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Dating 101

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Trying to get out of the friend zone? Looking for that spark? Ready to dive into dating again? In today's episode, Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace talk through the dealbreakers and the dealmakers of dating and offer helpful tips for those looking for a relationship.

Speaker 1: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris Grace: Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. With me today is my wife of so many years, Alisa Grace.

Alisa Grace: Yes, thank you.

Chris Grace: Yeah, it's so fun to have you.

Alisa Grace: It's so great to be here. I'm really glad to join you. It's a lot of fun. Glad you finally let me come on your podcast.

Chris Grace: I know. Well, it's now our podcast. We're going to do this together, just going to go forward with some fun topics that we get to talk about as couples.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, so today we're going to look at some topics pertaining to dating. So we wanted to ask each other a series of questions and get each other's opinion. So you can think about how you would answer this as well. Okay, so Chris, you want to start?

Chris Grace: Yeah. So the context would be, I guess if we called this podcast anything, it would be dating 101, or you're getting ready to date, or you're single and you've been dating for a while and you just want to know what's appropriate. Are there some things that are deal makers? Things that are just like, "Hey, that's a go, that's a green light." Or deal breakers, the red light and some things Lisa, we have found. I mean, we work with college students. We've been doing that for over ... Well, let's just say it's over two decades.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, long time.

Chris Grace: Long time. And then we have children, two who are married, but we also work on a relationship talk that we give at universities. We do that through a cool grant, but we go to many different universities throughout the country, usually three or four a year, at least. We talk primarily about relationship and students ask all the time, young people, whether it's a church youth group or whether it's a church singles group, they ask the question, "What are good signs for dating and what are things I need to be paying attention to?" In today's world, man, there are some very fascinating things that are out there-

Alisa Grace: There are.

Chris Grace: ... that we didn't have to deal with.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, you're absolutely right and I think with our culture today, things that ... it changes so fast. What was acceptable a week ago is no longer acceptable this week. What was acceptable a year ago, oh no way. That's so outdated, outmoded. So sometimes it can be a challenge for people, I think, to keep up with what's. Then I think as believers, as Christians, we're constantly weighing that cultural norm against God's Word and seeing how God weighs in on it too.

Chris Grace: Yeah. You had mentioned something about this shaping influence that went on in another podcast, that culture has this huge impact on us. We've seen it at work most in this dating arena. So Lisa, there's listeners out there, they're either dating, they're college students, or they're single, they've been single for a while but they're in the dating world. They want to date, they don't know how to start. They've been on a few dates and don't know if it's good or right or not.

Alisa Grace: What do I do next?

Chris Grace: What do I do next? Then there are some who are older, who are dating again after a loss, or a divorce and they're trying to enter that world. There's now this whole digital world, right, of online-

Alisa Grace: Oh online dating.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so let's talk about all of that. Let's focus today on this podcast, what do you think, about those that are dating and single, newly single or single, and some of the things that you know are out there, some of the pressures and cultural changes, and these new tidal waves that come in, that don't seem all that important, but pretty soon you realize, good night, this is really bad. So how do you know what are the good signs and what are some of the no-goes, right?

Alisa Grace: Right.

Chris Grace: The deal breakers. And so let's do that, what do you think?

Alisa Grace: Okay, sounds good.

Chris Grace: So Lisa, I guess when it comes to, what's good in dating, there's just a lot of disagreement on somethings. So I'll throw one out to you. Let's try this. So I've heard this, the one who initiates the first date, whoever that is, should always pay the tab. What do you think? Do you agree with that? Or do you disagree with that?

Alisa Grace: Gosh, I think I agree with that. I think maybe the first time you go Dutch, where you're each paying for yourself, but then ... Gosh yeah, that's really great question. I think whoever initiate should pay, I'm going to go with that one. What do you think?

Chris Grace: Yeah, I would agree. I think that's okay. I think, and I think you could always do that even within a friendship. We do that that way, "Hey buddy, let's go to lunch. My treat this time." Like, "No, no, no, your treat."

