When I was freshman in college, a friend and I decided to make a list of all of the qualities we wanted in a man. I was just coming out of a completely dysfunctional relationship and felt like I needed to really lock down what it was that I was looking for in my future husband. The list was over a hundred items long, everything from “must be perpetually tan” and “grows his own vegetables out back” to “loves even the worst parts of me” and “desires to live like Jesus”. And with my trusty list in hand, off I went to find him. I never stopped to think about the importance of growing as a person, and reaching towards those qualities in my own self.
When I first met my husband, Eric, I had just graduated college and was coming out of four years of poor choices, messy relationships, and self-destruction. I was raw and vulnerable, an infant barely toddling on her own two legs. Eric had been a year ahead of me in college, but I had a few friends who played lacrosse with him, so I knew who he was. I had always assumed that he was a full-of-it jock, so when we came face to face through mutual friends, I never considered dating him. Maybe that’s why I trusted him with all my imperfections.
When Eric and I started dating it was the blind leading the blind. Eric hadn’t seriously dated anyone since high school, and I had never really had a functional relationship. Neither one of us were really interested in dating for the fun of it, we weren’t going to waste our time in a relationship that we didn’t think would end in marriage. So we decided early on that we were going to be really honest about who we were and what we wanted in life. We were going to be open to differences, and sensitive to the things we both needed to work through. If there were a catch phrase for our relationship it would have to be grace. We were intentional about how we treated each other. We were intentionally dating each other.
Dating intentionally has often gotten a reputation for being weird. A lot of people mistake it for some kind of pre-engagement agreement to only date a person you know for fact you will marry. So not true! Dating intentionally is not a rulebook, it’s not about shame or perfection or getting everything right all the time. It’s about honesty and trust and realness. When you’re dating someone intentionally you are giving it all you’ve got, you are working out the tough stuff, embracing the good stuff, and everything in between.
Eric and I were careful to set boundaries with each other. Not just physically, but emotionally too. We didn’t spill our whole lives to each other the first night we met, but little by little, as we learned to trust each other, we shared more and more of our deepest selves. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new relationship and to jump into it with high expectations and little boundaries. It’s okay to take things slow, to really figure out who this other person is, and who you are together.
Dating intentionally doesn’t mean that you have to end up with someone just because you have chosen to date them, so take a deep breath. It merely means that you are dating with the intention of working towards marriage, not just passing the time until something better comes along. And believe me, if I had been intentionally dating from the beginning I would have saved myself so much pain and heartache. The relationship you are in affects the way you see yourself and the world around you, so take the time to really know the important things about each other. And if you take that time and realize that it isn’t something that will work long term, that’s okay! You can intentionally date and not marry the first person you happen to lock eyes with, that’s kind of the whole point.
So to sum it up! Boundaries are super important! Know where you stand on your physical and emotional boundaries and then talk about it. Communication is key. You don’t need to tell each other everything in the first three months, but be open to having hard conversations and growing in vulnerability with each other. It’s not going to be perfect and it’s not going to be easy; but real love, the kind that God desires for us, is rooted in the ability to be fully human with each other, to embrace each other’s flaws, learn from our mistakes, and ultimately glorify the one who made us.