I was in my 20s with a master’s degree when I first learned what a mirepoix was and why it mattered in the kitchen.
When it came to cooking, I suppose you could say I was a late bloomer. My friend Amanda, however, was a master chef at the same age. In fact, she stands in my mind as one of the best home cooks I’ve ever met. What made eating her food even better was that each time I entered her kitchen, she didn’t simply cook for me; she also equipped me with skills to build my own culinary chops.
“Soak onions in ice water,” she instructed. “It removes the bitterness and improves their flavor.” I went home and did it, and she was right.
It was Amanda who introduced me to a classic mirepoix. This ingredient trio of onions, carrots and celery is sometimes referred to as the “trinity.” It’s one I’ve come to discover every cook should know because it’s a solid base for hundreds of recipes.
If you’re the culinary sort, you’ve most likely used a mirepoix. But if cooking isn’t your thing, I’d guess you’ve at least eaten dishes that start with it as its base. But what does this vegetable medley have to do with dating?
Three Key Ingredients for Romance Done Right
Outside of the biblical principles that apply to shared faith and sexual purity, there doesn’t seem to be a precise “recipe” for dating done right. At the same time, experience has taught me that there are some key ingredients — or dating mirepoix — that are helpful when it comes to navigating a romantic relationship.
This trio of key “ingredients” is strategy, purposefulness and grace. Here’s how each can benefit you.
Ingredient #1: Strategy.
Sometimes I’m asked what my husband Ted and I did on our first few dates. I normally respond with, “Well, it’s kind of a funny story …” While most couples probably opt for dinner and a movie, at an early date, Ted and I picked up deli sandwiches and took them to a local park. Once there, we didn’t walk a dog, fly a kite, or even spread a blanket on the grass. Instead, we sat down at a picnic table, pulled out paper and pencils, and made lists.
Yes, you read that correctly: lists.
Our goal was to individually note which qualities we hoped would characterize our growing relationship, and then compare and discuss. We jotted down things such as friendship, purity and good communication.
As I look back at this date and how it helped shape our relationship 15 years ago, I see the power of strategy. I recognize how friendship, purity and good communication are still shared values in our marriage today.
I know the strategy we employed was a bit intense, specifically for the first month of dating. You may be thinking that doing the same on a first or second date with the person you’re interested in might scare them off.
Here’s the thing, though: Your strategy doesn’t need to look exactly like ours. What are some other ways you can mutually determine what’s important in a relationship as you date? Here are a couple of ideas.
Go to church together. Maybe you met the person you’re dating at church. But maybe you met at school, work, or through mutual friends. If this is the case, you may attend different churches. Strategy stems from our priorities. Visiting each other’s home church is one way to spark deeper conversation about what’s important to each of you.
Hang out with each other’s friends and family. It’s possible that you’ve known the person you’re dating for a while. Maybe you were friends first, or grew up together. But maybe you don’t have this relational history. This was true for Ted and me. Before we made our lists, I already had a head start on understanding the mutual values we shared because I spent time with those who had known Ted for years.
As you seek out activities that spark conversation about what matters most to you, you’ll begin to craft strategies together for how you want to walk out your relationship. You’ll look at each other and say, “Me too! That’s what I want to practice as we date.”
Ingredient #2: Purposefulness.
Strategy won’t do you any good if you don’t put it into practice. That requires being purposeful.
Here is how that looked for Ted and me. Both of us had experienced failed relationships. For Ted, this included two broken engagements. As a result, we both wanted to be as clear-minded as possible as we dated. This meant we chose to be extreme in how we walked out purity. We didn’t hold hands until we were engaged and waited to kiss until our wedding day. We found that clearly agreed upon limits in our physical relationship helped us better build our friendship and develop strong communication skills.
In sharing my story, I’m not suggesting that to hold hands or kiss is wrong. I believe that as we walk out our individual dating relationships, we need to be sensitive to how God calls us to live out biblical purity. Boundaries may look different for you than they did for us.
The main idea here is that once you’ve determined what’s mutually important to you, be purposeful to find ways to practice and cultivate these priorities. Here are a few ideas.
Invite accountability. Individually or as a couple, seek out trusted friends and family members with whom you share your relational strategies. If your focus is to learn how to communicate well, ask a few trusted friends to check in on you regularly and ask how you’re doing.
Plan out-of-the-box dates. Rather than default to easy date night options such as a movie or coffee, seek out shared activities that help you practice the characteristics that are important to you as a couple. Perhaps you determine that serving others is a quality you want to characterize your relationship. Decide to spend your next Saturday together at a local ministry outreach or babysitting for a married couple you know.
Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the direction we want our relationship to travel than to actually walk together in that direction. This is why the day-to-day determination and actual act of being purposeful matters.
Ingredient #3: Grace.
Strategy and purposefulness go far in dating, but they don’t guarantee a perfect relationship. The truth is there is no such thing. No matter how compatible you are or how hard you work at it, you are two imperfect individuals. This is why grace is crucial.
Ted and I quickly discovered that it was grace — or undeserved kindness — that helped our relationship thrive even during times when we witnessed each other’s selfish habits or experienced conflict. Grace doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to wrongdoings. Rather, as 1 Peter 4:8 says, we embrace the attitude that “love covers a multitude of sins.” We’re slow to accuse and quick to forgive.
What are some practical ways you can put grace to work in your relationship, especially when picking a fight would be easier? Here are a couple of suggestions.
Believe the best. I don’t know about you, but it’s my hope that others will believe the best rather than the worst about me. When I’ve messed up, I appreciate being given the benefit of the doubt. When you approach the other person in a gracious manner, you’re less likely to put him or her on the defensive. It’s more productive to work through issues with someone who doesn’t feel like they’re being attacked.
Focus on each other’s strengths. As I talk about in my book “Team Us,” focusing on each other’s strengths rather than weaknesses helps us show grace. Strengths remind us of what we see in the other person — of why we care so much about them. When we bring these positive qualities to the forefront of our minds, especially when we have reason to feel disappointment or anger, it helps us balance our irritation with appreciation. This makes practicing grace a little easier.
It’s been years since I last ate in Amanda’s kitchen. Yet her food and her friendship still impact me today. Not only in how I cook, but in how I think about relationships.
Copyright 2017 Ashleigh Slater. All rights reserved.