Dating and Singleness Later in Life
Jenna, Elisabeth, John and Suzanne all thought they would have found Mr. or Mrs. Right years earlier, but life didn’t turn out the way they planned. By now, these thirty- and forty-somethings have all been playing the dating game a lot longer than they’d care to admit.
But first let’s set the record straight: This group may feel frustrated with their dating choices, but they’re still a happy, emotionally well-adjusted bunch who all want to marry. What’s more, they have good jobs, attend church regularly and are responsible, civic-minded citizens. Still, their marital status begs each one to confront the one maddeningly elusive question: Why haven’t I found my true love?
Any dating newbie can find the suggestions we want to share with you in this series of articles applicable, but we’re especially wanting single adults who have been around the dating block a few times to sit up and take notice.
Remember Jenna, Elisabeth, John and Suzanne? See if their dating bios and circumstances resonate with you:
- Jenna has typically dated “unsafe men” who have never respected her boundaries. What she’s learned over the years is to look for positive, Godly men who respect and encourage her.
- Elisabeth’s standards have always been a little too picture-perfect. God’s grace has helped her to see that only Christ was perfect. Now, instead of honing in on her date’s flaws, she works hard to fixate on his heart and his relationship with God.
- John wants to finally settle down and date a “good Christian woman.” The problem, he realizes, is that he has never really stopped sowing his wild oats. Frustration and dissatisfaction mounts when his lifestyle choices impede healthy, long-term relationships.
- Then there’s Suzanne. Deep down, she knows marrying a non-Christian will cause spiritual problems for her down the road, but she’s so tired of being alone that she’s considering compromising her faith.
Do you feel like you’ve turned a corner in your dating life, like Jenna and Elisabeth? Or, like John and Suzanne, are you struggling to find peace in your marital status? Perhaps you’re experiencing other dating-related struggles, like feeling concerned about growing older without a mate. Maybe you’re wondering how you can become more interesting and attractive to men and women now.
Dating is tough at any age, so we’d like to help. While we may not be able to make your marital dreams come true, we can give you the next best thing: encouragement, guidance and suggestions to help make your dating life a little easier.
Idealizing Love, Romance and the Opposite Sex
What causes someone to idealize love, romance and a mate?
My brother once showed me a Web site where I could tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas. All I had to do was type my wish in a little box, and voila! Santa would produce a picture of my gift.
Being a single woman, I typed in “husband.” Within seconds, the virtual St. Nick reached into his bag and pulled out a picture of my mate. He was handsome and dark-haired; unfortunately, he was also asleep. I almost laughed myself off my chair, then jokingly told my brother, “What does Santa’s choice say about the single male population in my age range?”
If I had visited Santa’s Web site ten years ago, and if I had the chance to give him a list of specific requirements for a mate, he probably would have written me back to tell me to seek a therapist. Why? Because my list of requirements for Mr. Right was longer than Santa’s gift list.
What causes someone to idealize love, romance and a mate? When I turned 32, God helped me learn the answers to this question.
I Idealized Love, Romance and a Mate Because of Fear
When I lost a man I loved while in my twenties, I was certain I couldn’t handle any more heartbreak, so I unwittingly created an ideal picture of my Prince Charming. Can you guess what happened with the next guy I dated? Instead of seeing what was good about him, my mental doodling highlighted only his imperfections. In an effort to guarantee a life without emotional pain or romantic regret, I instead lost out on some good relational opportunities.
If you’re acutely aware of others’ flaws like I was, perhaps you need explore the motivation behind your ideals. Is it faith (because you feel led by God) or fear (because you’re terrified of “settling”, or being abandoned)? Saying no to fear and unrealistic standards doesn’t mean giving up all standards. Instead of focusing on whether a person is just the right height or weight or is equally organized, we need to focus on how patient, gentle, humble, kind, generous and Godly our date is.
I Idealized Love Because of Society’s Messages
If wonder how many times I’ve heard, “Don’t marry someone you can live without,” “Don’t settle,” or “God has the perfect mate for you.” Messages like these, (which are often perpetuated by well-meaning Christians), coupled with the media’s lies about love, can lead Singles astray.
Some of our culture’s lies about love include:
- Sex won’t be good unless you’re married to someone with a spectacular body.
- Sex isn’t as good if you’re old.
- Good-looking people make better mates.
- True love means a lifetime of fireworks.
- If it takes effort, it’s not love.
- The right person will complete you.
- People who are a good match never argue.
- Real love happens instantly, rather than developing over time.
Certainly, we should show wisdom and avoid choosing a mate who is abusive, deceptive, jealous or controlling. But when I allowed God to transform my expectations, I discovered I can be attracted to many different kinds of men. Your fear about whether a future mate’s “what-ifs” should not prevent you from experiencing a Godly love with that person.
The Upside of Less-Than-Perfect
I no longer believe that finding someone perfect will keep me from heartbreak. Instead, I’ve accepted pain as a part of even the best relationships. I also know that God’s best for me can be less than perfect.
Some time ago, while reflecting on how God has freed my heart, I wrote the following reflection in my journal:
Love does not come to dwell in perfection, for no one is perfect. Love dwells in the unlovely, the imperfect. My love for another is not produced by the object of my love. It exists in me when I choose to love all that is unlovely and imperfect; and I thereby receive the love I need by being the lover first. Love is the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14).
