Real Dating Advice
So, I spend a lot of time railing against the terrible dating advice that Christian ministries often give. This is because it's often heteronormative, based off archaic gender roles, and often, just. plain. bad. And a friend has been urging me to put together what I think some good dating advice would be, so I did. This is, naturally, not comprehensive, but it's aimed at Christians trying to recover from all the bad advice that encourages women to be passive and men to be leaders and never the twain shall switch. I am one of those women, and I am currently dating. I'm by no means an expert, but I think I read enough dating advice blogs and bad dating advice (and gone on enough dates) to offer some modicum of useable ideas. So here goes!
1. To steal a phrase from Captain Awkward: Use Your Words. A lot of bad dating advice encourages women to be "mysterious" and allows men to skate on the idea that they don't have feelings. This isn't true - everyone has feelings and ideas and things to contribute to a relationship. Things will be a lot easier for both people in a relationship if communication and using your words is a principle. This applies throughout all processes of dating: from the beginning of the relationship, to the decision to be exclusive, to the proposal, to the marriage (which may or may not be your end goal). Using one's words can not only help your partner understand where you're coming from, but can encourage open and honest communication when things get tough and complicated, as they inevitably do.
By "Use Your Words," I mean that you put into words how you feel. Don't expect the other person to "just understand," and if something is wrong, voice it. This also goes for asking people out (I've almost always been the one to do the asking, so let's just nip the "man does the asking" thing in the bud right now, shall we?). If you like someone and want to see them in a dating environment, ask them out. It's hard and scary, yes, but after you practice for a while, rejection can, oddly, get a little easier to handle.
2. A first date is not an invitation to marriage. This is an idea that's really tripped me up in the past, partly because in the church, we tend to treat people who are dating as immediately serious and immediately headed for marriage. This type of thinking can put a lot of pressure on a relationship and can destroy it before it starts (this, if I can admit openly and honestly, was the problem with my first ever relationship). We in the Christian community have a tendency to put a lot of importance because "OMG WHAT IF THIS IS THE ONE GOD HAS PLANNED FOR ME?" and let me tell you: thinking like that will more effectively scare off a potential person than almost anything else (besides, I guess, talking about how much you love stabbing things on a first date).
Take off the pressure. Don't go into a date thinking "this could be the one God has for me!" and instead approach it as "you are a cool person. I think I may like you. Let's hang out." Making dating fun, rather than a pressure filled race to the altar.
3. If your potential partner judges you based on your sexual history or lack thereof, they are not worth dating. I've spoken to a lot of straight women who tell me they can no longer date in the Christian realm because there's a lot of pressure to be virginal and pure and they're not, so a lot of guys reject them out of hand. But here's the thing: if someone holds a decision you made before you met them against you, they're not seeing you as a person, but rather as a set of histories. I know this is controversial, but your sexual history does not mean you are a damaged or sullied person. If your partner rejects you because of your past, then they don't respect you enough to try and understand you. They are looking for a set of ideals, not a human being.
And here's the twist to that: this same advice goes for virgins! If someone you're dating shames you for being a virgin, then they are letting their expectations of you rule over who you actually are. For example, I went on a date with a dude back in the spring and somehow sex came up in the conversation. I ended up explaining about my virginity. His reaction was "But, dude! No, I don't believe that! Someone as awesome as you? Noooo, sex is awesome! You should totally get on that!" Instead of my lack of history being respected and understood, he instead shamed me for not being more experienced.
If a person does that to you, no matter your history, that's a red flag.
4. You don't owe anyone anything in a relationship, especially not access to your body. This is the point that's probably going to cause the most controversy, as a lot of Christians have the belief that "my body belongs to my husband and I to him." And I'm telling you here: your body is yours. Your partner does not own you, and you do not own them. Consent is mandatory, and especially important to remember in a dating relationship. You do not owe them sex if they bought you dinner; they do not have a right to touch you if you do not want to be touched. It is a basic level of respect that all dating relationships should maintain, and if your date does not respect those lines, then they do not respect you.
I think I've told this story before, but my first kiss happened when the boy I was dating turned to me and said, "Okay, this is awkward, but can I kiss you?" Readers, I was over the moon. We get this image that literally grabbing a person and sweeping them up into a big fat kiss is romantic, but, honey, it's so much sexier to just ask, because respect and consent are sexy.
5. Be yourself and find ways to date that work with that. If you're an introvert, this may mean online dating (which is a little bit of a minefield sometimes, but it can also be fun and low-risk). If you're an extrovert, maybe meeting people out in public or whatever works (but keep in mind your environment and their comfort level with you). Basically, what this boils down to is "don't lie about yourself to get a date." For some reason, in the Christian world, women especially get a lot of advice to be passive and mysterious in order to give the guy a chase. I'm here to say, that's bullshit. Not all guys want a chase, not all women want to be pursued (and hell, not all relationships are guy-girl!). If you're more comfortable doing the asking, do it (that's mainly directed at the heterosexual women in the group). God's not going to smite you dead because you gave your number to someone at a coffee shop. Remember that you're dating to get to know a person, not a set of gender roles, so don't let worries about who does what interfere.
6. Talk about the big things. This may seem to contradict my point two, but it's not - talking about the big things doesn't mean you start planning your wedding at date one, but dating is supposed to be an exercise for figuring out whether or not someone fits into your life for the long term. It's not good to date someone for a long time and then discover that you're not compatible in a very important area, like wanting or not wanting kids, or having a certain sexual kink, or whatever. Talk about kids. Talk about sex. Talk about travel.
This, of course, doesn't mean you have a list of interview questions that you go through on the first date and hope to tick off all the right boxes, but once a dating couple starts heading toward a more serious relationship, discussing those big things is very, very vital to the health of the relationship.
And I'm going to add here that you need to talk about sex, even if you're waiting until marriage. What are your expectations? What forms of protection would you like to use? How do you orgasm (many cis-women don't orgasm from traditional penetrative sex)? What counts as "sex" for you? How do you feel about giving or receiving oral? Have you been tested for STDs and are you clean? After all, you plan on having sex with this person, right? It's probably important to know what their views are about bedroom activities before you actually get to the bedroom. (And if they at all resemble Doug Wilson's, run far, far away).
7. Don't be afraid to seek outside advice. This is actually something I need to do more, though I'm getting better at it. Talk to not only your married friends but your friends who are dating. While the relationship can only really be decided by the two of you, having outside input is never bad. Christian dating advice would phrase this as accountability, but that usually means a chaperone on a bowling date or whatever. Instead, what I mean by it is to have people outside the two of you. You should never be at a point where you have no one else to talk to about problems in your relationship - you should always have outside friends and family who know you and to whom you can go vent. It's healthy to have someone other than your partner to share things with, especially as an outside perspective can help solve an issue both of you were too close to see an answer to.