Christian dating boundaries are . . . ambiguous.
Dating by definition and design is somewhere in between friendship and marriage, therefore Christian guys and girls are always trying to navigate the confusion which is always produced by romance without commitment. God designed the two to always be paired together, so knowing how much romance to engage in when the commitment is limited is tricky.
You want to get the most out of the dating experience to see whether marriage is in the cards (which I believe is the healthiest goal of dating). You want to open up enough for the person to really get to know you. But you also don’t want to get too emotionally entangled with someone you might not marry, thus you still need to guard your heart since dating is not a commitment for a lifetime like marriage.
So again, the whole experience of dating as a Christian is unavoidably precarious because you are constantly in danger of erring on the “too conservative side” or the “too liberal side.” Don’t ask me what conservative boundaries or liberal boundaries in Christian dating would look like.
Even defining these terms would be a challenge. If you asked one Christian guy to make two lists, one describing conservative values in dating and another list describing liberal boundaries in dating, and then you asked another guy to do the same thing, I have no idea what they would each include. All I can guarantee you is that their lists would look nothing alike.
So rather than give you a concrete Christian dating boundaries list of do’s and don’ts like: no kissing, no laying on the couch together, no hanging out after midnight, etcetera – what I think would be more helpful is to create a list of “boundary categories” that each individual Christian guy and girl should define for themselves with the help of their trusted circle of influence and as they seek to honor Christ and obey his word.
So here is a list describing 5 boundary categories to consider in Christian dating relationships.
1.Boundaries Around Your Emotional Intimacy Are Crucial For Christian Dating
As a Christian, you are called to protect your own heart, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). While this is a clear command in Scripture, how you guard your heart in dating is less clear.
One area to consider placing boundaries around is your emotions. If you want to ride an emotional rollercoaster (not sure why you would), just start dating! Dating, again, is precarious because you are more than friends but less than spouses and the status of your relationship can change at any moment because dating comes with limited commitment levels.
The more commitment there is, the more emotional connectivity there should be. Emotional bonds without commitment is what leads to broken hearts. You should be able to share everything with your spouse because the two of you have made one of the greatest relationship commitments available on planet earth. You should not share everything with your boyfriend or girlfriend because the highest levels of commitment are not yet there.
How much should you emotionally connect in a Christian dating relationship? I don’t know. Just enough.You should share what you need to share to accomplish the goals of dating and no more. In other words, you should connect enough to know whether or not you want to connect more in marriage.
With each increase in emotional attachment you should add commitment. If you do this, you will get married fairly quickly. So guard your heart. And when you can guard your heart no longer, it’s time to get married so you don’t need to guard your heart towards this person anymore as you once did in the dating relationship.
2. In Christian Dating, You Should Have Boundaries Around Talking About Your Futures Together
Just like your emotions, planning for the future together in your Christian dating experience should coincide with increased levels of commitment. The more commitment the two of you make, the more it makes sense to talk about the future.
There’s just no need to talk about your kid’s names and what sports you want them to play when you’ve only been dating for two months. All you are going to do is increase your emotional intimacy which will influence your sexual desires, all while your commitment is too low for such feelings.
I don’t have a formula for this. I’m not saying you can never talk about having kids. But there is a difference between, “Yeah, I would like to have a big family one day,” or “O, well I actually don’t want kids at all” compared to saying manipulative things like, “I can see you being the mother of my children.” (Dude, you know what you are doing. Just stop.)
Conversations about emotional, future-centered topics need to happen once the relationship starts getting “medium” to “very” on the serious scale. But if you are in the “not that serious” zone and you are talking about how the two of you are going to divide up the holidays with your families once you get married 10 years from now, you are playing with fire.
If you want to keep your emotions and heart in healthy places during your Christian dating relationship, make sure you have healthy boundaries around conversations regarding the future.
3. Boundaries Around Your Expectations In Christian Dating Will Help Your Heart Stay Healthy
You can list a lot of fun things in Christian dating. It should be fun. And one of the fun parts about dating is the hope it often brings. Hope is a joyful expectation of something good. While our hope should ultimately be in Jesus Christ, there should be healthy levels of hope for a dating relationship to progress into marriage. If there is no hope in a dating relationship, why would you be in it?
Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” If this doesn’t capture the tension in a Christian dating relationship I don’t know what does. It brings immense joy when two people date and then have their “desire fulfilled” if they decide they want to spend the rest of their lives together. But on the flipside, the unfulfilled hope of a dating relationship turning into a breakup rather than a marriage can make a heart sick.
Any breakup is going to hurt because all dating relationships have hope in them, and when hope is deferred the heart grows sick. The higher the hope was, the more the heart is going to hurt if that hope is deferred. Dating for a week and then breaking up will hurt but not nearly as bad as breaking up during the engagement period because your hope was so much bigger and closer to becoming reality.
Therefore you should put boundaries around your expectations and hopes in your Christian dating relationship. Don’t rush in with astronomically high hopes. Ask God to give you healthy and realistic levels. List your goals for each season of the Christian dating relationship and try to balance your emotions with logic.
I’m not saying you need to be hopeless or never have expectations. Dating needs to be vulnerable. If you are closed off and don’t have hope, you are dooming the whole experience from the start. You just need to be wise as well.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick. So to guard you heart, you need to make sure your levels of hope are appropriate for the season your Christian dating relationship is actually in.
4. Boundaries Around Your Sexuality in Christian Dating Are a Must
If this one is not on your list of Christian dating boundaries, something is wrong with you. Sexual boundaries are what most people think of first because it’s probably the easiest temptation to fall into. How far is too far? What are you aloud to do in dating? Is kissing okay? What about spooning?
I just wrote about this in great detail here, “How Far Is Too Far In Christian Dating?” The main point I make in that article is that all sexual experiences are reserved for marriage. Anything done with your spouse is good. Anything done without your spouse is sin.
I get these two categories from 1 Corinthians 7:1-10. So the Bible does not give us a list of sexual boundaries we are not to cross in Christian dating. Rather, again, it gives us two big categories we are to stay within: 1. Sexual experiences away from your spouse are sin. 2. Sexual experiences with your spouse are good.
The trickier part will be to define what is an act rooted in sexual desire and what is an act that is simply a sign of affection. Read the article for more on this.
5. In Christian Dating You Need Boundaries for Your Words and Promises
This list of important dating boundaries for Christians could go on and on. But one more that’s just too important not to mention is boundaries for your words and promises.
When Christians abstain from sexual sin, I think the desire to connect through words is going to be even more intense. But just like the rest of these categories, you must balance your commitment levels with the levels you are connecting at. Guard what you say if you want to guard your heart.
“I love you” is especially dangerous. Not everyone feels the same way about these three words as I do. But I believe these words should not be spoken in a dating relationship. I reserved these words for my proposal with my wife. I did that because I felt if I truly loved her, why would I wait to marry her? It makes no sense to me to say “I love you” and then have no ring to offer. Love is loyalty. Love is commitment. Love is you saying you are going to be there for the person no matter what.
I didn’t want to offer her a cheap, childish love. Therefore when I said, “I love you,” I wanted to mean it. And the only way I knew I could really show my love for her was with my commitment. Don’t tell someone you love them and then not commit to them. Of course there are different levels to love. But if you say “I love you” to someone you are romantically involved with, I believe you are going to awaken all kinds of things that should really only be awakened for those intending to marry.
These are just a few boundaries to consider in Christian dating. What would be on your list?