Christ died and placed the love of His heart into mine so that I can love with His unconditional love. He loves the imperfect; He loves me.”
Five Ways to Celebrate Singleness
How can you “celebrate your singleness?” Here are some ways to go on the offensive and enjoy life.
When I moved out of my parent’s house, no one told me how to scrutinize my credit report, live on a diet of macaroni and cheese or handle disappointment if I didn’t marry by the time I turned 30 years old. Maybe I just didn’t feel like these were important issues at the time. Or maybe, like millions of other single women, I assumed that my Mr. Right would make me his bride, take care of the finances and encourage me to buy food that wasn’t of the pre-packaged variety.
Reality is so different than what I imagined nineteen years ago. Since then, I’ve won the battle of the bank book and have only sometimes eaten SpaghettiOs from the can. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is my marital status.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I haven’t met a mate. I’m open to love, family and marriage, I’m emotionally stable and I’ve prayed countless times for a spouse. Still, I haven’t met my husband.
Over the years, I’ve come to terms with my singleness. I’ve learned to cut out the whining and to celebrate life.
The most important I’ve learned is that I don’t have to trick myself into believing that life is good. When we focus on others, when we strive to serve God, when we choose to believe that He is in control of our lives, that He loves us and knows what is best for us, we’re more likely to focus on “whatever is good, whatever is lovely” (Phil. 4:8) like Scripture commands. Which I know from experience is much better than focusing on what you don’t have and feeling miserable.
This isn’t an easy mentality to embrace. It’s even harder when it gets lonely or when fears about the future set in. The key is to go on the offensive. These are a few ways that have helped me combat self-pity, embrace joy and celebrate life:
- Start a gratitude journal. I once watched a movie in which a woman asked the main character, “Can you think of a time when you were really happy?”
I asked myself the same question and immediately thought about one Christmas when I taught my five-year-old niece to stand on her head. This memory reminded me that if I make the effort, I can find joy in the smallest things. Paying close attention to life’s little details—and then writing them down—helps me to remember little everyday moments as a celebration of life.
- Make a list of passions. I recently visited a Web site of a young woman who decided to celebrate her single life by creating a list of 38 things she wants to accomplish. Her wish-list included learning to dance, going sky-diving and taking a road trip with her sister. Like me, she’s not anti-marriage. In fact, falling in love and having a family is near the top of her list. But writing these passions down reminds her of everything that she loves.
- Pour yourself into someone else’s life. Last year I struck up a friendship with a young woman I met at a coffee shop. Turns out, she was looking for another woman to mentor her. Because I’ve been mentored, I know how it can encourage both people involved. Giving my time and heart to someone else has easily fostered my attitude of gratitude.
Opportunities in your church or community to help others are abundant. Take a first step by asking God how you can serve and then keep your eyes open for ways to help someone in need.
- Reach out to others to meet your own social needs. I’m always amazed when I hear someone say they are disappointed in a church because no one greeted them. I gently want to remind them that others may be just as uncomfortable to step out and make friends as they are.
Remember that if you are lonely, there is someone just like you nearby who is lonely, too. After you make the first move, consider taking the next step by inviting a group of Singles over for dinner or start a Bible study in your home.
- Do something that you couldn’t do if you were married. Don’t miss out on opportunities you might not be able to do in another chapter of your life, like taking an extensive missions trip or starting your own business. Don’t forget to thank God for what you have.
Celebrating your singleness does not mean you’ll be single forever. It doesn’t mean that you’ve decided to become a monk or join a nunnery, that you have to stop asking God for a mate or that you won’t be lonely sometimes. It simply means surrendering to where God has you now in your life.
Embracing Romantic Grief
We need to learn to embrace heartbreak and grief in order to be able to love again.
After author C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife to cancer, he wrote in A Grief Observed, “Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?”
Perhaps you’ve experienced romantic heartbreak, and as Lewis suggests, you’ve asked yourself if you would have it another way. And without hesitation you’ve answered, “Yes, I would. In fact, I feel so devastated by the grief of lost love that I’m determined to avoid it at all costs in the future.”
Certainly, losing a special person can feel unbearable. The good news is that God wants to bring you comfort and help you embrace romantic grief, rather than run from it, so you can love again without fear.
Grief is Always a Part of Love
Some things in life are certain: taxes are due on April 15, everyone will eventually die and all love ends in pain. Think about it. No matter why we experience romantic grief, heartbreak is always the result, sometimes because of divorce, sometimes because of death and others due to breakup. Sound negative? Not really.
When we accept the reality of heartbreak, it can open our hearts to love, rather than keep us from it. Here’s why: If we are afraid of getting hurt and insist on arranging our lives to avoid romantic grief, we forfeit the chance to love because, as Lewis stated, grief and pain are always love’s price tags. On the flip side, when we accept the inevitability of heartbreak, we are one step closer to developing the courage it takes to love, no matter the cost.
I recently visited a blog written by a man named Tom who lost his wife to breast cancer. While reading his thoughts, I was moved because Tom understands the need for courage to embrace love.
