by Diane Eble
Ever wish you could predict ahead of time whether or not a dating relationship will work out? It would save a lot of headaches and heartache, wouldn't it? While you can't predict the future, you can make choices that will help guide you to relationships that are both exciting and honoring to God. Here's how.
Why it's good to be picky
You don't have to have too many lousy dating experiences to realize it makes sense to be picky. And while being picky may limit the number of people you date, it will also improve the quality of each date you have.
As you think through potential dates, ask yourself these questions:
- What's my first impression? "Don't judge a book by its cover." That's how the old saying goes. True, first impressions aren't totally accurate. But until you get to know a person, you must depend on first impressions. Who do they hang around with? What kind of parties do they go to? Do they drink, smoke, use drugs? This kind of "first impression" information is very helpful as you think about who you will or won't consider dating.
- How well do I know them? It always makes sense to go out with someone you've known for a while rather than a stranger.
- Do they treat others with respect? Ever been around a girl who can't do anything but put down her boyfriend? Ever spent time with a guy who likes to brag about how far he got on his last date? Not exactly the kind of people you want to trust with your self-image or your reputation.
- Do our values clash? Are the things most important to you also important to them? Are you headed in the same general direction in life? (For instance: You value good grades and plan to attend college; your potential date regularly cuts classes and has no plans for life after graduation.) Do they have decent standards when it comes to the movies and TV shows they watch? Are they committed, growing Christians who seek to live what they believe? You may be thinking, But, hey, I've heard opposites attract! Not a good dating rule to live by, especially when it comes to values, moral standards and personal beliefs.
- Do they keep their promises? If they've been in a serious dating relationship before, did they flirt with others or cheat on the person they were dating? It's good to keep in mind that a promise breaker can quickly become a heartbreaker, too.
Before getting serious
Let's say you've asked the right questions and you've been careful about the people you date. In time, you'll probably find yourself liking one person a lot. It looks like it's getting serious. If you find yourself moving in this direction, or if you are already in a serious relationship, here are other questions to think through and to talk about together:
- Is our relationship about mutual trust? A relationship can't survive without honesty and openness. If lies creep into the relationship, it's time to get truthful, or call it quits.
- Can we be ourselves when we're together? If you have to be somebody you're not, or if either of you feels you must put up a front, then you're in the wrong relationship.
- Are either of us overly possessive? Words and phrases like "smothered" and "jealous" come to mind. If one of you can't move without the other one knowing it, then possessiveness is a big problem. If this happens, both of you need some space, and maybe you even need to back away from the relationship. These traits are red flags that your boyfriend or girlfriend may become abusive.
- Have we set physical limits? This question is extremely important and often difficult to answer, especially if a relationship has already become too physical. To avoid pushing the limits beyond the point of no control, you need to set agreed-upon limits early on. You also need to know why you need limits. More questions worth asking: Do both of you understand why God wants people to save sex for marriage? Do both of you clearly understand why sex outside of marriage is so destructive? If you break up tomorrow, would you end the relationship with no regrets about your physical involvement? If you can't answer yes to these questions, please talk with your youth pastor or someone else who can give you guidance in this critical area.
- Do we have dates that include our friends? If your friends or family complain that they don't see you anymore, your relationship has gotten way too exclusive.
- Do we plan how we'll spend our time together? With "nothing to do," it's easy to fill up your time by becoming more physically involved than you should. Do your best to begin each date knowing how you're going to spend your time together.
- Do we have a good understanding of what forgiveness means? People mess up. That's just the way it is. That's why it's important to forgive each other. Holding grudges because you've been wronged kills a relationship. On the other hand, no one should say "forgive me" when they really mean "accept my faults and don't expect me to change." If you want to regain trust, if you want to keep the relationship healthy, then changes must be made. The Bible calls these changes "repentance" (Acts 26:20, NIV), and it means that you will, with God's help, stop doing the behavior that got you into trouble in the first place.
- Can we disagree agreeably? Can you handle disagreements without screaming, sulking, or slamming phones or doors? And what about compromise? A relationship isn't about winning, it's about wanting what's best for each other. If either of you must always win, you're in a no-win relationship.
- Do we keep God at the center? Jesus Christ needs to be the center of each of your lives and of each of your relationships. This obviously means being able to have good conversations about what God is teaching each of you. It also means that each of you is committed to personal spiritual growth. And it means having Christian friendships (apart from each other) that hold you accountable and help you live out your faith. All in all, an exciting faith adventure is key to an exciting dating relationship.