In my role as a pastor — working a lot of with youth, college students, 20-somethings and singles of all ages — I have taught on and given advice on dating to lots of people. I have even taken on the (unofficial) role of “dating coach” for some.
If you want to know my general advice on dating, simply reading Henry Cloud’s “How to Get A Date Worth Keeping” — easily the best book written on the topic.
Some of the summary of my advice?
– Dating is for adults! (Break ups happen… fights happen… things don’t work out. If those things will be crippling to you, then you shouldn’t be dating).
– Dating is supposed to be fun! Relax and enjoy it.
– To get a great date, you need to be a great date. This takes work and experience! (Equally, to find a great mate/partner, you first need to be a great mate/partner — dating can help develop that character in you.)
– One of the reasons dating is good is that you learn about yourself… what you are looking for in a partner, what matters to you, etc.
– (Almost) everyone should get two dates… very few get three. (No one is a good first date… and if they are, they are probably a lousy second date, lol.) So (almost) everyone should get the benefit of a second date. But you shouldn’t move on to a 3rd date unless you think the chemistry is really there and that there is potential for a serious relationship.
– How far is too far? (I always get asked this question!) — well, I think a pretty safe approach is “hugging, kissing and holding hands… and for some that is too far!” (That was my advice to high school students — quoted from Mike Ashburn — and it continues to be my general advice and practice for dating. (Note: I am not saying all is else is sinful or wrong… I just think this is wisdom.)
– Dating should be done in community.
Perhaps, it is that last one, that I think is most important. What do I mean? I think it is best when you date to do so in the context of a community — ideally a church or small group community. People can see how you interact, can ask you good questions, encourage you, etc etc. This is really healthy! Too often I see people isolate themselves from community when they start dating. Not only is this a bad idea, it is almost always a red flag of something unhealthy in the relationship.
I posted yesterday about how the church should step up to the plate and help Christian LGBT folks in this process (read it here). I think it is critically important for the church to provide a place for LGBT folks (as well as straight folks) to date in community.
Here is a small example from my own life…
I recently when on a date with a guy I met via an online service. This was probably my first date of any kind in 3+ years and really my first real date ever with a guy. I figured it was time to get out there a bit and see what dating would be like. (Why? Because you learn a lot about yourself in the process… dating is for adults… it is fun… etc etc).
I figured there was really no down-side to going on the date (except, of course, that I hate dating… I hate first dates most of all! I hate small talk, etc etc). But, I figured, at worst I get a good dinner out of it and a good story. At best, I might meet someone fun and interesting. And since I am a believer in the “hugging, kissing, holding hands” approach, not much trouble I could get in, lol.
It was a fun evening, good dinner, interesting conversation — and, as per my philosophy, will most likely lead to a second date (if we can ever get our schedules synced… working nights is not ideal for social life).
I was telling some friends from the church I attend when I am not working Sundays about my date. They are a straight couple who I have been hanging out a lot with recently and really enjoying the friendship that is building. We chatted a bit about it, and she asked me if he was a believer/Christian?
He was not… I said so… and we kept talking and chatting and moved on to other more interesting topics (theology, politics, red wine, Top Chef, etc etc). There was no judgement, but it was a good, thoughtful and helpful question — and an example of why dating in community is important.
I knew he wasn’t a believer when I went on the date. My philosophy, again, is that almost anyone gets two dates… few get three. I would probably not go on a third date with someone who is not a Christian. For me, that is the most important thing in my life and I could not imagine a serious romantic relationship, let alone partnership, with someone who was not equally passionate about following Jesus.
But that is not a requirement for dinner out, lol.
And to be honest, there are not a ton of eligible Christian gay men in the Greater Hartford area (and if you find them, feel free to send them my way… I make a great dinner and, with all modesty, think I am a pretty good date!)
But her question was appropriate and helpful. It caused me to think again about the decisions I was making. And I knew that as my dating life progressed, these are folks who I could rely on to ask good questions and I could seek wisdom from them. I feel the same way about the pastor at the church and others I have me there — both gay and straight.
So while I have always given the advice that it is wise to date in community, I am now learning myself why that is so important — and a great blessing. It can be hard, you must be humble, and it means sometimes hearing things you don’t want to hear… but it is a really good and healthy thing.