Let me preface everything I am about to say over the next few days with this statement:
I am not an expert, as my husband will undoubtedly tell you -- and he has examples.
Although I am not an expert, being a pastor's wife has put me in a position to get an good look at a lot of marriages, in all their various stages. I have been able to watch dating relationships and see the kind of marriages they become. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Over the years, I have been able to see some patterns and behaviors and have seen the results they produce. It is this knowledge that I will attempt to communicate with you.
Let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to start... And that brings us to:
5 Things to Consider When Dating
1. Who should date? Before I even give you any of the things I've learned about the dating process, we need to determine who should be dating in the first place.
Dating, at its core, is a prelude to marriage. It is a time to get to know someone's personality and character. It is a time to see what kind of mother or father a person will likely be and what kind of marriage partner a person will likely make. It is not something that should be done just because that's what all your friends do, or what you see in the movies. If you aren't ready to be married yet, you shouldn't be dating.
You might be thinking, "Well, that's no fun. What do you do if you don't date!?!" You hang out with friends, silly. You don't have to "go out" as a couple. Becoming a "couple" puts all kinds of pressure on the relationship. There are all kinds of expectations that come with a "couple" relationship. You can keep the pressure off yourself and the relationship by just hanging out together with other friends along. I guarantee you will learn more about each other that way, anyway. Honestly, how much real life talking actually happens during the typical "dinner and movie" date? If you are having a deep conversation in the middle of the movie, you will probably get thrown out of the theater.
Another great thing about hanging out with friends is the honesty. If a potential guy tells you he really likes to keep things neat and tidy, but all his guy friends watched him frantically clean out his trashed car before he came, they will call him out on it. If he tells you that on a date, there is no one to tell you he is lying to impress you. So you blindly end up marrying a hoarder that you thought was going to help you clean house. Don't laugh. It happens. By the same token, if a girl tells a guy that she loves to cook but her friends know she can't even cook a microwave dinner, he will know she isn't a Betty Crocker when her friends fall on the floor laughing.
I heard a minister say once that dating was nothing more than "divorce training." It's a shocking statement, I know. But the more I thought about what he said, the more inclined I am to believe him. Think about it. What do we do when we date? We have a relationship with someone until we decide it's no longer working. Then we break up with them and start looking for a new Mr. or Miss Wonderful to make us feel great. The whole system is a selfish one based on how the other person makes us feel. When they no longer make us feel the way we want to, the relationship is disposable. And then we wonder why people walk out on marriages when things get difficult. They were trained to ditch relationships. I am certainly not saying that you should stay in a dead-end dating relationship. What I'm saying is that the whole system is a little bit warped.
People in times gone by used to "court." A lady would never be caught alone with a man -- her reputation would have been spoiled by such behavior. When she had a suitor, he would visit the whole family, not just her. There is something to say for that. This system protected her from being taken advantage of -- not just physically, but emotionally, as well. Other men can see right through a man who is making himself seem better than he is, or has ulterior motives. Women can also see right through a woman that is using her "feminine wiles" to hoodwink a man. So when a couple was interested in each other, the parents and siblings acted as a checks and balance system. Instead of dinner and a steamy movie, then a long ride in a car alone together (and we wonder why things happen), they spent time in groups getting to know each other's real character. If they were wise, they would know enough about their potential partner to know what kind of husband or wife they make before they became a "couple."
Courting certainly had it's problems, as well, but it was safer in a lot of ways than our current system of dating. The sad thing is, I don't know that there is a perfect system to weed out the jerks and find the person you can reasonably spend the rest of your life with. This is why it is so important that you go slow, use wisdom and don't let your emotions run out ahead of your good sense. Let the Lord guide you, and be open to Him telling you to move on.
2. Conquering Unrealistic Expectations: *Mr. Darcy doesn't exist. Sorry ladies. There isn't a wonderfully good-looking, fabulously wealthy young man with good character who happens to be instantly and completely bewitched by you, faults and all. Even if he did exist, he would be looking for someone as perfect as he is. Besides, living with perfection all the time would get really, really old. You would spend your entire life trying to live up to his awesomeness. Eventually you would get tired of it and just want to be yourself. That's when things would start getting ugly.
*If you think the guy you are with is your own personal "Mr. Darcy," one of two things is happening. Either he is lying to you, or you are lying to yourself. Neither of which is going to give you a solid foundation to start a marriage.