Alisa Grace: Oh that's true and take turns.

Chris Grace: Yeah, you take turns, "Hey, I'd love ... " But the last thing you usually think about when you get the courage to finally ask somebody out on a date. So Lisa, when someone is sitting here saying, "Gosh, I just don't have a lot of history with dating and now, how do I get started? There's a girl or a guy that I've seen around and I just don't know how to start the conversation or what to do." What advice would you give? I mean, you've got digital options. I mean, you could start following on Instagram or follow them on-

Alisa Grace: Twitter.

Chris Grace: TikTok or Twitter. Then you could eventually, maybe, I don't know-

Alisa Grace: Comment.

Chris Grace: ... not only follow, you could comment.

Alisa Grace: Like it.

Chris Grace: Like it.

Alisa Grace: Like it, like a comment on it.

Chris Grace: Yeah, and people notice that, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: So one way, I guess that's a way of saying, "Hey, there's a little bit of interest." And then eventually you can move it up a notch or two by maybe a direct message, "Hey," or just a comment.

Alisa Grace: Right, sliding in the DM.

Chris Grace: Yeah, slide into their DM, yeah, right. So what do you think, is there any advice you would give to someone who is just not used to dating, but really wants to, and now they're finding someone that's following them or someone has messaged them and they're trying to decide what do I do next?

Alisa Grace: Yeah. I think one thing we encounter with students in that position is they want a foolproof answer where someone can't turn them down and that just doesn't exist. Dating is risky and in order to get the big payoff, you have to be willing to take the risk of being rejected. That can really sting, that can really psych ... nobody likes that. But it happens to everybody ... Well, maybe not you, but it happens to everybody-

Chris Grace: I feel like that happens [inaudible].

Alisa Grace: ... they're out dating, but you really just have to take the chance. You have to be willing to take the initiative and risk a little bit.

Chris Grace: Okay, so there's listeners out there deciding they're about to date, they want to date. You said, now it is going to be risky. There is no foolproof way of getting someone to agree. It's vulnerable and you just have to start, you have to initiate sometimes. Male, female, either way you just initiate and you risk a little bit. What do you think, is that-

Alisa Grace: So what would you say, if you took the risk and you asked a girl out and for whatever reason, maybe she thinks of you more as a friend, so you're put in the friend zone, or she's just not that into you. How do you respond in that initial rejection point?

Chris Grace: Yeah, I usually call my friends and they take me out and just say, "I'm really sorry." No, I think for anybody who has risked something and all of a sudden like you said, they get friend zoned or they're just ... maybe said, "I really like you as a friend." I think the way you respond is, "Man. Yeah, that's awesome. I think of you as a friend as well and I was just wondering at some point, if that could ever be something closer to, a date, but I realize and I hear you, and thanks."

Alisa Grace: "That's cool."

Chris Grace: "And that's cool."

Alisa Grace: "I respect that."

Chris Grace: Yeah, "Respect that, and way to go." And then you don't treat them any differently from that point, but it's risky, right?

Alisa Grace: Oh yeah.

Chris Grace: Yeah, or they don't respond back to your comment or your direct message. Does that mean you give up? I don't know. I think you could say probably, if it's pretty clear from them, you can ask a friend, if you don't interpret behaviors oftentimes, or language very clearly. Like, "I just don't know. They said they liked me, but not the right time. So, maybe tomorrow?" And your friend will probably say, "I don't think tomorrow is a good time. Maybe next month you could try again." Right?

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: So we had a student, I remember Lis, we were up at Berkeley of all things speaking at UC Berkeley, which was awesome. We talked about dating and what's good friendships, what's good dating. These Berkeley students were great and they were half Christian in the room and half non-Christian, but one that wasn't a Christian came up and asked a question afterwards and just said, "Hey, I got this question."

