Boy, did I make a lot of dating mistakes! As many of you heard in part 4 of our series First Comes Love, my wife actually dumped me back in college! And necessarily so! I needed a good kick in the butt to grow up.
Of course, I love the classic break-up lines: “You know… let’s just take a break for a while” (I call this “the procrastinator”); or then there’s the “Let’s not be exclusive yet…” (which usually means: “There’s another hottie I’m hoping will pan out first“). Although, the all-time classic is this: “It’s not you, it’s me!” (I actually used this one in 9th grade). Of course, when my wife broke up with me, she had the guts to reverse this: “It’s not me. It’s you. It’s all you.” (And Yes, I got upset). But I had some growing-up to do. And thankfully, God had a happy ending for us.
But dating can be messy if single people don’t have good boundaries. Obviously, in a church filled with single people, I see more dating disasters in a month than most pastors see in a decade. But if you missed part one of this blog series, [click here] . However, for those who are ready for more, I’ve got some extra “tried and true” dating ideas that will help you avoid dating a joy-sucking vampires. (And in part 3 we’ll discuss, What if I’m already dating a Vampire?
But one last disclaimer: The following advice is PG-13. (I wouldn’t send this blog to your 5th grade niece who thinks she needs dating advice). So, after discussing the first 3 dating tips in part one, let’s jump right into Dating Tip #4:
Tip #4. Don’t Muddy Your Discernment Process with Lust and Sex: Choosing a spouse can be complicated enough. Most single people have lists of unrealistic expectations. Before I got married, I had a huge number of superficial things on my criteria list. And now that I’ve been with my spouse for the last twenty years, my criterion have become much more refined. So if you’re wondering, “Are they the ‘ONE?'” Well, the best way to confuse yourself is by allowing your relationship to get super physical before you get married.
In my book Pharisectomy, I listed all sorts of negative outcomes that correlate with pre-marital sex: Depression, Anxiety, and abuse rates skyrocket for people who have premarital sex — not to mention, dramatically decreased sexual satisfaction rates! (Click here – because the research is quite enlightening)
Of course, if you’ve made mistakes, God can totally redeem you – provided you’re willing to put time into healing. But the most enlightening stat is this: 88% of those who cohabitate (live with each other outside of marriage) will not marry the person they’re having sex with. In fact, co-habitation is a death-blow for 88% of long-term relationships. I.e., The fire of intimacy just doesn’t last long outside of the fire-place of marriage. Ironically, “orgasm rates” are much higher for married women than non-married women (citations here) : ) But, here’s how “physicality” adds confusion to the dating process:
Dating is supposed to be a time when you’re evaluating your compatibility with someone. Sure, it’s supposed to be fun too. But it’s also a logical process where emotions should be tethered and objective. A lot of times, I use the expression “Casual Dating” verses “Committed Dating.” Casual is when you’re just getting to know a person – the basics – getting to know their faith, their desires, their character. Over time however, the relationship started getting more exclusive, more intimate. And with higher levels of intimacy, it requires a higher level of accountability. It’s like a fire. When a fire gets bigger, it requires a fireplace. Fire is pretty. But it can also burn your house down. It’s the same with intimacy and sex.
When a dating relationship gets more intimate, it needs mentors, boundaries, and accountability partners. And here’s why: the moment the relationship gets physical, it releases a tidal wave of affirming chemicals. Sex has a way of eliminating all discernment. Indeed, God created it to be somewhat of a narcotic to smooth out the rough patches of intimacy – (perfect for a married couple in their first five years). Unfortunately, when it’s toxically introduced outside of marriage, many people get addicted to that physical intimacy, even when the relationship is a terrible match. For many people, the only reason why they’re dating a certain person is because they’re addicted to the sexual affirmation. It’s like a bad drug. They know God has something better; but, they’re addicted to the drug.
But sexual intimacy usually results in a devastating side-effect that usually doesn’t kick in until marriage: I call it, “Forbidden Fruit Syndrome” – a form of lust that sabotages your future sexual intimacy. And here’s how it works: Sin adds a zing to things. It’s like sneaking out of your house at night when you were a kid. You crossed that same threshold all the time; but, when it’s in the middle of the night, there was a certain rush to it – like Adam and Eve when they ate from the forbidden tree.
