About a week and a half ago, I got a chance to share a message on dating guardrails for our high school students at Advance (senior high ministry meeting at the St. John Campus on Sunday nights). I was surprised both at how much fun I had preparing for the message and teaching on the topic, and also at how passionate I am about it. While I am probably one of the least qualified people to offer advice to anyone about winning the affections of the opposite sex, I have definitely seen guardrails play an enormously helpful role in my dating life and I loved having the opportunity to share on this with others.
Dating is one of the most influential things in the life of any person who’s single and hoping to be married one day. Obviously, when you are dating someone, that person has huge influence in your life. We all know people (maybe it’s you!) who have made some unwise decisions not because we wanted to, but because we were influenced in a particular direction by a person we were dating. Even if you’re not dating anyone, you can still be easily influenced by someone you hope to date. Case and point: In high school I had a big crush on a girl who liked country music. So, even though I’d rather pluck every single hair in my body out individually than listen to country, guess who went to WalMart and bought some Keith Urban CD’s? This guy. I would never think of listening to such a thing, yet because I was looking to date someone… you get the picture.
I shared this list of dating guardrails I presented at Advance on Monday via Facebook, and I was absolutely floored at how many people commented and shared these. Apparently dating guardrails are a big deal. While these guardrails are only my personal convictions, I think these are a great idea for anyone to adopt as a single person. So, without further ado, here they are (with some explanation below):
1. No missionary dating. “Missionary dating” is when a non-Christian person and a Christian person start dating. Now please hear that I’m all about helping people who don’t know Jesus to come to have a relationship with him. It’s why I’m a pastor. But this is just a stupid idea in a romantic relationship. As a Christ follower, the path and flow of your life is absolutely different from that of the world. So at a very base level, you and your significant other aren’t going to be compatible when you both aren’t Christ followers. I’ve seen many a relational heartbreak happen simply because this principle wasn’t observed. I’ve seen divorces happen where this is the underlying reason. It’s just not a smart idea (not to mention unbiblical… see 2 Corinthians 6). Yeah, it will mean less dates and more Saturdays at home. But it also means way less headaches, pain, and heartbreak. Just don’t do it.
2. Figure out what’s important to you… and stick to it. Out of all of these guardrails, this is the one I see practiced the most, which I think is great. You need to know what you’re looking for, quite simply because if you don’t know, you’ll end up dating just whomever comes along. Not a smart idea. So make a list of the things you’re looking for in a future spouse. Two cautions here, though. One, you need to stick to it. That means you don’t compromise just because you feel lonely or desperate. And secondly, your list shouldn’t be long. Three to five is a great length. Mine is “intelligent, grace-oriented, and brings out the best in me/challenges me” (I’m assuming “Christ follower” and “attractive” are already on your list). More than five and you’re being too picky on your non-negotiables. Less than three, and I think you’re not being picky enough.
3. Set your physical guardrails together, early on in the relationship, and before you ever get physical. Whether you realize it or not, everyone sets a physical guardrail at some point. The problem is that most people aren’t thinking about this guardrail until they’re in “the moment” and it’s too late. That’s not a wise place to set a guardrail. You need one well in advance. And you need to talk about this together. Yes, it’s awkward. But knowing the boundaries is helpful in avoiding future temptation. And plus, if your boyfriend or girlfriend scoffs at you for being “too conservative” or doesn’t think you need to set boundaries, you have an immediate indication you should end the relationship. Life is too short to date someone who’s trying to push and pressure you into crossing lines you feel uncomfortable crossing.
4. Set guardrails on where you can and can’t be alone together. Similar to #3, but this time dealing with setting. There are just some places you should never be alone together as a couple if you are serious about not caving in physically (someone’s bedroom alone is a great example). Be smart about this, and set some guardrails here to avoid future regrets.
5. If you are constantly needing to explain away your significant other’s behavior, you need to end the relationship. This is a big one. I’ve had plenty of friends (no offense, but normally women) who are wonderful people that have dated class A jerks. And when he does something stupid, says something disrespectful, objectifies her, or even physically harms her, she defends him! This should not be. Ladies (and fellas), let me give you some advice: the people who are worth holding onto won’t make you defend them. I’m far from perfect, but I know that I strive to live in a way where people don’t have to apologize for me. And if they do, I want them to lovingly confront me and help me deal with sinful behavior. So if you find yourself needing to constantly make excuses for someone else (“Well, he had a tough childhood” or “Well, she is having a bad day”), dump them. They need a counselor, not a significant other.
6. You need to end the relationship when the wise people around you start pointing out red flags. Closely related to #5, but if the wise people around you (trusted friends, parents, people in your ministry team or community group) start pointing out some red flags to you about your significant other, you just need to dump them. One of the great things about “falling in love” is that it makes us blissfully unaware. But that’s also one of the dangers of love. So if the people around you who love you speak up, chances are they are doing so because they love you and see something big that they are concerned about and that you should be concerned about too.
7. If you can’t be single (if dating/relationships have become an idol to you), you need to take a relationship break. This has been a big one for me. In the Bible, an idol is simply something that takes a higher position in our life than our relationship with God. And for 24 years of my life, this had been the case with relationships. I expected being in a relationship or getting married to fix all the problems in my life. But I have a news flash: No relationship in your life can come close to filling the hole in your heart that exists when a relationship with God isn’t the #1 priority. It just doesn’t work. So if you’re finding that you have made dating and relationships an idol (a great indication is if you just can’t be single), you need to take a break. At least six months, maybe a year. I did it this winter/spring, and I saw God recalibrate my relational life in some enormously positive ways. Yep, it’s tough. But it’s so worth it.
So that’s what I’ve got (sorry for such a long post). Any dating guardrails you’ve found helpful? Feel free to share those here! Dating is an often messy and complex thing. But I think it’s also a great platform where we can display the glory of God through following Him, making wise decisions, and setting guardrails.