Conversation between a man and a woman is wonderful. The two can help each other in so many ways: develop their personality, sharpen their social skills, grow in compassion and empathy, broaden their perspective and so on.
When a spark of romantic interest enters a relationship, this can also be wonderful. But it also complicates matters somewhat, and, handled poorly, can lead to problems.
Why problems? Because emotion—though a tremendous blessing when guided and channeled properly—is not necessarily helpful. The wrong kind of conversation between a man and a woman stokes emotion, feeds infatuation, and clouds your ability to maintain wise objectivity.
Just listen to pop radio, and you know it is easy to say things that get the juices going: I love you! I can’t live without you! I would walk 500 miles just to be with you!
We are subtler about it, but we can still stir up emotions in ways that seem gratifying but turn out to be harmful. In some situations in God’s Church, men and women are saying things to one another aimed at getting something from the other rather than really showing outgoing concern. Remember, you must give account before God for every idle word! (Matthew 12:36).
Here I want to help you recognize and avoid one specific trap that the desire for a relationship can easily lead you into if you are not careful.
It tends to emerge as you begin to get to know someone who appears to be a viable possibility for lifelong companionship. It is actually a specific topic of conversation that you might find yourself wanting to bring up.
I’m speaking of the conversation about “us.”
Let’s Talk About ‘Us’?
This is discussion about the two of you—about your developing relationship—about how much you enjoy your time together (I’m not talking about, “Thanks, I had fun”—I’m talking about a conversation about how much fun you have together, what wonderful companions you are for each other)— about the possibility of you sharing a future—about whether you’re spending enough time together—or whether you wish you could spend more time together—or how someone else asked you out but you wish you could have gone with them—etc. ad nauseam. There are thousands of variations on this theme. Whatever it is, it’s a comment or discussion that puts focus on your friendship, or your relationship.
I’m telling you, this is a trap.
Why have this conversation? Because you like the little hit of excitement it gives you. But the only purpose it serves is to stir up your emotions and to feed infatuation. Such discussion also tends to have a snowball effect. Once “us” becomes a topic of discussion—it can become a greedy monster.
Realize this: Once you say something, you cannot unsay it. Once you say, “I really like you. I’d like to date you more,” then that bell is rung. It cannot be unrung. You had better mean it—and you had better be careful. When you make a statement like that, it creates expectations in the mind of the other person—perhaps beyond what you intend. (In some cases, people do intend to create those expectations even when they don’t really intend to fulfill them. Those are very self-absorbed people—and they have a serious problem!)
In a sense, a statement like that is a promise. Every step you take toward intimacy is a step you cannot untake. That statement took you closer to full intimacy. You devoted a little piece of yourself—and you probably took possession of a little piece of the other person too. Think about it: Either you’re going to end up marrying that person—or not. It is either going to lead to another step, and then another, toward marriage—or at some point you are going to have to painfully back away from it. But you cannot undo it.
All through your dating, always conduct yourself so you will have no regrets. You don’t want to have to back off from anything you ever said or did. As you enter more serious dating and courtship, always conduct yourself for no regrets! Conduct yourself so that if at any point God shows you that this isn’t a good match, you would still have no regrets: You treated each other as brother and sister throughout, with respect. You focused on friendship. You upheld each other’s dignity!
Even with the person you do end up marrying, you want to look back on your courtship as having laid a righteous foundation for a wonderful marriage! You have no regrets because you built that marriage on a rock!
So, what is an alternative topic of conversation that will create no regrets—and that actually is helpful?
Getting to Know You
As you find yourself in a relationship that seems to have the possibility of progressing to something more serious, it is good to transition to more substantive conversation—conversation that is clear-eyed and honest about what is really important to you.
Talk about God’s Work and God’s truth. Discuss what values matter most to you. What virtues inspire you. What qualities of character you most appreciate when you see them in others. What areas you are personally trying hardest to develop and to grow in.
These kinds of conversations can help you get to know not only the other person, but even yourself!
This is not to say you should start trying to force having intensely probing conversations, especially early on in a relationship. But if you want to build a stronger friendship with a brother or sister in the faith—and you are also interested in testing your real compatibility with someone—then it shouldn’t feel that strange to engage in some deeper conversation about some of the more important things in life.
Go deeper than just your interests or even your goals. You might have similar interests with someone (“We’re so compatible because we both love tennis and animated movies!”). You might even have similar goals with someone (“We’re so compatible because we both have a dream of moving to a small town somewhere and opening a coffee shop!”). But you might be very different from someone in more-fundamental areas.
Find out things like:
• What is his/her attitude toward serving: volunteering for jobs, joining Spokesman Club, driving an extra two hours to pick someone up or visit a shut-in?
• How important is hospitality to him/her?
• Does he/she prefer having a lot of people around, or spending more time in solitude?
• How important is work to him/her?
• How important is time management? How motivated is he/she to make productive use of free time?
• How important is it to him/her to continue their education?
• How much energy does he/she have? Does he/she always crave activity, or does he/she need a lot of down time?
• What is his/her attitude toward money? Is he liberal or frugal? How important are quality possessions and a high standard of living to him/her?
• How important is it to him/her to take care of his/her things? Is he/she a do-it-yourself-type person?
• What priority does he/she put on proper diet and exercise?
• What value does he/she put on friendship? What about loyalty?
• How important is open communication and honesty to him/her?
• Is he/she a positive, upbeat person? When trials hit, how important is it to him/her to react positively? To not complain? To have joy?
These are issues that don’t necessarily have a “right answer.” But any item on this list could be very important to one person and not at all to another. Wildly different answers could indicate a lack of compatibility that should at least factor into your decision-making.
In God’s Church, hopefully we are all striving to be more like Christ; in many areas, there should be a fair amount of agreement, since we all seek Christ’s mind. But still, we are all different. One person may put a premium on this set of values; someone else may have a significantly different priority list in values. If you are reasoning with God and keeping your emotions in check, then in getting to know someone, you will be able to see clearly if there are major, problematic differences.
The nice thing about talking about these things is, it isn’t about trying to increase the romantic aura around the relationship. It’s simply about building friendship and building the Family of God. You won’t have regrets about having upbuilding, wholesome conversation!
Sincerity and Truth
Here is a superb goal to have in your dating and courtship: Always be sincere, and always be truthful.
God puts a high premium on sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:8). These are wonderful virtues to keep in mind as you are getting to know someone through dating, especially someone you think might make a lifelong companion. Be sincere with the person you’re interested in. Don’t put on a show.
Sincerity means purity, innocent or childlike simplicity, candidness. What you see is what you get.The root word means pure, sincere, unsullied. And the roots of that word mean “to be found pure when unfolded and examined by the sun’s light.” That is how God wants your life to be. He wants you to be able to live your life in the sun—in the light!
With the person you are dating, or courting, you don’t want them to be insincere and deceitful. You want to make your decisions based on truth! And you owe it to the other person to be sincere and truthful as well.
Here is another practical suggestion: As you are courting, build your dating around serving. Spend time together with a shut-in. Do a work project together. Serve together at a Church function. This reveals more of the character of the person you’re dating. This is illuminating and upbuilding, which is exactly what dating should be—and what marriage should be! It also helps you to avoid getting locked into myopic romance, where your focus is entirely on each other and quite selfish.
When all is said and done, there really shouldn’t be a big difference between a date you would have during the “date widely” phase and a date during a serious courtship! It should still be two people getting to know one another, focusing on upbuilding Christian fellowship, showing respect for each other and for God’s standards. Throughout your courtship, the more you can focus on simply building the friendship, the better!