True Love Dates

In a world that condones and even encourages the hookup culture, dating for Christians can either become a taboo subject or avoided altogher if not approached with the intent to marry. These two opposite extremes make dating a very confusing subject, especially if you don't belong in either category. In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff sit down with Debra Fileta, author of True Love Dates: Your Indispensable Guide To Finding the Love of Your Life, to discuss how Christians can reclaim the concept of casual dating and pursue each other in a God-honoring way. 


Transcript

Chris Grace:

Hey, welcome again to the Art of Relationships a podcast here from Biola University. I'm with Tim Muehlhoff, I'm Chris Grace. We are here talking with a special guest today, Debra Fileta who is joining us from Pennsylvania and from a truelovedates.com website and a book by the same name True Love Dates. Debra we're just so excited to have you on the program.

Debra Fileta:

Yeah, thank you Chris and thank you Tim. True Love Dates started, it was just my heart to bridge the gap between what the world teaches about dating and what the christian culture teaches about dating. Many of us grew up in the era of the I Kissed Dating goodbye movement. Just a shout out, Joshua Harris is a great guy with a great heart. I'm actually friends with him. The interesting thing about it is we came out of this culture where dating was almost seen as wrong. This culture where dating was this taboo thing that you need to stay from. It's almost some went as far as to say even trendy for divorce. There's one extreme, don't date, you barely interact with the opposite sex unless you know for sure they're going to be the one you end up marrying. Then the world offers us this culture of dating is casual, not only that, sex is casual. It's all relative, this commitment is this vague terminology.

 

It's like for the modern contemporary christian, who doesn't feel like they belong in either category, how do you even go about dating? How do you go about having a healthy relationship with the opposite sex? Through my work as a professional counselor, I just felt like this need was rising up more and more to just talk about the nitty gritty of dating relationships. In general, healthier relationships and the baggage that we carry and how all those things impact us and impact relationships. That's really where the book started and it's funny. I started the blog truelovedates.com to market this book that was coming out. Little did I know, God had way larger plans for the blog then even the book. The blog took off, we reached over 2 million millennials and singles a year. I'm just so thankful for the ministry that God landed in my lap unexpectedly. That's where it all started.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's great Debra. This podcast - I bet we're going to hit twenty people. We're just trusting God, no we're kidding, we're kidding. Debra what you said just so identifies with what I think Biola students are struggling with. Not just here, but as Chris and I travel to Azusa, to John Brown University. The way modern christian college students navigate this is, is there is virtually no dating that happens on campus. Then what little dating happens, it goes from zero to a hundred in a heartbeat so people move.

Debra Fileta:

Exactly, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

What's your take on that? We've been puzzled by it. I've been here for eleven years and the dating cultured has remained the same, is that no one dates. Casual dating, I would throw into what you were talking about, became a taboo concept of any type of causal dating. I feel like Biola students very much need what you're saying, the way they're negotiating it today is their simply no dating that happens whatsoever.

Debra Fileta:

Yeah, you have some great observations there. Unfortunately it's something that's happening across the country, especially within Christian circles. It's like, yeah, like you said it, it's almost like there's this fear of even interacting with the opposite sex out of the fear, comes from a good place. It's we want to honor God, we want to do what's right, but really deep deep down, I think there's also a fear of failure. We don't want to mess this up. It's so serious and we talk up how important marriage is. Granted it is so important, but then I think we elevate dating to the level of marriage. We take it just as seriously and it's like asking someone out for coffee becomes the equivalent to a marriage proposal. I have to take this seriously, even though it's really just coffee. I think we've lost the art of having relationships in a healthy way with the opposite sex that aren't even romantic.

 

Just edifying one another in the body of Christ we've lost all of that because we just put such a high. We put such a high weight on how to interact with the opposite sex. You're right this is something we hope to change and I think as we're having these conversations too. It's just the problem is you look at the world and you see the hook up culture. Where people are making out, having sex, one night stands, and it's like I don't want to do that either. Really we have to have these conversations, so that the Christian knows, the modern contemporary Christian, knows how to navigate these waters a little bit better.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Let me add one other factor and get your opinion on this. I teach a class on gender, I'm actually teaching it this fall. One student asked me a question at the break, and I'd love to get your take on this. I think what's complicated the lack of dating even more is we have set limits on who can initiate. A lot of students feel they receive the message that only the men can initiate because if a women were to initiate it would set up a bad pattern that could bleed into a dating relationship and even their marriage. I feel like a lot of women feel like, "Is it okay for me to initiate, but what would that look like if I did try to do that?" What's your take on how much a single Christian woman can initiate with a man that she has interest in?

