Are Christians Too Intentional in Dating?
A coffee shop near the university — that’s where our story started.
I can remember, in vivid detail, walking into that familiar cafe with absolutely no clue I was about to meet her. As I stepped in, I saw a beautiful young woman, whom I had never seen before, sitting on a couch. My heart beat faster. An ordinary night instantly transformed into “the rest of my life.” That was our beginning, seventeen years ago.
Beginnings are important. The Bible makes this abundantly clear. Again and again, the people of God remember their origins. In her histories (1 Samuel 12:8; 2 Kings 17:36), in her poetry (Psalm 81:4–10), and in her prophecies (Daniel 9:15; Amos 3:1) God retells the story of creating a nation for himself. Why is this rehearsed so often? Because remembering our past helps us make it through our present while we anticipate our future (Hebrews 11:24–26).
Couples who are just entering that beginning stage are a sight to behold. They often cannot get enough of each other. Even the most grounded men and women can be brought to a giddy, distracted mess. But as a pastor and counselor, I see two common problems in those happily in the midst of this infatuation-infused season of attraction.
Some, often with good intentions, end up being overly intentional. They miss the beauty of a fragile, uncertain beginning, because they’re chasing the phantom of a certain future. Every communication is diligently parsed, and every action painstakingly analyzed. I more easily fell into this flawed quest to determine the long-term viability of a relationship — immediately asking questions about families of origin, personality, and character.
In the end, there is no test like the test of time. Be it six months, twelve months, eighteen months, or sometimes even longer, things will reveal themselves. In the meantime, people can become so fixated on analysis and progress that they don’t take the time to take in the excitement and wonder of this unique moment in a relationship.
It’s no wonder why. Being in love is a very vulnerable act, and having one’s heart broken is an incredibly painful experience. But much like the Israelites who were too busy grumbling about their accommodations to take in the awesome sight of God leading them out of slavery, men and women can be so busy trying to test the strength of a relationship that they miss the awesome experience of a beautiful beginning. How might the grumbling wilderness generation have acted if they had known that the exodus would be rehearsed throughout Scripture more than thirty different times as a witness to God’s love for his people?
Don’t get me wrong, the exodus event is not about you and your dreamy significant other; it’s about God redeeming his people. Yet there are principles in that story about the beauty of beginnings, especially the beginnings God himself brings into our lives.
On the opposite side of those that are too intentional are those that are not intentional enough. They flit from relationship to relationship, chasing the infatuation high. Each interaction is just one more in a string of experiences for people intent, consciously or unconsciously, on pursuing a personal sense of euphoria, with no regard for its longevity or for who might get hurt along the way. If they cannot cry out with the woman of Song of Solomon, “I am sick with love!” (Song 2:5), then they want no part of the relationship.
They do not think about what makes love likely to last, or how they could better care for the person they are with, but simply seek a neurochemical re-up on their drug of choice.
As with the first problem, the reasons for this are hardly mysterious. Infatuation feels amazing. More than that, infatuation is given to us by God — just read Song of Solomon. There’s no rebuke for the romantic miracle of true love. It is the relational superglue that will help love hold fast when the stressors of life come. But like all things, we take that which is meant by God as a gift — the incredible and invigorating feeling of falling in love — and try to manufacture it in our own ways. We make it an idol.
It might surprise you to learn that in my role as a pastor and counselor, I actually see more of the former than the latter. I don’t think this is true in our culture broadly, but as Christians, I think we have reacted against the emotion-driven milieu in which we live, and sometimes swung too far. We have overvalued systems for determining a relationship’s worth and potential, such that by the time it gets the “Godly Spouse Material” seal of approval, the “you are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (Song 4:7) season has already begun to pass us by.
Just the Beginning
The good news is that the road between these two ditches is actually pretty wide. First, learn to enjoy the moments as they come. This isn’t a license to be naïve, but to put aside the constant craving to know if the person you are dating is your future spouse, and just enjoy getting to know each other.
Second, make some monuments along the way. Remember that first movie? Hold on to the tickets. Or that song that you danced to? Save it in a special playlist. Memorials functioned to help Israel remember God’s graciousness, especially when she later encountered trial, and they can do the same for you. Seeing that ticket or hearing that song later, when life has become difficult, can help remind you of that electrifying love you have enjoyed together.
Third, remember who is really in control. You both can be fooled — thought this was your future spouse and were wrong — and surprised — didn’t think it had a chance and it turns out to be your soul mate — even if you are being as discerning as possible. So, let your peace come from the place where you can genuinely find rest: the loving will of a gracious Father. Not from your own ability to perfectly predict or plan the future.