I work in church operations, which means I spend an inordinate amount of time with young, single volunteers, many of whom are recent converts. When I first started, it quickly became clear that most young Christians have no idea what Christian dating looks like practically. Here are some insights to help Christian men date in a way that honors God.
1. A Definition of Intentional
“Intentional” is one of those words that sounds right, but no one really knows what it means. So I would like to clear that up. Here is my working definition for intentional and how it relates to how a Christian man should pursue a woman.
The intentional man repeatedly and constantly goes first and takes on all of the risk of rejection. He always lets the girl know where he stands so she feels secure and isn’t left guessing. (On the other hand, don’t weird her out by talking about marriage on the first date.)
Approaching her initially:
- Intentional: “I’d like to take you out on a date.”
- Unintentional: “Wanna hang out sometime? My roommates are all gone this weekend.”
Paying the bill:
- Intentional: “I’ve got it.”
- Unintentional: “Can you cover half the bill? I’m pretty broke right now.” (My wife believes this communicates, “You are worth about $20, but not quite $40.”)
Following up after a date:
- Intentional: “I had a great time tonight, and would definitely want to do this again. I will give you a call this week.”
- Unintentional: “I’ll call you sometime.”
Bringing other people in:
- Intentional: “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. Would you like to have dinner with my Community Group leader and his wife?” (This is a way to honor her by pursuing outside accountability from a godly couple.)
- Unintentional: “I don’t know if you really wanna meet my friends yet . . .” I.e. “I don’t really want you to meet my friends yet,” and as Chris Rock says, “If you have not met his friends, you are not his girlfriend.” (In this case, there’s a disingenuousness where he’s not being fully open with his whole life with the woman and is cordonning off the relationship from other areas of his life and people who know him. This is a guy who’s only selfishly protecting himself and shielding himself from any accountability and consequences, and he cannot be trusted as the protector of someone else.)
Things are going well:
- Intentional: “I think you are a godly, beautiful woman, and I have great time with you. I would like to pursue a relationship with you.”
- Unintentional: “Soooooo, what do you think about us?” Or, “I am not sure where I stand. What about you?”
Things look like they could go well for a long time:
- Intentional: “I don’t date for the sake of dating, and marriage is a long ways away, but I couldn’t be happier with how things are going. I think you’re amazing.”
- Unintentional: “Things are going OK I guess, we’ll see.”
Recognizing the end of the relationship:
- Intentional: “I am sorry, I don’t see this progressing past friendship.”
- Unintentional: (Time passing . . . cold shoulder . . . you stop calling . . .)
Ultimately, the unintentional guy’s responses are selfish because they put his interests before the woman’s, and they’re moreover cowardly because he avoids addressing where the relationship is, leaving the woman marooned in relationship limbo.
The man in the relationship should always have an answer for three questions:
What is this relationship?
What are your intentions?
How are you demonstrating those intentions right now?
The big idea is this, men: Don’t keep her guessing. Let her know exactly where you are at all of the time. It is a risk of course, but better on you than her. Own it.
2. Clean Your Act Up Today, Not ‘When’
You’ve probably heard some guy say this: “I will clean my act up when I find the right girl.” It’s not true. The lie is that once you find the right girl, all your problems will go away—you just need the right motivation, right? Wrong! If Jesus isn’t motivation enough to grow in maturity and pursue godliness, then you are not ready to pursue a woman.
The truth is that when you’re in a relationship, you get their crap on top of your crap. That’s double crap. It is hard to start a healthy relationship with two immature people drowning in crap. Men, get your life together first, know where you are going, then invite a girl to come along (Prov. 16:1–9).
3. Plan Ahead
Don’t spend time with your girlfriend without a plan. Decide ahead of time the prudent time to say goodnight and where you should go. If a frat boy goes to a party with the attitude, “I’ll just see what happens” he will end up drunk and who knows what else. The same goes with dating: your judgment will be impaired when you are together (the opposite sex has that effect). Also, you are not fooling anyone. Every girl knows what “Do you want to go to my place and watch a movie?” means. The battle is won by not putting yourself in that position. And if you do find yourself in the bad position, flee. Literally, get out. Not joking. Make sure she can get home safe of course, but seriously, get out of there. (1 Cor. 6:18).
Don’t be prideful. Spend time in prayer, think it through, soberly acknowledge your weak and sinful state, and don’t set yourself back (James 1:15).
4. Guard Her Heart
I went to a Christian college and I can’t tell you how many times these “good Christian guys” started dating by using the faith as a tool for manipulation. They would start a daily Bible study with a girl they just met, and position themselves as the ultimate confidant and authority in the girl’s life and leaving her heart completely exposed to a immature boy. A mature man knows that the person that can do the most damage to a woman’s heart is him, and he takes that very seriously. This is very difficult line to walk, and takes a lot of wisdom and discernment, but here are some indicators that you may be crossing the line:
- You just started dating, and you are sharing “heart” things with each other that you haven’t shared with closest friends and/or mentors that you have known for years.
- You are isolating yourselves as a couple and not listening to people whose opinion you used to value (Prov. 15:22), saying things like, “They just don’t understand what we have.”
- Your individual Christian walks become intertwined, and you end up pursuing and becoming closer with each other more than becoming closer with God.
5. Physical Touch
The Bible only outlines two categories for Christian women in relation to Christian men: either she is a sister in Christ or she is your wife. There isn’t a middle ground. The lie is, “We’re halfway married, so we can do 50% of the married things.” That is not true at all. You need to put physical touch in two categories: acts of affection or acts of desire.
Acts of affection are ways that you show that you like, appreciate, and cherish the women that you are dating. Think of it as a affectionate father with his daughter. He hugs her, snuggles her, kisses her on the forehead, holds her hand, stopping at any type of sexual satisfaction whatsoever. He just wants to make sure his daughter knows that he loves her.
Acts of desire are acts that are reserved for marriage. Foreplay is designed for one purpose: to build the desire to have sex, which it does well. Think of foreplay like and freeway on-ramp: it’s purpose is to transition you to full speed. You don’t see cars hanging out on on-ramps, never intending to get on the freeway. Physical touch is designed to progress, and it is naive to think you will always be able to keep your desires in check. Failure and sin is all but inevitable.
In short, you know what you are doing. If you stop for a moment and think about it, you know which category the physical touch you are doing falls into. It is different for everyone. It is not helpful for me to tell you where the line is so that your conscience will allow to you run up to that line and hang out there for a while (Titus 2:6). If you are asking the question “How far can we go and still be in the clear?” your heart is in the wrong place to begin with.
I would encourage any couple who is focused on the physical to change their focus to friendship (Song of Sol. 2:7). Building a friendship will set you up for a strong marriage far more than a physical connection. The physical connection will come later, you don’t have to worry about that. But you have freedom, in the midst of gospel community, to pursue friendship and have fun.
He’s Called Us to Holiness
There is a right way, there is a best way, and it is the same way: God’s way (1 Thess. 4:3–8). God did not give us rules just to steal all of our fun; he’s called us to holiness, and the rules are for our joy and protection. The process of dating is an exercise in putting Christ on the throne in all things. So embrace it, and don’t just endure it.