When we met, both of us were in the middle of individually uncovering the same painful mistake. We’d fallen in love with dating; dating disappointed us. We wanted relationships too much, and God reached out asking for us to surrender our dating idol to Him.
Neither of us could have guessed then that the other was facing the same disillusionment and the same jealous God. Later, we’d chart this common thread through our stories and wonder if an idolatry of dating runs more strongly through the church than we knew.
Books and blog posts abound on what’s permitted, harmful, and wise in the dating world. Those discussions are needed, but we’re not walking into that minefield today. Instead, we want to dig for a proper perspective of dating by looking at three aspects that, in our experience, characterize healthy relationships even before a date materializes.
Once upon a time, Seth messaged a girl repeatedly on Facebook and constantly checked for replies, speculating about what it meant when she delayed responding. Once upon a time, Heather witnessed too many of her friends growing “old” and being single and determined this could not happen to her. We both viewed the dating world with increasing desperation.
Desperation in the dating scene starts long before he “happens” to stop by her house or she corners him to ask his advice on a personal matter. Dating desperation is the panicked belief that says we have to make a relationship happen or we’re going to be left behind.
Desperate people rarely make good dates. Healthy couples didn’t agree to that first date because they couldn’t handle being single another day; they started building a relationship because they saw something in the other person’s character that attracted them. They may not have known each other well, but they acted in hope, not in panic.
As an antidote for desperation, seek to be honest in your evaluations of others and refuse the temptation to size up every new acquaintance as a potential date. Evaluations based on first impressions are, at best, incomplete. It’s important to recognize this and admit when we really don’t know much about someone, rather than filling in all the gaps with ideals. We can’t afford to fall in love with our idea of someone; we need to be willing to see weaknesses and quirks.
This isn’t to say you can never date someone without knowing them well. It just means, if you do date a casual acquaintance, you can’t bypass this step. Keep your eyes wide open, and refuse to accompany each other every weekend to the theater, stadium, or concert hall if you haven’t first sat across the table and talked about the things that matter.
Investing in Friendship
Our dating story is entwined with a place: New York City. It was here that we met, that we got engaged, and that Seth spent his breaks from college, visiting Heather in her tiny apartment on 97th Street. We shared a curiosity for the sights of this city and a love for its people. In New York City, we became not just a dating couple, but lifelong friends.
If you’re dating, focus on building a meaningful friendship with your significant other. Discover and unwind together the threads you have in common: a love for reading, a passion for missions, or an interest in photography. Find creative ways to learn new skills and to serve together. Discuss your fears and your dreams, what makes you cry and what makes you tick. If you can’t imagine doing any of these things with the individual you’re dating, then why are you dating someone whom you can’t honestly describe as a friend?
If you’re not in a relationship and would like to be, we want to challenge you to invest in friendships right now, not with the opposite sex, but primarily with peers of the same gender. Before you object, “But how will I ever start dating?” consider your life in ten years. Will you regret spending so much time in high school being “just friends” with that guy? Will you sense the lack of encouragement from godly men in your life because you only hung out with girls at Bible school, all of whom are now married to other men? Rather than becoming an obstacle or causing regret, strong relationships with friends of the same gender can provide you with a base of advice and support when you do begin a dating relationship and can lead to lifelong blessings through continued friendship.
From Disillusioned to Blessed
If we met while feeling disillusioned with dating relationships, we’ve definitely moved beyond that. Our story and the stories of our friends aren’t perfect, but there’s beauty in these relationships when they honor God first. Even with all the confusion and opinions surrounding dating and courtship, marriage is good and worth braving the dating minefields. If you flee from desperation and if you seek honesty in your relationships, you can build lasting and meaningful friendships both with people of your own gender and with your spouse, if you marry.
Forcing a relationship where God is withholding blessing will bring more regret than joy, but with human relationships in their proper place – under our relationship with God – they can be a great source of joy and a powerful force for advancing the kingdom of God on earth.
|Seth Lehman loves God, his bride, and cities, in that order. He and his wife, Heather, live in Bloomington, Indiana, where they frequent the coffee shops, sell at farmers’ markets, and seek to share God’s love with their friends and neighbors. Seth is a graduate student studying mathematics and working as a tutor at Indiana University, and he enjoys gardening, playing piano, and reading in his spare time.
Heather Lehman maintains that one can love both the country and the city; she is living proof. She loves hiking in the mountains, exploring cities, browsing international grocery stores, tutoring immigrants in English, and tending plants. After growing up on a produce farm and spending a few years in New York City, she’s made her home with her groom who currently lives in a university town in Indiana. She feels strongly about welcoming immigrants, living responsibly, and communicating Christ.