“This general lack of dating means many young adults don’t even know how to get a relationship started.”
This quote was pulled from the same USA Today article I wrote about last week entitled, ‘Is Dating Dead?’, which made the case that traditional dating among young adults just isn’t happening as frequently as it used to. Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that this lack-of-dating trend does in fact have some truth to it and is causing a lack of ‘know how’ in the start-up phase of relationships among young adults today. If that is the case, let’s tackle the question:
How does one go about getting a romantic relationship started?
The answer to this question isn’t so cut and dry. There is no real formula or hard set of rules, as there are tons of variable that come into play, such as: age and stage of life, background, baggage, geographical location, culture, theological views, etc. But I will share from within a Biblical framework, what I think are some guiding principals in starting up a romantic relationship. Since I am of the belief that men and women have different roles to play in this process, I will break it down separately for both genders:
MEN as Initiators:
Pray. If you’re feeling ready for a relationship, it would be good to start by consulting God on the matter. Ask God two questions: 1) Am I ready for a relationship? 2) If so, who should I consider? One of my favorite verses is “Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). When we seek Him first and ask Him for guidance before acting, He will direct us and show us what steps to take or not take.
Pursue. If and only when you get the ‘go ahead’ from God, it is my understanding from the Scriptures that the men are to initiate. Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” This suggests there should be a process of looking for and finding someone with whom to pursue a relationship; someone who exhibits enough potential to become a wife. So men, turn over your fear of rejection to God and start finding. And don’t ever forget this: no matter what women say, we love being pursued!
Purpose. Once the pursuit of someone has begun, there should be a purpose stated from the outset. What is that purpose? That purpose should be to explore the possibility of marriage. God Himself said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18). Dating is about finding that helper that God made suitable just for you and communicating that to the person you are pursuing. This may sound super serious and intense. Some might even argue that being so intentional and forward from the get-go takes the fun and mystery out of it. But it doesn’t have to. You can still keep the relationship playful and lighthearted in the beginning, but letting the girl know that you are not just ‘playing around’ shows you respect her and are taking her feelings seriously. And men, trust me when I say: this will make women even more attracted to you. I repeat: this will make women even more attracted to you. We love men who are intentional and who take the lead. Are you writing this down? LOL.
Pace. The tendency in a budding relationship when emotions are running high, is to put the ‘pedal to the metal’, running the danger of becoming too close too fast! Getting to know someone new takes time. It is through real life situations over a period of time, that a person’s true colors will come out. Learning to see a relationship as a marathon, rather than a sprint, will help you pace it differently. Is it possible to maintain a sprint for 26 miles straight? Only a fool would try such a thing (a.k.a me in my first marathon)! Remember the wise words found in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love is patient…” Simple, yet so profound. Remember that erring on the side of going too slow, is better than erring on the side of going to fast. Pace is everything in a long race. Don’t screw it up.
Protect. I heard a story recently where a guy was certain he had heard from God that this girl he was pursuing was ‘the one.’ Within a week of starting to date her, he told her this bit of information. She got excited at the thought, though she needed time to get to know him first. He then proceeded a few weeks later to take her to look at rings and continued to plant the idea that she was definitely the one he had been praying for all those years. Again, she was excited (the natural response of any woman!) but still hadn’t had the chance to hear from God on her own. Just as she was coming around to the idea, he abruptly broke things off with her, saying ‘It must not have been God’s will after all.” She was crushed. Not only did she lose the guy she was falling in love with, but she lost the dream of marrying him as well–a double whammy. Guys, this is not a good example of guarding a woman’s heart. Note: we are very emotionally-driven beings and many of us dream and fantasize from a very young age about our wedding day. I know, it’s sounds crazy to you, but just know that’s what you are dealing with. So can you please be gentle with our hearts and mindful of how you handle them? If you think you are hearing God tell you she is ‘the one’, be sensitive to the timing of sharing that information. Pray and ask God for wisdom and ask Him to allow her to get a confirmation in her heart too, if it is in fact His will that you marry. Building up plans and expectations for marriage and then not following through is like a dragging a woman’s heart through the wringer.
Pray. You’ll notice this list is sort of like a ‘prayer sandwich.’ It is crucial to remain prayerful in the beginning of a relationship and throughout. Continue to ask God for wisdom, direction and insight into the person you are getting to know. God promises to help us through life, “For I am the Lord your God, who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13). It’s up to you to let Him.
WOMEN as Responders:
Pray. Same as with the men, if you are feeling ready to be in a relationship, consult God and ask Him if you are ready. For women, the questions would be: 1) Lord, am I ready for a relationship? 2) What kind of person should I consider to date? If your relationship and identity are firmly rooted in God and He gives you the ‘okay’ to be considering a relationship, put your full trust in Him to determine the what, when, where and with whom (More on this in my book, Entrusting the Key: From Serial Dating to Joyful Waiting). This will bring you under His umbrella of grace, protecting you from making poor dating decisions, preparing you for the season of relationship/marriage, and giving you the patience to wait for His leading.
