FOR THE EARLY DAYS OF DATING SOMEONE NEW
“I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against the house but could not shake it because it had been well built. But the one who listens but does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”
- Luke 6: 47-49
Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,
I wonder how dating has been for you so far. Is it fun and exciting? Is it terrifying? Have most of your dates thus far been boring and unremarkable? Awkward and embarrassing? Thrilling? Disappointing? All of the above? Many of us start dating, or start dating someone new, without knowing what to expect. The social rules and expectations of dating can seem confusing, intimidating, or unclear, especially for people in the gay world. There are so many mixed messages and it can be hard to navigate the waters. Confusion or feeling out of step with the crowd can lead to a sense of insecurity, and this makes dating a lot less fun than it could be.
In this letter, I hope to share with you some wisdom I have gained through dating experiences over the years. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have learned some hard lessons along the way, and I would love to help spare you some heartache.
The early days of dating are all about getting to know someone. If things go well, the first few weeks can help build the foundation of a new relationship, whether it be romantic or friendly. It takes time, faithfulness, selfless love, and honesty to build a strong foundation. As Jesus says in Luke 6: 47-49, “I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, listens to my words, and acts on them. That one is like a person building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against the house but could not shake it because it had been well built. But the one who listens but does not act is like a person who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.” Relationships are like houses. They need sturdy foundations built carefully over long periods of time if they are going to last.
When dating, it is helpful to know ahead of time the kind of person you are looking for. When you are single, dream about the qualities you hope to find in your soul mate. Think about the things you would like to do with them and for them. Imagine who might be the right fit for you. Write these things down in a journal. Make lists. And then pray over all your thoughts and ideas. When you start dating someone new, ask God how they compare to the person you have always dreamed about. Open your heart to God and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. Be open to the possibility that God may have someone in mind for you who challenges you and loves you better than you dreamed possible. Ask God to help you discern which qualities are non-negotiable deal-breakers, and which are things you would like but could do without. Ask what God thinks about this new person in your life.
Many will tell you to avoid deep subjects on the first few dates, as this might scare people away or rush things along too quickly. I say it helps to just let conversation flow naturally and to not worry about it too much. If you get nervous before or during dates, plan activities where you can move and shake out some nerves along the way. For example, you can take a walk together or play a game of basketball. Alternatively, you could play a board game to keep yourself mentally distracted or cook together so there is a task to focus on. Make sure to plan something fun after the date ahead of time, such as hanging out with a friend or reading on your couch with a chocolate sundae. Even if the main event is a humiliating disaster, you can remind yourself that it will all be over soon enough and you have good things to look forward to later in the day.
Dating can be bizarre sometimes. As Christians, we are called to build our lives around love, to give ourselves in love for one another, to live with integrity and honesty. We are called to loving relationships. As Jesus says in John 13: 35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” In established relationships, the ways I am meant to love becomes clear, at least some of the time. I might be called to love my grandmother by visiting her in the hospital when she is sick and taking her out to lunch when she is well. I might be called to love my sister by consoling her when her heart is broken and laughing with her when we rant about our stressful days at work. Those of us who are parents are called to care for every need of our children, nurture their growth, and teach them how to live. Those of us who are spouses or in long-term committed relationships are called to be loving and faithful partners, bear each other’s burdens, and hold one another in the good times and the bad.
We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we are even commanded to love our enemies. In short, we are called to love everyone. But what is the proper way to love someone in the early days of dating? When I do not know this person very well, but I want to know them better, how can I love them? How should I show love for them?
Should I give myself completely to this person and be ever available to serve their needs from day one? Should I maintain a selfish attitude and be constantly evaluating whether this person fits into my life and serves my needs? There is a balance between these extremes. Dating practices vary greatly among cultures, and we all have our unique expectations, histories, losses, hopes, dreams, and ideals that we bring to the dating table. To make sense of all this, we need to prayerfully reflect on what dating is and what it means to date somebody. In my opinion, God has made it clear that marriage is a loving and lifelong commitment between two people who want to make a family together, but the way people get there varies a lot. Therefore, dating can be whatever we make it to be. At its best, dating can be a way for two people to get to know each other, enjoy spending time together, and build a sense of how they would like to relate to each other moving forward— as friends, as people in love, as spouses, or not at all.
