There are a lot of Christian self help books available offering quick fix solutions to the dangers and emotional pitfalls of modern dating. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. Clearly they aren’t working, otherwise people would have stopped buying the books right? In this article, I’m going to offer some advice based on lessons I’ve learned during the course of my life which have changed the way I look at dating.
1) Partner Preference Lists Don’t Work
I’ve heard many well meaning Christian leaders telling people to write a check list of qualities they want in a partner. These lists can become pretty extensive and often grow more and more specific the longer a person remains single, sometimes even being divided into sections by priority. I had a list for a few years. It had over a hundred check boxes and eventually developed into a spreadsheet that awarded 30 points for an athletic body, -15 points for being a smoker, -30 if she’s been married, -60 if she has kids. If she could name all three MacGyver references in the StarGate SG1 series she’d get an additional 5 points for geek cred. The scores were divided into three categories each with required a minimum score in order for me to even consider dating the girl. Now, as carefully and lovingly created as it was, this list did not help me get a girlfriend. Would you like to know why?
Human beings are not subway sandwiches. People are not made to order according to customer specifications. So while being minutely specific in what you want may result in an ideal sandwich/mouth compatibility, it will not provide you with an ideal human being. Rather, it will provide you with an image of a person who does not exist. Even if you do find a partner that meets a lot of your criteria, on the off chance that you also meet enough of the checkpoints on their criteria list for them to be interested in dating you, you will find that they can never live up to you idealised expectation.
Also, people change over time. If you did find the ideal partner described in your list and got married, what would happen in ten years time if they changed? If they no longer meet all the points on your list, does that mean they are no longer the man/woman of your dreams? Do you get a divorce?
When you actually have a look at the lists people write, they generally form from a the kinds of people the writer has dated (or wanted to date) in the past. Considering that the purpose of these lists is supposedly to help single people find partners, it is fair to suggest that the writer hasn’t had much success dating the kind of person their list describes. Maybe it would be a good idea to branch out a little bit.
Evaluate a prospective partner on their own merits, not on how well they fit into a prefabricated mould. Learn to love/accept a person for who they are, not how well they fit into your preconceived idea of perfection. With any luck, they’ll extend the same courtesy to you. (Recommended reading: Matthew 7.1-5)
Rather than writing a list of traits you want in a partner, write a list of up to five key elements you want from a relationship. Here is the list I use as an example.
2) Mutual physical attraction
4) Openness to accept and support each other as we grow and change together
5) and more communication
2) Reading the Signs
I’ve heard a lot of guys claim that they are no good at reading subtle cues and that if a woman is interested in them they should just say so. There are a couple of issues here so I’ll deal with them one at a time.
Guy: Don’t expect girls to express an interest in you. That isn’t how it works. For a guy to know if he is interested, it is usually about how attractive/intelligent/funny the girl is. For the majority of girls, the major factor is how attractive/intelligent/funny he makes her FEEL. So if you are a guy, don’t wait for somebody to show an interest in you before making a move, it isn’t going to happen. It isn’t because they’re keeping it to themselves, it is usually because they won’t become interested until after you start showing an interest in them. Pursue the people you find interesting, it is generally how you pursue them that will allow them to decide if they like you back.
For most girls, it takes thirty seconds to decide if they want to talk to you, and seven minutes of conversation to decide if they are interested in more than a conversation.
The second issue is guys (and some girls) say that they don’t recognise body language and that is why they have some much trouble reading the non-verbal cues of the opposite sex. Body language is not some mystical thing which you understand or you don’t. It is a language which needs to be learned. If you didn’t pick it up in childhood (maybe you were an only child or didn’t play with other kids much) there are plenty of websites which can teach you. (link)
70% of human communication is non-verbal. Unless you want to date blind or autistic people exclusively, learn to read body language. This should be a priority as it will aid in all levels of physical communication. The benefit of learning body language at an older age is that you can learn more than basic survival skills. Most people who learn instinctively plateau at a comfortable spot where they can get by, study and practice take take you beyond that level.
3) Dealing With Commitment Breath
I’ve worked in a variety of high pressure sales jobs. Managers put a lot of pressure on sales staff to push to sell certain items, often offering a bonus commission for every sale. Toward the end of the day, sales staff who haven’t reached their quota for the day begin to stick of desperation to close a sale, customers can sense this desperation and avoid buying the product instinctively even if they may’ve otherwise been interested. This effect is called “commission breath”.
I’ve noticed that people who’ve been single for an extended period of time (particularly as they approach their thirties and start thinking about their window of opportunity to produce children) begin to develop commitment breath. Some common signs of commitment breath are: talking about marriage/babies/settling-down on the first date, refusing to “waste time” by going on a date with somebody who isn’t “marriage material”, questioning the other person’s “seriousness” after just one or two dates. I’m nearly thirty and I’ve been guilty of this a few times. The trick is to identify when it is happening and take steps to prevent it.
