Single Life, Part 3: Navigating Romantic Relationships Before Marriage

By: Beth Doohan & Jenni Walker

“The One who formed you says…‘I have called you by name; you are Mine.’” ~ Isaiah 43:1

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” ~ I Peter 3:3

*****(A note before we begin: Approaches to romantic relationships can vary strongly from person to person, family to family, and even within church communities.  (What is the “right” approach?  Should we call it dating?  Courtship?  Getting to “know each other better”?)  Regardless of semantics, we believe that all romantic relationships prior to marriage should be with marriage in mind.  Whether a couple becomes husband and wife may take some time to determine, and it may become clear that the relationship should be ended or, delightfully, that wedding bells will soon be ringing!  No matter your terminology, be intentional to avoid self-centered or unholy attitudes that dishonor God’s design for marriage and romance.  Whether you are in a relationship right now or not, we encourage you to intentionally honor marriage in your heart, attitudes, and actions as you navigate romantic attractions, crushes, and potential dating relationships with God’s wisdom.  He designed marriage; lean on Him wholeheartedly in the details!)*****

*          *          *          *          *

Marriage is by God’s design.  The question is, how does a single, wholehearted woman of God get there?  As we explored in the last two articles, she views her season of singleness as a gift, knows that times of loneliness can draw her closer to the Lord and those He has placed in her life, and chooses joy in the journey.  But what about navigating times that aren’t just “waiting” times?  What is a girl to do with terms like “dating” and “courtship”?  Is there a right age?  Is there a right way to date?  Is there something she should do to actually find the “right guy”?  These are questions that may vary from person to person but that can and should be navigated with an identity rooted in Christ, a heart alive and yet anchored by the Word of God, and a holy expectancy that God can do more than we ask or think!

For the remainder of this article, we (Beth and Jenni) will provide you with insights from our own personal experiences of navigating romantic relationships leading toward marriage.  (Grab that cup of coffee, and curl up on the couch.  You’re about to get the inside scoop!)   The goal here is not to say, “This is the method to use to get married.”  Neither is the intent to say, “This should be your exact conviction about dating/courting.”  While all of us are accountable to the standards of God’s holy Word, there are some areas of personal conviction that may differ from one wholehearted woman to another – and that is okay!  Be true to the convictions God has placed in your heart.

Are you ready?  It’s story time, ladies!

Beth’s Story

As we navigate dating relationships, we will learn what qualities we most value in a man and hone the type of man we are looking for. In my youth, I (Beth) was given wise advice to pay attention to the character qualities in men I found attractive. When I reached college, I decided to write down the qualities that I had observed and what I felt God was speaking to my heart about what I needed in a mate. What was it about them that I liked? Before long, I ended up with a post-it sized note with categories such as “active relationship with God,” “openly affirming with words and deeds,” “servant-hearted,” “creative,” “handsome,” and “challenges others and me to be better.”

During reflection on these qualities, God showed me a big one that had been missing in all the guys I was previously interested in: “hardworking/driven.” I realized that while the guys I had been interested in dating were not lazy, they were definitely laidback in their approaches to following dreams and earning a living. I am a highly goal-oriented person and become frustrated when “dreaming” never becomes reality.

This revelation about the type of man I needed helped me recognize what to look for, and lo and behold God brought Corey Doohan into my life!  We met during college and got married right after graduation.  For those of you who don’t know him, let me give you the 411 on my amazing hubby.  Corey was raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm and helped his dad from his youth. He earned a one-year Bible degree, attained his four-year undergraduate degree in three years while working full-time, and started his own business before finishing college. Corey defines “driven” with his personality, and together we are a force to be reckoned with! We get things accomplished not just to check something else off of the list (although that feels great!) but to work as unto the Lord and to move forward in the things God has placed in our hearts.

Of course, we love times of relaxing together or just watching a movie with a bowl of ice cream.  But our name “Doohan” is pronounced like the phrase “how are you doin’?” and, because of this, we fondly joke that we “do things” because we are “Doohans.”   I love that this is a part of who we both are, and it has been such a blessing in our marriage!