I'm thinking to myself, "Great, here's this Berkeley student coming up to us, going to criticize what we just presented, which was a biblical view of dating." which was really awesome-

Alisa Grace: Dangerous.

Chris Grace: ... but yeah, a little bit dangerous. But he came up and said, "Hey, I really, to be honest, don't know how to start a conversation with a girl, with another person." Yeah, I felt really bad for him. So, I just looked around the room. I said, "Well, okay, I'll tell you what, I got some secrets for you and I got one in particular." I said, do you see any girls around here that have been here tonight?" He goes, "Well, I know that girl over there and I've thought she was cute."

I said, "Okay, here's what you can try. You go up and you practice something, but here's what you do. You get to know them on a basis by doing one cool thing. Here's the phrase, it's better to be interested than interesting." I said, "Now, let me tell you what that means." Sometimes people who are getting to know somebody else and want to impress them, they try and be interesting. They share everything about themselves and the other person is usually listening initially, but then sometimes they just smile and nod like, "Oh my gosh, how far is this guy going?" And they just keep sharing and talking, and talking about their childhood and their activities, and everything else. And I said, "Man, that's a lot of pressure, right." He goes, "Yeah, I don't know what I would talk about."

I said, "Well, great. Here's maybe my tip for you. And that is, be interested in the other person. Ask them questions, say, 'So what do you major in? Oh, why do you like that?' Or, 'Is it something that you want to do?' Or, 'Where did that passion come from?' " He's like, "Wait, that's it?" I go, "Yeah. Just ask her these questions, be interested in her answers and follow up." I said, "You think you can do that?" He's like, "I think I can do that." He was just so worried about being interested, I mean, interesting.

Alisa Grace: Interesting. That's great advice. Great, great advice.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so one of the things then we could do is as we're dating, you come up with kinds of weird things. So let's just suppose that ... Let's ask the physical question, Lis. Somebody agrees, they go on the date with you. I think here in a lot of Christian circles, people are fairly conservative. Usually, when it comes to the way they manage the physical realm, but people have asked, "Hey, is it okay to kiss somebody on the first date?" What do you think? Would you agree that a first date kiss is appropriate or not appropriate?

Alisa Grace: Oh, that's so hard because if they're a good friend, you probably really like them already. Also, I think you need some time to figure out if this friendship can make that jump to a dating relationship as opposed to just friendship. I think sometimes that physical side can get in the way and really mess things up.

Chris Grace: Yeah, I agree with you. I think you put it on pause if you can, it's been a fun night. You're out walking and talking and dinner and whatever else you did is your favorite ideal date, and you guys enjoy each other. I would agree, man, you put that on hold. What about this one, Lis? What about the opposite? Someone that you like, really like as a friend, and they're nice, they're kind, they're funny, they love Jesus and they ask you on a date. However, you don't feel any romantic attraction to them. Is it better, do you think, to say no than to lead them on?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: So someone asks you on a date. They're awesome as a friend, but really no romance, what do you think?

Alisa Grace: So do you say no, or do you give them a shot? I really lean towards, if you know that you're not physically attracted, if you know that there's just not that spark, I lean towards saying no. I think you know fairly quickly, if someone you're friends with, if you could go there in a romantic relationship, I don't know, what do you think?

Chris Grace: Well, I go the opposite way, I disagree. I think romantic feelings can sometimes be overrated and I think they can develop, especially if they have all these great qualities. They're funny, they're kind, they have the same spiritual worldview and values, same age, whatever, and you like them as a friend, I would say, you say yes and you go give it a shot. How would you know? I mean, those romantic feelings aren't something that you just magically have and sometimes they just start as you invest in a relationship. Now, if it's the third, fourth, fifth date, and you're absolutely certain, then I don't think you continue to go. I think at that point you say, "Hey, this has been really fun," but I think people don't date enough because of that.

