He Said-She Said: Is Casual Dating Okay?
- Cliff Young & Laura MacCorkle Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer & Senior Editor
- 2008 5 May
EDITOR’S NOTE: Each He Said-She Said column features a reader's question with responses from a male and female point of view. If you’ve got a question about anything related to living the single life, please click here to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).
QUESTION: Is casual dating okay for a single Christian?
HE SAID: Prior to answering this, we must clarify what is meant by “casual dating.” By definition (Merriam-Webster.com), casual means “occurring by chance … occurring without regularity … showing little concern … done without commitment.” And dating means “to go out on usually romantic dates.” Date is not defined in the sense that we are speaking.
This isn’t surprising to me, that date is not defined. It is rarely “defined” and can carry a range of meanings, depending upon who you ask. From just the definitions that we have for casual, two people can have all sorts of ideas and expectations at the outset of a relationship and come away with a variety of mixed messages. If one enters in “by chance” (or by God’s divine intervention) and another person enters in “showing little concern or without commitment,” there will be a huge discrepancy of emotions involved.
In college, my roommates and I determined that a “date” had to consist of three elements, there had to be interest in the other person, we had to spend money, and we had to go out somewhere. In those days, we were pretty simplistic in the way we thought, but we did highlight one element that is important to note, interest.
Before I elaborate on this element, I would like to share some thoughts on dating itself.
Before dating, it’s important to ask yourself “Why are you dating?” And “What is your purpose for dating?” Whether you are trying to find Mr. or Mrs. Right or trying to avoid sitting at home another Saturday night, it is crucial to be honest with yourself and answer these two questions prior to dating at all.
If you don’t have a purpose, you will always achieve it.
My philosophy as a youth leader was to encourage the guys to spend as much time as possible with a “person of interest” in a casual friendship before actually dating. In this way, they could observe the girl, watch her with her friends and discover things about her before actually going out together. Many times the guys discovered that they really didn’t want to date the girl after all and it spared feelings, emotions, and group dynamics. Observing and learning about a person before “dating” them is important, especially if you both worship or work together.
In any relationship, communication is vital to the success of the relationship. One of the first discussions to consider having with the other person is your purpose and intention for going out. Even though we would like to think that we all have the same intentions, many people will have different reasons and expectations. I have been in a number of dating relationships where I later found out that she was not dating me. It is always best to be open and honest in your communication.
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.
The media gives us a skewed outlook on how women should be treated on dates and otherwise. They depict the Biblical perspective to be outdated and archaic. However, when I became a Christian, one commitment that I made to myself was that I would treat any girl that I would date as a sister or as I would want some other guy to treat my future wife. When I put my dating relationships into that perspective, it altered the way that I approached dating altogether.
Treat ... younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.
— 1 Timothy 5:2
When entering into a relationship, be careful to protect your heart and the heart of the other person. Physical interaction of any sort (i.e. holding hands, hugging, kissing, etc.) should not be a part of any casual relationship. Besides the obvious confusion it brings to an uncommitted relationship, it can also lead to temptation of further physical intimacy. Many do not often go out casually in order to serve someone else’s need; the focus is upon themselves and their own needs.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.
— Proverbs 4:23
A non-scientific study found that in nearly every male-female friendship, at one time or another, one person has thought about the relationship as more than a friendship. This brings me back to the question of casual dating and interest.
There is nothing wrong with hanging out with someone, spending time with people you enjoy being with, or going out with the intention of getting to know someone better. However, is a desire to “casually date” in the best interest of pursuing what God wants for you or has called you to do? If you have no interest in a person, what would be the purpose of “dating” that person? There is none. If you do have an interest in a person, why wouldn’t you want to pursue that interest more than in a casual way?
If your purpose in life is to discover and experience the very best that God has for you, whether it be a mate or anything else, pursue it intentionally and with all of your strength. Be open to how the Lord can work in your life, relationally and otherwise. Sometimes He puts people into our life in order for us to see ourselves in a different light and sometimes He gives us the person we need in a different package than we are looking for. In every case, seek someone who is like-minded spiritually, one with whom you will be “equally yoked,” and one who will encourage you to live a Christ-filled life in a Christ-like way.
Pursue a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.
— 1 Timothy 6:11b
Therefore, my answer to the question would be, “no.”
You may say, ‘I am allowed to do anything.’ But I reply, ‘Not everything is good for you.’
— 1 Corinthians 6:12
SHE SAID: Okay, well Cliff and I must be working with different dictionary editions, because I did find a definition for the word date that is probably more in line with what you were thinking.
Now granted, it was the second entry of the noun form of date and the fourth definition listed underneath that. But hey … I found it!
