I grew up believing that the only purpose of dating is marriage. After all, true love waits, so what’s the point of dating until you’ve found “the one”?
I didn’t date in high school. First, I wasn’t allowed. Second, I wasn’t interested. I mean, if the purpose to date is to get married, I have no way of knowing if I still will even be friends with these same kids in a couple years (spoiler alert: I still am with my close friends!), so why not just enjoy the time as friends? Which is what I did.
A year or so after I graduated high school, I started a relationship that was pretty up and down, with the whole ordeal lasting about three years.
Now, I know people who’ve been in relationships MUCH longer than that and have broken up. But for me, it was still a long time. Especially because I had the mindset that dating was to lead to marriage, so either I failed in breaking things off or I failed in letting them go on too long. Looking back, the pressure I put on dating and to try to “make it work” in that relationship is a big part of the reason I stayed so long — even though it was clear to most of the people around me that it wasn’t very healthy.
Through this experience, I realized I had internalized some unhealthy beliefs around dating. Granted, dating should be taken seriously, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. And to act like there is can send mixed messages that go against our individual relationship journeys.
After I ended that first relationship, I stayed single for while before putting my toes back into the dating waters. I’ve tried out casual dating, and, while everybody’s got different opinions on what dating SHOULD be, I found it helpful. If I had tried to jump right back into a serious relationship (even after being single for a decent period of time), I would still be struggling with some of these unhealthy patterns that I’d internalized.
Here are 5 reasons why casual dating was helpful for me before starting another serious relationship:
It helped me figure out what I want.
Before casually dating, I only had dated one person, and it was for no short amount of time. Sometimes I would confuse if a certain quality of the relationship was something I actually wanted or if I just got used to it being there. Dating around showed me different ways a relationship can look — not bad, just different. Just because someone’s idea of a perfect date is a romantic, candle-lit dinner, doesn’t mean that’s what I have to want. It’s okay to prefer rock climbing and pizza. Or Netflix.
2. It showed me the difference between love and lust (yes, girls lust).
You can be attracted to someone, but not be compatible for a dating relationship. Just because I find someone attractive (whether it’s their appearance or their personality) doesn’t mean I love someone. There were guys I hit it off with right away, but after a few weeks or so, it became clear things weren’t going to work. And that’s okay.
3. It helped me better interpret my emotions.
When you are feeling a lot of emotions at one time, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher what you are actually feeling (just me?). I had to be really honest with myself when I was casually dating about what I was feeling and what I wasn’t. I didn’t want to waste either of our time, so if I wasn’t a huge fan of how things were going, I learned to be upfront about it.
4. I got rid of (some of) the mental baggage I had around dating.
As I mentioned earlier, I had some unhealthy baggage ingrained in my mind around dating. It was like this pressure to know on a first date if this is the person you are going to marry or not (and if I didn’t put that pressure on myself, someone else did for me). Casually dating helped me learn to release some of that pressure. If I don’t get it all right on the first try, it’s not the end of the world (and if I did, I might be a little worried I was missing something, anyways).
5. It was fun.
Come on, why do we always have to take dating so seriously?! I like meeting new people (when I’m in the mood… some weekends I would prefer just not to leave the house or speak to anyone), getting to know someone in a different way than a typical group setting, and going on fun adventures. I’m still friends with some of the guys I casually went out with — there obviously was a reason we clicked in the first place!
I’m not saying that everyone needs to or even should casually date. That’s going to vary from person to person. But dating doesn’t have to be as serious as we (especially in the church) often make it out to be. Just be clear and upfront about your expectations. And remember it’s okay not to get things right on the first try — there are always more fish in the sea 😉