So you’re dating someone, and the two of you want to do things the right way. You’re not dating just to date, or treating a dating relationship like you’re already married. Congrats!
If you haven’t done so already, there are some basic things to get clear from the start: establish some basic physical boundaries, and have an idea of you and your significant other stand for, what you want out of the relationship, etc. It’s great if you can get these clear commitments and intentions at the outset of the relationship, and even better if the other person shares your vision.
That’s no excuse to coast, though. Temptations will arise. St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 10:12, “Therefore let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” And St. Peter (1 Peter 5:8), “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” A lot of this watchfulness is simply being aware of pitfalls before you encounter them. So here are some warning lights.
So with that in mind, these are general tips for pursuing the relationship in a way that’s spiritual, intentional, and pure. (Because a young woman initially asked me for this advice, it’s written for a female audience, but most of the advice works in both directions):
- Be intentional in making plans, and encourage him to do the same: Know what you’re going to do before you go out. Obviously, there’s room for flexibility and for surprises (both planned and unplanned ones), but watch out for vague plans to just “hang out.” Idle hands and all that.The upshot of this is that it also forces you two to be more intentional about one another, instead of just coasting. It’ll be harder to take one another for granted this way. Hopefully, he will do most of the leading here, but it doesn’t hurt for her to have some idea of things she likes, restaurants she enjoys, etc.
- Location! Don’t hang out in each other bedrooms. (If it’s absolutely necessary, as is sometimes the case with dorms, be around other people: see #4).
- Location! Don’t go horizontal. Even just to hang out and “chat.” Dumb, dumb, dumb idea.
- Location! Avoid anything that’s a near occasion of sin. Avoid any situation that could quickly take a turn. One of the best ways to do this is to remain within eyesight and earshot of others at all times.
- Don’t be afraid to leave a situation, if that’s what virtue demands. Sometimes, girls (especially, but also guys) won’t want to end the night early because they’re afraid of being rude… even when they recognize that sticking around longer will only lead to trouble. If, in spite of #1-4, you find yourself in a place you realize you shouldn’t be (or see trouble coming), nip it in the bud. Never be afraid to say goodbye or goodnight too early, and never be insulted if he needs to do the same.Think of it this way: it’s a two-fold honor. Not only is there the whole honor in his finding you attractive, but there’s the far greater honor in his being concerned for your (and his) purity and spiritual well-being.
- That whole “wise as serpents, innocent as doves” thing applies here in a huge way. Naivety about the risks is a serious hinderance. Serpent-like wisdom protects dove-like innocence.
- Encourage him to be the kind of man that you want him to be. Positive reinforcement goes a long way, but don’t do it in a condescending way, like he’s a well-meaning child. “I love going to adoration with you,’ with an affectionate hand squeeze (or, if appropriate, cheek kiss) is more likely to produce the desired results than a two hour heated debate. Good men love to do things for the women that they care about, and knowing how much you appreciate these gestures will make him want to do them even more.
- Invite one another to pray. The easiest way to pray more is… to pray more. It’s great when he takes the lead on this, but it’s just fine for her to do so, too. If he’s smart, he’ll get the clue.
- Pray at the start and end of dates. If you’re on the phone in the evenings, pray together before you go to bed. Frame your relationship in prayer until it’s the most natural thing to do in the world.
- Develop non-physical ways of showing affection, love (if appropriate), and contrition. Guard against the temptation to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” physically.
- Pray for each other, and pray to your own (and each other’s) guardian angels.
- Consider choosing a Saint together, and entrusting your relationship to them.