Written By Elizabeth Hogsten, USA
I used to be averse to the idea of casual dating.
First of all, it just sounded so messy and uncomfortable. (Make small talk for an hour with someone I barely know? No thanks.) Second, it seemed worldly. I grew up in the I Kissed Dating Goodbye* era, and I thrived on all the courtship advice. Why bother dating a bunch of people, possibly getting hurt in the process, when I could skip straight to meeting my future husband?
I wasn’t going to kiss until the altar. I wasn’t going to date until it could possibly end in marriage—so high school romances were out. And I certainly wasn’t going to share any private meals with complete strangers. I would wait until a friendship organically developed into romance. But that never happened.
Instead, I experienced a lot of disappointment and heartbreak, all without going on a single date.
Having said that, I don’t regret any of the years I avoided casual dating. There have been many more years of singleness than I expected, but they have been rich years full of adventure, discovery, and intimacy with the greatest love of all. There were seasons in which dating would have been a distraction for me. I’m thankful for the time I have had to get to know myself and grow in confidence as a woman of God.
However, looking back, I can see that a big reason I stayed away from dating was fear. I didn’t want to get hurt, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone else. But intimacy in any relationship requires vulnerability, and vulnerability means opening yourself up to the possibility of pain. Although I succeeded in avoiding dating for most of my life, I did not succeed in avoiding pain.
Waiting on God to bring your spouse into your life can be an act of faith, but it can also be motivated by fear or passivity. Similarly, taking the initiative in dating can be motivated by rebellion or desperation, but it can also be an act of faith. The essential question is whether you are either waiting or dating with God or apart from Him.
This season, I’ve sensed God leading me into the adventure of casual dating. Not just accepting it as an avenue for other less sensitive people to take, but actually doing it.
If you fall, I will catch you, He says. So in faith, I am taking Him at His word.
Casual dating has definitely been an adventure so far. I have often felt like I was in over my head––unsure how to make small talk with complete strangers, unsure how open to be––but I have learned a lot, especially about myself.
For anyone out there who is trying to navigate (or considering navigating) the casual dating world, here are some tips I can give you, based on my experiences so far.
Don’t overthink it.
I basically break this rule every day of my life in regard to everything, and especially my love life. But if you can, it’s good advice to follow.
In the beginning, even clicking “like” on a guy’s dating app profile seemed like a big deal, but I have come to think of dating apps and the connections I make through them as doors. Opportunities. Instead of desperately searching for connections, growing frustrated when they don’t happen, or freaking out when they do, I remind myself that I am simply opening doors through which a relationship could come.
Do involve God.
However, even the act of opening doors would be frightening if I were doing it apart from God. The unknown is scary, which is why this process has led me to rely even more on God, which could never be a bad thing.
At every step, allow God to test your motives and to speak into the process. Don’t assume that you know what He will say: instead, seek His counsel. Often, His answers surprise me. He doesn’t lead me based on a formula, but as part of a process.
Sometimes, it’s not the right time. Sometimes, it’s not the right guy for you to be giving your time to. Other times, it may feel uncomfortable to you, but God wants to stretch you through the interaction.
So pay attention to what He says. He always knows best. And know He is there with you at all times, protecting you, comforting you, and even smiling and laughing with you.
Stay open, but know your boundaries.
The best surprises of my casual dating adventures have come from being generous in my “likes” on dating apps. Some people may not seem like “your type” at first glance. But some people just aren’t photogenic or good at conveying their sense of humor via an app profile. The whole fun of casual dating is that you get to meet people whom you wouldn’t otherwise. Let yourself be surprised.
However, if the person crosses moral boundaries or reveals that God doesn’t play a large role in their life, don’t compromise. You deserve better than that.
Don’t let yourself get sucked into an infatuation with someone who pulls you away from God. And don’t compromise your boundaries for the sake of saving or bettering the other person either. Leave that to God and move on. God is more than capable of helping that person without sacrificing your heart in the process.
Don’t date in a bubble.
Involving other people in the dating process is invaluable. Not just good friends with whom you can laugh about the awkward moments, but mature, honest people who can hold you accountable.
The nature of casual dating is that you get to know someone backwards. You start not with friendship or observation in a natural group setting, but intimate one-on-one interaction. Starting with dating as the stated goal makes things clearer in some ways, but slightly more dangerous in others.
“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song of Songs 8:4)
The dating atmosphere can easily awaken desires that may have little to do with the person who is in front of you and much more to do with the situation itself. Attention from the opposite sex can be addictive. That addiction can cloud your judgment.
So be sure to invite trusted friends or mentors into the process who aren’t afraid to call you out and ask the pointed questions. And if you’re a little naive like me, you might also want to consult people with more dating experience who can help you better read situations and make wise choices.
Be authentic, but in stages.
It’s generally not a good idea to interrogate someone about their theological beliefs via text. Probably not on the first date either. Maybe not even on the second.
For me, this is one of the hardest parts of casual dating. You have to start off casual!
I’d prefer to get everything out in the open right away so we can evaluate whether we would make good life partners or not. But I also want a genuine friendship, and that’s not usually how healthy friendships develop. My most solid friendships have developed slowly, not in a rush.
So start with small talk. Build the rapport gradually. Throw in a teasing comment. Try to find common ground. Give the connection a chance to grow.
Embrace rejection as part of the process.
If a guy clearly isn’t for you, don’t feel bad about closing that door. (For me, if he mentions partying or starts spewing vulgarities, I bow out as quickly as possible.)
You’re going to be rejected, and you are going to reject others. It’s just part of it. It’s one of the more scary, uncomfortable parts of dating, but it’s okay. Rejection builds character.
Don’t forget to affirm yourself for your courage throughout the casual dating process. And don’t waste too much time feeling bad for those you reject. Be considerate, but don’t feel a need to explain yourself in detail to every stranger you encounter. If you’re not feeling it, closing that door is really doing both of you a favor.
You will be disappointed during the process, but let that disappointment point you back to God. Let it set you even more firmly in your foundation in Him. Our hope should never be in another person, in circumstances, or even in ourselves. Those things will all fail us, but He never will.
For me, one of the hardest parts of casual dating is the near misses: the guys who are attractive and decent, but lack intimacy with God; the guys who have admirable character, but aren’t any fun. Going on dates or receiving playful texts can remind me of disappointments and heartbreak of the past. But though facing those feelings can be hard, processing them with God also brings healing.
At times I’m tempted to think this whole process is a waste of my time, but then God shows me that what I’m learning is invaluable.
As I meet different people, I learn more about what I’m attracted to in a guy, what I need in a relationship, and what I value in life. As I face my fears, I am set free from the limitations of the past. And, as I submit to the journey God has set me on, my trust in Him grows. Sometimes, it feels like He has me on a rollercoaster with sudden twists and stomach-dropping turns. But I am learning that I am safely strapped in. I don’t know what is coming, but He does. And I trust Him.
Lastly, try your best to enjoy the ride. You may or may not meet your soul mate through casual dating, but you will definitely encounter opportunities to grow as a person. Not to mention collecting awkward stories to tell.
So press in through the difficulties, laugh at the awkwardness, and stay hopeful. Don’t forget how fiercely you are loved by the One who made you. God sees your boldness, kindness, and faith through the process as beautiful. He knows what is best, and dating, married, or single, He will not stop persisting in giving it to you.
*I Kissed Dating Goodbye is a book by Joshua Harris that came out in 1997. In it, Harris promotes courtship over traditional dating, arguing that traditional dating can be selfish and bring unnecessary heartache.