How to Go on an Actual Date
Mastering the art of the proper romantic evening.
Ask 20 people what a “date” means or looks like and you will get 20 different answers —different etiquette, different expectations, different experiences, different everything.
Apparently most of us are just making it up as we go along.
Done well, a date is an art and a mystery. Few things are more intoxicating and memorable than a truly great date. Unfortunately, it seems the proper date is becoming a lost art.
Currently our culture seems to be caught in a paradox of not wanting to make a date that big of a deal (“it’s just coffee!”) yet still wanting a date to mean something special —for someone to make a big deal for them.
Strong desires for romance and equally strong fears of hurt, commitment or “missing out” clash and confuse. Often materializing as very weak behavior, as explored in a recent New York Times article on the end of courtship.
Perhaps there is no better time than now to resurrect the art of the proper date—dates that matter, are brave and are done right.
A Date Should Matter
Like art, a date is the pursuit of something meaningful.
More than just semantics, making the word “date” mean something specific is important to hold onto. Otherwise, we end up the laziness, veiled intentions, all-or-nothing pursuits, hook-up culture, loaded expectations and all the rest that modern dating is so easily critiqued for.
Fortunately for Christians, the solution is clear. As the body of Christ, just because a man and a woman are together doesn’t mean it is a date or their intentions are romantic. In fact, it is vital to this theology of relationships that it not be seen that way. Therefore, a date needs to be a clear, intentional act of pursuing a relationship.
What a relationship “is” matters. A proper date is the clearest way to avoid needless confusion or the ridiculousness that is constant defining-the-relationship conversations. Instead, we should be living and communicating with such conviction that a “DTR” is never needed.
Most importantly, a date should matter simply because people matter. Making a date meaningful is an act of showing others their immutable value. Anything less is just selfish.
A Date Should Be Brave
Like art, a date is risk to be embraced.
A proper date takes courage and the risk of personal investment. Many of the problems with modern dating are a result of being afraid to dive fully into the experience. Mistrust is winning out over decisiveness.
As a contrast, Christian romance should be a spectacle to behold. Our identity is in Christ, we are secure in the family of God, and we are to treat one another with a Christ like level of love, respect and sacrifice.
Freed to give and receive generous action with no thought of return, we get to and should be brave with our romantic gestures. We have opportunity (if not an obligation) to boldly show the depth of our love and vulnerability to others.
Our passion for life and treatment of one another should make a statement that what you are pursuing is worthy of great personal risk. Anything less is just fearful.
7 Ground Rules for a Proper Date
A great date truly is an artform. Attempting to orchestrate such a thing would be folly. No formula. All chemistry. That said, some ground rules help. For (at minimum) the first proper date:
- Is inspired: Art is original, not copied nor recycled. Going through the motions is cheap and disrespectful.
- Is asked by name: Be open to getting to know someone as friends outside of a proper date, but reject the “sneak-a-date,” which is the lowest form of pursuit.
- Is asked in person: If you are not ready to ask in person, then you aren’t ready for anything that follows anyway.
- Is asked well in advance: You have no obligation to respond to last minute hang out requests and lazy nondescript invitations. See #2.
- Is asked one at a time: No good can come from trying to cultivate romantic feelings for more than one person at a time.
- Is a three part date: This means “coffee” is not a proper date and never was. Sorry. If there is no plan the date is void. See #2.
- Is followed up the next day: The rest is up to you, but let nothing stop you from at least thanking the person for their time, no matter how the date went.
Anything less and I’m not sure what you are up to, but it is not a proper date. Let’s put it this way: If you ever have to analyze whether or not it was a date, it wasn’t.
Stop trying to acquiesce to lame social-norm mating dances that aren’t doing anyone else any good anyway. A proper date is the perfect opportunity to take charge and creatively show something unexpectedly greater to people in your life and to the world looking on.
Go big. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Pursue something meaningful. Embrace the risks of romance. Elevate the proper date to the artform it can be!
A version of this article appeared in September 2013.