In the same way, sex outside of marriage has a certain zing to it. It’s the temporary power of lust. For example, I’ve noticed that, for many couples who messed around before marriage, the moment they get married, their sexual fulfillment plummets because it’s no longer “forbidden.” As Solomon put it: “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But Solomon continued that these approaches to sexuality lead to “the depths of the grave” (Prov. 9:17-18) Thus, when people become addicted to lust-driven sexuality, they constantly have to add more “Forbidden Fruit” (aka, lust) in order for it to be fulfilling. Some couples can’t even enjoy sex without watching porn first. Other couples end up going to extremes – BDSM, or other bizarre fetishes (I.e, 50 Shades of Silly). I.e., they have to make it “forbidden” for it to still feel good. The only problem is… there’s no end to this, except for inevitable divorce and/or partner swapping. As a result they forfeit the grace that God gives to couples who put him first in all things.
Again, like I mentioned in Pharisectomy, Christian women (with regular church attendance) tend to have much higher orgasm rates than the general population! Some of the largest and most methodically sound studies on sex routinely show that abstinence (before marriage) and church attendance (after getting married) directly correlate with higher levels of sexual fulfillment (see expanded thoughts here). (And you thought church attendance didn’t really matter!) But, in light of all this? How does a young couple stay pure? And how might this change the way people date?
The 1000 Hour Principle
A while back I read a study showing how relational intimacy leads to sex. (I can’t find the citation for it… so believe it at your own risk : ) But the gist of the study was this: After surveying a large sample of dating couples, after an average of 1000 hours of emotional bonding, couples will consumate their relationship with sex – regardless of their moral upbringing. For example, even Christians who were taught to keep sex in marriage still ended up having pre-marital sex after logging roughly 1000 hours of emotional bonding with this person.
In other words, the study seemed to suggest that there’s a natural “sexual timeline” that’s built into our bodies. If we emotionally bond with people we’re attracted to, there is a natural impulse to bond physically – even if we morally or logically disagree with doing so. However, many Christian researchers think that long-engagements (3-5 years) are problematic because there’s a virtual guarantee that the couple will have pre-marital sex (increasing the odds of forbidden fruit syndrome or other sexual short-circuits.)
Naturally, there are many guidelines we could extrapolate from such studies. First off, the “Thousand Hour Principle” gives us insight into how adultery happens in the workplace. If we have unguarded emotional intimacy with coworkers of the opposite sex, we’re playing with fire. That’s why I believe it’s foolish for men and women to be “best friends” with the opposite sex. Somebody always starts liking the other – unless there is accountability built into the relationship. But the study also suggests that couples really shouldn’t start dating unless they are fully open to the idea of being married within about two years of their first date. Allow me to explain why:
For example, whenever a couple starts dating, I ask them a simple question: Do you want to remain sexually pure? If so, then, you’ve got to be mindful of the 1000 hour principle. Let’s say you hang out with your partner three or four nights a week and then a longer date on the weekend. And lets say that, on average, you log about 25 hours a week with your partner. Just do the math. That means, research shows that, at your current rate of intimacy, you will find sex to be an irresistible urge (regardless of your upbringing) within about 40 weeks. So, are you ready to set your wedding date immediately?
You see, most couples don’t “spend their 1000 hours” very wisely. Your relationship is like a stick of dynamite with a 1000 hour wick. When you first light it, it looks like a pretty candle. But at some point, that spark is going to go to a new level. And God’s covenant of marriage is like blast containment plan. It’s the fireplace for a fire. It makes the explosion beautiful.
However, most couples spend their thousand hours much like they spend their money – they hate having a budget. They hate the idea of either (A). Moving up their wedding date; or (B). Slowing down their intimacy. Either way, if you want to have God in your relationship, you’ve got to wrestle with this.
Unfortunately, the American model of dating is basically to pretend you’re married after the first few dates. Thus, to pace a relationship (both for discernment and for sexual purity) almost seems weird. However, for a culture that annually spends 103 billion dollars on divorce costs each year, (and twice as much on porn), there’s ample reason to try a different approach.
