Better Love

Purpose in Dating

Does your dating have purpose? What do you mean, Ron? Isn’t the purpose of dating to find the right person—my soul mate? No, it isn’t. Let me explain.

I always question when I hear someone say they are looking for their soul mate, because for most people, finding someone has nothing to do with their soul or eternity. A 2001 study of dating attitudes of twenty-year-olds found that an overwhelming majority (94 percent) of never-married singles agree that “when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.” But only 42 percent believe “it is important to find a spouse who shares your religion.” Are you kidding me? How can they remotely qualify as a soul mate and not share your core beliefs and guiding spiritual convictions? (I guess to them, a soul mate has little to do with spirituality.) Remember, single parents, this person is going to have an eternal influence on your kids. Isn’t finding someone with your same spiritual beliefs of the utmost importance?

No, apparently what the average person looking for a soul mate is really saying is, “I’m looking for the person who is easy for me to love; someone who will fulfill my needs and who knows just how to love me.” Sounds pretty selfish, doesn’t it? Soul-mate shopping is nothing more than consumerism applied to dating. The mentality is to date as many people as you can—or as one writer said it, test drive people to see which you like best—and stop when you find the one that meets your expectations and needs.

The problem with this attitude is fourfold. First, it assumes the test driver contributes nothing to the quality of the developing relationship, which, of course, you do. Second, the consumer’s criteria for their purchase is completely selfish. Even if you find someone who seems to make you happy, they won’t be able to sustain it forever. This usually isn’t obvious until marriage, which is when most people begin to think, Maybe you weren’t my soul mate after all—I must have made a mistake. Third, it mistakenly places too much emphasis on your happiness as a couple and not enough on the role the stepparent will have as a parent. And fourth, the consumer attitude toward dating assumes that God has purposed marriage to make us happy. He has, but not in the way most expect.

A Match Made in Heaven: God’s Purpose in Relationships, Marriage, and Family

When we’re children, God uses our family to teach us important lessons about obedience, submission, and respect for authority. Learning these lessons makes it more likely that we’ll gain respect for God’s authority. In parenting, God teaches us about nurture, providing for those you love, and how far you will go to rescue one of your own. We also learn about free will (he lets us create life and struggle with the reality of not being able to control it!) and humility (praying for your kids will drive you to your knees!). In friendships, God teaches us about loyalty and living in community. In being single, God teaches us about trusting him with our aloneness and not turning marriage into an idol.

God uses marriage to teach us about commitment, sacrifice, forgiveness, and selfless love. In the physical, emotional, and spiritual depth of sex, God teaches us about surrender, vulnerability, and oneness. In crisis, God reminds us of kingdom priorities and the limits of materialism, and he recalibrates our faith and trust toward him. And in facing death, God invites us to live in light of what is eternal. In all of these life experiences and relationships, God invites us to walk with him: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

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In all of this, God is purposing to make us holy and healthy and eternally happy. He knows what is best for us, and each relationship and season of family life invites us to trust him and know him more deeply. And therein lies the rub. Making us eternally happy usually doesn’t satisfy our selfishness today; instead, it requires us to grow up a lot emotionally—which is painful. Ask yourself if you are open to what God is teaching you about him in your singleness. Are you pursuing him as much as he is pursuing you?

The Process of Dating

Having a spiritually determined purpose in dating will help to set your attitude in the right direction. It also helps to have a sense of the process or stages of dating. Thinking through the overall process helps you to know where you are in the journey and what tasks lie ahead. It also helps you gauge the depth of a developing relationship and whether it will hold water.

In general, single parent dating will move through the following stages: It starts, if you are the single parent, by preparing yourself and the kids for dating; if you are single without children, it starts by assessing your openness to dating someone with kids and welcoming them into your life. From there, the stages consist of forming an initial couple relationship; initial dating partner and child relationships; serious dating and deepening couple and dating partner-child bonds; making decisions about marriage; and preparing for a wedding and blended family living.

• Also see Marriage Preparation  Remarriage

Adapted from Dating and the Single Parent by Ron Deal

Copyright 2013 © Ron Deal. Published by Bethany House, Used with permission.