‘Nothing to pay for the first year’, ‘30 days’ return policy’, ‘try now, buy later’. These common phrases are music to our ears. Why part with our cash without a guarantee or before we’re fully satisfied? The consumer culture we live in lets us test and sample products and double-check our choices before we commit. In many contexts this rule makes complete sense. We would never dream of buying a house we haven’t seen, or a phone we couldn’t examine.
In a similar way, many people view dating as a kind of ‘testing’ period, a time to search for compatibility in that person who is worth fighting for and makes us feel secure. Sometimes we need to ‘return’ them because we just weren’t happy. Sometimes we settle down and get married. But we definitely need to try the relationship on for size, see if it fits before we forsake all other options.
It’s fair to say we wouldn’t want to end up with and marry someone who hadn’t committed to us, who was keeping their options open, seeing if they could upgrade or was unfaithful physically or emotionally. We all want to end up with someone we can have highs-and-lows with but will still be there the next day. So if a fulfilling, committed, faithful married relationship is the goal, is dating with a non-committal ‘testing’ mindset the best way to get there? Now, let’s be realistic: I’m not saying a proposal needs to happen on the second date. But I am challenging the assumption that deep commitment is unimportant until we stand at the altar. When we focus too much on the ‘try’ over the ‘buy’ we can fall into the trap of constantly comparing the one we’re with to that other one. We can limit our investment in the relationship in case someone better appears. So will we be able to ignore the opt-out clause when we find that someone special, or will we always yearn for better?
Let me ask you this: that amazing relationship you have with your friend or family member, is it great because one day they may wake up and disown you, because one day they may turn round and say they have found a better replacement? Or is it great because they support, care and love you no matter what? Do you follow Jesus because he may turn his back on you, or because he values you so much he gave up everything, even his life for you and is committed through thick and thin?
Commitment and investment bring closeness and intimacy. Deep, stable relationships bring fulfilment. Dating won’t always work out and it won’t always end in marriage for many good reasons. We can’t change that. What we can change is our mindset. Dating one person, investing in the relationship and learning how to work through issues, rather than saying yes to whoever is available, investing in an escape strategy and leaving at the first hint of difficulty, will foster the intimacy and closeness we truly desire. It may help us to enjoy the ‘here and now’ over the ‘what if’, and guide us towards trust and assurance over confusion and worry.