Love and dating, part 2 – here we go! Check out part 1 of this post here, where we discussed learning about love, being ready for love, and deciding how to use the word “love” in a dating relationship. This week we’ll cover four more ideas of how love and dating go together.
I can see some of you thinking, “Wait – you just told me to hold off on ‘I love you’ until we get engaged, and now you want to talk about how to love the person I’m dating?” Yes. The advice to hold back on saying “I love you” is to set healthy expectations and avoid painful confusion in dating, because our culture has made those words mean very little. We want to raise the bar on what “I love you” means in dating. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be learning to love the person you’re dating – first as a brother or sister in Christ, and then as a potential partner for life. Live it before you say it.
As you’re dating, you need to learn to love the other person both generally and specifically. There are some parts of love that are universal and should apply to your relationships with anyone (for example, being patient, kind, humble, etc.), and then are other parts of love that are unique and specific to a committed relationship. As long as you have healthy boundaries for what love should not mean in dating (e.g. sex, cohabitation, etc.), it’s a great time to grow in your love for one another. Here are three ways you can do that.
Spend time with one another. One way that you can spell love is T-I-M-E. This one might seem really obvious, but you can’t get to know someone without spending time with them. I mean that in two ways – quantity (how much) and duration (how long). There isn’t a formula for how much time you should spend with the person you’re dating, or for how long you need to date before taking the next step, but you should consider and get counsel on both of those things. Two general suggestions I’d make: 1) prioritize the relationship, but don’t make it an idol that consumes all of your time, and 2) don’t rush or be hasty in making a decision about the future. Give it time.
Learn one another. Dating shouldn’t be aimless – the point is to get to know someone really well. Dinner and a movie won’t tell you everything you need to know. As you spend time with the other person, study and observe them on purpose. Ask thought-provoking questions. Learn their habits and tendencies. See how their faith plays out in daily life. Be creative. Get them in unique environments to see how they respond. Serve together. Find out what makes them feel appreciated and cared for. In marriage you’ll need to be a good student of your spouse, and dating is a great time to learn how to study!
Consider a premarital class. Watermark has a premarital class for seriously dating and engaged couples that’s called Merge. It’s a chance to learn, get wisdom, and receive counsel about marriage in a safe, fun, and authentic environment. If you’re seriously dating and considering marriage, a class like this can help you prepare for the next step in your relationship and get to know each other at a deeper level. My wife and I did this as a dating couple, and we highly recommend it.
For many people, this is the million-dollar question: “am I in love?” Like we talked about a few weeks ago, falling in love sounds like something that happens to you, like catching the flu, or being caught up in some uncontrollable force. For some of you, this is the way that you naturally view love, since you process primarily with your feelings and emotions (and maybe you’ve watched too many romantic comedies). For others, that’s a confusing definition because you process with facts and logic, and “falling in love” doesn’t really make sense to your rational mind. Either way, it’s the wrong question.
I’d like to rephrase the question from “am I in love with this person?” to “do I love this person?” and “am I willing to love this person even when they seem unlovable?” The reality is that love is an interplay of decisions, actions, and emotions. It’s important to examine your own expectations about love to see if they line up with God’s definition and expectations. Here are a few ideas:
Love’s foundation is a decision. To love someone is more of a conscious act of the will and heart than it is an uncontrollable flow of emotions. It is certainly more than just a decision we make ourselves, since it comes from God, but the decision to love someone is more important than constantly having feelings of love for them.
Love’s expression is through action. The Bible says that we should “walk in the way of love”. Love without action is only an empty sentiment; it needs to be shown to be real.
Love’s accompaniment is emotion. Emotions of love – things like happiness, peace, joy, contentment, excitement, passion, etc. – are an awesome gift in relationships. If you aren’t feeling any of those things at all, that’s something you should pay attention to and get wise counsel about whether the relationship is a healthy one. On the other hand, emotions ebb and flow even in healthy relationships, so don’t freak out if there are times where you don’t “feel” love, since that’s not the foundation of the relationship. Even if you aren’t feeling uncontrollably powerful emotions of love towards someone, you can still actually love them in the way that God says to.
Most importantly, love should be rooted in Gods definition. Ultimately, you have to come back to what the Bible says love is. Our pastor Todd Wagner wrote an excellent blog post about “How Do You Know When You Love a Girl?” There’s a ton of Scripture in there that reveals God’s perspective on love, and I would encourage you to read through it whether you’re a guy or girl.
If it’s clear that both of you do not or cannot choose to love each other in the way that would lead to a permanent commitment, you should end the relationship in a gentle and clear way. Don’t make this decision hastily, and don’t do it in isolation! Get wise counsel and pray a lot. But if that’s where you are, and the relationship has no path forward, ending it is actually the loving thing to do. For more perspective on ending a relationship, read this post about breaking up.
We started off the post by saying that love should lead to a commitment. If you’ve dated in a Christ-honoring way, have received and submitted to wise and godly counsel about your relationship, and are on the same page about taking the next step, then make the commitment! I have a friend who got engaged and married on the same day, but this won’t be most people’s story. Getting engaged should be fun, special, and memorable, and being engaged should be a time of preparing for marriage in an intentional way.
How do you see love and dating going together?