Debra Fileta:

Oh man, Tim you are just bringing up all my favorite topics already. This is great. It's funny, I actually just wrote and article about this the other day, because I'm doing a dating Q&A on the blog right now where people are submitting questions and  go through and answer them. One that keeps coming up and has come up multiple times through the history of my blogging and writing world is can a woman initiate? You're right, there is this concept that many ministries have actually put out there that a man should be the one to initiate a relationship. Where do they get that? They say it's biblical and when I've had interviews before they cite the concept that's in the Bible talks about how the man is like Christ and the woman is like the church. Where really, if we look biblically we're actually talking about marriage in that context, but it's extracted and they say, well in that case men should be like Christ. Christ initiated relationships so men should be the one to initiate and pursue. The woman should be the one to respond. That's where they get that mentality.

 

To be honest with you, as I look at scripture, I'm not just talking from a modern day perspective, I'm not talking from a feminist perspective. I'm talking as a conservative Christian as I look at scripture, I see the Bible tells us to guard our hearts. It doesn't say men guard the woman's heart, it says guard your heart. I think we are responsible for our own heart. Sometimes that means taking the next step and saying, "Hey we've been hanging out a lot and this sort of seems like dating but you haven't really asked me out, so I need to know what's going on here. Because this friend-lationship is not really okay." Sometimes it means a woman stepping out and setting some boundaries and taking initiative in her life and her relationship and stopping something that's going the wrong direction or even starting something that hasn't started yet.

 

I don't think that we are bound by our gender, I do think we are bound by wisdom. I think we are bound by Godliness. I think we are bound by doing things in way that honors God and edifies one another, but that's about it. I don't think we are bound by which gender should initiate. I think we all have equal responsibility in relationships. Some women are of the old fashioned nature where they prefer a guy to initiate, if you're a woman who's like that, that's a personality thing. I don't think we should make it about, I don't think we should tie it to biblical concepts because really God calls us all to guard our hearts.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, that's a good point Debra. Tell me a little bit about what are the things that you've noticed as a change from when you were dating to today. To me, this notion of social media comes into play and the way in which we navigate relationships has really been changed by this. How have you seen social media impacting relationships in that way? I think you probably have a blog out on that as well, but that's just different and in what ways do you think?

Debra Fileta:

One thing that I see with social media, there's so many way it impacts us, specifically how it's impacted the dating culture. I think social media and online exposure in general makes you think that you've got millions and millions and millions of options. They're all, everyone presents their best face on social media, their highlights. I think when you're looking at that - you're looking at these beautiful photos, you're looking at these things that are happening in everyone life that are just amazing, these highlight reels - I think you can start having expectations for what a relationship is going to look like, that aren't actually realistic or healthy. If you know what I mean.

Chris Grace:

I know.

Debra Fileta:

I think relationships ... The saddest thing that I see in this generation is that we've got two extremes. We've got people who have no longer any standards whatsoever, these things aren't important to me. It doesn't matter if you're Christian, it doesn't matter if you're not Christian. It's like a group of people with zero standards, but then we've also got a group of people whose standards are completely unrealistic. It's like someone's godliness, and also how awesome their hair is, and how tan they are. It's like all in the same level, and it's all a priority now. We want it all. I just think really that we need a reality check of what makes for a good strong healthy, God-honoring relationship. I think our standards and our expectations have been skewed along the way. Partly in part because of social media.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Boy, Debra that's really good about the skewing of expectations, and what's reality. We do premarital counseling, and over the years, we asked the couple that we're working with to do one very simple assignment. I want you to give me five things that you love about this person, but give me three areas that you already know are areas of concern. It's a yellow light. We have had couples struggle to come up with three. I say to them, "Look, if you can't come up with three, you're not ready to get married. Because I don't think you're seeing any type of reality or potential conflict, or real conflict. It's like, what are you doing in this dating relationship or getting to know each other that you are not seeing any areas that you think, 'Boy this could be a problem, or this is a problem right now.'" I think some of that is that narrative of, "I want the perfect relationship," and having three areas of potential conflict does not fit the narrative that we're getting from social media.

Debra Fileta:

You're right. I think too there's a failure to really dig deep. In True Love Dates, it's funny it's a dating book, but the first section of the book starts with the most important person you could ever date, and the person you probably never thought you would date, which is yourself. The first section talks about dating inwards, and it's this concept of you've got to first dig deep to figure out who you are, what baggage you carry. Because all of that stuff comes in the marriage, and then you can multiply it by about a 100. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Unfortunately, a lot of people keep that stuff under the surface. They don't even deal with it themselves. Then five ... forget five, one year into the relationship, into the marriage, things just start coming to the surface.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, or one week.

Debra Fileta:

Or even one week, you're right. It's like, "What have I gotten into?" When really, there's so much work that needs to be done in preparation for marriage. I tell singles that the best marriage counseling is done while you're single. Before you're even married.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, oh, that's good.

