MSN Dating & Personals

Dating for fun - Is it OK?

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

To date or not to date? When it comes to faith and finding your mate, some single people have reason to feel confused. If your religion values dating that leads to marriage, it can be hard to know whether or not to participate in the singles scene.

This focus isn’t just an aspect of Christianity. Many other religions, particularly orthodox branches, also frown on any sort of romance outside of the marriage- minded. “From unaffiliated to ultra-Orthodox, in contemporary Judaism, each path has its own way of protecting us in this challenge, from arranging marriages to asking that we learn from our mistakes,” says Rabbi Jeremy Winaker of the conservative Bet Torah Synagogue in Mount Kisco, NY. "Ultra-Orthodox strictures are meaningful for many; though in general, the key is to maintain a respect for oneself and one's fellow human beings so we have healthy relationships at any stage of commitment."

To help those of you whose faith emphasizes dating that leads to marriage, we consulted with several religion and relationship experts for tips on staying true to your values... and yourself.

Define “dating”
In order to move forward with your “dating” life, it’s vital that you determine what the word means to you. For instance, you can define dating as not including premarital sex or anything else that feels too intimate or sacred to you.

“What’s better than good old-fashioned dating?” says Claudia Arp, who with her husband of 42 years, David, has written an entire series on dating within Christian parameters, including 10 Great Dates Before You Say “I Do.” “Whether or not you call it dating, you basically want to find different ways to spend time getting to know a person,” she says. “A good guideline for a Christian would be to say, ‘Even if I’m not serious and I’m not looking for a husband/wife right now, I want to spend my time with people of the opposite sex who know the Lord.’”

What are the “right reasons”?
When entering a dating relationship, ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish and learn through this process. “Before people start dating, they should formulate goals,” says Christian counselor Cathy Durst, LPC, MA. “Why are they dating? Just to get to know people, or do they have long-term marriage goals? I don’t think it’s fair to lead someone else on if you know he or she is looking for a marriage and you’re not.”

The Arps suggest using your dates to determine what you are seeking in a potential life partner. “Make a list of the qualities you want in the person you marry,” suggests Claudia, and then consider how your date compares. For example, is he kind, considerate, empathetic, spiritual, optimistic? How does she interact with others and with her parents? Then use your list as a ‘first filter’ to help you determine if you want to continue getting to know the person after each date. “Take away something positive from each date,” says Claudia. “Even if it’s just learning what you don’t want in a mate,” adds David.

Learning your limits
Throughout the dating process, you’ll find some situations will put you at ease while others test your faith. Durst warns that some people will have to learn to avoid putting themselves in temptation’s way, like being alone with someone at home when both individuals know the attraction is very, very strong.

Meredith Sutton, a professor at a Christian university in Texas, agrees that it’s a choice you can only make when you know yourself. “My husband and I were both dedicated Christians, and though we were definitely attracted to one another, we dated for two years before we got married,” she says. “We were able to be alone and still control ourselves. We would have fun together and kiss, laugh, hug and hold hands.”

Guilt-free dates
If your faith emphasizes dating that leads to marriage, our experts suggest these dating ideas that will gently introduce you to mingling and help you enjoy the experience:

Safety in numbers. “Double-dating with another couple — one that you know has the same values as you — can help you feel more comfortable on a date,” says Durst. She also suggests that it can be good to start going out in groups at first. “Once you get to know someone, you can’t always do a group date, but by then you’ll know if his or her value system is the same as yours.”

Walk and talk. The Arps recommend dates that don’t include going to a movie or listening to music. “Plan dates where you have an opportunity to talk,” suggests Claudia. Take a cooking class, hike, go to a museum, visit the zoo... anything that will allow you to chat and find answers to the questions you have about this person and figure out if you share beliefs.

Share a moment. If you’re out with other people, steal away with your date at some point, because there are things you just can’t say while in front of others. “Just because you date a person does not mean you have to have a sexual liaison with them, but you do need time alone together,” says Sutton. “There is nothing wrong with two mature people sitting alone and talking.”

Remember, if you’re not enjoying the process, take a step back and reassess. “At the very least, dating for fun allows you to build a friendship, and friendship is a wonderful start,” says David.

Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a certified fitness instructor and health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in Prevention, Women’s Health, Weight Watchers, and Fitness magazines.

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