If there’s a book on an alternative way to do dating, I’ve probably read it.
But if you asked me what I got out of those books, I doubt I could give you a very great answer. Most of them seemed vague and impractical, idealistic of virginity, often legalistic, and full of don’ts. Don’t call it “dating.” Don’t hold hands. Ok, maybe hold hands. A little. But don’t kiss. Don’t have sex. Don’t go too fast. Don’t go too slow. And whatever you do, don’t mess up or you’ll probably suffer for the rest of eternity! At least that’s what I was left with after poring over piles of books in search of something to help me learn to do relationships well.
The result for a rule-following girl like me was tremendous pressure to do things in a relationship a very specific way. But the practical implications, the why’s, and especially the how-to’s, were exasperatingly unclear.
And enter the scene Connor Wells.
Connor and I became friends through a church college group. We were friends for roughly eight months before, through a few odd, complicated conversations, we discovered we had started liking each other. Over the course of that summer, we took some time praying, thinking, talking with our parents, and getting to know each other better with the idea that we might pursue a relationship with one another. We decided that we felt it would be a wise, healthy, and God-honoring thing for us to begin “courting.”
We courted for six months, worked through a couple of our own sin issues, sought wisdom from the people around us, and got engaged. Our engagement was all of ninety-nine days, and we got married at 21 and 22 in Connor’s family’s church out in rural Colorado, surrounded by lots of people that loved and cared about us. And here we are, three and a half years later as I write this.
During our relationship, we didn’t get too hung up on what to call it. Sometimes we said “dating,” sometimes we said “courting.” It depended on who we were talking with, or how much about our relationship they wanted to know. The relationship was to continually be moving forward unless we saw signs or a made a decision to do otherwise. To us, our relationship was fairly serious and intentional from the beginning, so we used the word “courting” sometimes just to differentiate from more casual dating relationships.
I want to share some things we learned along the way, and to give you a few dos instead of a list of don’ts to help navigate the world of courtship. My working definition of “courtship” will be “a romantic relationship with the intent of figuring out if you want to get married to that person.” But whatever you decide to call that is fine with me.
So here are some practical how-to’s for courtship:
Be in your Bibles!
Continually be seeking the Lord’s will. A lot of people ask how they’re supposed to know who they should marry. God gives us a lot of answers about that in His Word! Do some digging, and ask yourself if this person matches up with what God defines as a person who honors Him. Does this person follow God’s law, seek God’s face, and strive to grow to become more like Jesus? Do they fit into Paul’s description of real love in 1 Corinthians 13? Do they possess the fruits of the Spirit that are mentioned in Galatians 5? No one will be perfect, by any means, but there are a lot of things that can show you if they’re on the right path.
Work on communication now.
This isn’t something to wait to do later. Now is when you’re forming habits. It can be hard when our natural instincts are to shut down, to want the other person to know what we’re thinking and feeling, or to try to sweep things under the rug and avoid conflict. But healthy communication is so important for a good relationship. Learn to talk through things now, while you have a bit more infatuated grace to give one another. It’s so worth it to communicate well before the hard things come.
Figure out your expectations for the relationship.
This includes using your healthy communication. You need to be functioning as a team, and teams only work well together when they’re on the same page and working toward the same goal. You both need to set your expectations, and communicate those to each other. What are your hopes for the relationship? What are your dreams? Do you have time-sensitive expectations? Are there things your dad did that you expect from a beau? Is there a skill your mom had that you really want your wife to have? Do you have interests that are important for a potential spouse to encourage? Those are all expectations that need to be realized and communicated so that you will be united and not driven apart by unmet expectations. Eventually, the expectations being communicated can shift to questions like how often your family would go to church, how many children you would like, how you handle money, and more intimate or deep subjects. If you have “deal breakers,” now is the time to start figuring those topics out.
Set boundaries early.
The more you become attached to one another, oftentimes the harder it is to view things objectively. Set a few hard rules for yourselves that you decide ahead of time never to compromise, but leave room for adjustment with the rest of your boundaries. Do what it takes to stick to your boundaries. Sometimes that will be hard, take a lot of work, or be just plain lame or inconvenient, but it’s worth it to have your conscience clear and the other person feeling valued and respected. Remember it’s not about the rules, so work on fighting against a legalistic mindset. The rules don’t save you or make your relationship perfect. They are just there to serve as guidelines and help steer your relationship.
Listen to the people around you.
This is something that can be so hard for us, but it’s so pivotal! We need others to speak truth into our lives most when we are blinded by our own infatuation. Find the people who know you, love you, and want what’s best for you. This includes your parents, your best friends, mature Christians in your life, and sometimes your siblings. Ask them if they like the person. Do they think it’s a good match? Do you complement one another? Does the relationship seem healthy? Are you spending an appropriate amount of time together? Then choose to humble yourself and hear what they have to say, even when you don’t like it. Sometimes they see what you can’t. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Put this one into practice!
When you’re in a relationship, people like giving advice. Be gracious. Not everyone is approaching things from where you are. Their relationship may or may not have looked anything like yours. They speak from their own experiences, so take some principles and little nuggets away, but filter through the rest. Find what works best for you. Decide what advice to keep and put into practice, and what advice to let pass you by.
That’s what I have for you this time. Stay tuned for Part 2 with some more practical thoughts on doing relationships well!