But dating can be more than an interview process for a life partner. It can be fun in and of itself. If a date is awkward, then laugh about it on the inside and memorize every excruciating detail so you can tell a friend about it later. If spending time with someone makes your heart race and your face light up, then enjoy it for however long it lasts. If relationships do not work out, it does not make anyone a failure. Each attempt at dating is an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, about the kind of person we want to be with, and about how relationships work. At the end of the day, if the other person likes you and you do not really like them, tell them you would like to be friends and trust that they will move on to someone who truly wants to be with them. If you like them but they do not like you, let them go and trust that your person will come along eventually. And if you both like each other, keep enjoying each other and let the relationship build into whatever it is meant to be.
When dating, I think it is best to move slowly, both emotionally and physically. In the early days, take time to talk and take time to listen. Discuss your likes and dislikes. Share about your passions, what you do with your time, and what brings you joy. Do fun things together, like going for picnics or long walks or movie marathons. Try not to force anything emotionally. Let yourself like this other person a little, a lot, or not very much at all. Try not to run away if things feel intense in a good but scary way. Just spend time together, get to know each other, and let the relationship grow naturally into what it is meant to be. It might turn into burning love or friendship or a bland feeling that there is not much of a connection at all. Only time will tell. We must be patient. As it says in Proverbs 16: 32, “A patient man is better than a warrior, and he who rules his temper, than he who takes a city.”
It can be tempting to rush things physically and emotionally. The desire for connection and touch often becomes intense and painful if we are long deprived of sweet compliments, tender words, hand holding, kissing, cuddling, sex, and all those many manifestations of affection and intimacy. As gay Christians, we may have spent time denying ourselves even hope for romantic love, and this makes the longing even more powerful. In addition to all this, we live in a culture that often encourages instant sex without emotional bonds or commitment. We are taught that hooking up for make-out sessions or one-night-stands is normal and even healthy. Many argue that to refrain from this behavior by choice is an act of repression. This is a tricky subject area, because I do believe that as gay people, we are taught by society to be ashamed of our sexualities. We must resist such hurtful and oppressive messages. However, in my experience, sex without emotional intimacy and commitment leads to feelings of sadness and emptiness. One-night-stands and relationships built only on sexual gratification often result in people getting seriously hurt.
When we use others for sex without deep meaning, we fail to respect the full human dignity of the other people and ourselves. Our souls and our bodies are not separate pieces that cohabitate the same space. We cannot disconnect our libidos from our hearts, and we cannot turn our emotions on and off with a switch. Rather, our flesh and our spirits unite to make us human beings created in the image of God. To be healthy and whole, a connection of the body must always go along with a connection of the heart and soul. Otherwise, we lie with our bodies and tear ourselves up inside. Furthermore, as Christians, we realize that we carry the Holy Spirit of God in us. Everything we say and do must witness to the truth of who God is. As is written in Romans 8: 10, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” As we get to know someone new and as our relationships grow, we must remember that we testify to who God is by how we live our lives and how we treat the people around us.
If we rush into bed with someone in the early stages of dating, it can be really hard to sort out our true feelings. We might wake up and ask ourselves, do I love him or do I just like having sex with him? Does she love me or is she using me to keep her warm at night? If we go from one random encounter to another, we are treating our partners as objects that provide a moment of pleasure, satisfaction, distraction, or relief from loneliness. Is this the way we want to be treated? Is this what we were made for? Is sex meant to be more than this? And even if we feel fine drifting from one lover to the next, how many people do we leave pining for us when we decide it is time to leave? How many people do we hurt? How many people have given up on true love in part because of the hurt we caused by using them and walking away?
