Three months ago I went on my first date.
I planned my outfit days in advance. My mom took pictures of me. My stomach was a knot of nervous (and excited) anticipation. My date and I had been friends for a while and we both liked each other, so it was a natural step. But no one knows how a first date will go. Will there be awkward silence? Will I say something stupid? Will we even like hanging out one-on-one?
This date went perfectly, though, which led to second, third, fourth, and many dates since then.
But entering the dating world still felt scary. And complicated. How do we date to the glory of God? Or are we supposed to call it courtship? What’s the difference? And how involved should our parents be? What about boundaries? Since God’s Word doesn’t provide specific answers to these questions, young Christians are often left feeling overwhelmed and confused. I’ve definitely been there.
But I’ve also had a sense of confidence, because my parents invested the time in preparing me to date well. Throughout my teen years, they both taught me intentionally and cultivated organic habits that contributed to my understanding of dating.
I’m certainly no expert (I’ve been dating for a grand total of 100 days), but I’ve learned a lot about how to prepare to date—and how to prepare my future children to date.
For parents of kids or teenagers, here are six of those things:
1. Encourage open communication.
From as early as I can remember, I knew that I could talk to my parents about anything—questions, crushes, curiosities. No topic was off-limits. If I had questions about relationships, my parents wanted me to ask them. If I disagreed with them, I was welcome to voice that and dialogue about it. Fostering open and regular age-appropriate communication was the foundation of helping me prepare for (and then navigate!) a dating relationship.
Learning to communicate well with the people you’re closest to is key for a healthy relationship. By training your kids to prioritize communication, you’re training them to enter a romantic relationship equipped with the tools to encourage openingly, criticize honestly, and forgive freely.
2. Read biblical books on romance together.
My parents and I have read a lot of books together—including a lot of Christian books on dating and marriage. These sparked loads of healthy conversations and nuggets of wisdom I’m applying today. However, I also learned that no book can perfectly prepare you for your own unique story, and forcing a certain system or formula onto your relationship is not always ideal.
Reading these books was always in connection with reading God’s Word together. My parents led family worship each night, and as we read through books like Proverbs, they never passed up an opportunity to instruct my brother and me on the wisdom of choosing a godly partner.
3. Dispel rom-com fantasies.
My mom and I love a good, clean romantic comedy (we binge Hallmark Christmas movies with the endurance of Olympic athletes). But we also love poking fun at them, because something my mom has done since I was young is show me the unreality of them. Let’s get real: Who wears full makeup to bed every night and wakes up looking flawless? Life is not like a rom-com; it’s much more ordinary, unglamorous, and boring.
And it’s critical to learn this before entering a relationship. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself terribly disappointed.
That’s something my boyfriend and I are trying to incorporate into our relationship now. We don’t want every date to be flashy and magical because that’s just not a reflection of real life. So instead of always dressing up and going to fancy restaurants, we go shoe shopping together and play board games with my brother and get ice cream from McDonald’s.
The Bible shows us that all of life should be about loving God most and serving those around us (Matthew 22:36-39). Romantic relationships should reflect those priorities, and my parents taught me that early. They helped me see that sequestering ourselves from community and accountability and idolizing romantic feelings is unwise and unbiblical.
4. Discourage starting too early.
When I was 15, I bought a t-shirt that said, “No Boyfriend, No Drama.” My dad loved that shirt. And there is a lot of wisdom in it! Teens deal with a lot of drama—and romantic relationships severely amplify that drama. But that’s not the only (or even best) reason to discourage dating in middle or high school.
The Bible doesn’t have a category for casual dating. It has a category for friendship, and it has a category for marriage. That space in between should be intentional. I don’t think God’s Word leaves room for casually dating purely “for fun” (with no desire for commitment). The Bible calls us to pursue purity and to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Because of that, I’m dating because I want to see if my boyfriend and I are compatible for marriage. That’s why I wholeheartedly agree with Marshall Segal’s advice: “Wait to date until you can marry.” So don’t let your kids start too early. By saving them from potentially unwise or premature relationships, you’re teaching them that “the greatest prize in any life, regardless of our relationship status, is to know Christ and be known by him, to love him and be loved by him.”
5. Instill the importance of character.
During my pre-teen and young-teen years, my parents and I often talked about the importance of character. Character was particularly important in choosing friends. As I got older, my mom helped me understand that the character I looked for in a friend should be the same character I looked for in a boyfriend. Is he honest? Does he have integrity? Is he hard-working? Is he encouraging? Character is key.
My mom was especially concerned that I learn about character before I start dating because, as she warned, “Mr. Dreamy” can change everything. Romantic feelings and physical attraction can manipulate and deceive us. When someone attractive starts showing an interest in you, it’s tempting to follow your heart into danger. But if your primary focus is character, you’ll be better able to exercise discernment and self-control. Train your kids to love God’s truth and pursue his wisdom above all else.
6. Model a healthy relationship.
Over the years, my parents taught me a lot of profound lessons, but nothing prepared me to date better than watching them model a healthy and biblical relationship. Next February they’ll celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary. They’ve consistently modeled a relationship built on mutual trust and faithfulness, encouragement, service, and genuine respect for one another.
Of course, it hasn’t always been perfect—but that’s taught me too! They’ve helped me see how relationships are hard work. They’re messy, they’re complicated, and they require dying daily to yourself for the sake of another person. That’s what a gospel-shaped life looks like, because that’s what Jesus’ life looked like.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:3-8)
Doing romance God’s way requires more than feelings and fluff; it requires humility and selflessness. It requires repentance and reconciliation. That’s not easy.
But it is worth it, because relationships are incredibly good gifts from an unbelievably kind God. He’s given us relationships to reflect his character and goodness. He’s given marriage as a picture of Christ and the church. And he’s given us romance to glorify him and sanctify us, to increase our worship and our humility, and to bring joy and wonder to our lives.
That’s the kind of romance I want.