Setting dating goals often gets overlooked. It is just expected that at some point in our life we will say “yes” to a request for dinner or a movie; and off we go into the dating world. The consequences of this lack of dating goals and a long-term vision for what we need are frequently tragic, painful, and costly.
The American Way of Dating is Shortsighted
We get handed a lot of expectations in life – and sometimes we don’t even think to question them. The American Way of Dating (we’ll call it AWD) is one of those expectations that we usually do not question. After all, it looks like it could meet some practical needs for us, and everyone else is doing it. Who needs to set dating goals? Just go with the flow, right?
In working with a lot of young married couples in trouble, I have noticed a trend. For nearly all of these couples, whose relationships were full pain and hardship, their problems started back in their dating days. Expectations of what a love relationship would be, sexual experiences, and even their understanding of what love is had made their relational lives a disaster. The most common and telling comment I hear is, “…we got physically involved way too early, and we never should have married.” They failed to set dating goals and naturally they arrived somewhere they didn’t want to be. After all, if you aim at nothing, what do you expect to hit?
In other words, they had set no dating goals – they just let things happen. What happened, unfortunately, was momentarily enjoyable but painful and tragic over the long haul. Looking around at the overall relational trends in our society, they got what the majority of couples are getting by doing what everyone else did to get that result.
What this indicates is that for most of us, we accepted the AWD notion of dating with no real purpose or end goal in mind, and if we happen to get sexual along the way then that is just part of it. Isn’t everyone kind of doing this the same way? This is a very shortsighted and destructive way of getting into the most significant relationship of our life! For your long-term health and well being you must set some very specific dating goals!
The impact of early dating and especially early sexual involvement are staggering. Even if you ignore the risk of STIs (Sexually transmitted infections), the long-term relational impact of sexual imprinting is huge. We’ll talk about that in detail in a later unit.
The first step is:
Dating Goals: What Do You Want Long-Term?
Think ahead. What do you envision for yourself when you are forty or fifty years old? Do you want to have just one special life partner with whom you have spent most or all of your adult life? Do you want to be a reliable and faithful lover, and have them be the same for you? Do you want to be there for them when times get tough (as they will), and do you want someone who will hang with you even on your worst days? Would you like to sit on the porch with your life-long lover and reminisce about a life lived well – full of love, intimacy, friends, and family? Or do you want to sit alone or with the fourth partner who you hardly know and wonder what went wrong?
If You Want Long-Term Relational Success – You Will Have To Date Differently
You must realize that in the absence of dating goals and standards, you are not likely to have a great long-term relationship. Going with the flow of the American way of dating, some things will likely happen which will make future relationships very difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.
By age 18, 94 percent of the population has dated, and 65% have had sex with somebody. As the age increases, that rate increases. But does it matter? Shouldn’t you have some sexual experience before getting married or entering a long-term relationship?
It depends, once again, on what it is you want from your relationships. Here’s a few recent stats:
– Non-virgin brides have a 60% higher rate of divorce.
– Non-virgins have a significantly higher rate of infidelity (cheating) once married.
– The STIs Chlamydia and HPV, caught during the dating years or from a husband who was active with other women before marriage, has led to an increasing number of young married couples who are unable to have children. This frequently leads to serious relational/emotional issues and even the breakup of the relationship. HPV also can lead to cervical cancer, which can lead to a very early hysterectomy or even death. This used to be an “old woman’s disease” according to doctors, but now it is very common in the teens/early twenties! The problem with HPV (and Chlamydia, as well), is that women (and men) who have this are frequently asymptomatic (they have no symptoms). If you think condoms are a solution to this problem, you had better read the posting at this link.
Setting Dating Goals: Is Living Together a Better Goal?
For people who just live together, the breakup statistics are not available. Many more statistics on the harmful nature of shacking up are available, and we’ll look at some of those in a future unit. But wouldn’t a breakup of any significant relationship cause you pain and heartbreak? Sure it would.
So once again, what do you want from life? Do you want to have children? The American way of dating makes that less likely. Do you want a long-term stable relationship? AWD makes that far less likely.
Healthy Dating Goals
We were designed to be relational (See Designed to Relate, below). Most of us, unless gifted otherwise (See Single and Gifted, below), flourish when we are in a strong permanent relationship, and that relationship is marriage. Being single is actually unhealthy for most people in the long term! It is especially unhealthy for men – an unmarried man has the same life expectancy as someone who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day! (I suppose that doesn’t bode well for a single man who smokes!)
And as we shall see in a later unit, although living together (cohabitation, “shacking up”) is very popular, it is very unhealthy for all involved. Marriage, when entered into with a solid understanding of how to love and what to actually do to make a marriage work, is the best living situation for all.
I was asked when teaching a Smart Dating class a very good question: “Which have you found to be better, being married, or dating?”