Perceive. Once you have prayerfully asked God what kind of person He would have you be with (check previous posts on this topic), keep your eyes open to men that God might put in your path. Practice hearing God by asking for wisdom and discernment, and asking Him to give you His eyes to see people how He sees them, rather than being ‘too picky’ based on your own preferences. The Bible tells us that God gives generously to those who ask for wisdom (James 1:5). Be open to how God might direct your heart and try and maintain a certain level of flexibility. He may turn your romantic antenna toward someone you didn’t expect!
Put Out Signals. Yes, I said it: put out signals ladies! As in, don’t be afraid to respond to someone who is showing interest in you. Or, if there is someone in your midst to whom you are attracted, putting out some ‘vibes’ may encourage him to initiate something with you. Don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting promiscuous flirtation with misguided motives. No! But I think as women, we can do a better job of showing a little reciprocation to someone who has shown some initiative. Laugh, giggle, make eye contact, whatever…just allow yourself to be expressive of what you are feeling and sensing inside (within reason of course). Sometimes I think the reason why men don’t pursue more is because we are so busy being all holy moly and in love with Jesus (which we are of course), but we lose touch with how to interact and engage with the opposite sex. Responding positively and learning to relate on a level other than friendship can be a good, godly and healthy thing! Guys are human too and it takes a lot of guts to pursue someone new, so a little affirmation on our part is probably much appreciated, right guys? That is, if you are genuinely interested. If not, be just as honest the other way and kindly tell them, sooner rather than later.
Purity. You might find it odd that I am talking about purity right after ‘putting out signals.’ Both are equally important in the process of starting a new relationship and work hand in hand. Putting out signals as a way of responding to someone pursuing should always be done with a pure heart and motives. We are instructed to be holy in all we do (1 Peter 1:15). This means we should be mindful of how we dress, speak and conduct ourselves in the company of the opposite sex. Does this mean we have to dress like nuns and shun all means of beautifying ourselves? Heavens no! God created us to express our beauty in unique and creative ways and delights in His own creation. With this said however, we should also be mindful of the fact that men are wired differently that we are. For example, they are visual beings and have a stronger biological sex drive than we do. Therefore, we need to understand that the way we dress and interact can really stumble a brother if we are not careful. Just as men should protect our hearts from unrealistic fantasy and expectation, we should protect them in this area of sexual temptation.
Patience. It is easy to jump 10 steps ahead of ourselves (and God!) when we start feeling those fluttery butterflies in the early stages of getting to know someone new. C’mon gals, you know what I’m talkin’ about: before the first date even ends, we have already imagined ourselves in our wedding dress, walking down the isle, where the honey moon will be and how many kids we will have with..what’s his name again? He could just maybe, possibly, hopefully be ‘the one’ right? LOL. I have no idea why on earth God wired us this silly way (well, actually Genesis does a pretty good job of explaining it) but He did. So that means we have to really seek Him in prayer to help us stay in the present and not get ahead of ourselves. We’ve really got to be diligent about turning every thought, dream, desire, expectation and/or fantasy over to God, trusting that He will bring about His plans for the relationship in His timing, if it is His will. Tip: take the pressure off yourself to have to ‘know’ right away whether you’re going to marry the guy you are getting to know and just enjoy the process of getting to know him as a person! Easier said than done, I know. Patience, my dear sister, is the key to receiving the fullness of His provision and blessing! I am taking my own advice as I write this.
Pray. Entering into a new relationship is fun and exciting. At least it should be – that’s how God designed His sacred union! But we should be careful never to let that relationship come before God or substitute time with Him at any point. We must remain vigilant in staying connected to Him each day and keeping ourselves aligned with the awesome Truth of His Word, so that we can be led by His wisdom and His understanding and not the thumpity-thump-thump of our own hearts. He will unfold each and every desire of our hearts in ways we could never even ask for or imagine, as long as we truly ask and desire that His will, not our own, be done!
How did you like those prayer sandwiches? Starting and building a good, healthy, god-centered relationship is no easy task. But when viewed in the proper light, it can be seen as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and someone new, as well as grow more in the likeness of Jesus along the way. Fortunately, we don’t have to go at it alone either. We serve a God who promises to take us by the hand and lead us by His Spirit in all things–even our love pursuits. But it is up to us to let Him!
Feel free to share your responses to this post in the comments section. Thanks and looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
I have a friend in her late thirties who really wants to get married. There are men who have expressed interest in her, but she is convinced that the ‘right one’ hasn’t come along yet according to the list of traits she has listed out. Honestly, some of these men she turns down are great, godly men and I wonder: At what point is she just being too picky?
Great question. I think this is a very common dilemma that comes up in the Christian dating world. On one hand, we serve a God who can do “…immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). And on the other hand, we are commanded to pray in Matthew 6:10, “let thy will be done.” So the question is, how do we strike a balance between asking God for the desires of our hearts while remaining open to His will, which may be different than our own?
