At some stage, many single people move into a romantic relationship with someone from their circle of friends. This in often an exciting yet somewhat scary time. Although it's often too early to tell, ideally, the couple see each other as a potential spouse, not just a relationship of convenience, which can easily become selfish and abusive.
Moving from a friendship to romantic relationship with another person is an important decision and needs to be done with prayer and wisdom. We put a lot of work into considering buying a house or a car. How much more should we put a lot of work on the front end of beginning a relationship with a potential life partner. After all, an eventual marriage means sharing every area of our life.
Aspects to consider are: compatibility (spiritual, personality, life purpose, attraction), character (track record, stability, quality of existing relationships), affirmation from family and trusted friends, and the test of time. Be extremely prayerful and careful. Of course, let’s not buy into the cult of perfectionism.
Should a Christian go out with or marry a non-Christian? When choosing a potential life partner – faith, character and life purpose are all important. The apostle Paul urged anyone who was about to remarry to marry “only in the Lord” – in other words, to another Christian (1Cor.7:39). His earlier comments about not being "unequally yoked with unbelievers" (1Cor.6:14) were not in direct reference to marriage, although there may be a principle there. “Missionary dating” is not always a successful enterprise. Because faith in God is such a central and all-pervasive aspect of life, it should be a priority when choosing who to go out with or who to marry.
When it comes to dating standards, God’s will is sexual purity before and within marriage (see 1 Thess.4:1-8). This requires that we control your eyes (what we look at), our mind (what we think about), our heart and our actions. Unfortunately, we have seen a great moral shift in our society over the last generation. Here in Australia, in 1967, only 3% of couples lived together before marriage, while in 2011, it is 87%. De facto or common law marriage is becoming the norm – a kind of "try before you buy" mentality.
In addition to this trend, the challenge with sexual purity is that puberty is occurring much earlier in today and people are often marrying much later (the average age for marriage used to be around age 21, now it's 29 for men and 27 for women), thus lengthening the period of time between sexual awareness and marriage.
Couples going out should discuss their values and set standards that will enable them to live those values out. Always treat the other person with respect. Avoiding tempting situations is important, as is accountability from close family members and friends. God's order is spirit, soul and body – the opposite of the world's, which tends to focus primarily on sex (for some thoughts on the sacredness of sex, click here). Focus on your friendship and your life purpose. Once there is a strong sense of you having a future together, short engagements are ideal. It doesn't take more than a few months to plan a wedding celebration.
When we do dating the right way, it can be a time of adventure, enjoyment and friendship. When we don't, we can end up causing a lot of hurt and pain, along with regret. Our choices have consequences. Beginning today, make a commitment to choose wisely and to treat others with genuine love, thinking of what is best for them, not just yourself.
Click here for some thoughts on marriage.