Jenni’s Story

In my (Jenni’s) experience of dating, I chose not to date in high school.  (An aside: Beth’s and my brother and his sweet wife began dating just before their senior year of high school.  They maintained a long distance relationship while attending separate, out-of-state colleges and became engaged before their senior year.  Today they have been married for 8 years and are amazing parents to their little daughter!  Remember, there is not a set timetable for godly relationships, but there is a godly pattern to follow no matter the season of life you are in.)  I had the usual crushes in grade school and middle school.  I like you…Do you like me? kinds of things.  But I never dated anyone.  I am a very goal-oriented person, and I chose to view those childhood and adolescent years as preparation for college and adulthood.  College held a few potential relationships, but we stayed in the “friend zone.”  But after college, the guys came out of the woodwork…

As a first year middle school teacher, I was asked out pretty frequently.  I graciously declined to a few of them, and I went on some first dates with several others.  Particularly to you single ladies who have already graduated from college and live independently, be open!  Don’t compromise standards, but don’t decline a date offer too quickly, either.  It can be an enjoyable and even helpful thing to learn to accept a date invitation, to let the man be a gentleman by opening your door, to make conversation over a good meal (that he should pay for!), and just to learn to be at ease with yourself when someone pursues you.  A first date is not a commitment!  It is a simple “getting to know you” opportunity for both the guy and the gal, and it offers abundant insight into who the person is.

On first dates, I would pay close attention to the guy’s perspectives.  (I made it a point to not accept dates from men that I knew to begin with were not followers of Jesus.  But I never made them feel small or belittled.  I would graciously decline and tell them how appreciative I was that they asked me.  Usually they did not ask for reasons, but if they did I would simply but kindly share about the importance of my faith and my love for Jesus.)  Many people are “Christians” but are not surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Our conversation offered insights into whether or not they were actively following Jesus.  But in addition to this, did I truly enjoy myself, or did conversation feel a bit strained?  Did I really like him, or did I just like the attention?  (Wow, what a question!)

ALL of this to say…stick with your convictions, don’t be someone you are not, and let the occasional quality guy pursue you and show you some healthy attention!  Don’t string him along, but it is okay to be gracious and accept a date request.  (While lust is a sin, it is not shallow for a guy to think you are cute and to feel a sense of attraction toward you!  God made them that way intentionally.  Check out Genesis 2:20-25!)

But what if you are not being pursued by a godly man currently?  Or what if there is a guy you have been crushing on for a while now, and he just won’t ask you out?  Ladies, seek God’s wisdom and the wisdom of trusted individuals.  Keep growing in your love for Jesus, in pouring yourself out for others, and don’t give up hope that HE knows the man He is preparing for you!  When I met my amazing husband, Bryan Walker, it was a few years after college, and I was teaching full time.  I decided to audition for a community theater play about a mile from my school, and I developed a crush on him pretty quickly after we met. I did not send him any strong signals, but I did notice he would find his way over to where I was sitting during rehearsals.  I could laugh with him, he was respectful in his language and tone toward others, he kept a good attitude, and he was not at all pretentious.  I learned pretty quickly that he was a believer, too, and I found myself liking him more and more.

But dress rehearsal week was fast approaching, and he still had not asked me out or even for my number.  I decided internally that if he did not ask me out by the time the show was over, that I would not pursue him in the slightest and would move on.  (No, “Hey, want to hang out sometime?” or “I have some grading to do at Starbucks.  If you’re in the area, you should swing by!”)  I prayed (literally “behind the scenes”!) that he would ask me out if he was thinking about it.  And during dress rehearsal week one night, he pulled the trigger after rehearsal and asked me out.  I was thrilled!