I had a friend who once shared with me her “list” of traits and characteristics she hoped and prayed for in a life partner. I was shocked as I listened to what she had written down. Everything from personality type to income bracket to ethnic background was on there! She also had a lot of physical requirements that seemed nothing less than a male super model. In that instance I honestly wondered if her stringency may have been keeping her from meeting completely suitable men.
I am not saying we shouldn’t pray specifically. Or that we shouldn’t believe that God can do the impossible. I’ve experienced myself and witnessed in others prayers being answered specifically. But while our specific dreams, desires and preferences are important and heard by God, I do think we need to maintain some level of openness and flexibility to what God’s will may look like.
I have a friend who married a man she never thought in a million years she would marry. He looked the exact opposite of the kinds of men she was usually attracted to, he came from a church background that was entirely different from hers, and his personality was totally different that anyone she had encountered before. But they ended up being in an ecumenical (mixed denominational) fellowship group together and after several weeks of hanging out in the group, realized they really connected on so many different levels. She told me it took her a while to let go of her own expectations of what she thought she needed in a man. But in time, as she asked God to open her eyes to see this man the way He saw Him, she began to see him in a new light. She said, “I thought I knew what I needed in a man, and that’s what I had based my original ‘list’ on. But once I allowed God to show me what I needed, He gave me the willingness to consider a man who I wouldn’t have normally considered. Now we are married and sometimes I laugh at how well God knew what we both needed. My husband challenges me, supports me and loves me in ways I could have never imagined! I am so thankful I let God show me what and who was best for me.”
Gosh, such wisdom in that testimony. Sometimes our own tastes and preferences can really limit what God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes they can even be from our own selfish nature or from our own brokenness. Dr. Cloud and Dr. Townsend speak of this in their book called Boundaries in Dating. They say our preferences cannot always be trusted in the first place because they can come out of an unhealthy place. The examples they give are:
- Fears of intimacy can attract you to detached people
- Fears of autonomy can attract you to controlling people
- Fears of being real can attract you to perfectionistic people
- Fears of your own sinfulness can attract you to “bad” people
- Fears of your own neediness can attract you to weak, passive people
- Unresolved family issues can attract you to someone who is like a parent you had trouble with
So the point is to be aware of your preferences and value them, but be open to the fact that may they may not be the very best for you after all. Here are some practical tips I have tried to live by that have helped me stick to my standards, but also keep a level of openness to God when it comes to deciding whether to engage with someone who may be showing interest:
Seek God First at all Times. When we are consistently seeking God through prayer, studying His Word and having fellowship with other believers, we can be sure that God will mold and hold our heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” It is my understanding and experience that when we truly delight in Him, He actually gives us the very desires of our hearts. As we seek Him for wisdom regarding a life partner, He will lay upon our hearts the important things to look for and consider in the process of getting to know someone. It is absolutely crucial that we keep close communion and fellowship with God’s Spirit as much as we can through this process.
Ask Him for His Eyes. I have often prayed, “Lord, please give me Your eyes to see this person as You do.” This is a powerful prayer because it helps us get beyond our human and often superficial perceptions and judgments of people to see into the crevices of their heart and soul–the very soil from which fruits of the Spirit and maturity grow. Sometimes we may not be attracted to someone right off the bat so we write them off and move on. But we should be careful not to be so quick to judge. Asking God to show us if we are missing anything will help us give everyone a fair chance.
Be Open to Getting to Know Anyone with Good Character. You never know what surprises God may throw your way. Even if a person is not someone we would normally consider or be interested in, but he/she has exceptional character, be open to getting to know that person. You never know what may develop and how God may change your heart towards that person over time.
Don’t Overlook People in Front of Your Nose. God leads us to engage and serve in different environments and settings for all sorts of reasons. Don’t discount that one of them my be to meet your future spouse! Make a conscious effort this week to consider various friends and acquaintances in your various networks and associations. Ask God to lay upon your heart anyone who He may want you to get to know on a deeper level. You never know, the person He has for you could be right in front of your nose and you’re just not aware of it!
Strive to Become the Person on Your “list.” Sometimes we can get too caught up in the type of person we want to be with and forget about the person we are becoming. Take a look at the list of traits and qualities you hope for in a mate. Now ask yourself if you embody those things. We are instructed to strive for holiness in all we do (1 Peter 1:15). So perhaps you can remove some of your focus from what kind of person you will be with to what kind of person you are becoming. Ask God to help you see what you can work on that will help you reflect His holiness and prepare you to be a better spouse.
I hope some of these tips may help in steering us away from having unrealistic expectations or being too picky. Next week, we will discuss what preferences are good to have that can help steer us on the path to a healthy and godly relationship.
So tune in right here as we explore, discover and discuss together how we can honor God in the way we wait, date and pursue a marriage relationship the way He intended. Don’t miss it! And please send in more questions if you have them to firstname.lastname@example.org.