Debra Fileta:

Because you're 50% of the equation. If you start working on your stuff right now, your statistics, your chances of having a better marriage are exponential because you're working on yourself.

Chris Grace:

That's such good advice, Debra, that when we talk with students here and then others outside, those that are dating again -  it becomes for them an opportunity to learn a lot more about themselves. We know that, right? There are some things that relationships uncover in use that reveal things that are hard and difficult, and painful, and also confirming of some areas of strength. Without going through that in a context of the relationship, oftentimes, it seems like we just don't really have a full true picture. That's a lot of what the body is about, isn't it? I mean, we're put in relationships and designed for these things in order to help us understand not only more about what we are like, but how God and how He has created us and made us in a unique way. That seems like it works out well, and in best, when we can be in a true and good relationship with somebody. Tell me about that when for you, how do you counsel or work with people who are dealing with some of these maybe baggages that they're bringing and they realize, "You know, I've got some issue."

 

Like I was talking to a student just today who said, "She really sees - has a hard time having a friendship with some of the students, fellow students because she thinks guys are all a little too cocky. They just think that everybody wants to be looking out for them, in their pretty self, you know, sensitive. But they're mostly unaware of other people." Her perception, she knows her perception is off, she just doesn't know what to do with it. How do you help young people, or people who are single or single again, deal with that notion of what they are like, and how that's impacting their relationships?

Debra Fileta:

Like you said, I think our interaction with people are sort of a litmus test of how healthy we are. So much of our health is rooted in our interaction coming from our family or origin. That's a pretty basic psychological work there, but man does it have so much value. We learn how to be loved based on how love would communicate it to us, and based on the things that happened to us along the way. You're right, there's so much baggage. Maybe we won't even say baggage because for some people that's like, "Oh, I don't have any baggage." Even if you just want to call it the roots that you come from, and do you have good roots? Do you have roots that needs work? Because we all have them. Really, for me, when I'm interacting with young people, or even older people. Forget young, I'm even counseling married couples sometimes in their 70's and 80's who are still dealing with some bad roots and issues that they're trying to work out.

 

Really, I know you guys have some awesome resources as far as counseling goes. Because that's really the number one place where a lot of this digging starts to happen, and that safe environment where you can really have someone walking along side of you and helping you to expose the things that needs to be expose and deal with your belief. The right belief, the wrong belief, where they may be what's wrong along the way. I believe having a mentor is a huge component to health. Someone that you can trust, that will call you out when you are doing something that isn't healthy or something that's a glaring red flag in your life. Someone that's not afraid to speak truth. Really, starting by ... It's interesting because it's all about relationships. Relationship with this therapist, relationship with a mentor. Really at the end of the day, you said, God uses relationship to refine us.

 

Even when they start getting uncomfortable, I think that's the reminder that we need to just keep digging, and keep working into that God is continually refining us through this relationships that he's put in our life. I definitely would suggest them, if anyone's out there considering counseling, should I not? You don't have to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown to get counseling. I see some of the coolest people in counseling that I think as myself, if you weren't my patient, I would totally be your friend and go out for coffee and chit chat. Because honestly, some of the most amazing people who just need a different perspective on life and it would really go a long way.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Debra, what I see is short circuiting the system is the kind of introspection you're advocating doesn't happen a ton. When I speak about FamilyLife marriage conferences and I ask, we do a pre-married session with couples. I say, "How many of you are currently in premarital counseling?" Easily, only half the people raise their hand, or even less than half the people. They're not even getting premarital counseling, but the ones who do, they approach it like, "Hey, this is a done deal. We are going to get married, this is just fine tuning things as we head to the altar." Where we say to the people that we're doing premarital with is, "Hey, listen. It's not a done deal. This is a time to really be introspective about yourselves and the marriage."

 

I love your idea of checking out the roots. A lot of couples head into premarital counseling with this attitude of, "Hey, we are going to get married. There's no doubt we're getting married because we're engaged." We want to challenge that idea to say, "No, this is really an opportunity to invite God into the process, but also take a look at things that might surface as we're doing premarital counseling."

Debra Fileta:

I agree with you. We look at it differently, and I think partly is because we take dating so seriously, that we almost don't take engagement seriously enough.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good. Yeah.

Debra Fileta:

It's like we did the dating, we got through that and now we decided we're getting engaged. Really how it should be is the dating should be the casual part, and then once you got engaged, that's when you really start doing the work. That's my take on it, that's my approach when I'm interacting with singles, when I'm interacting with couples. I'm trying to flip the norm of, "Okay, let's look at dating as a way to get to know yourself. And then engagement is the time when we're really digging in into this relationship and is this good for a lifetime." I think a lot of those preconceive notions that we have needs to change, but you know what else I think needs to change is the church needs to help us a little bit with this conversation. Because, I don't know about you, but the typical Christian pre-marriage approach is just to have like a couple good talks. Maybe do a quick inventory, and then it's like, "Okay, let's talk about how do you want the day to go. Do you want me to do a long sermon? A short sermon?"