After a few weeks of dating, he sat down with me and asked me to start a relationship with him and to “officially” be his girlfriend.  (This is another thing I did not even realize I needed but that God provided for me: He is so consistent in clarifying expectations and making me feel secure!)  And thus, Bryan Walker became my first “official” boyfriend…and my only.   We both knew pretty quickly that we were in this for the long haul, and we were married that next summer.  I laugh with him more than with anyone else.  I feel safest with him, like I can truly be myself, and he treasures me like no other.  He is hospitable, and this is something that is such a gift because we both love hosting holiday parties and having friends over for a meal.  God is also using our people-orientedness in ministry as we lead a married couples small group in our home each week.   While I can be more serious in my personality at times, and he tends to be the entertainer, and I am a planner while he doesn’t mind inviting people over spur-of-the-moment, we love one another completely and seek to serve one another according to the example set for us by Jesus.

Marriage is God’s Design, and HE Can Make It Happen!

Sometimes when we are waiting for our deep longings to be fulfilled, we can begin to feel insecure in our relationship with God and who He created us to be as women. If we are not dating, we may think “What’s wrong with me? Am I not worthy of being pursued?” Or we may settle by dating someone we know is not God’s best for fear of staying single.

As sisters in Christ, we want to remind you that you are worth being pursued!! Your loving heavenly Father created you and called you to godly womanhood. He designed you uniquely as a woman and loves your individual personality, character traits, and passions. Our Lord has pursued your heart for a relationship with Him, which means you are of great value in His sight and are certainly a choice woman and daughter of the King.

A bit of sisterly advice: When you have been dating for a while, it is perfectly normal and necessary to consider your future together.  But if he talks about wanting to live together or that he just isn’t ready for marriage, take the hint: he is not willing to commit.  And can we just say it?  Do not agree to live with him! Not only is this displeasing to the Lord, but it puts an automatic brake on a marriage commitment. Marriage is literally God’s tool for building a lasting commitment between a man and a woman for God’s glory. If a guy is not willing to commit in marriage, but you begin living together and are giving yourself physically to him, what reason does he have to get married? Why should he commit when he is getting everything he wants without that commitment?  (For more on this subject, check out some of Timothy Keller’s wise and biblical insights HERE:

Know this too: God has things He wants to do in your heart to prepare you for your future mate (and to prepare your spouse for you!). God’s timing is perfect, and He will guide your steps as you love and put your trust in Him. Some of the best dating advice I (Beth) received was to adopt this prayer: “Lord, keep me from and for my future husband.” This means from him until the right time (God’s time) and for him from other relationships that would seek to claim my heart. Can we encourage you to wait for God’s best? He knows you better than you know yourself and knows exactly the man of God that He is preparing for you. God is so faithful and worthy of our trust, and He will fulfill your heart’s desires more than you could imagine as you trust in Him!

In Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be a Woman, she shares how a choice is a limitation. To say yes to one thing means saying no to all the others.  That is why it is so important that we put our dating and ultimately our future marriage into the Lord’s hands. Do not be afraid of making mistakes; God will lead your steps. Guard your heart from things of this world by walking in purity in your relationships and things you consume in entertainment. Be choosy in your relationships by valuing yourself, and be willing to get to know someone in friendship and dating.  Choose to believe that you are so valued and worthy of being pursued.

In both the waiting and in the middle of navigating a romantic relationship, you can prepare for marriage by seeking after the Lord wholeheartedly, bringing your desires before Him, and asking Him for wisdom about your future spouse and how to honor God now.  You were created in Christ Jesus to do good works and bring Him glory (Ephesians 2:10). He created you, knows what you need, calls you His beautiful daughter, and He is with you! Take some time to ask God for wisdom about your future spouse and the person you may be dating.  He will lead and direct your steps as you follow Him!

*          *          *          *          *

Scriptures to Encourage You in the Waiting and the Dating!

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”  Romans 8:28

“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  Romans 13:14

“A gracious woman gets honor…”  Proverbs 11:16

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Proverbs 12:1-2

“House and riches are the inheritance from fathers, but a wise, understanding, and prudent wife is from the Lord.”  Proverbs 19:14