Love, Courtship and Dating: The (Un)Official Guide7:11 AM
Real-life love—what does it look like for you? Several Christian young people weighed in with their opinions on love, courtship and dating. Many share most of the same principles. Some differ—significantly or on minor points. All have one goal in mind: a God-honoring, successful marriage.
Narrowing Down the Field
Not just any Prince Charming or Lady Fair will do. Nobody was shy about voicing the turn-offs in the “eligible.” And what is that which shuts out the love?
“A guy whose pants are falling down,” Allison quips. And, adds Bethany, “If he likes football.”
“Potential suitor,” says Carrie, “would mean he is already a Christian (otherwise he wouldn’t be a potential, and wouldn’t be allowed to be a suitor).” Anna agrees: “[It would turn me off] if he wasn’t in the faith [or] if he claimed to be in the faith but wasn’t really sincere with/about God.”
Says Abigail, “There are a lot of things which turn me off in a potential suitor. One is wandering eyes, someone who is a flirt and tries to get the attention of girls, someone who does not respect women and selfishly uses them to satisfy his own desires, be it physically or emotionally.” Melody also voices disapproval with blatant “rudeness to mother/sister/older women” and Julia is “especially turned off by guys who think they are God’s gift to women.”
Beyond “someone,” as Alex put it, “who didn’t respect me [or] my beliefs and convictions,” here are other big turn-offs:
- Swearing, out of taste jokes and being boisterous, loud and foolish
- Immaturity and random obsessions (e.g. The Lord of the Rings)
- Talking bad about someone behind his back
- Avoiding work consistently
- Rebellion and arrogance
To sum it all up in Tragedy101’s words, “Despising one’s fellowman and despising truth, when confronted by it, ‘turns me off’ from maintaining a man’s, or a woman’s, companionship.”
Kristin also makes note of one of her pet peeves: a not-so-bright suitor. “I don’t want a genius, but I don’t particularly want a Mr. Collins, either. Just an intelligent guy.” This brings us to the flipside of potentiality—the attractive qualities, the “must-haves.” Kristin isn’t the only girl looking for a suitor a step above Mr. Collins: wit and the ability to laugh comes up several times. Even one of our gentleman lists as imperative that his Princess Charming “have a mind (not superficial).”
Whether male or female, trustworthiness and loyalty are big: “I don’t just mean marital fidelity,” Abigail explains, “but loyalty in a broader sense.” Closed affections, though nice, aren’t enough: “Supposing that everyone in the world could possess only three good traits,” says Tragedy101, “my three ‘must haves’ in a fair damsel are loves her neighbor, loves truth, and loves me. [John 14.6]”
“He would have to be filled with the Holy Spirit, seek God in everything and follow God’s leadership even when he doesn’t understand or want to,” Anna adds. “If a man does these things he may have flaws but God will be able to continue perfecting him since the man is surrendered completely to Him.” Julia agrees: “That completely covers it. If he’s seeking God in every area of his life, he will desire to love me, work hard, be responsible, and all the other stuff I want in a husband.” Holly Lou’s top three were similar: “(1) Love God, put Him first in everything, and have a real relationship with Him; (2) honor those in authority over him (parents, pastor, etc.); (3) [has] spiritual fruit evident in his life.”
Some of that spiritual fruit?
- A heart for missions and the unsaved
- An encouraging spirit
- A multi-generational vision of faithfulness
And as Allison beautifully puts it (since I share the same top three): “Humble and devoted Christianity, strong masculinity, and sweetness.”
Needless to say, with so specific and limited a field, the road to get there must be a different one than the typical dating game. “The ‘Dating Around’ theory—it makes me cringe,” is Holly Lou’s opinion. “If you can’t understand a person’s character by simply being friends with him, something is definitely wrong. Also, when you are in a dating relationship, you act differently than you really are to try to impress someone—how is that supposed to help you get to know someone?” Anna agreed that the majority viewed “dating as something ‘fun’ to do. It’s actually a very serious thing.” The idea that “you have to know lots of men to have any hope of finding a husband” also concerns Aemi, and with that, its subtle twin: “‘If you don’t have a boyfriend, you must not be desirable.’ I’ve never once had a boyfriend,” says Julia, “so I’ve had to battle that thought many times!”
