You are dating, and you really like each other a lot. You’re having a lot of fun. And you talk virtually every day. Most couples, even in the early stages of dating, will open up their lives, and start sharing a lot about themselves. You’re vulnerable early on, and you emotionally give yourselves to each other.
Here is my warning: deep emotional intimacy should not be established in the early stages of a relationship. Often times, you’ll hear from Christians (especially your parents or pastors or Christian mentors) about the importance of having physical boundaries in order to maintain purity in a dating relationship. But a guy and a gal can go too far emotionally as well.
The modern idea of dating relationships is to test the waters of marriage by acting as much like you are married as possible. You are not actually married, but you take on some of the privileges of marriage before you make a commitment. This continues until you both decide what you want—either you get married, or one of you decides it’s not a good fit so you go through what feels like a divorce because you’ve been playing house.
A dating relationship should gradually and normally progress to a point where a boyfriend and girlfriend are emotionally attached and deeply fond of one another (especially when they get engaged!). But again, hear my warning:
Don’t let this happen in the early stages of dating.
Why do I say this? Let me suggest two principles to guide the early stages of dating:
Don’t get an emotional divorce; rather, guard your heart.
There is so much uncertainty in the early stages, so it is not wise to let yourself get too emotionally attached. Or else you’ll run head-first into an emotional divorce. What’s an emotional divorce? If you’ve made yourself vulnerable, and you’ve let yourself get emotionally attached to someone, you’ll experience great pain and sadness when your two intertwined hearts are torn apart.
In the early stages of dating, you must guard your heart. Consider Proverbs 4:23, where Solomon writes to his son, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The Bible describes the heart as the center of your life. It is the most central or core part of who you are (Jonah 2:3; Matthew 12:40). From your heart flow your thoughts, feelings, and choices (Matthew 12:34; Luke 6:43-45). When you become emotionally attached to someone, you give him or her your heart.
Your heart is described as a “wellspring of life,” or source of life for you. Just as a wellspring is a source of water, (and water is a crucial commodity for daily living and survival) so also the heart is the source or fountain from which our life springs forth. Solomon wants his son to protect his heart because his heart is the fountainhead from which his life springs forth.
So also, in the early stages of dating, why would you give your source of life (your heart) to someone who has not committed to you yet? Why take that risk? Don’t give your heart away to someone who is still trying to decide whether or not they want to be with you.
An important caveat: I’m not encouraging cold or emotion-less relationships. Far from it! In a dating relationship, it should be normal for a couple to gradually and deliberately open up their lives such that they grow emotionally attached by the later stages. But what I’m advocating is pacing yourself; which means at the early stages of dating, you need to guard your heart.
2. Intimacy should not outpace commitment.
I admit that there is a delicate dance between building unhelpful emotional intimacy and having a relationship with an emotional component—I’m not encouraging emotionally detached relationships. But I’m also discouraging emotional attachment that exceeds commitment. That needs to be a guiding principle in your dating relationships: our intimacy should not outpace our commitment.
Rather, what you want is commitment to set the pace for intimacy. As commitment grows in the relationship, emotional intimacy can follow.
Dating can be fun and enjoyable, but it can also be hard. Sometimes we can make it even harder because we are not wise in how we conduct the relationship. So, be wise. Early on, guard your heart; and pace yourself in the relationship. Gradually and deliberately open up your life. Let commitment lead intimacy and not the other way around.
A Special Word to Women
Ladies, the next time you begin a dating relationship, if the guy tries to get you to open up and be emotionally vulnerable, graciously decline. Don’t give your heart away too soon. Guard your heart. Let him know that you want to get to know him, but giving over the most vulnerable parts of your life early on in the relationship is not wise. Tell him that will come with time, especially as commitment grows in the relationship.
Or maybe you are starting to date a guy, and you really dig him. Don’t give in to the temptation to give over everything because you really like the guy and you want the relationship to work out. That’s dangerous. If you give him everything, only to find out later that he is no longer interested, you’ll be left with a heart that is torn apart because you’ve let yourself get emotionally attached too soon. Some gals do this often, only to leave themselves with a trail of broken relationships, and broken hearts. And sadly, you torture your heart because you keep putting it through this process of growing close and then being torn apart.
Join the Conversation
What words of “dating counsel” would you give to dating couples?