In an earlier post, my fabulous guest blogger Betsey Sawyer offered a beautiful and vulnerable peek into her life as a single woman on fire for the Lord. Here are some thoughtfully and prayerfully offered pieces of dating advice Betsey gives to her younger self (and therefore, to us all):
Get a spiritual director at your local church or diocese.
Get a therapist if you need one (there is NO shame in therapy!)
Discern your vocation before you jump into dating. I mean, what’s the point of dating if you aren’t called to marriage? (Hello, religious life/consecrated life?!)
Only date guys with whom you could actually see a future.
What kind of guys am I talking about? The ones who are ultimately pursuing the same goals as you are. What do these guys look like? They are consistent, thoughtful, and forthcoming. They pursue you, and they don’t sit back and wait for you to do all the work. They plan actual dates in advance, they are polite and respectful, and they are actually in a position to move forward with you should you fall in love and discern that each other is the right kind of person. Most importantly, they know that the way to your heart is by going through God. Let them go to Him to find it.
In no way am I encouraging you to plan your wedding after the first date. But what I do suggest is to develop friendships with men (with no ulterior motives) and to see where that leads. Remember: there is no rush. God can make up for a lot of time we think has been wasted (umm…quick engagements, honeymoon pregnancies, twins?!) So, don’t put Him on your timeline. If he doesn’t take care of his soul, how can you expect and trust him to take care of your heart?
Unfortunately, we can't change him. And that's actually good news because it frees you. He isn’t going to think you are so magically special that he turns into prince charming overnight. Change takes time and a lot of work. People often say “Well, there are exceptions to the rule.” And you know, that may very well be the case, but don’t hold your breath that you are that one exception. And you shouldn’t want that. You should want him to fall in love with God and be the kind of man that recognizes his own worth as a son of God day in and day out. Only then can he truly love you.
6. Enjoy today. Travel, make good friendships, build community, serve others…your life is not “on hold” simply because you aren’t married yet. This life is a process full of different seasons.
7. Let go of comparing yourself. You have no idea what is going on in the life of another. Just because their life seems incredible doesn’t mean it is any easier than yours. We all have crosses. Sometime people just keep theirs more hidden .
8. Do not date if you are not in a position to be married in the near future. Before you start yelling, hear me out!
As Christians, we believe that the point of dating is to discern marriage. To date with the openness to marriage means having dealt with anything that holds you back from completely giving of yourself to another person within the sacrament of matrimony.
Ideally, if two people each believe they are called to marriage, have individually worked out their issues, and are ready to date, it should not take them very long to discern whether they can and should marry someone.
Prolonging marriage can be highly detrimental to the virtues of chastity and purity. So, if you aren’t able to be married for whatever reason, you should not be dating.
If he doesn’t take care of his soul, how can you expect
and trust him to take care of your heart?
What follows is a list of things that I believe keep a person from being spiritually ready for marriage:
Receiving financial assistance from your parents/guardian/someone else. Can you really cleave to your spouse if you are still cleaving to mom and dad? “He who holds the purse strings...”
Active addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, etc.) If you have an addiction, get sober and stay sober first.
Consistently living in mortal sin without caring about the consequences, or continuing to repent and repeat. This shows a disregard for one’s own soul, and as I said above, “If he doesn’t take care of his soul, how can you expect and trust him to take care of your heart?”
Childhood wounds or scars from past relationships that have not been dealt with. Most people have these. Handle them instead of dragging another person through them. No one can heal your wounds (except God, you, and a good therapist).
Thoughts on the length of time of a dating relationship:
Look, I hate to be so honestly blunt, but love is a really powerful thing. Even Pope Francis has said that we shouldn’t delay marriage for the sake of delaying it. If you are dating someone long term, my question to you would be, “Is this the person for you? If not, get out. If so, get (or prepare to get) married.”
Here’s the thing…dating doesn’t really teach you about yourself; it teaches you about other people.You get to know who you are by spending time with you. You get to know God by spending time with God. Make friends with the opposite gender. Get to know them and yourself through mutual time together and shared interests. This time of life when God is calling you to grow in holiness on your own with Him is a huge stage; one that doesn’t need a significant other to piggy back on. That’s what friendship is for. Once it’s time to pursue marriage, ask someone out (or be open to being asked out) …the old-fashioned way.
Final note on this topic: many individuals would go so far as to demand that they spend years "getting to know someone" (over an extended period of time, like two to three years.) I believe there comes a very specific point in a relationship where you either are ready to get married or you aren’t. It is said that “idleness is the devil’s playground.” Idleness in a relationship is that stage in-between knowing you are going to marry someone and actually marrying them. If you are relatively certain marriage is the end game, work on the timeline.
I’ve heard people say often that they haven’t gotten engaged yet because they are “working on things” or “aren’t ready” and thus delay engagement. If you aren’t moving forward, you are moving backwards. You are going to be working on things with your spouse for the rest of both of your lives; that is the beauty of commitment.
Once you surpass that time and are just continuing to date each other for the sake of “it’s just not the right time yet,” you are simply asking for trouble. Regardless of how devout we are, sexual temptation is a reality for most couples. Placing yourself in that situation consistently is not always prudent.
Dr. Rose: I agree with the advice offered by Betsey above. She really hits on some important points, and as a whole, her heart-felt advice speaks to theimportance of emotional and spiritual boundaries.
Dating is so hard, and I remember those nights of trying to understand a date and discern its direction almost as if it were yesterday. Setting some boundaries for yourself, such as the guidelines she offers, can give some incredible clarity to the confusion of dating.
boundaries aren't meant to limit you,
but provide needed clarity during the season of dating
Here are some pieces of advice I'd like to add from a psychological and spiritual standpoint:
9. Guard your heart with all diligence (Proverbs 4:23). This is so often forgotten in the modern dating age. Sisters, your heart is so precious and sacred. From it comes your love, your self concept, your soul. When we allow casual dating relationships to move too fast, we are offering up our hearts to men who aren't ready to receive them. Here are some tips on how to guard our heart:
I encourage my clients to avoid heart-to-heart deep prayer with their boyfriends. Deep and heartfelt prayer, where we pour out our needs and hearts at the feet of Jesus, is a time of sharing your deepest fears, insecurities, needs, and vulnerabilities in prayer. Doing this in the presence of your boyfriend can propel the relationship faster than it needs to go. Your husband should get the immense honor of hearing these prayers, but during dating, it is smart to keep these prayers to yourself and your community of women.
Avoiding sexual intimacy. This is SO key. It's not just about the spiritual ramifications, because sexual acts (not exclusively sex) bind us to a man. This is God's beautiful design. I promise you: if you avoid sexual intimacy with your boyfriend, you will see him with clearer and more discerning eyes. You will be able to walk away with your heart intact if, indeed, you need to.
10. We also have to be able to identify and discern relationship abuse. Emotional abuse (the most common form of relationship abuse) slowly erodes your sense of self-worth and creates dependence, and even fear. It can take many forms, but often follows themes of control, domination, monitoring, and lies that tear down your identity as a beloved daughter of Christ.
As someone who has been in an emotionally abusive relationship myself, I wish someone had told me how to identify gaslighting and emotional manipulation. As women, we are incredibly intuitive. Don't misidentify your own gut feelings. Trust yourself. While I plan to do more posts in the future on this topic, you can check out more information on the topic here. If you think you may be experiencing abuse in your relationship, you very well may be. I encourage you to seek mental health care and share with a trusted friend as you discern your next steps.
With love and grace, Dr. Rose
Our Recent Posts
You can’t give up your depression for Lent
March 5, 2019
Today's hook-up culture: healing from the "addiction"