Alisa Grace: Oh, that's a good point. I concede that ground to you. I think that's a good point. Maybe there's a midway in there where there are some that, "Oh yeah, gosh, I never thought of you that way and yeah, I could think about that." But there are just some that you know, "Oh, that is never going to happen and I just have to nip this in the bud."

Chris Grace: Yeah and I think that's right. I think there are situations like that. So, Lisa, what would you say would be ... Give us something that you think would be, for sure there's no romantic feelings, we talked about that. Are there any other signs that man, this probably you should nip it in the bud. You shouldn't go forward. Is there anything, I don't know, like for example, a blind date, you don't know anything about the person, so you go and you learn some things about them during that time, and some of them maybe raise some yellow flags or red flags. Or maybe you feel something towards them, but there's a behavior, or some value that they have, or something online that you notice about them. Are there any things that worry you in that first date or two, once you get up the courage, or get asked, or you ask, something that you would say, "Take pause." I don't know, what do you think?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, what would cause me to take pause, is that what you mean? Oh definitely. If I knew my friend was going to fix me up on a blind date with somebody, I would definitely check out their social media. I would want to see who are they following? What posts are they commenting on? What are they commenting? Because I think that can give you a lot of really good information to what's going on behind the curtain sometimes.

Chris Grace: Would you say it's appropriate or not appropriate to go check all of their digital world? I mean, there's obviously the difference between stalking and just going out and looking. I mean, stalking would be, "I'm going to download everything this person ever said and did, and all the things I like or dislike and then follow them for a month before I decide." that's a little awkward. But I mean, it would seem to be appropriate, and these days-

Alisa Grace: Oh I think it's due diligence these days.

Chris Grace: You do?

Alisa Grace: I think you would be remiss if you didn't do that.

Chris Grace: Yeah, and so you finally get up the courage to go with this person, or ask the person. They agree, you go on this date and everything is going really well. How do you know if the other person is enjoying this? I mean, that's always the next question. Like, "Oh my gosh, I had such fun, but I couldn't tell." I guess the only question is, if they agree to go on a second date, right?

Alisa Grace: Oh yeah, yeah, if they call back. If they text back.

Chris Grace: Yeah, if they call back or text back these days, right. So Lisa, now maybe we can start by talking about what would you do to prepare you for dating? I mean, you're getting ready to start dating, but what would you recommend for somebody who is thinking about, "Okay, it's about time, I'm ready to start dating." Should they do anything before?

Alisa Grace: Oh yeah.

Chris Grace: What would you recommend for a person who's like, "I just want to get my heart ready, or can I just dive in?" Or what would you say?

Alisa Grace: You know, one of my favorite books on dating is by Debra Fileta and it's called True Love Dates. I love the take that that she approaches it with. She talks about dating in three ways, and in this order. She talks about dating yourself first, get to know yourself. What are you looking for in somebody? Actually make a list of those characteristics that you're looking for, the values that are important to you, that you want the other person to have, think through that. Then actually do some ... maybe there's some work of some woundedness in your own heart, your own mind, in your own past that that is really causing some baggage to be brought into that relationship. So you want to date yourself, look at those areas really closely. Maybe you need to meet with a therapist or with a mentor and do some deeper work on yourself first, so that you are healthy and a mature, healthy partner for someone else.

Then the second is you want to date God, you want to get to know Him and really strengthen that relationship with Him. Make sure that He is just an ever-present force in your day-to-day life and that that relationship is solid. Then when you have those two things in place, then you're ready to start looking at dating other people.

Chris Grace: Yeah, good. I would add onto that. In fact, here's what I would say too, I think that's exactly right, Liz. You know, A. W. Tozer gave something pretty cool, and he talked about these rules for self discovery, and I think Tozer had something, he's a great Christian author. Maybe back the last generation, but still his idea about the rules for self-discovery, if you're getting ready to date, I would say know yourself a little bit too. What is it in your life that you want the most? What do you think about the most? The way that you could figure out who you're like, go look at your bank account or your credit card statement, where do you spend your money? What are you doing in your free time? What kind of company do you enjoy? Who and what do you admire? What do you laugh at?