*Guys: The Dream Girl-Playboy Bunny-Martha Stewart Homemaker who lives only to please you and tell you how wonderful you are doesn't exist either. Life can be harsh, I know.
*Which brings me to this point -- A lot of lying goes on in dating relationships. It is all about impressing the person you are with -- making yourself look better than you actually are. He's doing it and she's doing it. The trouble is, once you're married, no one feels like they have to be so impressive anymore. That is when the real person starts to come through. You'd better know who that person really is before you are joined for life.
3. Rather than trying to find the right person, focus on being the right person. If you were to meet Mr. or Miss Right today, would you be ready? Are you the kind of person Mr. or Miss Right would be interested in? Are you their Mr. or Miss Right? What would you need to change to become the kind of person they would be interested in? Focus on becoming, rather than getting. This mental shift alone will do wonders toward preparing you for marriage. It is a mentality that thinks outwardly (or selflessly) instead of selfishly. It is about what the other person is getting instead of what you are getting.
4. Don't get the cart before the horse. *So many people jump pretty quickly from a "friend" relationship to a more physical one. Even just holding hands gets your emotions much more deeply involved in the relationship. And the further you go physically, the more invested you are in the relationship. I can't tell you how many girls I have talked to over the years who stayed in an ugly relationship way longer than they should because they had given up too much physically. Emotionally, they really, really wanted the relationship to work, even though they knew it wasn't smart. If they had held off on the physical side, it would have been much easier to walk away from a relationship they knew wasn't good for them. The same holds true for the guys, although they often seem to be able to separate the physical from the emotional a little more readily.
*On that note, if you aren't ready to have children, you shouldn't...ahem... be doing The Deed. We won't even talk about the biblical reasons to remain pure -- and they are numerous. The fact is, a whole lot of people who aren't even ready for the responsibility of marriage, let alone children, are being intimate. It isn't even logical. The Deed is the way the human race has little humans, folks. It isn't just the romantic behavior we see on TV, or the logical (!?!) conclusion to a great date. It isn't even the primary way to express love. All kinds of people who don't care about each other do The Deed. (Don't believe me? What about prostitution? Do you think they love each other? And I can't tell you how many people who've had an affair told me they didn't love the person they had risked their marriage to be with.) You should be in a married relationship that could handle children (even if you aren't currently planning for children) before you do The Deed. Even animals have enough sense to wait until they are ready to have young before they mate. Have at least as much sense as a wild animal.
*If your dating partner is pressuring you to get more physical than you should, dump him/her. No matter what they say, they don't care about you, and they obviously don't respect you. If they did, they would honor and respect your decision to remain pure without pressuring you to change. All that person is thinking about is themselves and what they want. Translate that to marriage -- all they will think about during the marriage is themselves and what they want. WARNING!!! Danger signals and alarm bells should be going off in your head and you should be running to the nearest exit. That kind of person is not marriage material. Andas we have already established, if they aren't ready to think about marriage, they aren't ready to be dating. Get out fast.
5. Use the dating relationship for it's proper purpose. The physical relationship is only a small part of marriage, yet it is often the primary focus of the dating relationship. (Should we hold hands? Should we kiss on the first date? -- the answer is no, btw -- etc., etc.) This mentality is dangerous. This may be a reality check for a lot of folks, but far more of your married time will be spent doing the dishes, paying the bills, working through life's issues together and making decisions together than you will spend being intimate. Therefore, the focus of the dating relationship should be learning how that person thinks about issues that will affect your lives. How do they manage money? How do they handle frustration and anger? How do they handle criticism? What do they think about child discipline and education? What about holidays? How do they treat their parents and siblings? What do they think about politics? What about their relationship with God? Most people in dating relationships couldn't even begin to answer many of these questions -- which tells me they don't really know each other. Yet these two people who don't even know each other feel like they have to be a couple because they are physical with each other. As they spend more time together, often they will see all kinds of things they are uncomfortable with in each other, yet they will override the warning signals and stay together anyway. Why? Because of the physical intimacy. It has totally overshadowed their ability to make a wise decision for their future and the future of their potential children. And they will end up sitting across the counseling desk from me as we try to help them take the rubble and build it into a marriage. Save yourself some heartache. Work on getting to know each other's minds and spirits. Learning each other's bodies can wait.
Stay tuned for the next post as we delve a little further into the colossal subject of Dating and Marriage.