For all of high school, I subscribed to the belief that dating without the intention of marriage is pointless. Why would you waste your time with a significant other if you couldn’t see yourself marrying them? Why invest time, money, emotions, resources, etc. if you didn’t picture a future with them?
This largely stemmed from my religious practices in high school. I was (and still am) Christian, and I read a lot of books by Christian women who advised dating only when ready for marriage, whenever that may be. I followed Christian influencers on social media who had similar ideas. I knew all the sayings and quotes about saving yourself (sexually or otherwise) for the right guy. I had conversation upon conversation with my Christian female friends about “protecting your heart” and “praying for guidance” when it comes to dating and marriage.
Essentially, I was the girl waving the flag shouting, “ALL RELATIONSHIPS END IN BREAKUP OR MARRIAGE!!!!”
Which, at its core, is true. Romantic relationships will, inevitably, end in a breakup or a marriage (unless you take a break or don’t believe in marriage or a thousand other scenarios, but I’m talking conventional here). I do still sometimes give this advice to younger girls who ask me for it.
I also know I am not the only girl (or guy) who has adopted this approach to dating. The Internet is full of hercampus and the Odyssey articles about this topic. There are checklists titled things like “differences between the girl you date and the woman you marry”. There are formulas for “dating the right way” and how-tos for “dating to marry”. There are thinkpieces on when it’s appropriate to let your children date, because you want them to be marriage-ready when they first step off your stoop and into a car with someone else.
Newsflash: there is no one formula that will get you the perfect relationship. There is not a checklist, an equation, a perfect approach.
I have come to realize that there are some very toxic mentalities that accompany this “date to marry” mindset, and I am here to lay some of those out today. And as always, all opinions and experiences expressed are mine… if you had a different experience than I did, that’s awesome! I’d love to hear about it. These are my thoughts on this, and we can differ. What a privilege to be human and different, amiright?!
I didn’t date until the very end of my senior year, and it was a short relationship that ended before I moved to Colorado (while he’d be staying in Minnesota). My second relationship started soon after, the autumn right after I moved to Colorado. Although it was also relatively short, it was brimming with passion and probably-too-soon “I-love-yous” and planning for the future together, like, two months in. In fact, all of my relationships have followed this path: falling for each other incredibly quickly, saying “I love you” in a matter of weeks, planning for the future waaaaaayyyy too soon, etc. Then when we would break up (after only a few months), it was heartbreaking. Soul-crushing. Absolutely, downright horrible.
For a long time, I wondered what I was doing wrong.
I was invested. I was loving. I tried to spend time with them, to plan, to pray, to align my dreams with theirs. Wasn’t I doing everything right?
I started to notice something. I see a cute guy and RIGHT AWAY I am already picturing our wedding, our five kids, the photos of our world travels adorning the walls of our kitchen. And I’m sure some of that is just personality: I’m a dreamer, a planner, and a wedding lover. I can’t help it! But one day, after relationship after relationship was failing, I realized something:
The “date-to-marry” mentality puts too high of expectations on imperfect people in a new relationship.
You’re both figuring the other person out. You’re both stumbling through life. So you found someone similar enough to spend this time in your life with–that’s fantastic! Now spend this time with them, and let the future come when it does.
Spend this time with them, and let the future come when it does.
For the control freaks in the room (aka me!!), that’s fucking scary. You want to control the future ASAP. You want to lock them in (lol), get that commitment, hear that “I love you”. You don’t have time for games, you
want need this one to be The One.
Below, I’ve listed some bullet points that include advice, reminders, suggestions, and tips for dating without this expectation of marriage. And of course, there is a time and place to talk about the future, especially as your relationship grows lengthier and you start to blend your lives more and more. But don’t let that become the main theme. Don’t begin talking about marriage two months in. Don’t get caught up in expectations.
Things to Consider, Advice, Mistakes and Lessons… etc.
1. Dating more than one person allows you the space to figure out what you want — and what you don’t — in a significant other.
If you date one person and end up marrying them, that’s so amazing and I am so so so happy for you! You’re pretty much living my high school dream life, lol.
BUT for the rest of us whose first relationships didn’t work out…. that’s okay. I learned a lot from my past relationships. I learned so much about myself, and what I need to work on. I learned about what kind of expectations are realistic… and what isn’t. And best of all, I got to know another person. Isn’t that the entire point of life? To form relationships and make memories and enrich your life the best you can?
2. Learn to let go of some control.
This is always so hard for me to hear, but it’s so so so necessary:
Having too much control is never a good thing.
