How does someone just get to know someone and not be dating? Of the few people I have dated, it was instant dating. I have met a few people for coffee, but to really get to know people in group settings, people tend to group you together.
For me, it's hard to tell when it has moved from getting to know someone to dating. How do you tell the difference?
How do you get to know other people without playing the field or making someone jealous when all you want to do is get to know people to have a better idea of who may or may not be a person you want to date?
Thanks for your question. It can be a real challenge these days to get to know someone you might be interested in. That's true partially because the dating culture right now — even at a lot of churches and among professing evangelical Christians — insists on so little planning and deliberateness, so much effortless "spontaneity" in getting to know someone or meeting a potential spouse, that it's hard to get much done.
Your question is really two questions: (1) How do I get to know someone to see whether we might want to date and (2) How do I know when things have moved from just getting to know someone to dating. Let me offer some thoughts on both those questions. You didn't say in your question whether you're a man or a woman, and part of my advice on this depends on which you are, so I'll try to cover both possibilities.
I know you wrote in your question that you've had some difficulty getting to know people in groups, but as far as how to generally get to know someone short of dating, I still think getting together in groups is the best place to start. The key here is initiative and a little creativity.
If you don't like the way things have gone in group settings, take the reins and create a better situation. Whether you're a man or a woman, it's fine to initiate and plan a group evening out or get-together — and to select the guest list. Focus on activities that will get people interacting and talking: a group dinner, a game night. Ask a married couple you know to have a "select" group of people over for dinner. Occasionally combine lighthearted banter with a topic of some newsworthiness or spiritual weight for the group to discuss so you can see how people interact around those things rather than just how they make small talk.
If you've read any of my other columns on this, you know I tend to like the context of a local church for all this. A lot can be learned about people just by watching them serve in various ministries of the church, seeing how involved they are and how they prioritize their time, and what appears to be important to them. That said, these activities can arise out of a singles group, a school setting, whatever — provided, of course, that you as a Christian are limiting your search for a potential spouse to other Christians.
Limited one-on-one get-togethers (preferably initiated by the man) are OK as well, but you have to be much more careful in that context about causing confusion or hurt because the other person has inaccurate expectations. There's no magic formula here, but if you as a Christian man spend one-on-one time with a sister in Christ that is significantly more or different from time you spend with other sisters, it's time to have a clarifying conversation. If you're the woman in that situation, it's time to ask for such a conversation (or stop saying yes to hanging out until he gets the message).
This brings me to your second question: how you know when "getting to know someone" has moved to dating. The answer is that there should be no mystery to this at all. Pretty much as soon as the kind or amount of time you're spending together (or communicating by phone or text or whatever) distinguishes the relationship from how you interact with other single believers, the man should initiate a conversation about what is going on and where things (he hopes) are headed. The woman can then respond as she will.
I've written a lot more on this in my Biblical Dating series, especially in part 2. The summary is that God has called men to leadership and initiative in marriage (see, among other passages, Genesis 2, 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 and Ephesians 5). A wife's role in marriage is to respond to her husband's leadership, be a helpmate to him, and encourage him to lead well (Genesis 2, Proverbs 31, Titus 2). Does that mean that outside of marriage it's sin for a woman to initiate a coffee? Of course not. But it is wise and right to set patterns in dating that will serve you well in marriage, especially if we accept the premise that the purpose of dating is to find a marriage partner.
If the man in question initiates a conversation when it's appropriate to do so and makes his intentions and hopes clear, and the woman responds to his initiative with equal clarity, then the zone of "what are we doing here?" that confuses and frustrates so many won't be an issue.
I will pray for the Lord to give you wisdom in your efforts — and a spouse!
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.