If we want to build a lasting bond with someone, if we want to find true love, or if we want to minimize how much we hurt others, it is wise to take things slow. I am not saying to build up walls of ice in the early days of dating. Allow yourself to enjoy the journey! Sometimes we fall really hard really fast, and that can be exciting, wonderful, and good in many ways! An early rush of attraction can be intense, but it usually takes time for feelings to grow deep. A wise counselor once told me that there is a difference between intensity and depth, and depth alone is lasting. It is wise to make sure our physical expression of affection progresses at the same pace as emotional depth in our relationships. Sexuality and attachment are sacred. We must approach matters of the heart with thoughtfulness and responsibility. Allow God to guide you. As it says in Lamentations 3: 25, “Good is the Lord to one who waits for him, to the soul that seeks him.”
Overall, the best advice I can give is to be honest with yourself and the person you date about who you are, what you believe, what you value, what you feel, and what you want. People get hurt when we are too afraid or self-doubting to be honest from the beginning. When I started dating in my mid-twenties, I had repressed the romantic side of myself for so long that I had grown desperate to form an intimate bond with somebody. As soon as I started dating someone new, I would convince myself I had deep feelings for this person, even if I did not. The truth is that I was tired of being alone. If I could tell someone liked me, I tried my best to like them because I wanted to be with somebody and I hated the thought of hurting their feelings. I did not yet realize how painfully dishonest this was. And so I fell into a pattern of lying to myself and the people I was dating about how I was feeling, which always resulted in people getting hurt. I wish I had the courage to be more honest from the beginning.
The truth is that we will all probably make mistakes in the realm of dating and love. Sometimes we become so desperate for a sense of belonging or intimacy that we do things we know are wrong. Sometimes we fall into habits that feel good even though we know they hurt other people or ourselves. Sometimes we get confused, we lose sight of what is right, and we act irresponsibly without thinking about the consequences. When this happens, it is important to remember that God’s mercy is at the heart of our Christian faith. We are saved and redeemed by God. Whenever we fall, God is waiting to lift us up, forgive us, grace us with deeper wisdom, and grant us the strength to live more faithfully to the law of love.
Scripture is full of messages promising God’s healing and forgiveness. Psalm 103: 12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far have our sins been removed from us.” Micah 7: 18-19 asks, “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance; who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency, and will again have compassion on us, treading underfoot our guilt? You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins.” Again we read in Acts 3: 19, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” We are saved in Christ, who suffered greatly and died that he might rise again and bring us with him to new life. Learn from your mistakes and failures, but do not let them keep you from experiencing the love of God. God cannot live and love through you if you are obsessed with your own imperfections. None of us are perfect, but God is perfect, and if we trust in Him, He will help us grow into the people we were made to be.
Dating is a personal journey that we each need to figure out with God’s help. As you begin any new dating adventure, I invite you to pray. Ask God to guide you as you get to know this person. Ask God to show you how you are called to love each other and where the relationship should go next. Listen, and be open to any answer.
If you find yourself single time and time again, take time to connect with friends and good people in your life. I have learned over time that there is a big difference between being alone and being single. There is always someone nearby for you to love, and the love of friends, family, and God are just as rapturous as romantic love. Try not to take dating too seriously, protect yourself, and when the right person comes along, any walls you have built up will come crashing down, one by one.
At the end of the day, try not to worry too much about dating or even relationships. Like everything else in life, romantic love has its ups and downs. We need to remember that the anchor of our hope is always Christ. If we keep him at the center and remember we are called to love everyone we encounter each day, dating loses its stress and becomes a fun adventure. As it says in Romans 15: 13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit.” Relationships are placed in their proper perspective when we see them as one of many avenues through which we can share the love God gives us with others. As Jesus says in Matthew 6: 33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”
If you are single, love and serve God in your singleness. If you are dating someone new, love and serve God in how you approach this new adventure in your life. And when the light of true love grows in your heart, love and serve God by loving your soul mate. Whatever stage you find yourself in, embrace the mission of seeking God and inviting Him into your heart so that He can live more deeply in the world through you.