Keep in mind, the “thousand hour” principle is only an average. If you’ve already been sexually involved with various dates before, you’re likely to experience a higher amount of temptation than a person who’s never been kissed. But my point is simple: if you want to experience the benefits of Christ-centered sexuality, you need to be realistic. This leads to another tip:
5. Date in Crowds before getting Exclusive:
When you’re dating, you need to look at the “big-picture” criteria: I.e., Is this person passionately in love with Jesus (manifested in friendships and ministry); Is this person remotely attractive to you? Could you be best friends with this person? Would this person fit into your family system? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying they need to be best friends with your dad or crazy brother. But these are critical criteria that will be very hard to live with once the honeymoon period wears off. And most of these can be discerned just by casually hanging out with potential dates in a group setting.
Now, the reason I’m suggesting “group dates” is because, dating can easily become a mine-field. When people skip “Casual Dating” (or group dating) and go right for “Committed Dating” (aka, exclusively dating a person), it’s easy to get hurt or rejected – or inflict this on someone else. So, bypass the minefield altogether by simply keeping your dating relationship casual. This not only slows the rate of intimacy, but it builds relational accountability into the foundation of the relationship from the very beginning.
Sure, there’s a time to go deeper: At some point, it’s time to take the relationship to a “Committed Dating” level. If you’re still living in your parents house, you may want to include them in this process. If you have a spiritual mentor, it’s time to ask them to take a more formal role. After all, you need someone to help you ask the deeper questions like: Does this person truly demonstrate sound character? Are they a functional communicator? Are they overly dominant or submissive? Are they capable of vulnerability? Do they spend impulsively? Do they have a chronic discontentment issue, or an obsession with eating entire boxes of snack cakes? You may think these issues are small – perhaps even cute. But trust me: Small turns into big really quickly (especially if they like snack cakes).
As for the other criteria: “Do they sing?” “Do have the same sense of humor? Are they a good dancer? … Well, lets just say… these things really won’t matter much in the big picture (or, at the very least, they can be remedied by having “hobby friends” who share those interests).
Besides, by the time you have kids, many of your hobbies will take the back seat anyways (I know that I’m breaking some of your young idealistic bubbles right now… but somebody has to do it.) And, some of you guys are imagining yourselves to be having sex seven times a day (which it why you obsess over physical attributes); and some of you ladies imagine you’ll have endless time to discuss poetry books with your husband. But once reality sets in… and pregnancy weight and professional responsibilities increase, your criteria will shift a little. Don’t get me wrong: I still love a hot date with my sexy wife. And, thankfully, child-rearing, belly-fat and job-stress can be temporary (once again, if you know how to have good boundaries). But, in the end, you’re looking for a self-disciplined best-friend… a co-adventurer… a person who, you wouldn’t mind waking up next to (even if they have terrible-terrible breath.)
To put it another way: Your spouse isn’t the adventure. They are the adventure-partner. GOD is the adventure. And HE alone is the only one who will eternally captivate you – not some hobby-spouse or earthly dream.
But, here’s my greater point: People get hurt in the dating process because they didn’t fully utilize “Group Observation” before getting emotionally exclusive. Once you’ve checked out a person on the basic criteria (casual dating), then start a “committed courtship”…(aka. an exclusive relationship that lasts for a limited window of time). Once you get exclusive, get accountability. Go public with friends so that they can speak into your life. (Ie., Don’t “date in secret”). Ask your spiritual friends what they think about this person (both before and after you start dating). Get your parents and/or Mentors involved. Yes, it can be irritating to hear other people’s opinions. But if you want to date someone without getting your heart ripped out (or ripping out someone else’s), then get some spiritual advisors who can help you sort things out with minimal collateral damage. And this leads to my final tip:
6. Get a Spiritual “Dating-Mentor”:
Find a long-term Christian with a rocking marriage. And make a decision to give them full-disclosure. Ask them to help you steward your emotions in a way that is appropriate in the relationship. (Don’t tattoo your girlfriend’s face on your arm… however tempting it might feel).
On the other hand, you can do what most Americans do…
figure things out the hard way. Many of them pour all of their emotions into relationships without any objectivity or due-diligence. As Proverbs 4:23 puts it: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” And if this verse is even remotely true, then we’d be idiots to try dating without adequate guidance and accountability.