Dating a stranger isn’t unheard of in our 20s and 30s. Apps like Coffee Meets Bagel and OkCupid make it easy to filter our settings, so we’re matched with friends of friends. When people ask us if we want to be set up, we immediately want to know everything about the person before we meet them. We can research and vet our prospects all we want, but how the dates go from there is a mystery. It sounds exciting but also very scary.
I met my boyfriend, Andy, while traipsing through Portland, Oregon with mutual church friends. Right away, I sensed our differences. Geographically, we live on opposite coasts. He’s a Generation X. I’m a millennial. He’s a die-hard basketball fan. I know nothing about sports. Though both of us didn’t have fond memories of dating strangers before, we gave long distance a shot. A year later, we’re getting engaged and planning our wedding.
Here are 7 eye-opening lessons I learned from dating a stranger.
1. Be humble.
I’ve talked to brothers who have an idealized view of what’s attractive in women, but sometimes those qualities aren’t evident in their own character. Sisters can smell arrogance and self-righteousness from miles away. Getting rejected is a natural part of asking someone out but how we react is telling of our character. Paul says in Romans 12, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”
Sisters in the church say they want an organic dating relationship that springs from friendship, but it tends to keep them from considering certain brothers. Other times, when a brother comes out of left field and asks a sister out to coffee, it feels aggressive. If we’re wondering where all the men are but don’t give them a chance, we could be missing opportunities for them to surprise us into reconsidering our preconceived notions.
Even though I wasn’t initially attracted to Andy, I remained open to getting to know him. As I got to know him better, my attraction for him grew. I was surprised by how much we had in common and the chemistry we felt, but I would’ve never known if I rejected him.
2. Pray together.
When you’re dating a stranger, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend with them. If you’re not spending quality time, it’s hard to get to know each other on a deeper level. Personally, I’ve noticed it’s more difficult to have substantive conversations in person than on the phone.
I found the key to spending quality time in person is through prayer.
When Andy suggested praying after our first date, I felt awkward. Sadly, I’m not in the habit of praying with people after hanging out. Over time, I warmed up to it and realized it’s the best thing we can do for our relationship. What I enjoy about praying together is how honest and vulnerable our hearts can be while keeping Christ at the center.
3. Set boundaries.
When it comes to physical boundaries, people have different comfort levels. Learn to respect each other’s limits. If the struggle is neither of you have any, talk about why that is and how that’s affecting your ability to maintain purity and be free from temptations.
The first time my boyfriend and I talked about physical boundaries, I asked to limit it to handholding. We agreed that’s what we’re both comfortable with. As we get to know each other better, we continue to talk about where to draw the line.
We’ve also practiced setting boundaries with family. Both of us are people pleasers, so it’s easy to persuade ourselves to let our closest family members influence our decisions. But we remind each other that family is important but comes second to our relationship.
4. Seek community.
One of the joys of Christian dating is reaping the benefits of prayers people have sown and continue to sow into you and your partner. Invite friends and pastors into your lives and journey with couples who are just starting out and those who are happily married.
As I prepare to move to Portland, Andy and I have talked about finding a church right away and investing in the community, so we make friends and don’t become an island.
5. Be intentional.
When you’re first dating, it’s easy to get swept up in the lovey-dovey feelings of the honeymoon stage. But that won’t always last so don’t stay head in the clouds for long. Be honest about how you feel and where both of you see the relationship headed. Two people can be in different places, so be patient with one another and suggest a timeline.
When my boyfriend first hinted at marriage, I felt a knot in my stomach. I wasn’t ready to go there, and I told him. He understood, and we set a timeline of six months into dating to talk about whether we see our relationship in the context of marriage. To his surprise, I was open to talking about marriage three months into dating. It helped that he made his intentions clear by opening up the door and letting me walk through it when I was ready.
6. Communicate effectively.
My boyfriend and I have had lots of miscommunications over text and on the phone. Sometimes, he wouldn’t understand how to empathize with me other than with a dry, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” after which I felt dismissed. It was hard to bring up at first because it seemed petty, but I’d get short with him and passive aggressive. He could tell I wasn’t happy with him. So we talked about ways that his responses can indicate more emotion. I suggested he use emojis and let me know when he’s in the middle of something and needs more time to respond. Communicating often helps me calm down.
Meanwhile, I confess I have a short attention span and tend to check my notifications while I’m on the phone with Andy. He totally knows when I’m doing that because I can’t multi-task, and my responses sound airy and aloof. He told me how he felt about that, so I made a commitment to no longer check social media while talking to him unless I ask him first. As we learn to communicate better, we keep love and forgiveness close at hand.
7. Receive forgiveness.
There are times when it’s hard to forgive because the hurt runs deep in our history and childhood memories. Before we forgive the stranger we’re dating, we must forgive ourselves. But in order to believe that we’re forgiven, we must understand God’s grace. In Ephesians 2:4-5, Paul says because of God’s great love for us, He made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace we have been saved. When we look to the cross, we’re reminded of how wretched our sins are but also how deeply loved we are. Jesus offers us abundant grace so we can fully receive forgiveness.
Later on in Ephesians 2:10, Paul says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” It’s important to see each other the way God sees us, through the eyes of mercy and grace and in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Andy and I are reading The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller, and one insight we found helpful is when Keller says:
No matter how well two people know each other in a dating relationship they become strangers again in marriage.
It’s because there are certain aspects of our character that we don’t see until marriage brings them out. We have a choice. Either flee or forgive.
When we begin to view our significant other as God’s masterpieces, no matter what kind of semi-stranger we’re confronted with into marriage, we can confidently and joyfully say on our wedding day, “As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags” (Keller).