The year that I went on my first date was also the year that I was legally able to drink: I was 21. Yes, that’s a little old to go on your first date, but it was partly by design. I didn’t feel prepared to ever date before that. Because to me, if I went on a date with a girl, it meant that I was serious about possibly getting into a relationship—and before 21, I just wasn’t ready for that. I wanted time to develop myself before I could develop a dating relationship with someone else.
I’m definitely not suggesting that everyone should wait until 21 to even begin dating. Everybody’s experience of when to begin a relationship is going to be different. That said, here are three things I found helpful to have before and during dating.
- Seek out good friends.
My friends gave me the affirmation and love that helped me to feel secure in my own skin. That was important: because if I wasn’t basically secure in my own skin, how could I be secure in a romantic relationship? I also had friends that pushed me to become a better person.
- Learn about yourself and the world.
For me, this time mostly came in college. But it could also happen at a job, or through a small group (like a support group or church group), or through volunteering and helping others. However it happens, the point is to explore your mission in life. What am I passionate about? What am I good at? Who are people that I can learn from? In college and at my church, I sought out teachers and mentors who I admired for their wisdom and asked them lots questions. They were my masters, I was their apprentice.
And for me, I discovered that I really wanted to get married and have a family and help other people have good relationships. I definitely didn’t have it all figured out, but I discovered a mission. Maybe another person’s mission is to help people struggling with addiction to find healing, or to become great at a skill or job—welding, nursing, engineering—and to provide a good life for the people you love.
I found that learning my mission helped me to become my own person—and I think my wife would tell you that it made me a more attractive date.
- Look for examples of other happily married couples.
This is one that I mostly took for granted before I dated, but that I better appreciated after dating and getting married. But it turns out that it’s really helpful to have models of marriage to look up to. They give you a first-hand look at how it’s done.
For me, this mostly came from my parents. They showed me that it’s possible to be married for more than thirty years and still really love each other. They showed me that it’s possible to endure tragedy (in this case, the death of my oldest brother) and remain strong and united in their marriage. They showed me how it’s possible to not be tied to rigid stereotypes but to complement one another in marriage: to this day, my dad buys most of the groceries and often helps with cooking, and my mom helps out with a lot of yard work and housework. Bottom line: they showed that me that of course a man and woman love each other through all their differences, of course love can last.
For others, it may be grandparents, or an aunt and uncle, or a couple from work or church that you admire. Whatever the case, I’ve found that dating and marriage is just like learning a skill, and it’s helpful to have a guide who can show you the ropes.
I’m sure there are lots of other good things that were helpful to me before and during dating, but those are the three that jump out at me now. The point is that I was trying to avoid doing what Lynn recently described in an iBiL piece: getting into a relationship in order to fill a major void within myself.
No one is ever going to be perfectly whole, and if we all tried to be saints before even starting to date, very few of us would make it. But I wanted to possess a basic sense of security and be a man on a mission—so that I could be an even more attractive boyfriend, and, ultimately, marriage partner.