Guest Post by Makar Naguib
If you’re at that stage when you can start dating then soak up all this information. If you’re not there yet, then let this teach you what dating should be all about in your future, and make sure you ready today's other post on when you can start dating.
If you do not choose where your life is going, the choice will be made for you. Culture, society, peers, family, work, and many other forces can take your life in any direction. To lead a good life, you must be intentional about where you are taking your life—you have to move with purpose. In fact, we are called by God to be good stewards of the life that He has given us. This message is clear in the Bible: we ultimately belong to God and live for Him. See what St. Paul says: “Those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Our lives will be better off if we care for them in the same way a good steward would care for something that belongs to someone else.
Living with purpose is key to being good stewards of our lives. Even if we are simply relaxing, we have to relax on purpose—not just let hours of our lives pass while Netflix plays on.
The same applies to dating. To have a healthy dating relationship, our hearts and minds should be motivated by purpose. What is the purpose of dating? Well, it is two-fold. The purpose of dating is first to learn and second to find. You are learning about yourself, relationships, people, and God. As you proceed through that process, you are also deciding whether the person you are dating is the person you want to commit further to, i.e., did you find the one? When you are pursuing a healthy purpose in dating, you will grow and thrive, regardless of the outcome of the relationship. Sadly, many people neglect the learning aspect of dating, and they suffer for it in a highly conflicted marriage later.
Here are some ways to be sure that learning is happening as you date:
1. Spend time to reflect on your experiences in the dating process—not just on whether you found “the one.” Consider the following questions:
Which qualities are you finding in dating partners (or potential dating partners) that you really like? Which qualities do you strongly dislike? Do you need to adjust your list of what you are looking for based on what you have experienced and observed?
Are you finding yourself becoming too attached to someone too quickly, before you have had the opportunity to learn enough about them?
Are you finding yourself struggling to trust another person?
Is anxiety interfering with you being yourself?
Do you have unreasonable (or unrealistic) expectations?
2. Expect that your dating partner will have a different communication style and different preferences when it comes to food, fun, clothing, etc. Embrace diversity so long as it does not compromise your core values. If you do not know what your core values are, start to work on a core values list for yourself.
Learn how to communicate so that both you and your dating partner’s perspectives and preferences are honored and expressed.
3. Establish a team of trusted people who you can bounce ideas off and tell about your experiences as you meet and date people. It is critical that the team is made of people who know you, lead healthy lives, and care about your growth, not just your marital status or juicy stories.
Your team can include wise friends, your spiritual father/father of confession or spiritual mother, helpful family members, a therapist/counselor, and servant/mentor. Plus one more: God.
It is critical that God be a core part of your team. Through prayer, invite Him to accompany you in every interaction you have, every emotion you feel, every thought you think, and everything you do. (This will apply to married life too).
As you can see by now, dating with purpose requires self-awareness, maturity, and a willingness to grow as a person. Dating with purpose is fun, but it is a far cry from dating only for fun. That is exactly how marriage works too: marriage is fun, but it is not entered into only for fun. If you date the right way, you will be setting the foundation for a healthy marriage.
Now that we have established the concepts of intentionality (living and dating with purpose) and learning, the next step is to assess whether your current or future dating relationship is functioning in a healthy way. The following qualities are critical for a well-functioning dating relationship.
1. Clarity – It should be made clear by both partners very early on that you are getting to know each other in a romantic context. It is unfair if one partner is seeing the relationship as more of a friendship, while the other is seeing it as a romantic relationship.
If you feel like the clarity you want is not there, it is your responsibility to bring it up. It does not have to be discussed explicitly on the first date or during the first few conversations, but it should be discussed at some point within the first few weeks.
2. Friendship – Part of the foundation of a healthy marriage is friendship. When you are married, your partner should be your best friend. To eventually reach that level of friendship, a true friendship should be developing as you date your partner. Think about the following indicators that a friendship is developing:
Speaking about the day-to-day aspects of your life, and the deeper aspects as well, like dreams, values, and insecurities.
Having fun together and enjoying each other’s company.
Trusting each other.
3. Boundaries – Each of you should show respect to the other. You give each other freedom and space to function well in all areas of your respective lives. You do not force opinions on each other. You do not impose on each other when it comes to any type of physical intimacy. You are free to say “no” to each other.
4. Values Compatibility – It is critical that what is important to you in life is not in conflict with what is important to your partner. It is ok to have differing values, but it is a challenge if you have conflicting values. Over time, discuss your values about careers, family, spirituality, money, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, embrace diversity so long as it does not compromise your core values.
5. Attraction – You should be physically attracted to your partner and your partner should be physically attracted to you. This does not mean that you will find everyone else in the world unattractive, just that you certainly are attracted to your partner. Some people may downplay the importance of attraction, but God designed in us the ability to be physically attracted to someone else, and this is to strengthen the intimacy that you can have with your spouse. So, please don’t think of this as being a superficial point!
6. Mutual Understanding of God’s Role in Your Relationship – Christians believe that God is actively engaged in every person’s life, and that He cares about our personal success and the success of our marriages. As you date, honor God’s presence in your relationship.
Learn about how your partner connects with God. For example, does your partner seek God in times of trouble? Or is your partner currently bitter toward God because of a negative experience that they had? Whatever the answer, this says a lot about how God would be invited (or not invited) into your home if you were to marry.
If managing through any of the above sounds overwhelming, I suggest speaking with your team (see above) about it. It may be an indication that a relationship is not going well, that you need to do more internal work before you continue dating, or that you have to make a change in your current relationship. Regardless of how overwhelming the above qualities may seem to you now, I can confidently say that they are critical for a well-functioning relationship.
Healthy dating is a really fun experience and an important stage in your life. You will learn a lot, meet lots of great people, have new experiences, and grow as a person. Keep the above concepts in mind as you go through the process and you will be sure to get the most out of dating, while protecting yourself from emotional and spiritual harm.
Makar is a Finance Director, Associate Marriage & Family Therapist, Coptic Orthodox servant, and a dear friend. Originally from Queens, NY, he now lives in Los Angeles County, CA with his wife. Makar has spent hundreds of hours with couples, families, and individuals in therapy sessions. He also delivers over one hundred lectures and coaching sessions each year. He truly has the heart of service and is passionate about teaching others about Godly dating and relationships. If you'd like to get in touch with him please reach out to me and I will connect you.