The general concept behind casual dating isn’t the only bothersome thing—commonplace practices also give concern, like “the myth that it’s okay to date before eighteen. I feel that it is wrong but it’s all I see,” says Tuathal.
“One myth that troubles me,” Abigail adds, “is how people think that unrequited love is romantic, when in fact the person is wasting his time and emotional energy pining after someone who will never love him back.”
But myths and pot-holes aren’t only for those in the dating game. “I know that we girls know deep down that only God can complete us and make us whole,” Kristin confesses, “and that we have to love Him before we can truly love a husband. But sometimes we still fall for the belief that a guy will fulfill us and make our lives perfect.” Allison also admits to “the idea that once I meet up with this guy, and especially after I get married to him, I’ll suddenly be perfect because there will never be anything to get upset about.”
It’s not just girlhood fancy that concerns them. Even some standard, “spiritual” practices look fishy to our contributors. Abigail says, “Another [myth] that confuses me is how Christians will say that God will lead you to the right person if you wait long enough. Don’t panic, because I agree with this! It’s just that then, when there’s someone at last for the person who’s waited, some people will automatically assume that the relationship is within God’s will for them.”
Hannah thinks that “the negative connotations of ‘arranged marriage’” stem from myth: “You say the words ‘arranged marriage’ and people immediately think of Muslims. There is a Christian way too, and it came first. Just because one set of parents approaches another set of parents before the young man and woman take part doesn’t mean that a marriage is in ANY way ‘forced.’ It doesn’t mean that the wishes, hopes, convictions, or feelings of the potential couple have not been included. If a father’s authority is being abused then these things can happen, but that is not the fault of the system but the sin of the father. In fact, I believe that father-to-father proceedings have more basis in the Bible than the idea of courtship.” She would know, too—she’s a happily married newlywed.
Perhaps the most thought-provoking (and correct) criticism of “conservative love” comes from Tragedy101: “The biggest myth about love and dating that I struggle with is ‘purity.’ … The idea that I can keep myself pure by not loving others is a lie. If I withhold my love from my intended, how does this make me pure or keep me pure? Christ loved me, while I hated him. If I am in Christ, how can I claim purity by not loving others? If my intended needs a hug or other physical contact, is it impure to do that which renders love visible and knowable?”
That is a hotly contested issue. “To me,” says Holly Lou, “it is so important that a couple love each other for who the person is, not how it feels when they’re holding hands, hugging, etc. Additionally, simple things often lead to bigger, worse things, so by choosing to not touch, you put up a safeguard for yourself.”
“I believe that kissing should be off-limits as well as ‘touching’ and spending long times alone together,” agrees Abigail. “Even if you remain a virgin until marriage, the ‘little’ things you have done will still have chipped away at your purity. You will have given away little pieces of yourself to all the others you have dated instead of being whole and complete in purity for your husband.”
“I have the same opinion as several of the other commenters,” says Julia. “Touch should be off limits. I completely agree with Carrie, though: ‘An accidental brush is not something to have a heart attack about.’”
“I wouldn’t want there to be any huggy-lovey type stuff. That's a big no-no for me,” Anna adds. “Dating is the time to find out about a man that could be the one you’ll be spending the rest of your life with! It’s not about the physical side of things at all.”
Aemi expressed the general consensus about touch: “Snuggling. And tickling. Once again, too much touching for my comfort level.”
But others didn’t go so far: “I do feel that hand holding, hugging, cheek-kissing, etc. is fine in engagement,” thinks Allison.
“I say everything [is off limits] except hand holding, quick hugs, and the occasional kiss (and I don’t mean lengthy ones),” explains Kristin. “But I do think these things should be put off as long as possible and should only happen when the couple has been together for a long time and is close to engagement or marriage.”