I told them that honestly, I hope I never have to date again – marriage rocks! Oh sure, there are seasons of marriage that are hard. That is actually good for us, if we understand the purpose of that hardness. Over the years, the hard times refine our character and help us to mature into truly loving, more unselfish, and sacrificing individuals. Marriage, in the long-term, turns us into better people.
My wife and I have been married for over 27 years now. Our friends and family will tell you – we have a great relationship. We still are all over each other. We hold hands, kiss, snuggle, talk for hours, and, um, you know – all that. We can usually finish each others sentences. We are, in essence, one person. And that is a wonderful place to be!
Dating Goals Assignment: Unit 1:
1. Decide what you want from your relationships, long term. Develop a mental image of where you want to be relationally when you are 30, 40, 50 and beyond. What relational legacy do you want to leave? Then set dating goals to make this outcome most likely to occur.
2. Think about the expectations that have been handed to you and promoted to you in the media. Given what you have already learned in this lesson, what is the long-term impact of living out those expectations. Set some dating goals to avoid the pitfalls of what has been handed to you.
3. Thought question: Is your long-term happiness worth being intentional about? Is it worth being truly different now to obtain a great outcome later? Would you rather suffer a little now, or a whole lot later? If you want the best, then set some tough dating goals to make the best occur. Pay the price now, even if that involves some serious self-denial, to have a great relationship later.
4. If you want long-term relationships that are stable, joy-filled, and permanent – you need to resolve to approach dating differently from what is generally expected in American culture. You need to complete this course, and continue your spiritual and relational education (check out our Love U Bookstore tab, and read some of the dating and marriage books). If you want what most of America is already getting, i.e. multiple short-term relationships, breakups, infertility, violence, STIs, and even death – well, stop reading this blog. Just do what everyone else is doing. It’s not that hard to get bad results! If you want the best for you and your future mate, set some specific dating goals and work through them with intentionality.
Additional Reading 1: Designed to Relate
I know this is controversial, and well it should be! I am a former evolution-believing atheist. I used to believe in the self-creating universe, the one that defies all laws of thermodynamics and created itself from nothing.
But when I took on the task of trying to disprove the book known as the Bible, which we atheist for some reason loved to hate – I began to see that my evolution-believing friends had been very deceptive.
Statistically speaking, the odds of even a short-chain protein forming on its own are so far beyond the bounds of probability as to be ludicrous. If we take it up a level to that of what is mistakenly called a simple life form such as bacteria, the odds of something that complex forming by accident are incalculable. The late atheist (or “anti-theist” as he liked to call himself) Chis Hitchens speculated that life on earth may have been “seeded” here by an alien race – something I found very profoundly telling. He understood, as I do, that life on earth is far too complex and obviously designed for purpose to have happened purely by chance – not to mention so far beyond the realm of probability as to be absurd. Of course, his musings failed to deal with how an even more complex race of aliens came into existence – those aliens who were advanced enough to seed us here!
When we look at man and woman, the design of the two to fit together, both physically and emotionally/spiritually, is obvious. We need each other, and we flourish (as the marriage statistics show) when we join together in a long-term love relationship. This makes sense from a theological viewpoint; and that old fashioned Holy Bible is the only book of antiquity which explains our need for relationship clearly.
In the book of Genesis, God is creating the world. He makes an interesting comment; “Let us create man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26) Now understand, the Bible stresses that there is only one God, so who is the “us” and “our?” In an amazingly refreshing truth, our God is three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who are in such close relationship that they are one in essence. In other words, God is like my wife and I, so close that I do not think of “me” and “her;” I think only of “us.” Or more accurately, my wife and I in our marriage are patterned after God himself! As the book of Genesis directs, the “two shall become one.”
In the truth that we are made in the likeness of this relational thee-in-one, one in essence God, then we too are designed and largely destined to be in strong relationships! When you see someone who shuns all human relationships, you are usually viewing a poor soul who has been badly wounded in their soul. Even then, they will usually have someone (perhaps a dog) with whom they can converse and make physical contact with.
We are created to be relational, and the man-woman design is intended to bring us into a God-like joy of ultimate intimacy. Work toward this goal, long-term. It is how most of us are designed to live.
Additional Reading 2 – Single and Gifted
Although humans in general are designed to be in an intense personal relationship (marriage) with a member of the opposite sex, there are a few special people out there who are not. They are gifted for singleness.
Jesus was talking to his followers in Matthew 19 about the importance of marriage being permanent; he was rebuking the Jewish leader’s embrace of easy divorce. This got some folks riled up, and they said, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (v. 10). Jesus answered in this way, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom is is given…Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”
To paraphrase, Jesus was saying that there are some people who can go through life without being married, without sex, and not get in trouble. But this is a gift from God, and for most of us, we need a marriage partner to express our sexual side and provide emotional and spiritual support for one another.
If you do not own a Bible, or if you only have an older English version (like the King James, which is a decent translation but can be hard to understand), send your mailing address to me at email@example.com. I will send you a modern language version for free. Include “Need Bible” in the subject line for fastest response! Steve M.