“My love for her will never fade,” he writes. “[It] was a love of devotion with no conditional boundaries. I would marry her all over again if I knew we had to face the adversity of breast cancer.”
Because Tom knows that God is “near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” (Psalm 34:18) he is willing to travel the difficult road to experience the gift of love, in spite of the cost.
You Can Overcome Any Romantic Grief
I once heard a story of a boy who was getting beat up daily by the school bully. Day after day, the bully attacked him on the playground; and day after day, the boy walked home overcome with self-pity and defeat.
Then one day, his father gave him permission to beat up the bully.
“The next time he comes at you, beat the pulp out of him,” the father said.
With new confidence, the boy walked to school the next day, and waited in anticipation until the last school bell rang. Then he ran onto the playground to face his enemy. When the bully came toward him, rather than cower or flee, he fought back.
Not surprisingly, the bully never bothered him again.
I know a woman who often says, “I won’t be able to handle it if I get my heart broken one more time.” Unfortunately, she believes that grief is like this bully who is going to beat her heart to a pulp, and that she’ll be trapped by grief forever. Unfortunately, she has not grasped the truth that her Father has given her permission to beat up the bully of grief.
Granted, facing romantic grief doesn’t mean that we beat it up one day and move on the next. Instead, it’s a process of healing. But in the end, God has granted us the certainty of winning the war against grief and helping us regain the courage to love. His desire is never that we stay stuck in emotional pain and become paralyzed by relational fears.
God Notices Your Grief
Sometimes when we’re in emotional pain, we can feel like God has deserted us and doesn’t notice our grief. In his book, Lewis also wrote about his wife’s passing:
“Meanwhile, where is God? …A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence…There are no lights in the windows….Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”
Certainly, we’ve all felt at times that God seems distant during heartache. However, to face grief successfully and love again, we need to consider God, not in light of our emotions, but in the light of His truth.
In Psalm 10:1, Asaph knew what it was like to live by his feelings when, like Lewis, he asked, “O Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
Thankfully, Asaph didn’t get stuck in grief through unbelief. Even though he wondered where God was in verse 10:1, by the time he came to verse 14, he embraced the truth when he wrote, “But you, O God do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand.”
The word “grief” in this passage is the word ka’as in Hebrew. The amazing part of this word is that the most nominal forms of it involve the trouble which man causes triggering hurt feelings. Guaranteed, if you’re experiencing romantic heartbreak, you’re experiencing a whole lot more than just a few hurt feelings! It’s comforting to know that according to ka’as, God notices all your heartache, overwhelming or not.
If you feel that you’re swimming in a sea romantic grief, remember that no matter how insignificant you think your pain is to God, He notices. Not only that, but He has considered it to do something about it.
A Sign That You Are Ready to Love Again
You might be wondering how you can tell if you’ve moved through grief to embrace love again. One sign is gratitude. When we’re grateful for the good that was given to us from God in our past relationship, we can be confident that emotional healing has happened. And when our desire to embrace the future overshadows our desire to hold onto the past, we know that we have said good-bye with grace. When we believe that God can fill our hands and heart with mutual love again, we know we have grieved well and that we have entrusted our heartache to Him. When we can thank God for the part others have played in our lives, we can be confident we have been enhanced by knowing them—and we’re ready to embrace love again.
Dealing With Romantic Regret
Romantic regret can haunt some people for their entire lives.
Have you ever wondered how romantic regret can haunt some people their entire lives?
I recently thought about this when I watched a film about an elderly woman who was on her death bed. While her daughters stood nearby, she talked in her sleep, dreamt of her youth and murmured about a young man named Harris. She later confessed to her children that he was the only man she ever loved, which is why she believed it was her life’s most tragic mistake when she lost him.
After almost 90 minutes of bouncing between scenes from the past and the present, the woman finally made peace with her romantic choices. She accepted that perhaps she hadn’t made a mistake after all, and that all things had worked out well, even though she had loved and lost.
I wish all stories of romantic regret ended so happily. Unfortunately, not everyone comes to grip with their past. Like the woman in the film, we can experience regret because we feel we missed an opportunity with someone special, or because we dated someone for the wrong reasons, communicated poorly, were unfaithful to our mate or a host of other reasons.
Unfortunately, like the woman in the film, some people carry romantic regret far too long, but God wants to give us freedom in our emotions from the pain of the past, no matter the reason.
So if romantic regret haunts you, what should you do?
Practice Taking “What If” Thoughts Captive
In my past, at Point A of a potential relationship, (he had called me once and we scheduled to meet for the first time for coffee), in my mind I was already at Point Z (I’d met his mother, birthed his babies and started folding his underwear). And in 3.5 seconds flat, I discovered numerous reasons why the relationship wouldn’t work. I would begin to panic. What if we don’t get along because I’m right-brained and he’s left? What if he doesn’t like the way I do laundry or what if thinks I need to earn more money? Like my mother says, I “made mountains out of molehills,” and reacted based on information I didn’t even have, and I let my “what ifs” carry me to the edge of insanity. In Scripture, Paul describes my response as a “vain imagination” (2 Corinthians 10:5).The word vain means “empty,” because these thoughts are not based in truth.
