithful, selfless, kind, honest, and much more.
Other resources: How to Know if You’ve Found “the One”. Identifying the One. How Do You Know When You Love a Girl? 10 Things a Man Should Look For in a Woman. 10 Things a Woman Should Look For in a Man.
One of the best pieces of relationship advice I got was this: “You shouldn’t be looking for someone you can’t live without; you should be looking for someone you can live with, and commit to them for the rest of your life.” It was basically this – redefine what you think love is, and make it a commitment instead of just a feeling. Feelings are real, but they aren’t reliable, and they aren’t solid enough to base a lifetime relationship decision on. This is similar to the mythical search for “the one” – you can’t make it just about your feelings.
That doesn’t mean you should just power through and marry someone you have zero feelings for, but it does mean that you shouldn’t sacrifice an otherwise healthy relationship on the altar of feelings. It comes down to a choice to love someone, and that’s a choice you make every day for the rest of your life, even after you’re married. I’ve heard it said that feelings of love follow the choice to love and actions of love, and I’ve seen that as true in my own life and others.
If you’re consistently struggling with doubts about the relationship, you need to take a look at your doubts, both in general and specific to the relationship. For example – are you a person who generally struggles with doubts? If so, that may be a deeper issue than just your relationship, and the relationship may not be the problem at all. Or more specifically, what are you doubting in the relationship? If it’s the other person’s faith, then that’s a great thing to lean into, and potentially call off the relationship over. But if it’s doubts about something that isn’t at the core of the relationship, like their hobbies, or their parents, then it’s fair to push through your doubts and keep your focus on the main things that matter – their love for God and love for you.
There’s no set timeframe for how long you should date; it depends on the situation. The key to making a good decision here is to act wisely, trusting in the wisdom from God’s Word and the godly counsel of people who you’re sharing life with.
There are some good reasons to date for a shorter time than you think, and some good reasons to wait longer than you think. It depends on what’s “short” and “long” to you. My parents were married about six months after they met; my wife and I took about two years from meeting to married. I don’t see a lot of good reasons for waiting much longer than that. Dating for years and years and years? No thanks.
Overall, you want to date only as long as you need to. It’s probably shorter than you think, but it should be strategic so that you can make sure that they are who you think they are. Then, when you know that they are committed to Christ and would make a great life companion for you, put a ring on it.
Thanks for submitting your questions about dating! If you have others, we’d love to talk with you on a Tuesday night at The Porch. Date for the glory of God!