Stepping onto a Christian campus feels like an expansion in so many ways. Expanded opportunities for academic and spiritual growth! An expanded worldview! And if you think like I did, an expanded circle of dating prospects! On my Christian campus the often-quoted joke was “ring by spring or your money back.” Similar slogans get flung around Christian colleges far and wide. This “ring by spring” mentality can honestly create a feeling of pressure… as if the expectation is for everyone to be actively pursuing a spouse. The reality of this stage of life is that more of your peers will be dating, and even getting engaged and married, especially on a Christian campus where it’s easier to connect with those who share your values. But, that does not mean it’s an expectation on you! There are a lot of considerations to weigh out before jumping into a dating relationship at any stage of life. One of my personal life values is to live with no regrets, and that certainly applies to the area of dating. Looking back on that season now, I realize I’ve gained some wisdom in the “romance department” I didn’t necessarily have going into my freshman year.

Weigh your motives. Amongst some good reasons to start dating, a sense of pressure or expectation is not a valid one! If you’re considering getting into a relationship simply because it feels like “what comes next in life” or because a lot of your peers are dating, then quite frankly, you’re not ready. Another common attitude is that it’s a good idea to “play the field.” While this dating angle *might work alright (I would argue this is rarely the case) in high school, in college it definitely produces hurt. If you’re not ready to form a serious attachment that’s totally fine; just recognize that others may be in a totally different place, leaving their hearts vulnerable to misunderstanding and heartache. Open and upfront communication about your dating expectations is important, and in my opinion, building solid friendships with the opposite sex is preferable. The best and healthiest long-term relationships start this way anyway, and if nothing more comes of it, no harm is done. While the world is constantly portraying relationships as something there for our personal fulfillment and gratification, God’s way looks very different. A goal in dating should be to always leave the person in a better condition emotionally, socially and spiritually then when you met them. As part of this goal, make sure you always keep sexual purity at the forefront of your mind.

Keep Balanced. If after weighing your motives, you decide to move forward in pursuing a particular relationship, do not neglect your academics or other friendships. We’ve all seen examples from an outside perspective of a couple totally wrapped up in one another. A relationship like this does not reflect the health and stability required to make it for the long haul. Granted, it’s exciting to be pursued (or the one pursuing) and beyond exciting to fall in love, but staying engaged with other people and life experiences that matter will keep you more level-headed. When relationships end, there’s nothing worse than to realize you’re literally all alone because you let other meaningful friendships slip to the wayside. Even if you end up dating your “one and only” through college, a top-heavy romance can short-circuit other learning and rob you of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities only open to you in this particular season of life. So keep room on your plate for other plans and priorities!

Take wisdom given. Before heading into more serious waters with a dating relationship, it pays great dividends to pause and get advice from an outside perspective. This can be hard if you’re far away from family, as many college students are, but seek it out whenever possible. A trusted friend, faculty member or professor may be able to offer objective guidance. Whether it’s strengths and weaknesses they see in you and your potential love interest, advice on how to communicate or find balance, or accountability in regards your mutual pursuit of purity, welcome others into your relationship and be open to gleaning from sources outside of yourself. When my then-boyfriend and I became more serious about our relationship towards the end of college, we sought insight from the dean of students who steered us to helpful resources such as a personality test and several books on relationships. His input helped us move through some of our lingering questions.

Practice open-handedness. Above all else, commit your relationship desires and decisions to the Lord in prayer. God’s plans for you are good; He intends to “prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). Seek His will above your own. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured by some obligatory time table, or run ahead of God’s leading in your life out of desperation. Refresh your mind often with the words of the apostle Paul who gives freedom to marry, but also exalts the life station of singleness as a unique blessing, since it allows for undistracted and undivided devotion to the Lord (I Corinthians 7:7-9; 26-40). It could be He has plans for this current chapter of your life that are beyond belief, whether that means a relationship or singleness. Both are amazing in different ways, so be open-minded and willing to embrace whatever God has for you!