So those kinds of things are important because hopefully on a date, you can begin to express those and share them. But it's probably better to be thinking about them ahead of time.

Alisa Grace: Your browser history.

Chris Grace: Yeah, go back and look and see, "What am I ... " And that's pretty interesting self-discovery, first of all.

Alisa Grace: It sure is.

Chris Grace: I think another thing Lisa is, if you're getting ready to date and you want to do that, go find a role model, talk to somebody who does it well, and they do it healthy, like. You probably have friends or someone that's done this in a great way and you talk with them, "How did you start? Or what does healthy mean to you? Who's been a role model." Maybe even find people who've done it in an unhealthy way too, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, definitely. I think another thing that you would want to do is you want to think through your boundaries and you want to set those boundaries. You want to think through them, pray through them, ask the Lord, "What are good, healthy, emotional boundaries, physical boundaries, that I should be committed to, Lord? What would be honoring, not only to you, but to myself and to the other person?" Then make sure you've thought through those. Maybe write them down on a piece of paper, give them to a good friend or a mentor that can hold you accountable to that because you don't want to be trying to decide that in the heat of the moment. You should have thought through that and have that established in your own heart and mind before you ever asked the other person out, or you go.

Chris Grace: Yeah, so give us an example of somebody that you know, or you counseled, or something that they would have put down, something that you would say, "That's a good one." Or what would you put on that list?

Alisa Grace: Well, I think when you think through emotional boundaries especially, because that can be different from your physical boundaries. But when you think about emotional boundaries, I would say that you commit to, we're just going to take this slow and easy. I think slow and steady is a good phrase to enter dating because you can get so caught up in the emotions of it. You can get so caught up in how wonderful you think this person is and you just want to spend every moment together. Another boundary would be that you wait until you start talking about a future together. Because that's one of those, what Tim Muehlhoff always calls one of those escalators, that causes your relationship to go too fast before the emotional foundation is put into place.

So take it slow and easy. Don't drop all your friends the moment you start dating somebody and think they're wonderful. You want to keep your friends. You want to keep that relationship with your families, where you're spending time with them. You want to wait to talk about a future together until you're much further down the road. Then you want to hesitate to, I think, in praying for extended periods of time together. While it's great to pray, you're out to dinner, you pray over your meal, or you share prayer requests. I think you got to be really careful about praying together because that's where you go in to that inner sanctum with the Lord, where you're really vulnerable and open, and maybe the commitment and trust of that relationship hasn't been established yet. You don't yet know if you can really trust them with the deep, secret places of your heart yet. So you want to set some emotional boundaries, I think in that case.

Chris Grace: Oh man, I think that's really good, Lis. A lot of people think, "Okay, I'll set this physical boundary or maybe even a social boundary, I don't want to date this person right now because we have all our classes together, but as soon as that's ... " or whatever, but even that emotional boundary, when you finally get out on that date and it just goes really well, and the second one goes just as well, and maybe even the third one. Lis, I think that's great advice. Set those boundaries up those ideas up ahead of time. Find out a little bit about who you are, what you like and dislike and what you want in somebody else. Everybody we talk to wants the same thing, to some level, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah.

Chris Grace: They want people that are kind. Everybody says, "If I had to pick the person, they would be kind." What else do we hear? They would be understanding. They'd be dependable, intelligent, really friendly and sociable. So all of these things that we want is pretty commonly shared. So now maybe that next question when you date is, do you have to have that spark first? I don't know Lisa, I guess it gets back to the first question. You just don't have that spark, but I would say go out and do the date and enjoy it and see if something comes up and develops. So these are just ways you prepare yourself for that dating life. I think it's great advice. We can summarize it, go ahead.

