Romantic Relationships before Marriage (Part 2)

By: Beth Doohan & Jenni Walker

“Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” ~ Isaiah 30:21

“A woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” ~Proverbs 31:30

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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 selfish 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 dating relationships with God’s wisdom.  He designed marriage; lean on Him wholeheartedly in the details!

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Marriage is by God’s design.  The question is, how does a single, wholehearted woman of God get there?  First of all, 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 (more on these in later articles!).  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!

In this and our previous article (click here if you missed Part 1!), we (Beth and Jenni) are providing 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!

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

Jenni’s Romance Story

In my (Jenni’s) experience of dating, I chose not to date in high school.  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!)

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!

Our non-offensive, “you do you,” culture (and even the church at times!) can attempt to sway biblical convictions laid out in Scripture when it comes to romantic relationships prior to marriage. But as Malachi 3:6 says, “I am the Lord, and I do not change,” meaning the commands of God in the Bible are the commands we are to follow as Christians in any season. They are not subject to the latest generation, society or world’s beliefs. We the church are not to conform or become like the culture of this world. Instead, we should be transformed or changed in our hearts, minds and attitudes by renewing our minds in Scripture (see Romans 12:1-2). We are to be different, set apart for God.

Can I share 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 openly say it?  DO NOT agree to be physically intimate or live with him! Only within the bounds of a loving, covenant marriage is sex both permissible and applauded by God. God’s Word clearly defines that any sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin. There’s no way around it. Marriage was designed by God for two individuals, consecrated before God, to join in holy union as they become one flesh within marriage. (For more on this subject, check out some of Timothy Keller’s wise and biblical insights HERE.)

ALL of this to say…stick with your convictions, don’t be someone you are not, and don’t do things “for your man” that you would not do for God! Believe me, it will be worth the wait to experience God’s best in marriage and avoid the heartache of hidden, self-justified sin. If you are not in a romantic relationship, I encourage you to 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. Even if you are not getting asked out, your value in Christ far exceeds any value you may find in a shallow relationship.  Keep growing in your love for Jesus as a single woman, pour yourself out for others, and don’t give up hope that GOD knows the man He is preparing for you in His timing and design! 

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Our next few articles will feature conversations about the single life and facing loneliness. Whatever season you are in romantically, we pray these articles build encouragement, hope and a vision for your current or future marriage.