Once upon a time, I freaked out about dating. That might be hard to believe, considering I am now a licensed professional counselor not only teaches about and advocates for healthy dating but who specializes in dating and relationships.
But it’s true. Hard as it is to admit, I was that young, Christian girl who jumped on the bandwagon of kissing dating goodbye – except of course for dating Jesus. I repressed my desire for dating and decided that courtship was the “holier” course of action for my life.
Interacting with the opposite sex became this pressure-filled, awkward, sinful-like give and take that left me feeling confused, impatient, and lacking control. I bought into the theory that dating was wrong and that the only way to find God’s one and only match for my life would be to do nothing and just wait for him.
So, I waited. And waited. And waited.
In walks Mr. Prince Somewhat Charming. He initiates, and I respond. This must be the one, I thought to myself. That’s how I was taught it was supposed to work (you fellow-bible-belt kids know exactly what I’m talking about!) So excited to finally meet a man who pursued me I jumped at the chance to enter into a relationship with him. But the longer the relationship progressed, the more I was certain that he was not the right fit for my life.
But the problem with my immature mentality about relationships back then, is that it left little room for error.
Afraid of failure and of playing the dreaded “dating game”, I decided to stay in a relationship, that wasn’t right nor good, for far longer than I should have.
Though I wish I could change my relationship history, I can’t. And to be honest, my choices make sense in the context of my former belief system.
The world of dating can be hard to navigate for a young Christian. We are bombarded by a world that defines dating as this feel-good, hook-up experience. If something feels right, do it. If someone feels right, do them. It’s a culture that embraces pleasure and passion as the foundation of relationship. Commitment is trumped by chemistry and loyalty is replaced with lust. It’s a mentality that tends to live in the moment, forsaking the building of a future.
But then on the other side of the story, the “Christian view of dating” tends to use fear to keep us paralyzed, afraid to do anything at all. Rather than trying to navigate through the world of dating in a healthy way, it’s easier to overcompensate for one extreme by simply developing another – giving up dating all together.
But the problem with extremes is that they fail to offer a practical solution because the very definition of extreme is something that excludes the ordinary. The two extremes leave a gap in the world of dating, leaving many well-meaning young adults feeling utterly confused. It’s no wonder that Christians tend to freak out about dating.
As I began to engage in the balancing act between the world’s perspective of dating vs. the “Christian” perspective of dating, I found myself empowered and my relationships enhanced. I finally felt that I was able to take control of my life and relationships, rather than allowing my culture and sub-culture to take control of me. When it came to striking the right balance, I was finally able to break out of the fear mentality, and take responsibility for the choices I made regarding my love life. I stopped freaking out when I began to consider these concepts in light of my relationships:
1. Date to know Yourself Better: A crucial component to finding a healthy relationship is the concept of getting to know yourself, or like I call it in True Love Dates, “Dating Inward”. You can’t know what you want or what you need in a relationship until you get to know who you are. So many times our confusion in relationships has less to do with the relationship, and more to do with our deficiency in understanding who we are and what kind of person fits into our life. We get so caught up trying to find the right person, that we lose ourselves in the process. But the more we look inward, and the healthier we become, the healthier our relationships will also be.
It’s important to begin the journey of dating inward long before you are in a dating relationship, and then allow this process to extend into your dating relationships. You can also learn so much about yourself as you engage in relationships with the people around you. Use this time to reflect on who you are, what you want, and where you are going. Come to terms with your past, your baggage, and the things that have made you who you are. See your interactions as a reflection of your strengths, weaknesses, actions and reactions. Be observant and aware so that you can use each and every relationship in your life to become a better version of yourself. Because the more you know, the better you’ll do.
2. Take it one date at a time: Many good things in life happen as a result of time. Like a beautiful blossom- growth, intimacy, and commitment in a relationship are all things that require life’s natural unfolding to bring them into full bloom. If time brings things into fruition, why do Christians psyche themselves out into thinking that they have to know if that person is “the one” within 24 hours of meeting them? Talk about some serious pressure. It’s no wonder she’s afraid to text him back, and he’s afraid to ask her out for coffee.
Maybe it’s time to step back a little, and trust God to lead us into process of finding the right relationship one step at a time instead of always demanding to see the big picture. If you are following His leading, waiting for His peace, surrounding yourself with good people, and trusting the internal wisdom He’s given you – one step at a time will always lead you into the right direction or guide you out of the wrong direction.
Get yourself healthy- and then learn to look for the traits of a healthy relationship. Look for qualities, characteristics, and personality traits in the opposite sex that portray life, and health, and stability, and wholeness. Set boundaries for yourself, know what you’re looking for, and allow the process of friendship and dating to reveal to you a person’s character one interaction at a time.
3. Date toward no regrets: Though the modern concept of dating is not mentioned in Scripture, principles of interacting with one another are littered throughout. Applying these standards to your actions and interactions will give you guidance and direction in interacting with the opposite sex with no regrets.
We’re called engage in relationships that are mutually edifying, encouraging, and uplifting (1 Thess. 5:11).
We are asked to refrain from arousing our sexual desires prematurely, reserving them to be expressed in a permanent covenant relationship through marriage (Song of Solomon 8:4, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).
We are encouraged to see everything that we do in life as an opportunity to glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Why not see dating as just another means to this glorious end?
After some self reflection, I finally realized that I was using dating as the scapegoat, rather than addressing my baggage, my fears and my deep-seated insecurities. When I finally came to terms with the reality that dating was not the enemy, I was freed to address my own sinfulness and take accountability for my interactions with the opposite sex. At the end of the day, I realized that by making willful decisions, I could take control of my relationships rather than allowing them to take control of me.
And then all of a sudden, dating didn’t seem so risky anymore.
Christians, it’s time to change the subculture that we have created that cringes in fear at the thought of interacting with the opposite sex. It’s time to stop freaking out about dating and see it as an opportunity for growth, insight, and the unfolding of right relationships. It’s time to take the pressure off of “finding the one” and instead learn to simply glorify The One through every single interaction that we have with the people around us. Dating included.
Debra Fileta is a Professional Counselor, national speaker, relationship expert, and author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide to Finding the Love of Your Life, where she writes candidly about dating, relationships, and how to find true love. Her newest book, Choosing Marriage, is set to be released in the Summer of 2018! You may also recognize her voice from her 200+ articles at Relevant Magazine, Crosswalk.com, and all over the web! She’s the creator of this True Love Dates Blog, reaching over 4 million people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships! Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter or book a session with her today!
More from Debra:
Learn more about engaging in healthy dating. On sale for only $1.99 for a limited time only!