Go on a few one-on-one platonic dates with various people who you have no intention of marrying. I know that the Christian dating books say not to do this but they are mostly concerned with preventing teenagers from having sex. The group date is one way of diffusing the pressure that you are putting on a first date, except that the pressure is still there if you’ve got commitment breath, and taking these extreme measures to filter the people you’ll date only increases the pressure placed on the dates themselves. If you make a habit of spending one-on-one time with all of your friends, not only does this make you a better friend, it also enables you to have first dates without the pressure of “I’ve only asked you on a date because I want you to marry me.” Informal lunch dates are your friend. Don’t pay for everything.
If your current conversion rate for asking somebody on a date and getting a positive response is lower than 50%, you may need to alter your approach before trying again. I haven’t been turned down for a date in years. This isn’t because I am super attractive (though I’m sure it helps :P). It is because my super seductive technique sounds a bit like “Hey you wanna grab a coffee after this?”.
note: it is a very specific invitation to ask somebody out for coffee immediately, a negative response isn’t always an “I don’t want to date you” but can genuinely be a “I’d like to but I have stuff I need to do right nowt”. A follow up of a negative with a “no problem, next week then?” is genuinely guaranteed a “yeah, sounds great” if the person isn’t a complete stranger. While this is a bit of a slight of mouth trick which will get somebody to agree to a date they may not have otherwise agreed to, it is not an excuse to think that they want to produce offspring with you. Sometimes coffee is just a hot caffeinated beverage.
4) Revise Your Assumptions About Gender Relationships
Conservative churches seem to be very efficient at making men completely terrified of the lure of female friendships. So at the risk of stating what is obvious for the majority of my audience, the concept of distancing yourself from all female friends after you get married or only spending time with women you consider to be potential life partners is inconsistent with the idea of developing a friendship before you start dating.
Never tell somebody that you don’t see them as a potential partner unless they bring it up. It is rude and if you intend to stop spending time with them because you don’t want to marry them, it is also degrading as it suggests that a woman’s only value to you is as a potential partner. Getting to know somebody as a friend first is one of the most effective ways to ensure that it never becomes more than a friendship, particularly if you are the kind of guy who plans to stop socialising with all other women once he finds a partner. Woman are smart. If they know that they have your friendship now, but if you try a relationship and decide that you aren’t compatible, they’re going to lose the friendship too, they simply aren’t going to go there. Telling a friend that they are your ideal partner is a very effective way of destroying a friendship and you will not get a date out of it. A man who only hangs out with women that he sees as potential life partners is effectively communicating that the only value that women have to him is sex (albeit monogamous sex in the context of marriage). If you are only developing friendships with women in the hope that one day you will marry one of them and discard the rest, then there is no friendship, you’re just using them for sex. This is called the “niceguy” approach, and I assure you it is not nice. This is the main reason that “nice guys” tend to get “friendzoned”. Girls can see if you are only being their friend because you want to get into their pants. They won’t necessarily stop being your friend, but they will never let you get in their pants.
Learn to have friendships with women who you would never marry and maintain friendships with people you’ve dated that didn’t work out. This demonstrates that you aren’t going to discard somebody because you decide that you aren’t compatible after a few dates and will increase the likelihood of you female friends feeling safe to go on experimental dates with you without the risk of losing the friendship.
I have heard people claim that the reason it is so hard for Christian guys to find a partner is because women have their priorities out of order and and focussing on their career or social groups rather than on finding a husband. Let me be very clear about this. Don’t blame society or women’s equity for your inability to attract a partner. Church attending women outnumber the men by nearly two to one. Short of dance/aerobics classes, it is the best ratio of single women to men you are going to find anywhere. The problem isn’t the women, it is the emasculated boys in the congregation who have never learned how to be men. Women in the church usually miss out on their ideal partner because their ideal partner doesn’t go to church.
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS
Make a profile at plentyoffish.com or a similar site. No, you won’t meet anybody there. There are 10 guys to every girl and most of the girls are just there to have guys tell them that they are attractive. The value is in the forums. When you make a profile and get people in the forums to give you advice on improving it, the tips they give you are useful for adjusting how you present yourself in person as well as online. They also have an “ask a girl” forum which I think would be highly beneficial.
Being independent is good. Interdependent can also be good, but leave that till you’re married. Making a single person exclusively responsible for your personal happiness is too much pressure and will inevitably lead to relationship breakdown.
Complimenting a woman on her unique qualities is good. Telling her that she is attractive is also good. Society puts a lot of pressure on women to be physically attractive and a lot of women need constant reassurance that they look good in order to feel good about themselves. Tell ALL your female friends that they look good.
I hope this has been helpful.
If you think this advice is useful and would like some specific advice for a situation you are facing, you can leave a comment anonymously on this post and I will address the issue either in the comments or in a new post.