Alisa Grace: Yeah and I think if you approach it as, "I'm just here to explore, to get to know you. I want to know you, I'd love to be able to share a little bit about myself and you know me and let's see what happens." You don't want to rush it. You don't want to jump in the deep end. You want to start in the shallow end of the pool, establish a firm foundation, excuse me, of commitment and trust, and then you proceed from there. There's no way that you can really rush that.

You want to be really careful with those physical boundaries. Because when we get too involved physically, it makes us willing to overlook things that we shouldn't. So that can really take us to places we don't want to be in a relationship.

Chris Grace: So when you say overlook things, you mean things that could be potential negatives in the other person-

Alisa Grace: Deal breakers, yeah.

Chris Grace: ... that you just get too emotionally close or physically close. Pretty soon, your guard is down, you feel strongly connected. By the way, that's exactly what God designed sex for, is to make people feel like they're one. And they begin to see that, "Oh my gosh, we are so connected, so one." But unfortunately, that lowers the guard and they become blind when they're too physically or emotionally attached early on, they become blind to things that they're not compatible with. Severe, important, critical things that you're not compatible with.

Alisa Grace: Yeah, they're willing to overlook bad behavior. Yeah, it makes you willing to put up with things that you shouldn't in a healthy relationship, I think.

Chris Grace: I'm so glad we are not dating anymore. We date in marriage, man, but just to be single, wouldn't that be ... I mean, there's some good, I mean the digital world lets you meet people from all kinds of different places first, right?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, some nice benefits.

Chris Grace: They may not even be physically nearby, but wow, it's hard work. It's tough.

Alisa Grace: Oh, I remember when we first got engaged, one of the first thoughts that came to mind was just relief. I don't ever have to go on a date I don't want to be on again. I was one of those that had a really hard time saying no, even when I totally knew that I was not interested, I'm a real people pleaser, and so that was hard. I went on a lot of dates that I did not want to be on. So, it was such a relief.

Chris Grace: Yeah and my admission was that I probably violated the emotional closeness boundaries. I just felt like, "Oh, that was really important to hear their heart and go deep with them." I just didn't realize that I was playing with fire a lot. So, these are great things and great dating advice. If you're about to start dating, and I think you take into account a lot of these things. You write things down that you want to do, something that you like and are looking forward to you. You keep a list, you look at self-discovery. You do these things ahead of time. You pray, you get your heart right. Then you become vulnerable and realize that's how you do it. Anything else?

Alisa Grace: Yeah, I think the benefit of putting good boundaries in place before you start dating and you start thinking about that, then when you're in that dating relationship, you have that conversation. I think one of the benefit is that regardless of whether you end up staying together long-term or you end up as just friends, you actually end up creating a stronger foundation for your future relationship. I think you're both healthier and happier in the end. If you do break up, you won't be embarrassed to run in to each other down the road.

Chris Grace: Yeah, boy that's a-

Alisa Grace: Guard your heart, it's the wellspring of life, right?

Chris Grace: That's a great verse, right?

Alisa Grace: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Grace: That our heart is the wellspring, and so we guard that. We don't give that away to everybody that we date. We hold on to that. That's great advice. So Lis, let's do this. Let's do another podcast then on what are some signs that these are good signs, a go, a deal maker, we would say, and what are the deal breakers? What do you think do we do that next?

Alisa Grace: That would be great, yeah.

Chris Grace: All right. Look forward to doing that and go check out our website. We have so many resources there at CMR.

Alisa Grace: We have video clips, podcasts, blogs, even something called ask the expert where our panel of experts at the center, you send in your question, there's actually a little link that you can click on our website, where you can contact us and send in your question, we'll be happy to answer it.

Chris Grace: Well, it's great doing this podcast together-

Alisa Grace: Yep, you too Chris.

Chris Grace: ... and thanks for introducing it and I'll look forward to doing the next one.

Alisa Grace: Okay, bye-bye.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the Art of Relationships. This podcast is only made possible through generous donations from listeners, just like you. If you like it and want to help keep the podcast going, visit our and make a donation today.