Not only can we experience vain imaginations and ask too many “what if” questions about a potential mate or date, but also about our romantic past. In fact, we can hypothesize so much about what might have been that we can become depressed and filled with regret.
So, what’s the answer for fighting thoughts like these that “raise themselves up against the knowledge of God?” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We have to take them captive (stop them dead in their tracks) then redirect our minds to embrace God’s truth—that He loves us, has always been in control of our lives and that He has good plans for our future (Jeremiah 29:11). This means that we have to toss aside any hypothetical possibilities that we have no answers for and keep our eyes on Christ, trust in His sovereignty and embrace His forgiveness.
Recognize and Surrender to the Sovereignty of God
Last Christmas, I traveled home to visit my family. A few days after I arrived, Mom told me that she had seen my old boyfriend and his wife at church with their children. The next day, she invited me to attend a candlelight service at the same church. As I held my burning candle and sang “Silent Night,” fresh grief of romantic regret unexpectedly filled my heart and tears filled my eyes. I thought I had put those old memories behind me, but knowing my mother had seen him there, and still being single during yet another Christmas ushered in new emotional pain.
The next day, I questioned my decision to end the relationship with a man I loved that could have led to marriage. Once again, I doubted God’s involvement during that troubling time in college. But then I remembered how I had prayed to make the right choice. I prayed and prayed and prayed if I should break up with him. I asked for God’s guidance over and over. I desperately wanted to do His will, I thought.
When I remembered how much I had prayed, I decided that I had to believe He was with me during that time even if I didn’t handle the situation perfectly. God doesn’t ignore those He loves when they ask for help.
These thoughts led me to my Bible where I studied about His sovereignty and control over all things. I found Proverbs 16:1 which says, “The plans of the heart belong to the man [or woman], But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”
I discovered that the Hebrew verb “plans” also means “to prepare or arrange.” I had tried to arrange and plan my life the best I could by ending a relationship I wasn’t certain about. Later, when I felt I’d made a mistake, regret consumed me. During Christmas when I considered this Scripture, I realized that no matter what my plans were, God had to sign off on them. Therefore, the outcome could have been different. My boyfriend could have chosen to renew a relationship with me, and God could have prevented him from meeting his wife—but He didn’t. I chose once again to trust that God was intimately involved in my life in college, and that He also has good things planned for my future (1 Corinthians 2:9).
Embrace God’s Forgiveness
Sometimes we can become stuck in relational regret because we sinned against someone and we wonder if God will forgive us. Or perhaps we were unfaithful to someone who loved us, we committed adultery or have been promiscuous. Thankfully, God is not stingy with forgiveness.
God’s tender forgiveness and grace is shown in the story of Peter’s betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). After Peter denied Christ, and Jesus was raised from the dead, two angels appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thankfully, the angels didn’t just instruct the women to tell the disciples the good news. Instead, they told them to “go tell the disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7).
God knew Peter was suffering from regret so he sent a special invite to him. It was as if God was saying, “Peter, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. Even if you’ve denied me, you’re forgiven.”
God extends the same grace and forgiveness to us if we’ve made poor decisions in romantic relationships. Even if we have not obeyed Him, He wants us to know the freedom that comes from forgiveness and grace so we can move forward in hope like Peter.
Can you imagine how Peter’s life would have turned out if he hadn’t embraced the forgiveness of Christ? He would not have become a writer of the New Testament. And rather than being a bold witness for God, he would have wallowed in self-pity and regret. In short, he would have missed his calling.
Accepting forgiveness for any sin we’ve committed is necessary to move into the future with hope. Remember that Satan wants to keep you chained to the past in regret to prevent you from fulfilling God’s plan for your life.
How to Recognize a Safe Date
How do you break negative dating patterns and find respectful, responsible and loving spouses?
Mark always dates controlling women who treat him like a child. C.J. consistently finds herself in relationships with critical men. Ashley wants a man who respects her when she says no, unlike the other men she’s dated. And Brian often falls in love with women who are irresponsible.
How can Mark, C.J., Ashley and Brian break these negative dating patterns and find respectful, responsible and loving spouses? Here are five ways that can help you recognize a date as a safe person.
- A safe person will respect your boundaries. In their book, Safe People, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries as spiritual and emotional “property lines.” These invisible lines help us define which things are our responsibility and which are another person’s. It also helps us to know when the emotional or physical line has been crossed.
In any relationship, one person may not respect the other’s boundaries. This means that if Susan tells her boyfriend, “Don’t call me after 11 p.m.,” and he repeatedly ignores her request, he has not respected her boundaries. Boundary breakers who don’t respect you in one area probably won’t respect you in others.
- A safe person will not treat you like a child. When Joel met Kati, he appreciated her maturity and how she demonstrated control of her life—until she started treating him like a kid. Joel quickly discovered Kati was an unsafe date, because she believed he wasn’t capable of making his own decisions.
If you’re in a parent-child relationship, then you may not want to reconsider keeping him around; healthy relationships are characterized by people who relate as equal adults.
See if you recognize these other characteristics of an unsafe date:
- Gives advice without seeking it
- Distrusts your judgment
- Is critical
- Is convinced that you need help navigating life
- Disapproves of you
- Withdraws when you make adult decisions with which he disagrees
Remember that if your date is parenting you before you’ve tied the knot, she won’t magically respect you after saying, “I do.”
