Love – it’s a loaded word. In English, you can love your car, your dog, your meal, your profile picture, your friends, your spouse, God, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s the same word, but would you say that it means anything close to the same thing? Nope. Since we’re in the Relationship Goals series at The Porch right now, we’re going to about what love means in relationships, specifically dating relationships. How you define and express love in dating will have a big impact on how well you actually love someone.
Last Tuesday at the Porch, we talked about how love is a decision, accompanied by emotion, that leads to a commitment. All three of these things need to be there in order for it to really be love. In fact, I’d add one more: “Love is a decision, accompanied by emotion and action, that leads to a commitment. Without actions of love, any decision or emotion of love goes unfulfilled and unexpressed.
Big picture: Christians are called to love other people because God loved us first (1 John 4:19), and we’re supposed to love one another in the same way that God loves us (John 13:34). The biblical motive for love is universal – God loved us first, and gave us the example of what love should look like. But in marriage, you love one human being in a singular and unique way for a lifetime. And since dating is preparation for marriage, we need to talk about what love has to do with dating. Whether you are single or in a relationship, here are some ideas about how love should work in dating.
You shouldn’t date until you know what love actually is. What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…just kidding. But really, what is love? Movies will tell you one thing, Nicholas Sparks will tell you another, Tinder will tell you something else, and your own crush-obsessed heart will whisper to you that it’s all about “the feeling”. Our culture totally whiffs on this, substituting real love for some cheap thrills.
The only place to reliably learn about love is from God, who is love. One great place to start is 1 Corinthians chapter 13, which is a classic chapter about love. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “love is a verb,” this chapter might be why – it describes love by the way it is and by what it does, not by how it feels.
But there is so much more than that about love in the Bible, and it would be a shame to just skim the surface. Whether you're in a relationship or not, do some homework on this, looking up verses that talk about love so that you can learn what God says about it, and apply them to your life. Here are a few to get you started: Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Proverbs 3:3-4, Proverbs 17:9, John 15:9-13, Romans 12:9-10, Galatians 5:13-15, Ephesians 3:17-19, Philippians 2:3-5, and 1 John 4:7-21. Challenge: memorize at least one of these.
Once you know what love is, you need to know and decide if that’s what you’re ready for, or at least if that’s what you’re ready to take a step towards. You shouldn’t date someone unless and until you’re doing it to find out whether you might marry that person. Dating can be fun, but unless you’re doing it as a step towards marriage, you’re just opening yourself up to temptation and heartache. You’re better off staying “just friends” if they’re more likely to be your ex than your spouse.
That doesn’t mean you have to know you are going to love and marry the person you want to ask out, or that you need to already love that person. That would be awkwardly intense. It just means that love and marriage should be a reasonable possibility for you in the reasonable future, regardless of whom you date (be sure to read the previous post about picking the right partner). I say “reasonable” because there isn’t a formula, and it can look different for you vs. another couple. Pray a lot, and get plenty of wise counsel here. If the possibility of making a future permanent commitment to someone you date isn’t on your radar, don’t even start.
Once you start dating someone, when will you drop the “L-bomb”? After a week? A month? A year? Ever? And what will the situation be? A long phone call late at night? After a romantic date as you walk her to her door? While sharing a cup of coffee at your favorite spot?
Or how about “when you actually mean what love actually means, and are ready to commit”? You don’t need to know the exact timing of when (or if) you will say “I love you” to your significant other, but you should be on the exact same page with what it means, and the situation where you’d use it. This means talking about it early on, and not making any assumptions. Love has many mysteries, but when you’re going to say it shouldn’t be one of them. This will take a lot of pressure and guessing games off the relationship as you set healthy expectations and avoid having to wonder when it will happen.
Guys: my advice to you is to wait to say “I love you” until you are also ready to say “will you marry me?” And girls – let him go first in communicating love. It’s part of being a man and leading well.
My wife and I did this, and it really served us well. Once we started dating exclusively, we had a conversation not too long after that about how we would use the word “love” towards each other. We decided that “I love you” means “I want to marry you,” and that we would save it until engagement, if our relationship got to that point. It made dating much more clear, knowing that we weren’t going to be saying that casually to each other, and it also made our engagement that much sweeter. The first time I told my wife I loved her (and the first time I kissed her, but that’s another post) was when I asked her to marry me. And let me tell you – it was sweet, and it was worth it.
We’ll pick this topic back up in the next post, talking about things like exploring what it means to really love the person you’re with, understanding the feelings of love vs. the decision to love, and what to do once it’s clear that you do (or don’t) love each other.