Dating and relationships are topics that come up frequently in the world I live in. College students, a 20 something staff team and the three teenagers of my own have me thinking about dating a lot. Either students are dating (or “dating” and calling it “talking”), getting engaged and married, or hoping to be one of those soon! Overall, things have changed in the dating world since I was in college. As we know, it is rarer for a guy to call a girl on the phone and ask her out for an actual date. As I puzzle over dating, I know we can have healthier and better relationships than the world out there is settling for or offering. In my numerous conversations, I feel thankful for my husband and the way he dated me.
Third time’s a charm
It was my third date with Brian in about a month, when I found myself on a long bike ride alongside him. He had called me earlier in the week and asked if I would like to ride my mountain bike on some trails (in Austin) with he and some friends that Saturday. I liked this guy and was excited he had called and asked me to go on a date with him again. But, the bike ride that I thought was going to be a few hours with a group of people ended up being an all-day event with only him. The others had backed out at the last minute. During that day I learned to appreciate many qualities of Brian, that I continued to appreciate through our dating life. And reflecting back, I have a collection of memories of how he dated me well. Even though the dating culture has changed, the things I observed would still be applicable for today.
1. You can be clear with your intentions without using too many words at first
One thing was clear: Brian was interested in me and he let me know through his actions time and time again. He asked me out in advance, but not too much at first. When he called, we would talk for awhile on the phone. I remember being disappointed though, when he didn’t call me a bunch (before cell phones and texting) at first or ask me out again right away that next week. My “feelings” protested and spoke loud and clear to me about this. They were ready to take control, or worry over it.! He did show me he was interested, even though it was not as fast as my feelings could take me.
Whether it was the first few weeks or a few months into it, it was obvious he was still “pursuing” me. He sought me out when we were at large Cru meetings or on campus. He had good eye contact and was attentive. And when he called to ask me on a date he had a general plan in mind, which often involved others. From his actions I new he was thinking of me and taking time to get to know me. He made his intentions clear, by taking initiative, but not overdoing it.
Throughout, his initiative exposed his faithfulness, loyalty and integrity. In retrospect, I discovered that these qualities built a stronger foundation for our relationship than talking constantly about where the relationship stood, where it was headed or by spending all our free time together. I continued to observe these character qualities to be true as the relationship progressed and became more serious. As we were becoming more serious, my “feelings” poked and prodded me to talk more about our future and marriage. Again it was obvious through his actions that this relationship was not going away, but he was not going to talk marriage until he was ready to put a ring on my finger.
2. Treat the person you are dating/engaged to like you would want your future spouse to be treated.
I didn’t have to question his intentions for me, but I also saw he had the best intentions in mind for our relationship. We both had dated poorly at times, and since our lives now belonged to Christ, it affected every area of our life– including our dating life. I often hear him say as he gives dating advice, “Treat your date as someone’s future spouse.” Basically, they are not your spouse until you are married, so physical intimacy in the relationship should be reserved for marriage.
How many discussions I have had with couples who are dating and engaged that feel trapped by the growing physical area of their relationship. They want to reserve physical intimacy for their marriage, but they understandably keep getting tripped up. I appreciate the clear boundaries Brian had and the desire to not put the focus on that area of our life. He was going to date me as someone’s future spouse. We were not married until we walked down the aisle.
It helped that we often had dates planned that involved “doing” something together or being with other people. His creativity kept us busy and away from just being home alone. Too much time alone behind closed doors was not going to set us up for the purity we wanted. I valued the times playing frisbee golf, seeing an old movie on campus, getting ice cream, going on bike rides, seeing a Christmas performance, sharing chicken fried steak, going to church together, playing cards, going on double dates or seeing the capital.
Once we got close to engagement I could tell that it was not going to be a long engagement. Once Brian knew he wanted to marry me and I had a ring, the wedding was not going to be too far in the future. He wanted to heed the advice of some wise people who knew a shorter engagement was better. Some couples we talk to do well with the boundaries they have set up for physical intimacy while they are dating, but once the engagement is announced it is a real battle that they often lose. It is difficult to find couples who are able to keep the standards they have set for themselves. Brian often recommends six months or less for engagement, if possible. Parents may feel like the engaged couple need much more time to plan the wedding and for “getting to know” one-another. From my experience with couples, the longer the engagement the more difficult it is on the couple.
3. Discipline goes a long way in dating– and in marriage
I observed Brian’s discipline in many ways. He didn’t say, “I love you,” until he was ready to give me a ring. He wanted to reserve those words for the one he would marry. The security of a dating relationship does not come through those words alone, but through a person’s character. The words, “I love you,” and talk of marriage can take your heart places. He also was not going to kiss me until he put a ring on my finger, and then he wanted to limit it also. He was determined to keep good boundaries in the physical intimacy area.
I also observed his self-control and discipline in his intentional study of God’s word, his regular accountability with friends and as a good engineering student. He didn’t plan some “devotional” time with me, but I could see his growing love for God, a deepening desire to know Him and make Him known, and openess with God’s plans for his life. His love for God’s word spilled over into his character, how he treated me, his thoughts on money, occupation and the future. I can see how self-control and discipline in one area tended to flow into other areas of his life, which has also gone with him throughout our marriage. I can think of numerous situations and circumstances where I am thankful for this kind of character in him.
4. My dating life affects my children.
Looking back I can see how the way he dated me impacts me now and even affects our children. Of course, I didn’t think about that way back then! It is so interesting talking about dating with my kids. I can see how Brian lead the way for this time, without even knowing it. As I talk with my boys about girls and dating, I can’t help but share with them the way their dad dated me and what I admire about their dad. I hear myself saying things like, ” Just make it clear through your actions.” I share creative ideas for getting out and doing things (a little more difficult in College Station). I talk about physical intimacy and treating them as someone’s future spouse.
“You tend to marry the people you date”
To be honest, I hesitated posting this post. For one, I didn’t want to it seem void of romance, emotion, sweet gestures and physical touch. I couldn’t include everything I appreciated about the way Brian dated me! There were plenty of little notes, long talks, attentiveness and handholding. Second, I didn’t want it to seem as if Brian and I did everything perfect. (Remember the second date from a few posts ago?) We had our share of misunderstandings, frustrations, tears and asking one another for forgiveness. Last… I was reminded of a certain movie that is coming out very soon that is void of real love and character. When it came out as a book and I read about it, it was obvious it exploits women, money, marriage and sex for one person’s gain. This is nothing like the love Jesus modeled for us. For, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Some scholars suggest it could be written with a colon after love. Love is like the following:…) This is the kind of love the world is waiting for.
While dating I could see that Brian’s character came from the work God was doing in his life and this affected the way he dated me. And that goes a long way. As Brian likes to say, “You tend to marry the people you date.” I am thankful for that!