- A safe person will forgive you, not condemn you. Some people allow their perfectionism or bitterness to consume them. But when we can’t show grace, we can’t forgive. This is essential in any relationship, but in marriage each spouse has to make it a priority.
If your date has a penchant at holding grudges, he or she won’t exclude you. Take your time to determine if he has the ability to resolve conflict maturely and forgive without constantly condemning.
- A safe person is responsible. When Cheryl met Len, she was impressed with his people and business skills. Before long, she fell in love with him and believed he would strongly support her and a family. After they married, his true nature reared its ugly head. He used his winsome ways and took advantage of others’ generosity. He jumped from one job to the next, and left it up to her to be the consistent breadwinner. This irresponsible and reckless spouse drained her physically, spiritually and emotionally.
At the beginning of their relationship, Len seemed exciting, fun and spontaneous, but it didn’t take long before his behavior and lifestyle caused irreparable damage.
- A safe person admits their faults, rather than blames others. Some people are either blind to their faults, or they blame others for their problems. If you’re dating a person who embraces these not-so-endearing qualities, you might want to cut them loose.
Emotional intimacy is key to a thriving, growing love, and it is difficult to feel safe when there’s no expectation of empathy. Granted, everyone struggles to some degree with this, so we need to seek God’s help in overlooking imperfections in others and ourselves. Just remember that you aren’t looking for a perfect person—just someone who’s perfect for you.
Fishing For Men (and Women) Online
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you travel the ocean of online dating.
I’ve heard many times that there are a lot of fish in the sea, or numerous men to date in the world. Certainly, there are innumerable “fish” in cyberspace, where millions of singles converge to meet daily.
Have you ever wondered if there are rules for catching “fish” online? There certainly are. And, I like to think they are similar to the rules for fishing with a worm and a pole. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you travel the ocean of online dating and start fishing for men—or women—online.
Don’t Use Bad Bait
“There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue…” (Proverbs 6:17)
Last summer as I boarded my girlfriend’s SUV, she announced, “You have to listen to this song. It will make you laugh.” She popped in a country music CD and I giggled my way through Cooler Online, a song about a guy who works at Pizza Hut, drives a Hyundai, lives with his mom and dad and is 5’3″.
But when he’s dating online, his life is another story.
Behind the computer, he’s smooth, cool, works in Hollywood, drives a Maserati, has a black belt in karate and probably earns at least six figures.
From a fiction standpoint, this song is hilarious, but from a nonfiction view, it’s not funny at all. How many men—or women—have fallen prey to someone on the Internet who has lied about their identity?
This is the first rule for online fishing: Don’t use bad bait. Bad bait is anything that fish don’t like or goes against God’s principles of integrity.
The first type of bad bait is lying, about your age, height, marital status or anything else. Think about it. Would you want to date someone who is dishonest?
A second kind of bad bait is posting pictures that are immodest or using a distasteful screen name. Remember, if you want to catch a date with high morals, you’ve got to exemplify what you want.
A third type is communicating poorly. Following the ABCs of good grammar and spelling will get you everywhere.
Make Sure You Have a License to Fish
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14)
As a kid, my dad took me to the sporting goods store to purchase my fishing license. I had no idea that I needed permission to put my pole in the water, even if I didn’t catch anything. Dad told me that if I fished without a license, he could receive a fine.
Fishing online is much the same—you need permission. And, if you’re married or separated, you don’t have a license from God. Some people believe that if they are separated, that they are free to date. But if they’re not divorced, guess what? They’re still married. Some others may think, Well, I’ll just get online and look. Remember, that’s the way many affairs start—with just one look.
Make Sure Your Tackle Box is in Order
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
My sister, who loves to fish, has spent considerable time organizing her fishing gear. Why? Because she knows that if her box is a mess, she won’t have what she needs to fish well.
In the same way, before you head out to the open ocean of online dating, make sure your emotional and spiritual “toolbox” is in order. If you’ve had problems with rage, seek counseling before you look for a date or mate. If you have struggled with an addiction that has caused problems in past relationships, ask God and a professional for help. Get healthy, then get serious about dating. It’s the best thing for you and for others.
When You Catch a Fish You Don’t Want, Throw it Back
“My dear brothers, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” (James 2:1)
During a fishing trip to Texas with my father years ago, we caught more than 100 fish. There was only one problem—only a few of them met the required length for keeping, so we had to throw most of them back.
When you’re fishing for men or women online, you obviously won’t want to keep every fish because some won’t interest you. Your job is to maintain a Christ-like attitude and treat everyone who approaches you with respect. If you don’t share their enthusiasm to connect, simply write back and say, “I appreciate your note, but you live too far away,” “I’d like to meet someone closer to my age,” or “I already have children and I noticed that you don’t want to be a stepparent.” Short, but polite responses while you’re “throwing someone back” are often appreciated.
One of my male friends has made it a goal to respond to everyone who writes him, even if it’s just to say, “No thanks.” At first he was uncomfortable telling women that he didn’t want to correspond, but now he is amazed at how many appreciate his thoughtfulness. After all, everyone who has dated online has been ignored and no one likes it.
