In his autobiography, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote of his concerns about the mysterious danger of “falling” for a girl: “Once this happened, so I surmised, the poor victim lost his mental equilibrium. He was ‘hooked’ and unable to help himself, or if the girl be the wrong one, to recognize that fact. I was, in other words, afraid I might be caught off guard and helplessly plunged into a binding lifelong marriage with the wrong girl. I had heard that love was blind. If I should fall in love with the wrong girl, I would probably be totally blinded to the fact she was the wrong one. My life would be ruined!”
So he developed a system in his dating. He would only date girls that appeared marriageable, just in case he lost his head. (Note: This “system” isn’t the Church’s teaching.)
He continued: “Next, on my first date, one thing was always uppermost in my mind—to coldly analyze that girl from the point of view of what kind of a wife and mother she would make, if I lost my head over her. If she definitely didn’t measure up, I firmly avoided any second date with her. If I were not quite sure one way or the other, I would allow myself a second date—if she appeared sufficiently interesting. If a girl passed my analytical test, then immediately I put all thought of marriage out of mind, but she remained on the list of girls who were eligible for dates—if I desired them. … If a girl was unable to carry on her part of such an ‘intellectual’ conversation, or was lacking in any mental depth and brilliancy, she didn’t interest me enough for another date.”
Though we don’t use this dating “system” (and discourage anyone from “coldly analyzing” your date), Mr. Armstrong got something right: He didn’t allow emotion to govern his relationships with the opposite sex. He sought to avoid becoming emotionally entangled with someone and later regretting it. And guess what? It worked! The first person he gave his heart to was the woman he married. And they had a wonderful marriage of more than 50 years.
Singles in the world allow emotion to drive their romantic relationships. They mistake a bit of electricity between two people as love.
God’s way of dating protects us from the pain of dysfunctional relationships. How? First, it teaches you to build friendships. Get to know as many as you can. Focus on giving as you date widely—treat dating as serving. Develop your personality and social skills as you date. Then, it teaches that as you get closer to marriage, you mustn’t be ruled by your emotions—but rather ruled by God! Trust in him with all your heart. Don’t let your foolish heart direct your paths; let God direct your paths! (Proverbs 3:5-8).
Perhaps you’ve met someone and had a little jolt of emotional electricity. That’s OK, but don’t think that there’s any wisdom in that. Don’t mistake it as a sign from God. It’s fine if that motivates you to have a second conversation. But realize, if you start nurturing emotions like that, those emotions will start driving the process rather than God! If you start building on the foundation of emotion, you are destined for a fall. You have to get that emotion under control.
One of the easiest mistakes to make with those of the opposite sex is to confuse the feeling you get when you’re around them with your feeling for them. You might love the feeling of being with a certain person and think you actually love that person!
Do you really know what it means to love someone? When someone says, “I love cookies,” you know he doesn’t mean that he wants to devote his life to cookies, to care for and provide for cookies. He means that he likes the taste of cookies—the feeling he gets when he eats them! He’s saying, Cookies give me pleasure. He’s saying he loves cookies, but really, his focus is on himself.
The same thing can happen in a relationship with someone: You might love the feeling you get from him or her, but do you really love him or her? On the flip side, if someone tells you “I love you,” don’t you want to know what kind of love he or she means?
Mr. Armstrong defined love in The Missing Dimension in Sex: “Love is an unselfish outgoing concern for the good and welfare of the one loved. Love is primarily on the giving, serving, sharing side of the fence—not on the getting, taking, factional, striving side. It is not selfish …. Love is unselfish. It is not an emotion, though it may be expressed with an emotional content. True love combines the rational aspect of outgoing concern—desire to help, serve, give or share—along with sincere concerned affectionate feeling.”
It is one thing to recognize this intellectually. It is altogether another thing to measure your own thinking, feeling and reasoning against this definition. If you really love a person, you want what is good for that person. If, on the other hand, you love how you feel when you’re around that person, you are really just loving yourself.
Infatuation or Love?
Is the relationship you want to pursue well founded? Are you going the right direction, following God’s lead? How can you be sure that this is the right one? Well, first you must know the difference between infatuation and love.
1) Infatuation is selfish. Love is outflowing.
2) Infatuation is effortless. Love takes work.
3) Infatuation focuses on image and appearance. Love focuses on character.
