By Jess Dahl, Ellensburg Staff
It’s exhausting trying to identify your potential significant other in every social situation, but that is exactly how I spent my teens and early twenties.
As soon as I stepped onto campus as a freshman in college, I quickly learned I was in over my head. It might have been the guy in my Com 101 class that tipped me off when he mouthed the words “olive juice” during my introduction speech. It looked like “I love you” and I forgot my lines.
I’ve made countless dating mistakes, the least of which included going on a date with “olive juice” guy. Some parts of dating can be funny and inconsequential, but I’ve also seen poor dating choices in college lead to heartbreak and broken marriages that cause me to write this post with a heavy heart.
The dating scene in college can be brutal. Christian dating can also be weird, fraught with lack of clarity or the I-want-to-marry-you-after-the-first-date conversations. There has to be a better way. While this is not a comprehensive list, here are some tips for dating well.
1. Dating is not in the Bible
Dating is a construct of Western society that did not exist in Eastern biblical culture. You won’t find verses about dating in there. Instead what you’ll find is a story of God making a people his own. There are instructions for community to be rooted and established in love. There are exhortations to lay aside everything that hinders us from seeking Christ and his kingdom. There are verses toward married people that are unique to the covenant of marriage. Don’t you dare put those on your dating relationship now, except as a picture for the marriage you hope for someday. Date with marriage as the goal. It is a gift meant to be a picture of Christ and the Church. Don’t date in a way that cheapens God’s view of marriage.
2. Be friends first
This might not sound super romantic, but I promise it is. The Bible tells us that we are to treat each other as brothers and sisters. Rather than seeing every guy in our small group as a potential spouse, we are to regard each other as family. Once you can feel the freedom of not having to find your future husband every Sunday, you are free to be yourself around the opposite sex. Hang out in groups. Be wary of developing the best friend of the opposite sex that actually becomes your stand-in emotional boyfriend or girlfriend. Develop friendships with all sorts of people, and see if you have the important things in common before jumping into dating.
3. Slow down
There is no rush. When you feel anxious to be in a relationship, ask yourself why. Dive in deep to the reality of life around you in this season. Hang out late with your friends, be an excellent student, and develop your character. Do the deep hard inner work of letting Christ be Lord of everything every day. Don’t believe the lie that you aren’t complete until you are married. The strongest marriages are made up of two people who have learned to be independently complete in Christ. This takes time. Slow down and dive in.
4. Don’t fall for Christian hype
Maybe there’s a cute girl in your Chem 101 class who has a cross tattoo, or the guy who knows all the right answers during small group. Those things alone should not be the basis of your decision to jump into dating. Just because someone says they are a Christian does not mean they are living a life of faith needed to be in a Godly relationship. Are they in community with other Christians? Are they the same person in every situation? Do their actions line up with their words (or tattoos)? Do they encourage you in your faith or pull you away?
5. Begin with the end in mind
If a relationship that starts out physical and revolves around that, it’s not a good sign. God designed any sexual act to be a glue for the covenant of marriage. Outside of marriage, it dangerously distorts God’s unique design. The world says sex means nothing. God tells us that sex is a union that identifies a covenant relationship. Take your physical life seriously. Reject the script of the world that says it’s all fun and games. Don’t be short-sighted. Know who you are in Christ. Unless your relationship spurs you toward that, get out.
6. Invite community in
The most heartbreaking dating situations I’ve seen have been when community was merely informed about a relationship, rather than invited in through prayer and counsel. Hormones, desperation, and lies about your identity so often cloud our judgment when we make these choices alone. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, people fall, but in abundance of counsel there is safety”. If you have something to hide from your community about your relationship, you’re fooling yourself and should ask why.
7. Date on mission
The Christian life is a call to seek where the kingdom of God is at work and join Him there. Any lesser pursuit is not what we were created for. If you date or marry someone who doesn’t understand the purpose of the Christian life, your decisions will always be at odds with one another. The deepest unity is formed in the toughest battle, and this goes for our spouses. As you serve now in singleness, look around you. Who is pouring out their life for the gospel and has a like-minded passion to see people come to know Christ? Who is in the same lane running at the same pace as you?
Be consumed with the mission of God in your singleness and trust God with who you are going to marry. I wish I had understood this as a single person in college. I was chasing lesser things and wasted so much time scouting my dating options. Dating can be fun, but being consumed by it is not. As you search for meaning in your dating life, I pray the mission of God is what consumes you. May the way you make decisions about dating be radically different than the world around you and point to your greatest aim in life.