When You Throw a Fish Back, Be Gentle
“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” (Luke 6:31)
When I was fishing with my dad, he was as gentle as possible when he removed the hook from the fish’s mouth so that it wouldn’t be permanently injured after he threw it back.
In the online dating ocean, use courtesy when you’re telling someone you’re not interested. After all, you don’t want to wrongfully wound them or cause them to have problems in future relationships. That means that it’s not OK to insult them or to treat them unkindly. Remember, there is a real person, with real emotions on the other side of the screen.
Don’t Run Into the Water, and Don’t Go Too Deep
“…for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of the faithful ones.” (Proverbs 2:8)
My friend, Tim, loves to fly fish. He’s a wise fisherman because he knows not to run into the water when he first steps into a stream, or go too deep because he could drown.
Again, these rules apply to fishing online. It’s unwise to rush into a relationship with someone you don’t know or to share too much too soon. How many young women have fallen prey to predators who have lured them into a dangerous sexual situation?
Additionally, the secret to turning any relationship (including an Internet one) into one that lasts, is to take your time. Unfortunately, dating sites can create an environment in which it’s easy to become emotionally intimate too fast, which can cause you to drown in relational waters later.
One day while I visited a Christian dating site, a man wrote me and said “Hello,” then immediately typed, “Give me your phone number. I’ll call you.” Because I didn’t know anything about him other than what he’d written in his profile, I responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t give my phone number out to people I don’t know.” Immediately, he became angry and retorted, “Fine! Forget it! Why would I want to date someone who doesn’t trust me?” Rather than being shocked, I was humored. Didn’t his mother tell him that wise girls use discernment in making companions? Of course, I was thankful that I hadn’t shared too much too soon. His explosive response and pushy demeanor revealed that he could be a shark in the sea of online dating.
Remember That God is in Control
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
Most of all, remember that God is ultimately in control of bringing you a mate. This means that you don’t need to panic or become obsessed with dating online. Keep your eyes on Him and determine to trust Him with your personal life, no matter what.
Re-entering the Dating Scene After Divorce
When reentering the dating scene after divorce, it must be according to God’s standards.
Jennifer is a single woman who recently divorced. Even though she has decided to wait a few years until her daughter is grown to reenter the dating scene, she’s confused about how to proceed. “When Madaline is out of the house I want to date, but I don’t know how.”
Samantha has been divorced for only a year, but would like to start dating again even though her two boys are still in elementary school. Like Jennifer, she needs some advice but is concerned about how she can make the transition into dating easy on her children.
John is separated from his wife. He’d like to date again, and some of his friends say he should start looking for a woman now – after all, he’s getting divorced soon. But John knows better because he’s still married, and dating now would go against God’s desires.
Jennifer’s, Samantha’s and John’s concerns are common, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.3 million Americans get divorced each year, and many of them date and eventually remarry.
Perhaps you share their concerns, as you’re also wondering how you can reenter the dating world after divorce – and do so according to God’s standards. Here are four practical ideas.
Heal First, Date Later
Divorce is the death of the dreams you had when you committed yourself “for better or for worse.” As a Christian, you can’t simply separate from your spouse one day and hit the dating field the next. And as with any loss, big or small, time is needed to grieve and to reassess who you are, where you’ve been and where God wants you to go. Healing is also necessary to follow God’s command to” do unto others what you would have them do unto you,” (Matthew 7:12). If you start dating prematurely, you could be hurting – rather than honoring – those you date.
When Becky was invited to lunch by a man she met at a bookstore, she was excited. She was ready to date and had taken time to seek God and heal after her divorce three years earlier. She thought her lunch date had done the same, but she quickly discovered otherwise. Instead, he was still drowning in grief. During their lunch, his eyes filled with tears and anguish. When Becky asked him how long he’d been divorced, he admitted that it wasn’t final yet, that he was living in the basement of the home that he and his wife shared, and that they’d only been separated for three weeks.
Becky gently told her date that he needed to first pursue emotional and spiritual healing. She suggested that he develop relationships with other Christian men for support, rather than seek out women for emotional comfort.
Perhaps you know someone like this man. Understandably, he is lonely. But dating so soon will almost inevitably lead to heartache, since he’s neither emotionally nor legally available. And, until he heals, he won’t be able to relax and commit his entire heart to his new partner the way God intends.
To begin healing, you’ll want to seek counsel from committed Christians who are willing to walk through the grief process with you. This may mean seeking out your pastor for support, joining a Divorce Recovery group or visiting a Christian counselor.
Guard Your Sexual Integrity
Some divorced church-goers try to convince themselves that God’s command to abstain from sex doesn’t apply to them – that it’s for the never-married crowd. However, Scripture is clear that it doesn’t matter if someone has been married or not, sex with someone other than your spouse is still fornication (I Thessalonians 4:3, I Corinthians 6:9).
Don’t wait to put some practical boundaries in place, such as not staying at your date’s home overnight. You can also establish an accountability group made up of those who know and love you. That way, when you feel tempted, you can call on them for prayer and support.
