The Art of Dating

“David, you shouldn’t date just to date,” I can remember hearing my mom say. I was probably about 14. She thought that if you’re going to be in a romantic relationship with somebody, that you should at least foresee the possibility of considering marriage with them.

will u marry meNow, I’m pretty sure every dating columnist out there would tell me that my mom was an ignorant fool, and that if I was smart I shouldn’t listen to her on this one. “You can’t know what you like and don’t like until you have some experience under your belt,” is the conventional wisdom. Even if you know the relationship isn’t going anywhere, the conventional thinking goes, at least you’re stocking up on learning experiences.

Besides, what are you going to do: ask a girl on the first date if she’s willing to consider marriage? That sounds about as bright as asking your date’s dad for permission to marry his daughter, before you even start dating her. (Here’s your free pro tip of the day: don’t ever do that.)

Well, I listened to my mom. Granted, I was homeschooled through high school, and I didn’t have nearly the opportunities for romantic relationships that I would have had going to school. Still, I had crushes and I could have chosen to pursue them. In college, there were more crushes, more romantic opportunities. (Not that I would have had any success; I was a hapless nerd!) I went to a small college, and I remember my first two years in college the girls complained that we boys weren’t brave enough to ask girls out. Some people said that dating was almost non-existent on our campus. And in that environment, I felt pressure to date.

But I waited. I waited because of my mom’s influence, of course, and because of an idea that stuck with me. I remember reading somewhere, also when I was about 14, that “instead of focusing on finding the right person to date, focus on being the right person.”

That made a lot of sense to me. To me, it meant that if I focus on building character and forming good habits, two things would happen:

(1) I could become the kind of person that will naturally be attracted to another good person, and

(2) I could become the kind of person that naturally attracts that other good person.

That’s a process that involves more than waiting: it’s active waiting. It’s choosing to spend your single years intentionally becoming a better person, so that when you do meet a good girl, you know that she is good, and she knows that you are good. And you get together. Dating is an art like that; not a science.

By my junior year of college, this girl had me so smitten that I was throwing up in the bathroom out of nervousness. That had happened before, but this time I decided to act on the attraction. As a college junior, I knew that I was getting closer to graduation, and closer to full adulthood. And this girl had me shaking with jitters. Honestly, I don’t even recall that it was her physical beauty that got my attention; she was a beautiful person. I saw that she was a beautiful person because I heard her tell her friend one day that she wanted twelve kids. That was crazy! But I loved that: it told me she values family and children, something I valued a lot. I also saw how she was so curious and interested in learning. I was attracted to that because I had come to value learning and the pursuit of wisdom a lot.

LappsAs I later told her, “it seems like I was just walking along, and then I looked over and—whoa! There you were, and there we were, walking in the same direction.”

Anyway, in Central Park I got up the courage to ask her out. A year later, I asked her if we could continue the journey in marriage. The next spring, I married the most wonderful woman I ever met. The journey continues. It is an awesome thing when on your walk you discover a beautiful woman next to you.

Thanks, Mom.

What has been your experience with dating? How do you decide when to act on an attraction, and when to let it pass?

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