I wrote a post in September called “Things I Learnt Through Singleness“. This is the next in what may be a long series. This is what I learnt while dating Em from April 2013 till we got engaged on 1st January 2014. (See if you can guess what the next post in the series will be.)

1. Kissing is fun, sex is avoidable

Before I started dating, I was a bit terrified of kissing. I hadn’t kissed anyone for about 13 years. I had no idea how one went about initiating a kiss, and I was pretty sure if I did manage to end up kissing I’d be terrible at it.

The other thing that worried me is that I would end up having sex. Being the guy who always did the sex talk, telling people the importance of saving sex till marriage, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to live up to my own ideals. Lot’s of people said avoiding sex is hard, and I knew many couples who hadn’t managed to wait till marriage. Would I be one of those people too? What if I started kissing and suddenly my hormones were off, and the next thing I knew I’d impregnated Emily? It was a worry, because I had no idea.

Once we started dating I discovered that kissing is fun and sex is avoidable. My first kiss was exactly as bad as you’d expect from a man who hasn’t kissed anyone for thirteen years. But I got better, and we had plenty of fun.

What I discovered too, which I knew intellectually, just not through experience, is that the path from kissing to sex is not automatic. We had very clear boundaries, and we had a clear strategy to get from our first steps into physical intimacy to marriage without crossing any of our boundaries and without losing the fun of the physical intimacy. We had to make a few adjustments on the way, but we got there. It wasn’t magic, it was just honest planning and assessment. How dull. It make making-out sound like a business strategy.

What really struck home for me though was that avoiding sex was less about boundaries (though we had them) and more about service. I knew that seeing as both Em and I were committed to not sleeping together till we got married, for me to cross our boundaries, and to push things further physically was not serving her. Whatever we wanted to do physically, I knew I wanted to serve her and respect her more. There was never even a question of whether we’d sleep together. Not having sex wasn’t always enjoyable, but it wasn’t difficult. Neither of us wanted to be the person who pushed the other person further than they wanted to go. So we made it through fine. We enjoyed the kissing and we looked forward obliterating our dating boundaries at the right time.

2. Dating is expensive

I probably already knew this, many people have said it before, but once I started dating I really felt it. Dating is expensive, for many reasons. Obviously there are the dates. You spend more time eating out, going to movies (well I went just as much), and doing romance things (art galleries, picnics, Maccas, etc). You do all these things, and even if you did them alone sometimes, now you’re doing it more often, in fancier ways and paying for two. That being said, Em would often pay for us too because she was loaded and not into gender roles.

However it’s not just the dates, there are the hidden costs which I never thought about, the random gifts, the more expensive birthday and Christmas presents, the things you pay for “just because”, the petrol to drive to her place and home every other day and the extra tolls while driving, because you’re too excited to see her to take the long way. It all costs money.

In my stingier moments I would sometimes get annoyed that dating is so expensive, not annoyed at Em, just that it costs so much to be in a dating relationship. But then I’d remind myself that this isn’t just fancy food and extra driving for no reason. It’s all investment for a better relationship now and a better relationship later. Also apart from the driving and the tolls, it’s generally fun. It’s worth the investment, but if you want to save money, don’t start dating someone.

3. Dating invalidates your singleness

I was “The Single Guy” for a while. I was the go-to guy when you needed a Bible talk on singleness or someone single to be on your “Sex and Dating” panel at church. And then when I started dating a few people said things like “Now how are you going to do the singleness talk?” While they were joking, it did feel a little to me like once I started dating all my experience of figuring out how to be single was invalidated. It may be that no-body actually thought that, but I remember thinking it about other people who were known for being single when they got partners. Then I became that person.

When you’re with a single people who may be struggling with their singleness, once you’re dating, your advice or support seems somehow less valuable because you’re no longer in the trenches with them and you have the very thing they generally want – a relationship. Maybe I was downplaying my own effectiveness, but somehow singleness doesn’t seem to be one of those experiences that retains currency for very long outside its effect in shaping who you have become.

That may be because there is no guarantee that singleness will end. When you talk to someone who is sick with something you had and recovered from, you can say “It gets easier, you’ll get better.” But with other things, where there is no sure outcome, like singleness, you can only really say “This may end, it may not, it ended for me, maybe it will for you.” There is little comfort in that.

All that said, I don’t see my time being single as being something I needed to be cured of, or escape from. I moved from one good state of relationship status to another, but even that isn’t what you want to hear if you hate being single.

I guess someone else can do the “Living in Singleness” talk now. I’ll do the “Married for Three-Months and Got No Idea” talk. There’s quite a market for that kind of talk I’m sure.

4. Friends are Important

When you are dating, if you like the person you’re dating, all you want to do is hang out with them. If you could spend every moment of every day with them, you would.

When I was younger I used to watch my friends start dating and I’d get sad because I’d think to myself “I guess I won’t see much of them anymore.”

When I got a bit older I decided that it was actually a good thing that they started spending a lot more time with their boyfriend or girlfriend rather than me. It’s good for people to find partners, and it’s good to prioritise them over other people in their life. If they’re heading for marriage that person will become their number one human on earth. To inappropriately use a Bible verse out of context, I thought to myself of the new partner, “they must increase, I must decrease”.

So when I started dating, I didn’t stress too much about making sure I saw all my friends the same amount as I used to. That would have been nice, but time is finite, so you have to prioritise.

But what I found was that even though you saw less of your friends, their importance didn’t decrease, but their role changed.

Friends are good while you’re dating because they’re not in-love with you. It’s important to have people around who don’t think you’re the best thing to ever happen to them. It gives you perspective.

Friends are less intense. When you’re in a relationship, everything is bigger. The good things you do are amazing, the bad things are terrible. In a friendship, the good things are good, and the bad things are bad, but no one cares too much because you’re just friends.

Friends remind you that you are more that your relationship. You are a person beyond your relationship. This is always a helpful reminder.

Most importantly, friends are friends, and it’s good to have friends, whether you’re single, dating, engaged, married, married with kids, de-facto, divorced, widowed or a polygamist. Friends are important because they’re your friends. Simple as that.

5. Jesus is enough

Just as I learnt that Jesus is enough while I was single, I got to learn it in a whole new way while dating. When you’re dating you’re tempted to define yourself by your relationship. If it’s going well, you’re going well, if it’s going badly you’re going badly. But if you can hold on to the truth that your value and strength is found in Jesus, then your dating relationship can have an appropriate space in your life.

Sometimes I would worry that I might not be able to be a very good boyfriend. I would need to remember that Jesus is enough. He shows me how to love, I had everything I needed in him to be a good boyfriend. But if I failed, and we broke up, that’s ok, Jesus is enough, I didn’t need a girlfriend to be whole, I needed Jesus. When you’re holding less tightly to your relationship you’re freer to enjoy it and work at doing it well.

Sometimes it was hard to remember that Jesus is enough when Em was a whole lot more tangible than Jesus. But then when we would strive together to honour Jesus, more than we strived to make each other happy, we found that our relationship was a whole lot more satisfying. Having a focus in your relationship other than each other turns out to be better.

Dating is excellent, but Jesus is more than enough.