Be aware that when you commit to remain celibate until you remarry, there may be some people who will try to convince you that you are being unreasonable. If a date pressures you, don’t compromise. Instead, run the other direction and resolve to date only fellow believers who share your convictions. The Bible is clear about this: Maintaining your sexual integrity is not optional; neither is getting romantically involved with someone who doesn’t share your faith (2 Cor. 6:14). Above all, God wants to come first in all you do (Matthew 6:33).
Think Before Involving Your Kids
Sharon has been single for many years. During that time, several men have come and gone from her life. And each new boyfriend has developed a relationship with Sharon’s son, Branden. Unfortunately, Branden’s father abandoned him, so it’s understandable that he longs for a relationship with a father figure. Whenever Sharon meets someone new, she hopes that “this is the one,” and Branden does, too. Sadly, when Sharon’s relationships don’t work out, not only is her heart broken, but so is her son’s.
Scripture warns believers to “guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23). For the single parent, this means that you will have to do some “guarding” for your children by not involving them with your suitors too soon in a relationship. Some people hold off until engagement before introducing their significant other to their kids. (Granted, this can create other complications because you want to know how your children will respond to a potential mate prior to engagement.)
Bryan, a single father of three, always meets his dates on neutral ground with his children, such as at a church picnic or at movie theatre with friends. He never introduces his date as his girlfriend, but a friend. This spares his children from the complicated emotions that will inevitably come with adjusting to a new stepparent prematurely.
Stick With God’s Plan
After experiencing the comforts of marriage, it can be tempting to settle for less than God’s best. You may believe the lie that you’ll never find a godly man or woman, that you’ll have to accept whoever comes along. One way to avoid the temptation of settling is to know what’s acceptable and what’s not, to both you and God, before you start looking for love.
This is where slowing down before getting into a serious relationship helps. Not only does going slow give you time to heal, but it also helps you better assess those you date. If you have taken the time to understand yourself and the dynamics that contributed to your divorce, you are more likely to make a godly choice in choosing the second time.
Shortly after Sam divorced, he was desperate to meet a woman and start over. When Ashley showed a strong interest in him, he started spending time with her. She was kind and enjoyed her company – but she didn’t share his faith, which was also a problem with his first wife. Unfortunately, Sam ignored God’s clear directive in this area, and only after they had dated for several months did he decide to end the relationship. As a result, Ashley’s heart was broken, and his was, too. If Sam had taken time to seriously commit his personal life to God, he could have made the choice not to get involved with Ashley in the first place.
If you’re contemplating dating someone new, take your time in getting to know them, and if they fall short in one of your major criteria such as faith, children or sex before marriage, make the wise choice early on by saying no to the relationship. Remember, too, that navigating the dating jungle is not easy. But, if you seek God and put Him first, He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5).
The issue of remarriage after divorce arouses even more controversy, and not all theologians agree. Focus on the Family holds that there are three sets of circumstances under which remarriage appears to be scripturally justified:
1. When the first marriage and divorce occurred prior to salvation. God’s promise in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (NASB) – applies to divorce as well as all other sins committed in the believer’s past.
2. When one’s mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. However, we must be careful to not make Jesus’ statement to this effect (Matt. 19:9) into a broad, sweeping, simplistic formula. Instead, we must evaluate each case independently, bearing in mind that “immorality” here refers to persistent, unrepentant behavior, and that divorce and remarriage is only an option for the faithful partner – not a command.
3. When an unbelieving mate willfully and permanently deserts a believing partner (I Corinthians 7:15). This does not refer to a temporary departure, but to a permanent abandonment, where there is little or no hope of reviving former commitments and salvaging the relationship.
When Thinking About Marrying a Non-Believer
If you’re thinking about marrying a non-believer, here are some future questions you may have to answer.
Following Christ is the most important decision you’ll ever make. The next most important decision? Choosing a mate who shares your faith and who will support you in your spiritual growth.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the Apostle Paul says that believers should not “be unequally yoked with non-believers.” While it’s true that this passage does not specifically mention marriage, it does refer to being bound in a relationship with another person—no relationship is more binding than marriage.
The picture of two oxen bound (or yoked) together is often used to explain this Scripture. The oxen must pull in the same direction. Otherwise, they will fight with one another and experience exhaustion.
The same is true of two people who marry but don’t share a common faith. Like the oxen pulling in different directions, a couple who doesn’t share a Godly foundation will clash and experience conflict.
Perhaps you’re not convinced yet, and you wonder, Two people enjoy one another and are mutually attracted, so that’s enough to sustain the relationship, right?
If you’re thinking about marrying a non-believer, here are some questions you may be faced with answering in the future:
- Who will the come first, Christ or your husband? And how will you explain—and help him understand—this?
- Will your spouse’s indifference to God affect your own spiritual growth?
- How will you explain to your spouse how God guides your decisions if he/she does not know Him?
- What if you believe that God wants you to accomplish something together as a couple?
- What if God leads you to stop practicing a particular habit? Will your mate understand?
- Will she think you’re being unreasonable, especially since “everyone else is doing it”?
- If you have children, will your mate agree to let you raise them to know Christ? Will he object when you want to take the kids to church and/or Christian functions?
- Will your spouse’s unbelief hinder your children and grandchildren from trusting in Christ and, ultimately, affect their eternal destiny?
