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Tip #4: Honor your future spouse (and his).  You and the man you’re dating might turn out to be those people for each other, but you might not, so until you exchange vows, proceed with prayerful caution, seeking to please God first, foremost and always, as your relationship with Him is the only one that’s eternal.

Early in my marriage, a friend of mine told me that she wished she could meet her husband’s high school girlfriend, so she could thank her for the way she handled their dating relationship and for preserving her husband for their marriage.

Wow.  I was touched and wished with all my heart I’d heard someone say something like that before I ever started dating.

In the ‘80’s, dating advice and purity talks consisted mostly of varying answers to the question “How far is too far?”

Purity was mentioned, of course, but we didn’t talk about it holistically.  It was mostly relegated to the physical/sexual and was more about whether or not you could technically call yourself a virgin and wear your purity ring without lying than about loving God with your heart, soul, mind and strength and preserving all aspects of yourself so you could enjoy unhindered intimacy with Him and/or with the spouse He would someday give you.

Although my heart belonged to God, and I knew that I loved Him, I didn’t really know how to love Him.  I wasn’t a living sacrifice.  I pretty much saw myself as someone who belonged to me and viewed others as people I could spend myself on as I saw fit as long as it didn’t cross any established physical boundaries, not for God’s glory, but for my own benefit. I didn’t consider the future, but lived in the present.

I wish I had a time machine.

If I did, I’d do my best to explain to the girl I was back then how much she would love her future husband—she’d never believe it, having no frame of reference, but I’d try—and how much joy she’d find in lavishing herself on him within the boundaries of biblical marriage, where she could give and receive emotionally and physically without guilt or second-guesses.

I’d explain that maintaining her purity wasn’t about figuring out how far was too far, but leaving generous margin, reflecting God’s holiness and holding sacred that which was intended for Him and the husband with whom she would someday illustrate His Gospel through mutual commitment, submission, service and passion.

I’d tell her to save ALL her ‘firsts’ for her husband, not just her virginity, something she already knew to guard, but certain other expressions of affection, tender words and unique romantic experiences as well, so she could share the fresh wonder of them with the one she’d love best and forever only.

I’d tell her that her parents were wise not to allow boyfriends at family gatherings or holiday celebrations and that she’d thank them for the absence of other guys in family photos once she’d pledged her heart.

I’d tell her that marriage requires preparation, not practice, and to save her energy and enthusiasm for the real deal.

I’d spare her regret.

But I can’t go back.  All I can do is offer those who are in the thick of it now the benefit of my flip-side perspective.

Listen, I’m a hopeless romantic.  I get it.  When dating someone, we all like to think the person we’re investing time and energy in could be the proverbial “one,” especially if they truly love Jesus and are on the same spiritual trajectory we are—if that’s not the case, you shouldn’t be in the dating relationship to begin with, wasting your time and theirs—but almost all the time, that’s just not true.

If all goes according to God’s plan, only one dating relationship in your lifetime will culminate in marriage, relegating every other dating relationship you have to experiment status and you and the men you date to classmate status as you grow and learn what it means to take part in a God-honoring relationship.

What’s more, at every stage of every dating relationship, you and the man you’re dating have other people besides the two of you to consider, your future husband and his future wife.  Even when you feel certain the man you’re dating would approve of the decision you want to make and may even be urging you to say yes, ask yourself how that yes would affect both of your future spouses and the health of both of your future marriages.

Yes, the man you’re dating may indeed turn out to be “the one,” but until he is, he isn’t, no matter how much hope you’re holding out for a potential future with him.  Until he actually becomes your husband—even when the wedding is only days away and a brief vow seems a flimsy barrier between you and the one you love—keep for your husband what’s his (and his wife what’s hers) and spare all of you regret.

When right now has you all flustered and confused, go for the someday thank you. It may just come from you.

Read Tip #1: Men Who Love Jesus

Read Tip #2: Realistic and Fair Expectations

Read Tip #3: Giving it Time

Read Tip #5: Letting God be Hero