Tuathal agrees with limits to physical touch: “A hug for a comforting moment or a special moment but that’s it. (Period!)”
“Beyond boundaries in physical contact,” Abigail continues, “I believe there should be boundaries in what you say to the person, though this would be relative to the relationship stage. What I mean is that if you’re dating someone, don’t share with them the deepest secrets and desires of your heart, because if you break up with them, it will make it harder, and you’ll likely regret saying certain things to them.”
“Saying ‘I love you’ should be reserved for when you’re engaged, otherwise emotions can take over the courtship,” Carrie adds.
While a nonphysical courtship satisfies most Christians, Hannah offers a different perspective: “I know you’re looking for things like specifics on physical intimacy or what gets talked about, but I’m actually going to step out of the box a bit and say ‘lack of covenant.’ I think that the biggest issue with courtship is that while it’s a step in the right direction, it has a devastatingly harmful potential because I think I could call it a ‘half-covenant.’ Within most of our culture’s dating, you don’t have to deal with the same shattered expectations [as courtship’s when you break up]. Of course people promise things and people have hopes, but one of courtship’s main themes is that it is specifically working towards a marriage with a certain person. Dating has no such scruples. So if you’re courting, you have the permanence of knowing that you may spend the rest of your lives together as one flesh, but there is no binding contract yet. It’s a much higher precipice to fall from.”
Since individuals express different ideas, Tragedy101’s general truth might be the most accurate (and most difficult) to live by: “Anything one would be ashamed of being generally known should probably be off limits.”
To Kiss or Not to Kiss—That Is the Question
When to kiss—engagement or altar?
“The altar” is Holly Lou’s choice. “I have a very dear friend whose first kiss was at engagement. Sad to say, her fiancé broke off the engagement a couple of weeks before the wedding, and she regretted that she had kissed him at engagement.”
Julia admits that “I used to think I wouldn’t mind kissing after getting engaged, but I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to disregard the possibility that an engagement could be terminated (and it would be terrible if a kiss led to something more), and there’s something special about saving your first kiss for the wedding day. That’s what I want to do!”
Anna does too: “The first kiss belongs at the altar, most definitely. Our bodies can begin to be ‘turned on’ for further intimacy when the lips are kissed, and that further intimacy shouldn’t be toyed with before marriage.”
“Like previous commenters have said,” says Aemi, “there is risk in kissing before then. You could split up or the temptation might be too much.”
Abigail’s certain about her choice: “The first kiss belongs at the altar, NEVER on a first date!” But other girls aren’t so sure.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to save my first kiss for the wedding day,” says Kendra Lynne, “but I’m not one hundred percent sure. Having all those people there for my first kiss . . . I’m not too happy with that, but then I’m sure there will be plenty of other kisses alone.”
Kristin sympathizes: “I don’t want my first kiss to be in front of a lot of family and friends! I’m sorry, but it sounds really awkward and unromantic to me (though I understand how a lot of girls want that and think it’s romantic). I think a kiss at an engagement is perfectly acceptable and proper.”
“I think for me,” Rose says, “I want to have my first kiss be upon engagement. But then, I’m extremely romantic.”
Hannah brings a much-needed reminder that “God doesn’t specify on the issue.” “I believe that this is purely the decision of the people involved in the relationship. I personally think that a first kiss at the altar is a beautifully climactic moment with so much symbolism and meaning, and my husband and I didn’t kiss before our wedding. I chose not to for the reasons mentioned, and he chose not to because he knew that if we kissed, he might lose it and go too far.”
As a happy compromise, Melody suggests the kiss come on the wedding day, “at the altar or in private beforehand. Kisses are so much more romantic and special if they’re reserved for a specific place and time.”
Rubber, Meet Road
You meet the (wo)man of your dreams. (S)he’s not obnoxious, (s)he’s not anxious to hug and (s)he’s passionately Christian. This is where courtship/dating starts—but what does it look like?
“I like to see people who meet someone special and enjoy spending time with them, but have the perspective of knowing this might not last forever, and arrange their ideas and behavior around that so that they don’t give their hearts away. If you think it’s going to last forever, then you’ll most likely end up with your heart broken,” thinks Abigail.