 

It's like more about the wedding day, than it really is about digging deep and exposing some things and calling out some things. I think we also need to find a way for the church to work close together with the world of counseling and psychology for us to be partners instead of enemies. Which unfortunately in many parts of the country, believe it or not ,there's still the stigma and a bridge that just needs to be gapped.

Chris Grace:

We hear that and agree, and we see that a lot. Debra, if you have to just summarize. What would be some of the qualities you would see in a couple that you would reinforce, and encourage, and say this is a good sign for you in this relationship. You guys are on the right track. Here are the two or three things, and then likewise, the two or three things that are most troubling. Do you have any of those real quickly for us?

Debra Fileta:

One thing that I would mention is I need to talk a little bit in True Love Dates about the four seasons of a dating relationship. I probably don't have too much time to get into those, but there's four different seasons that a couple passes through. In each season exposes things about the relationship, and whether or not it's ready to move on to the next season or whether maybe it's time to take a step back. Some of those things for example would be conflict and communication. Like we talked about earlier conflict isn't actually the thing that scares us, it's how you deal with conflict. Like you said, Tim, it's the lack of conflict I think that's even more alarming. It's like okay, that must mean there's two very passive people in this relationship.

 

How you handle conflict, how you express emotion, how you ... The boundaries that you maintain sexually and emotionally, I think a lot of times people think, these sexual boundaries, I maybe crossing them a little, but hey, we're going to get married. At the end of the day, learning boundaries in your sexual life is something that's going to go in with you all the way to marriage and through marriage. If you have a hard time keeping sexual boundaries before marriage, you got to believe you're going to find yourself struggling with sexual boundaries in different ways after marriage. Just the ideas having boundaries and just learning to solidify those things in our life because of God, and because of the Holy Spirit at work in our life. There's a lot of different traits that you look through along the way that point to, "Yes, this is good, this is a green flag. Or no, this is red, this is the red flag."

 

I actually encourage couples to go ahead and make a list of red flags, green flags, and yellow flags. Just write out the things that they find the alarming. The things that they find to be the, I don't know enough about this area of this person's life yet. Proceed with caution kind of thing. Then the green list of course, the things that I really appreciate and respect about this person. And also, like we mentioned before, community is key. You need to have a trusted people looking in on your relationship, and people that you've invited to speak into your relationship to tell you things and maybe point things out that you're not seeing.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I so agree at what you're saying, there's such wisdom in it. I stumbled upon a question that we now ask all of our couples when we do premarital, and even at FamilyLife conferences. I say to them, "The person you're about to marry, if they never improved, but never decreased. If they never got better, but never got worse, would you be content with how that person is the rest of your life?" It is fascinating the response you get from couples. We've had couples go, "Uh, no. No." It's like, "What are you banking on?" They're banking subtext, I'm going to be off to change this person fundamentally, so I'm not going to rock the boat during the engagement, but I'm really going to bank on the fact that I can change this person fundamentally after we get married. That is such a dangerous thing to think about. Heading into a marriage that's going to last 50, 60, 70 years.

Debra Fileta:

Absolutely. It is dangerous, and you're right, I think a lot of people see a relationship for the potential of what it could be rather than see it for what it actually is. There's a lot of reality checking that needs to be done along the path of dating, and again, that's why it's so important to do it with wisdom and to integrate as many resources as you can. One reason I'm ... It's funny, people are always like, "Why is the married woman with three children so passionate about dating?" Because usually, the people who talk about dating are the ones who are dating, and then you get married, and then you're done talking about it. As a professional counselor, I truly believe that if we get dating right, everything else is going to follow. I really believe that one way to get that divorce rate down is to really focus on healthy dating and healthy interactions with the opposite sex before we get committed.

 

There's really not tons of resources out there for Christians. There's a lot of marriage resources, there's even a lot of pre-marriage resources, but as far as dating, there's not much out there. My hope for the entire ministry for the book, the blog, the courses that I offer, just to offer people some additional resources to come along side of them and say, "Hey, if you're looking for ways to do things healthy and to have wisdom in how you approach these things. Here they are, no excuses."

Chris Grace:

Thanks for joining us here on the Art of Relationships podcast, and in with our guest. We are just so grateful. You can see Debra's work at truelovedates.com. You could join us at cmr.biola.edu for more broadcasting, for more events, for more blogs. Check us out at that website, and we're just so glad to have you with us today. I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm Tim Mueflhoff.

Chris Grace:

We're just glad to have you. Take care.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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