Dating isn’t marriage and marriage isn’t dating. However, they are linked. Most people date in order to eventually find someone to marry. So thinking clearly about our vision and hope for marriage will help guide our dating decisions. Our destination should affect the journey. It may mean dating less people, but doesn’t necessarily mean dating only one person. 

Whenever I get asked questions about how dating and marriage are linked, it’s usually asked with two main views in mind.

Both of these extremes are problematic

Some people say that you should only date the person you marry. People then feel the pressure to propose  after one or two dates. The other view is that you should just date whoever you want and date lots of people. Forget about marriage and forget about seeking someone you could see yourself with long-term. Then eventually you’ll find someone.

Both of these extremes are problematic. If you have the marriage pressure on your mind too much, then it will stop you from getting to know each other properly. It will probably cause you to focus on each other’s flaws too. This could end a potentially great relationship too early.

However, if we date anyone, we can get hurt and hurt others because of ill-suited toxic relationships. Also, this belief can lead to commitment phobia because of short-term, rather than long-term, concerns.

I believe we need to think about our vision for our future marriage. Our goals, hopes, and destination can positively affect the way we journey through dating, whilst helping us avoid too much pressure. (Read What Should We Do On A First Date?)

Be long-sighted

(The following extract is taken from page 132-135 of The Dating Dilemma book, read the introduction for free here)

In this final step, we’re not saying that your next dating relationship must end in marriage, or even that you should only date someone you can definitely see yourself marrying before you date them. Part of dating is discovering whether or not you could get married.

The person you marry may not be the next person you date

The person you marry may not be the next person you date, but if you are choosing clarity in who to date, then it follows that you need to think clearly about the potential of marriage as the goal. We have already explored God’s expectations for marriage in chapter 3, and we need to keep them in focus as we date.

This doesn’t devalue a life of singleness, or mean that we shouldn’t date more than one person, but it recognises that we should be active in learning the behaviour that God expects in marriage.

Intimate romantic relationships should have the potential to evolve into marriage. So our destination must affect the journey

If we pursue people with whom we know we have no hope of forming a long-term, healthy relationship, then we’re being short-sighted. God asks us to look a bit further ahead. As painful as this might sound, it means that it’s nonsensical for us to continue dating someone who we would definitely never be prepared to marry.

Intimate romantic relationships should have the potential to evolve into marriage. So our destination must affect the journey.

The Destination Determines The Journey 

If we want to travel down to Portsmouth from London, we don’t buy a car and drive via Scotland. So, too, God’s ideas about marriage must affect our ideas about dating. Thinking clearly is about choosing marriage potential in the person we date.

Nathan is a twenty-something Christian and knows that one day he wants to marry a woman who shares his love of Jesus and is compassionate and generous. If he dates a woman he is attracted to but who is also a strong atheist, is spiteful and hoards money, then his relationship will never (and should never) lead to marriage.

Just like an addiction weakens our self-control and perspective, so too dating against our values will make it harder

Not because she is who she is, but because Nathan is clear about who he is and the goal he is heading towards.

Nathan might think it’s a bit crazy to limit his dating opportunities like this, until he realizes that having relationships with women who don’t have the qualities he is looking for will affect his ability to see clearly.

Just like an addiction weakens our self-control and perspective, so too dating against our values will make it harder for us to spot the sort of characteristics we’re looking for in someone.

Dating Decisions 

There are some ways in which we can begin to see clearly whether someone has what it takes to grow in Christian maturity. None of us will find someone with flawless character (they don’t exist!), but it’s important to be vigilant for these signs of growing maturity.

We’re not looking for the final product, but potential for good growth

  1. Are they trustworthy with everyday things, or are they always trying to get away with stuff?
  2. Are they able to have friendships, or are their mates just shallow acquaintances?
  3. Do they treat strangers with respect and interest, or do they ignore anyone who isn’t in their clique?
  4. Are they generous with their money, or do they grab everything they can get? (Generous people aren’t always rich people; it’s about a heart attitude, not a bank balance.)
  5. Do they always tell stories where they are the hero/ heroine, or are they able to laugh at themselves?
  6. Do they make an effort to get to know you, or is every conversation about them?
  7. Do they treat their friends with care, or do they bully them?
  8. What do your friends or family think about them?
  9. Are they consistent in how they present themselves, or do they show vastly different sides of their personality, depending on who’s around?
  10. How did they behave in previous romantic relationships? Were they supportive? Unfaithful?
  11. How do they talk about previous partners? Being hurt is not the same as being bitter.
  12. How do they nurture their own relationship with God and express commitment to him?
  13. What has their behaviour towards you been like so far?
  14. How do you think someone would answer these questions about you?

We’re not looking for the final product, but potential for good growth. That’s a relief, because we’re still growing too. Sometimes our potential is hard to spot! The ‘me’ of five years ago will be different from what I am like now. (Read What Should We Do On A First Date? Part 2)

But our good growth does partly depend on being with people who are willing to grow in the same way. Simply hoping that by dating someone you might turn them into a better man or woman is blinkered thinking. But realizing that you can spur each other on to be more than you already are is exciting.

But our good growth does partly depend on being with people who are willing to grow in the same way

(Read the introduction of The Dating Dilemma book for free here, or buy the book here.)

Imagine If…

Imagine if We helped develop a culture in our churches and with our friends that took the pressure off people who were dating, while at the same time celebrated great relationships.

Next time we talk to a dating couple, let’s not ask them when they’ll get married. But ask them if they’re enjoying getting to know each other, and why they’re excited by what they already know.

Do you think it’s hard to date in church with the ‘marriage pressure’? Comments welcomed below.