4) Infatuation is based on imagination and fantasy. Love is grounded in reality.
5) Infatuation is short-lived. Love never fails.
If you’re wondering whether someone is a good mate for you, try this simple test. Make a list of the qualities you’re drawn to or impressed by. If there isn’t much substance to your list, watch out. If it includes a lot of assumptions, conjecture and wishful thinking based on minimal information, be cautious. If it basically consists of things like her cute laugh and comely figure, or his sense of humor and mesmerizing eyes, hit the brakes.
You might also make a list of possible areas of concern you’ve noticed about this individual, weaknesses, issues that could pose or problem. If you “just can’t think of a single thing!” then your head is in the clouds. At the very least, you need to get to know him or her much better before you can make a wise decision. Before committing yourself to someone, you must be able to consider the negatives honestly, with open eyes.
Obviously, you want the relationship you choose to endure. Interestingly, it seems infatuation actually tends to have a measurable shelf-life! “Psychologist Dorothy Tennov measured the duration of romantic love, from the moment infatuation hit to when a ‘feeling of neutrality’ for one’s love object began. She concluded, ‘The most frequent interval, as well as the average, is between approximately 18 months and three years’” (Helen Fisher, The Anatomy of Love). Guess what: The end of that infatuation period correlates with when most couples divorce. “Divorce generally occurs early in marriage—peaking in or around the fourth year after the wedding—followed by a gradual decline in divorce as more years of marriage go by.”
Being in God’s Church comes with many advantages for a single, starting with the fact that we date within the Church. We really strive to uphold God’s laws in our dating. We are far less likely to get involved with someone who has totally different values and moral standards. But let’s not kid ourselves and think that we can’t be swayed by emotion and infatuation as we date and seek out a potential mate!
Are Your Emotions Helping or Hurting You?
It can be embarrassingly easy to convince yourself that you are putting something in God’s hands, when really you are trying to force your own will on God! The heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). You can say, Oh yes, I’m trusting in God. I’m praying; I’m fasting; I’m counseling. I’m doing everything by the book! You can check all the boxes—and still be following your own heart and trusting yourself! You really have to be honest with yourself in order to follow God’s will.
Emotion is one of the biggest factors that interferes with our ability to keep God in the picture.
Used correctly, emotion is a wonderful blessing. The emotional yearning to be in a devoted relationship with someone of the opposite sex can be very strong—and a good measure of that yearning is placed there by God, the Author of sex, marriage and family. His instruction regarding dating, courtship, marriage and sexuality is meant to help us direct and channel that yearning in a way that will lead to us building strong families.
However, in matters of the heart, emotion can easily become a problem.
To reason with God, you have to keep a clear head throughout the process of choosing a mate. That means you have to keep control of your emotions so they are serving that process, rather than taking it over.
When courting is done right, your feelings toward your mate grow throughout courtship at the right pace, and they peak at the right time with the wedding and wedding night. However, if you’re not careful and keeping God involved throughout that process, your feelings surge and swell way too early and create a lot of problems.
Emotion can tend to short-circuit and undermine your already limited human judgment. It can draw you to someone who is totally wrong for you and blind you to that fact. You can get caught up in illusions and lose touch with reality about this person that you might well end up spending the rest of your life with.
Why is it so easy to lose touch with reality, to get distracted by things that aren’t important, and to get caught up in the emotion of a relationship? It’s because of human nature—your selfishness—your self-love.
If you fail to master your emotions, you are not really running your own life. You are susceptible to emotional manipulation from all directions. “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). This can lead to serious consequences in many aspects of life—not only in your relationships, but also your diet, your health, your productivity, your overall wellbeing.
All the way through your dating and courtship, even your engagement, you still must keep a clear head. You must keep your wits about you. This is very important, and it’s a godly principle. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
This might sound very strange to you, but until you say “I do,” you cannot afford to completely commit your heart to this relationship and wholly “let go.” You must maintain a certain level of emotional control and objectivity in order to keep God in the picture.
The beautiful thing is, the real love between a man and a woman develops after they marry. The bond developed during dating and courtship is just a fraction of what later develops. True love takes time. And a couple that has developed and demonstrated emotional control in their dating will have a tremendous foundation for a strong marriage, within which they can continually cultivate and express wholehearted affection, and deeper and deeper love!