- When you and your spouse have a disagreement, will your mate have the capacity to forgive? (After all, forgiveness is often a choice that many people find difficult even with God in their lives.)
Even well-meaning Christians can fall into the trap of marrying non-believers. The most important piece of advice is that saying he knows Christ doesn’t mean he has a relationship with Him.
Marriage based on a common faith is for our benefit, blessing and protection. God wants what is absolutely best for you. Make the decision to follow Him and allow Him to help you find the right mate for you.
Story: Marrying Later in Life
The Vaughans and Elliotts understand better than most about the frustration of waiting to find a mate.
Like most men, Joel Vaughan wanted to marry, so he prayed for a mate and dated as often as he could. But more than 10 years after high school graduation, he still hadn’t found his wife.
Then, while in his mid-30s, he was organizing the details of a conference. A package he needed for the event had not arrived the morning it was due. Desperate, Joel did everything he could. Still no package. Miraculously, only minutes before the seminar started, a courier walked into his office and handed him the prized box. Filled with gratitude, Joel silently thanked God for the delivery.
That’s when he felt he heard God speak to his heart. In the same way I brought this box, I’ll bring your wife. When you have done everything you can, then I will bring her.
Joel laughs now and says that, by the time he turned 42 and moved to Colorado Springs to work for Focus on the Family, he wondered if he’d just “eaten some bad chili” the night before and hadn’t heard from God at all. Still, he continued praying and enjoyed dating, but without long-term success.
Then one day, almost two years after moving to Colorado, he unexpectedly met his future wife, Kellie, while picking up his mail. She purchased the town home next to his and had just moved in. Weeks later, when Joel discovered Kellie also worked for Focus, he thought, “God could be doing something.”
Indeed, He was.
After their first meeting, Kellie and Joel became good friends, danced their way to love in a ballroom class, then tied the knot a year and a half after they met. Joel now jokes that not only did God “deliver” his wife just as He promised, He brought her right to his mailbox; a true mail-order bride.
Brian and Cindy Elliott, like Joel and Kellie, also wondered if they would ever find “the one.” But unlike the Vaughans, they didn’t meet at a mailbox, but on a dance floor of the Queen Mary when they both attended a Christian Singles dinner dance. Both were 38 years old when they walked the aisle.
Joel, Kellie, Brian and Cindy are like an increasing number of singles who are marrying later in life. They understand better than most about the frustration that can result from waiting and praying to find a mate. And they are also well-acquainted with the joys and challenges of marrying later than the average person.
So if you’re an older single and you want to get married, here is some advice from four people who’ve been there:
There’s Not Necessarily Something “Wrong With You” if You’re Still Single
The Vaughans and Elliotts know what it’s like to face the stereotype of having something “wrong with you” if you’re older and still single. Thankfully, when each of them explains why they didn’t marry earlier, they agree that it was due to not meeting the right person. In retrospect, all see God’s sovereignty in action.
“God brought Cindy at just the right time,” Brian says.
This can be comforting for many singles who fear that they can’t find a mate because of their flaws.
“He [God] can overrule our inadequacies,” Brian says. “You don’t have to be perfect [to meet someone].”
While it’s important to improve your emotional and spiritual health while you’re single, remember that everyone is a work in progress and that God ultimately controls every detail of your life.
Marrying Later Doesn’t Mean You’ll Have a Harder Time Complementing Your Mate
It’s commonly thought that couples who marry later in life will automatically have a more difficult time uniting as a couple because each spouse is set in his or her own ways. Not so for either couple.
“Kellie and I have found it very easy to blend,” Joel says. “She and I were extremely grateful the Lord brought someone to us …after years of wondering and waiting,” which he says helped them merge their lives together.
Cindy Elliott agrees: “[When I married], I was surprised at the perspective I had on what’s important and what’s not.”
She doesn’t worry about minor problems like her children’s fingerprints on the refrigerator because she is just grateful to have a family. This has made blending easier than she anticipated.
If You Want to Get Married, Do Something!
Both the Vaughans and the Elliotts also say that marrying later can be challenging because it becomes more difficult to find a suitable mate. But many Christian men, Joel and Brian suggest, don’t take the initiative to find a wife.
“A common complaint I hear from single Christian women is that Christian men don’t do anything,” Joel says.
“Some people believe that God is a magic genie,” Brian says. “They say they’re not going to work on their issues but expect God to magically bring someone to them. You need to learn about yourself and learn about others.”
In short, both men agree that guys should get busy and initiate!
Take Advantage of Your Single Season
In retrospect, Cindy wishes that she would have taken better advantage of her “single season” by focusing more on God.
“The Apostle Paul was very clear. You can serve God better being single,” he says. Of course, there is intense emotional pain that can come from being alone. But God is always faithful. “Realize that the key to everything else in life is to get closer to God.”
So while you’re waiting, praying and dating, develop a heart of gratitude and service to bless God and others.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources addressing preparation for marriage
Popular questions on this topic:
- How do I find the right person to date?
- I’m a single mom whose child doesn’t like any any man I date.
- I’m interested in a co-worker but don’t know what his feelings are for me?
- Why Wait for Sex?
- Test-Driving Marriage
- What It Means to Be Intimate
- Searching for a ‘Sole’ Mate
- Approaching the Wedding Day