“My parents would have to be involved,” adds Carrie, “and if for some reason that was not possible, then there would need to be another older couple that could oversee us. His parents, preferably, or another godly couple/family.”
That’s a popular one: “Like Holly Lou,” says Allison, “I love the idea of families getting to know each other. I like to think of me and my love interest doing yucky work together to see how we’d handle it. I have to go to Six Flags with him. (Kidding! But seriously, that would be fun.)”
Aemi says, “A courting practice I like is having the man over at your house with your family, getting to know them as well as you, and making things less awkward.”
“The pressure wouldn’t be on me to entertain or keep up the conversation for a really long time,” explains Julia. “I could relax a little more, be myself, and the burden of keeping the conversation going wouldn’t rest entirely on my shoulders. It would also be a great way for my parents to get to know the guy and give me their opinion on him.”
“I like the idea that you’d never be alone,” Bethany expresses.
“Definitely group dating!” Alex agrees. “Never going alone with a boy—always with a group of friends, or with family.”
Even rock-solid Christians aren’t entirely sold on all typical courtship practices. “The traditional dating scene doesn’t appeal to me at all, but sometimes the legalism of some courtships doesn’t, either!” Kristin states. “Some aspects of courtship I do like are that the parents and families are greatly involved (though I don’t believe the couple can never, ever be alone) and that the couple is working towards marriage, not indefinite ‘dating.’”
“I’d say the practice of getting to talk one-on-one is what I like best about dating,” Anna concurs. “Not necessarily alone (bad things can happen) but at least in an atmosphere where you can find out who the person really is.”
Whatever “model” one chooses, whatever opinions on kissing and hand-holding, her words apply in any situation: “I would want there to be lots of prayer involved in any relationship—let alone a romantic one. I think both parties should really seek God throughout the dating/courtship period. Questions like ‘Is this the one you have for me?’ and ‘What is your will for me?’ can only be answered honestly by the Lord.”
BONUS: Do opposites attract—and can you stand it?
“It is true (boys and girls are opposites!).” – Carrie
“Yes and yes! As long as the differences were those of personality, quirks, etc., and not faith, that would be such fun.” – Allison
“Absolutely. God gives us grace and even though there would probably be pet peeves, if I surrender to God, His love will shine through even when I don’t feel like loving.” – Anna
“As long as we’re talking about the good kind of opposite, then yes, I could. I think we could be very happy, actually.” – Aemi
“Yes, opposites attract. Because the two become one, an opposite will make you complete. Although it can sometimes be frustrating to deal with someone different than me, I believe I could live with and love my opposite.” – Holly Lou
“Well, I live with you Bailey, so I suppose I might be able to.” – Bethany
“Depends on the kind of opposite. If he was intelligent, but disliked English and chemistry, okay, maybe. If he was a non-Christian or much younger than me in Christ, then absolutely not.” – Melody
“I’ve always been told that complementing opposites attract. What that means, I can’t exactly explain.” – Tuathal
“I’m not so sure. I guess it would depend on what kind of opposite he was.” – Alex
“I’m not sure. I don’t think I could live with and love someone (as a husband) who was my complete opposite. We have to have some things in common, anyway. But personality wise, I could definitely love someone who was opposite from me enough that we would complement each other.” – Kristin
“I don’t know about complete opposites. I believe common ground is good, but some differences are good as well. My husband and I both have a love for words and story, and yet I always wanted a man more outgoing than myself because we would balance each other out and edify one another. I got my wish.” – Hannah
“I cannot say that opposites attract. Or that opposites that live together remain opposites.” – Tragedy101
I guess that settles it, then.
*Special thanks to Abigail, Aemi, Alex, Allison, Anna, Bethany, Carrie, Hannah, Holly Lou, Julia, Kendra Lynne, Kristin, Melody, Rose, Tragedy101 and Tuathal. You deserve more than an asterisk at the bottom of the post.