February 2021 was one of the hardest and longest months of my life. I still felt the aches of my last breakup. My social media feed and texts frequently flooded with news about close friends who were getting engaged and married. I felt a yearning to date like never before. I didn’t know who, but I really wanted a girlfriend. My thoughts were constantly filled with dreams of dating, buying flowers, and going to the movies. While these can all be a good things, during this season I easily lost sight of God’s truths and what my values in dating should be.
Maybe you find yourself in a similar place. It’s Valentine’s Day, and as our society’s celebration of romance clashes with our own longings to be in a relationship, we might become tempted to compromise our values in our dating relationships, to view marriage as our ultimate aim, or to despair at what feels like incurable loneliness. But God calls us to integrity, even in our dating relationships. Here are a few perspectives to keep in mind as you strive to date with integrity:
1. View one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
In our pursuit of dating, we often lose sight of how we’re connected to the objects of our attraction. As believers, we’re called to consider romantic relationships only with other believers (1 Cor. 7:39, 2 Cor. 6:14). In our relationships with other Christians—whether romantic or platonic—God’s word beautifully tells us that because of our common salvation in Christ and adoption by his Holy Spirit, we’re deeply bonded to one another (Rom. 8:15, 12:5, Gal. 3:28). Furthermore, this reality of bondedness in Christ isn’t only for this life, but also for the life to come (Rom. 8:17).
Our desire to have a romantic relationship that feeds our own felt needs can lead us to forget this great reality. Consequently, we may be tempted to see our brothers and sisters most frequently as potential spouses rather than who they are to us at that moment and forever: our brothers and sisters in Christ. When I first began dating my now-wife, I struggled with this. My mind easily drifted to thinking about our potential future together instead of loving her as my sister in Christ, which meant being content getting to know her in our current phase and respecting her as a friend. Even in our fervent pursuit of dating, we ought to be guided by the New Testament exhortations to love one another as brothers and sisters (Rom 12:10, Eph. 4:32, Heb. 10:24–25, 1 Pet. 4:9).
2. View relationships as an opportunity for God to work in and through you.
In our dating pursuits, we can easily believe our desire for a significant other is more important and pressing than our convictions and callings from God’s word. And these flipped priorities can distort the way we evaluate success. Is a relationship only a success if it results in marriage? Breakups often feel like the relationship and dating endeavor was a failure or, worse, a waste of time. But this assessment is too narrow. While incredibly hard to avoid, this thinking shows that we’re solely focused on external and temporary successes.
Long-lasting dating relationships aren’t a guarantee of success. Many long-time couples have unhealthy relationships that aren’t focused on Christ or on loving and serving the other person. Regardless of how a dating relationship ends, the more important and meaningful marker of well-spent time and effort is our conduct toward one another.
Longevity in a relationship doesn’t answer how well we’ve encouraged, built up, and promoted truth with our significant other, be it for five weeks or fifty years (Exod. 20:16, Prov. 16:24, Eph. 4:29, 1 Thess. 5:11). Rather than counting the length of days, it would be better to consider how well we’ve respected, desired, and promoted the purity, holiness, and growth of the other (1 Cor. 6:18–20, 1 Thess. 4:1–7).
Thinking in this light, we ought to measure our dating with a more powerful and pressing question: Was God glorified and did I love my neighbor well? (Matt. 22:37–40, Rom. 13:8–10). With this aim in mind, we can praise God for his work in our lives even through relationships that don’t end the way we hoped.
3. View Christ as your ultimate treasure.
We certainly will not always be able to say we’ve glorified God and loved our neighbors well. We will fail in our relationships, hurting others and being hurt by them. There is one more area of integrity that we must maintain in dating so that we won’t be crushed by disappointment and reliance on our own righteousness. In dating, we need to—above all else—treasure Christ.
When we treasure Christ, we find that our hearts are satisfied in a way that nothing else can bring (John 4:14, 6:35, Phil. 3:4–8). Setting our hope and joy in the glory of our Savior, Jesus Christ, not only gives us great contentment but also helps us keep our priorities straight. In valuing God above all else, we rightly recognize and praise God as the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). This provokes us to thankfulness for God’s care and provision and helps us resist the temptation of elevating the gift of a significant other above the giver. It also prevents us from placing impossible burdens and expectations on a boyfriend or girlfriend. Profoundly, having Christ as our treasure molds how we love and view our neighbor.
As I face the long and dark month of February with a new wife, I am not cured of lonely feelings and struggles with sin. However, instead of looking to a relationship for hope, treasuring Christ has freed me from having burdensome expectations for my spouse and has reminded me of where my true hope and joy is, for this life and the next—in Christ (Ps. 16:11, Col. 3:1–4).
God’s promises will sustain us through the challenging moments of dating, breakups, and heartbreaks. In these difficult valleys, we remember that the Lord is near to us and able to heal our wounds (Ps. 34:18, 147:3). Furthermore, we don’t carry our burden alone. We trust in our gracious, tender, and loving Savior who said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Married or single, dating or not, we cling with hope to this heavenly perspective: In Christ, we have abundant and eternal life (John 10:10).