“Dating intentionally.” If you are a single Christian, it’s something that you’ve probably heard mentioned at some point, and held up as the right way to go about dating. But what does it mean, and how do you go about dating intentionally?
I’m mostly (but not exclusively) talking to guys here, because we are the ones who need to “lead well” (another Christianese term) in dating. Leading well, being intentional, and frankly being a real man are all closely related.
You won’t find the term in a dictionary, but I would say that intentional dating involves three basic elements:
- Having an intention (a purpose or plan);
- With that purpose being an eventual marriage (to someone); and
- Being clear about that purpose (though hopefully not in a weird way).
Having a Purpose
Anytime you are dating someone, or even just going on a first date, there should be a reason for it. One-on-one dates usually don’t just happen by accident. There’s a purpose to it, and some kind of a plan.
This is different from the current trend of “hanging out.” Hanging out with a group of friends or acquaintances is 100% fine and good, and can be a way to get to know someone that you may later end up dating. But “hanging out” is now often used to describe relationships that once would have been called “dating.” “Dating” implies at least a little bit of purpose and intentionality, whereas “hanging out” feels more random. You can “hang out” with anyone: your roommate, your grandma, or a stranger you just met. It doesn’t mean anything, which is exactly why some people use it to avoid the responsibility of “dating.”
Heading Towards Marriage (or a Break-up)
When we talk about having a purpose when dating, I should clarify that it needs to be a good purpose. Many people go on dates with the purpose of having a one-night stand or making someone else jealous. But that’s not at all the kind of God-honoring intentionality we’re talking about.
The overall goal of a Christian’s dating life should be marriage. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to marry the next person you date, because they may end up not being good marriage material or a good match.
So, the goal for any particular dating relationship is to get to know the person well enough to determine if you do want to marry them. If the answer is “no, we won’t be getting married,” that’s fine; you just break up and move on. It’s not always fun, but it’s better than continuing deeper into a relationship that’s never going to go anywhere (or is going to go somewhere, but not a place you want to go).
Dating always involves two people, one of whom is not you. So, besides having a purpose for dating, you also need to let the other person know what your intentions are.
The key word here is “intentional,” not “intense.” Being intentional doesn’t mean discussing your upcoming marriage on the first date. That’s a bit weird, and really isn’t appropriate; it could either set up false expectations or rightfully scare them away. Remember, the goal is to get to know them and see whether you want to pursue the relationship further.
Here’s what being clear does look like:
Making it obvious that it is, in fact, a date. Girls, if a guy asks you out, one-on-one, has no business-related agenda, focuses the conversation on learning about you, and pays the bill, that should be enough evidence that it is a date. If he calls soon after to ask you out again, that’s a sign that he thought it went well.
If things are going well, ask her out regularly, like once a week. That is way more clear than, say, going on one date in July and then calling her up again after Labor Day.
Defining the relationship (DTR). This may not need to be a specific event, but if in doubt (or if she seems to be in doubt), clarify your intentions and where you stand.
Don’t date more than one person at a time. Too many reasons to get into here, but it’s just not a good idea.
Talk, don’t text. I hear this one all the time from single women, so I’m passing it along as a service. It is hard to clearly convey your intentions through short, written notes.
If you go out on a number of dates or spend very much time together before deciding that it’s not going to work out, you’re going to have to let her know. Don’t just stop asking, or ignore her calls, and hope she’ll eventually figure it out. Sorry, it may be uncomfortable, but it’s part of being a man.
In fact, make it your goal to leave her better than you found her (if it does come to leaving at all). Don’t set her up for a harder-than-necessary fall, and treat her as a sister in Christ. Besides being the right and loving thing to do, it will help you build a good reputation, because it’s a fact of life that people will talk.
So, that’s some of what it means to date intentionally.
What examples have you seen or experienced of someone doing a good job of dating intentionally?