Here’s how Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defined a date:
a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character
So essentially, a date is a scheduled, agreed-upon event when two people, who are interested in more than friendship with each other, spend time together in a setting where they can get to know each other better.
With that definition in mind, I think it’s only logical to then ask: what is the purpose of dating? For some, dating might represent something to do to pass the time. Why [see a movie, go bowling, attend a concert, etc.] alone, when you can do this with someone else?
For others, perhaps those who are ready to marry, the purpose of dating is more focused. The participants are acquiring information so that each will know more about the other. This research will help in deciding how much more time he or she would like to spend together and if the relationship is one that could lead to a permanent relationship (marriage).
Truth be told, the dating pool is getting murkier and harder to navigate in the 21st century—especially when male and female roles seemed to have flip-flopped. I think the whole getting-to-know-you process was more simplified and clear-cut back in Bible times, although it’s interesting that the words dating or date are never used in Scripture. But there a few examples—albeit extraordinary ones that I’m sure begot a lot of “How I Met Your Mother” storytelling sessions—that show how two unattached people met and interacted with each other before marriage (Genesis 24, Ruth 2).
In those days and on up until the 1960s or so, people generally stayed under the covering of their families for much longer. Folks didn’t move around as much as they do today, which means eligible young men and women would have known each other (and each other’s families) for many years. They might have attended the same church or lived down the street from one another their entire lives. They might have attended the same social functions (weddings, new baby celebrations, religious events, community gatherings, etc.) and would have seen each other and interacted in a variety of non-dating type of settings.
Today, in a time when people don’t even know their neighbors’ names, I think your question is very valid. Especially if you and your romantic interest didn’t grow up together in the same town, don’t know each other’s families, don’t attend the same church, don’t have friends in common or don’t work together, etc. If this is the case, then there aren’t a whole lot of options left for how to get to know one another other than dating.
And so that leads me to a question regarding your question. You ask, “Is casual dating okay for a single Christian?” And I ask, “What do you mean by the descriptor casual?”
Maybe you are referring to the initial time period of dating when you’ve just started going out and are getting to know one another—up until the point that you know you want to get serious with someone. And so you would then move from being casual to serious in your dating relationship. This is how I’m interpreting your use of this term.
Whether dating is casual or serious, I think it can be potentially dangerous when two people are not on the same page as it relates to intent. It seems as though one of the involved parties is always more interested—and his/her heart more invested—than the other. My advice would be this: If you know that you will never be interested in moving from casual to serious dating, then it’s time to have a DTR (define the relationship) talk. In other words, what are you both thinking and where do you each want the relationship to go?
The point that you realize whether it is only a casual relationship or has the potential to become a serious relationship is the point at which you must either both agree to have a casual relationship (until one party feels otherwise), end the relationship, or move forward to a more vested level (serious).
You must take into account the feelings of the other party involved. Try looking at it from this way: if you were dating someone who knew that he/she was only interested in a casual dating relationship with you—and you were feeling more in the serious vein—would you want to know? Probably so. And you would probably want to guard your heart.
- “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3).
- “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2).
You may or may not be in a casual dating relationship right now. But if you are, can you say that you are taking the above verses into account in how you treat the person you are dating? Are you caring about the other person’s feelings and interpretations of your actions and motives just as much as you are your own? Do you care that the other party will not get hurt and that you will not mislead him/her?
Or are you playing games with someone’s heart? Are you stringing this person along just so that you won’t be alone again this Saturday night and so you will have someone to date? Is it more important to you to have someone on your arm or rather that you truly and genuinely care about the person you are dating?
These are important questions to ask and answer before you begin any kind of dating relationship—casual or serious. “A social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character” involves feelings and intentions and is wide open for interpretation.
I won’t candy-coat it: dating is risky. You can’t always see where you’re going out there. So be prayerful and let God's Word light your way before you embark upon any type of relationship. Also ... communicate, communicate, communicate! And take responsibility for how your actions and words impact the other party.
Remember, if you are both believers then he/she is not just a romantic interest—but your brother/sister in Christ as well.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
— Philippians 1:9-11
HE is … Cliff Young, a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.
SHE is … Laura MacCorkle, Crosswalk.com’s Senior Entertainment Editor. Since she’s only lived in four states in the continental U.S. and dipped her toes in just two oceans, she would one day like to experience life abroad … preferably where the views are lofty, the food is tasty and the shopping is cheap-y.
DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We’re just average folk who understand what it’s like to live the solo life in the 21st century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life’s questions, and it’s where we’ll go for guidance when responding to your questions.
GOT A QUESTION? If you’ve got a question about anything related to living the single life, please CLICK HERE to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously). While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that He Said-She Said will be an encouragement to you.
**This column first published on May 8, 2008.