When I started dating my first boyfriend at age 17, people in my church asked, “So, do you think you’ll get married?” They didn’t wait until we’d been dating awhile; they asked within the first two weeks of our relationship! And to be honest, I loved it. I’d been thinking about that question for a long time—before we ever started dating, even during the months when we were “just friends.”
In my world, everything was marriage-centered from the start. After all, if I couldn’t see myself marrying a guy, why would I date him? So there was no let’s-get-to-know-each-other phase, no let’s-take-it-slow season. Dating was just intense, intentional and pressure-filled from the beginning.
That’s why my boyfriend and I got way too serious way too fast.
I was convinced he was “The One,” and I started acting that way in my heart and mind—before taking the time to really get to know him. As the relationship progressed, I started to see huge issues in it, but I was so far in that I couldn’t imagine walking away. I couldn’t imagine my future without him.
When my dad finally ended the relationship (because I couldn’t do it myself), it felt like my world had shattered, and I didn’t know who I was without my boyfriend. It took me two years to get over him.
The breakup should not have been that hard.
The years passed, and I found I was still scarred and scared from that relationship.
At age 24, I was meeting with my pastor and his wife (my mentors) about a guy I’d started liking from church. I was torn up about the relationship because I just didn’t know if I could see myself marrying him. He was a great guy, loved Jesus and treated me like gold, but I just didn’t know what the future held! Should I date him? Was that wrong?
My pastor gave me some surprising advice: “Tiffany, you’re very future-focused. So you need to take it slow. Don’t talk about marriage at all yet. Just get to know each other. See what you think of him. Wait a few months before you start to think about the future.”
So we started dating, without knowing what the future held.
And I’m so glad we did.
The next few months were beautiful, healing, cleansing. I began to see that I was worthy of love. I saw how a real man treats a woman. And I knew I was ruined for anything less than a man like this. Not necessarily this particular man, but someone who treated me like a daughter of God.
After a few months, I sat down again with my mentors. We’d been meeting regularly the whole time, but now they said it was time to start thinking about the future. “To be honest,” I admitted, “I feel like I can’t fall in love with him. I don’t know why.”
He and I went our separate ways, but it wasn’t devastating; it was healing. We both still think the world of each other and found so many gifts in our relationship while it lasted, partly because we took things one step at a time.
That completely changed my perspective on dating.
In the past, I only went out with guys I could see myself marrying.
And that included coffee dates.
But that put my heart totally in the wrong place because I was trying to imagine what the guy was like when I didn’t really know him yet. In turn, I often found myself daydreaming about a future with an imaginary man I’d created in my head, rather than with the real person I was meeting for coffee.
Here are a few things I’ve learned about a healthy approach to dating:
- You don’t have to know you’re going to marry him before you start dating him. Dating is how you get to know someone, how you figure out if you want to marry the person. It’s the first step, not the culmination.
- Take it one step at a time. Don’t rush too far ahead in your mind or your conversations; instead, just get to know each other. Ask, “Do I enjoy being around him? Is he a man of character? Does he love Jesus? Do I want to go out with him again?”
- Even when you think God has said “yes,” that still needs to be tested by time. Sometimes we think God is saying, “This is who I have for you.” And He could be saying that. But it also could be your emotions mimicking God’s voice. (This has happened to me and SO MANY of my friends.) Getting to know the person helps you discover if you really do want to be with him.
If I’d kept saying no anytime I wasn’t sure a guy was “The One,” I never would have said yes to the man who became my husband.
My husband James and I had known each other since childhood, but hadn’t seen each other in at least 15 years. The first time we reconnected, there was no chemistry. No spark. Nothing. I left and told my best friend, “I’ll never see him again.” Little did I know, two years later we’d be married.
But I’d started something new: When a godly guy asked me to get coffee, I would say yes, even though I didn’t have a clue if I’d want to marry him. I’d take the time to get to know him a little anyway. Sometimes that led to another date because I was intrigued, and sometimes it didn’t.
So when James asked me to get coffee a few months later, I said yes. That turned into a whole lot of texting, a five-hour picnic in the park and a new relationship.
When I said I would be his girlfriend, I had no idea if I’d marry him.
I remember thinking in confusion, “I have no clue where this is going! But I really like him. I’m intrigued by him. I want to get to know him more. So let’s see what happens!”
We had been dating for a few months before we talked about marriage. And I’m thankful for that. We took it slow, and found ourselves more and more intrigued by each other. We loved being together. We each loved who the other person was. Within a few months, I was 100 percent confident that this was the guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And my heart was full of confidence that God was smiling on this decision.
James is truly the perfect fit for me. We’ve been married almost three years, and I fall more in love with him every day. He’s not what I would have pictured for myself back at age 17, but he’s so much better than I could ever have imagined.
And that’s why I’m so glad I kissed dating hello. That’s why I’m glad I let go of my unrealistic expectations that I would “know” someone was my husband before I’d ever gone on a date with him.
Because if I hadn’t kissed dating hello, I never would have kissed my husband hello, either.