Allow the relationship to run its course… whether it’s awesome or shitty, or maybe (probably) both. Just enjoy it! Don’t worry about whether or not (s)he’s The One. If he/she has a habit that annoys you, don’t sit up nights journaling about whether or not that’s a dealbreaker or will fuck up your kids in the future or whatnot. Honestly, just let the relationship happen. Enjoy getting to know the other person! You are into someone else and someone else is into you! Isn’t that just amazing in and of itself?!
My advice for this? Don’t blend your lives too quickly. Y’all don’t need to be into all the same things, do everything together, or even have the same core values (unless that’s hella important to you… which then by all means, stick to your guns!!!). I actually had a guy once mention my love for poetry slams while we were breaking up. Like?????? That’s why I have poet friends?????
Let the relationship happen. Don’t force the future. If it’s meant to be, it will be. Rest in that.
3. Don’t!!! Save!!! All!!! Your!!! Firsts!!! For!!! One!!! Person!!!
What is a “first”?
This could be anything, but I know HELLA people do this.
A “first” could be physical/sexual, experiential (visiting places, etc), relational (saying “I love you”, etc), or anything else you consider to be significant.
Banking all your relationship “firsts” on one person is not only stressful for both parties involved, but it’s a hotbed for shame, regret, and heartache if 1) the experience doesn’t live up to what you’ve built it up to be in your head and 2) you break up. Here’s the truth of life: some relationships just don’t work out. If you saved everything for one person and you break up, how will you feel? I know I felt used. Angry. Broken. Like I’d wasted everything I’d always considered important on the “wrong person”. Honestly, I felt dumb.
In addition, if you saved firsts for someone with the expectation that someone else would be waiting for you too, you honestly never know that you’ll find that. Ask yourself honestly: if you knew you’d be saving your firsts for someone who wasn’t, would you be saving them? This could honestly be anything from sex to roadtripping. Decide what you’re waiting to experience because it’s important for you, versus you want someone else to have that first with you too. Because truthfully, that may never happen. Will you be disappointed if you saved your firsts and they didn’t?
4. There’s nothing wrong with expectations… but check yourself.
The “date-to-marry” mentality, at least for me, has always bred SERIOUS expectations. This is in both myself and the other person.
In the other person, you might subconsciously expect that they’re instantly going to be this incredible person that’s just made of spouse material. They will put you first. Love you unconditionally. Incredibly. You will be their first priority behind God.
In yourself, you expect that your firsts will be with them (see no. 3). You expect that you’ll have this amazing, movie-like connection. You’ll prioritize them, love them endlessly, become instant spouse-material (as if you weren’t already!!!).
As Joshua Fields Millburn from the Minimalists said in a podcast I heard yesterday:
Lower your expectations, but raise your standards.
There is nothing wrong with expecting certain things from your significant other. This might be amount of time spent together, the way they treat you alone or in front of others, how much you have in common, the amount of money they spend on you, literally anything.
But you have to recognize that they (and you!!!) will mess up. No one is perfect. And if you live your life with this “date-to-marry” mentality, when they inevitably mess up, you’ll be left gasping for air, wondering if this is really right. If they’re really The One. You’ll be crushed, because your expectations were too high. If you’re thinking about marriage from square one, is there really isn’t room for mistakes? Is there really room to wonder if the other person isn’t right?
5. And finally, know this: being in love more than once is okay.
You aren’t used up.
You are not a slut.
Love isn’t constricted to one person. I remember once Googling “is it possible to love more than one person in a lifetime” when the first guy I loved had been in love with someone else before and I was terrified that he wouldn’t be able to fully love me.
I laugh looking back at that. But honestly, it’s a true fear I had. Ladies (and gentlemen and any other people of other genders), hear this: it’s okay to be in love more than once. In fact, it’s pretty fucking common. It’s normal as hell. You’re amazing and worthy of love from more than one person.
All in all, I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences with dating to marry. That mindset has NOT worked for me, and I wanted to caution others away from this mentality. But again, these are my opinions, thoughts, and experiences. If you had other experiences, that is so awesome. I’m so glad for you, honestly! But for those of you who have had relationships fall apart, I wrote this for you. If you’ve ever felt like you wasted your love, I wrote this for you. If you ever had your expectations come back and hit you hard in the face, I wrote this for you.
I’ve been there, and it’s not fun. It’s pretty fucking shitty. But know that you will find happiness. You will find happiness. You will find happiness.
You’re fucking gold. Hear that today.