1. Approach dating with the other person's best interests in mind. When I interviewed the Christian men last month, one of their primary concerns about dating at church was that it could negatively impact their reputations. Yet, in order for that to happen, two events would likely need to occur: First, a guy would need to do something that upset the woman he was dating. Second, the woman would have to start gossiping about it.
You'll notice that both parties play a role in this scenario, and neither may have had the other person's best interests in mind. "There is an art to dating," Sarah says, "and it's possible to do it in a way that leaves both people feeling respected in the process."
More from YourTango: Striving For An Equal Marriage? That May Be Why It's Failing
For men, sometimes this can mean communicating with the women they date in a more open and honest way, especially if they've realized that they're not interested. "No one wants to be strung along," Sarah continues, "and I think there's a way to reject people with grace and courtesy. For example, just telling someone, 'I don't think we're a good fit,' is easy and it's respectful because it doesn't take anything away from what that person has to offer. It's not criticizing certain things about them." How to Deal with Online Dating Rejection
For women, this can mean cutting the gossip. Regardless of what a man initially did, or what his intentions were, women still have a responsibility to recognize that the things they say about men can be irreversibly damaging.
It can also mean finding more compassion for the guys who ask them out. "I don’t think women make it easy on guys," Sarah says. "They criticize, they're naturally gossipy, and they don't always recognize how hard it is for men who are always having to put themselves out there and risk being rejected by them."
Traci agrees, and comments on men's fear of being labeled based on the number of women they date at church. "I don't think that's necessarily true," she says. "As long as you're respectful, then it doesn’t matter how many people you've dated because regardless of that number, you're reputation is still that you're respectful." 8 Ways To End Your Relationship Respectfully
She also adds that in dating, and in everything else in life, "We need to treat everybody with the understanding that they are the sons and daughters of God. If we really truly did that, then I think it would be possible to date within your own church."
2. Date prayerfully. Traci and Kevin both admit they were quite young when they met, and although they didn't always know what they were doing, it was helpful that they both went to the same church. "We both got to hear the same messages each week," Kevin says, "and that gave us the tools to combat whatever struggles we were having."
"It definitely helped us be more in sync," Traci says. "The church you chose to go to is the way that you respond to God, so when you're dating someone and going to church together, it's sort of like you're worshipping and responding to God in the same way."
Mary agrees, and advises singles to pray with the people they are dating and serve in a ministry together. She also adds, "Learn to value the differences in each other, and don't take yourselves too seriously." How To Add Prayer to Your Marriage Toolbox
3. Look at the larger picture. Sarah and Jeremy's experience of dating at church wasn't without its ups and downs. Prior to getting engaged, they broke up for a short period of time, and in that experience, they related to many of the problems that Christian guys had referenced. "It was hard being at the same church," Sarah admits. "We had a ton of mutual friends, and if I was going to move on with my life, it would have been incredibly difficult."
Jeremy agrees, yet still believes that dating women at church is worth the risk. This is how he explains it: "If a guy sees a girl at church and says to himself, 'She's hot. I want her—but I don't want to go get her because it could be awkward if it ends weird,' then that's ridiculous! It's totally illogical, and he's basically throwing away a future and a great possibility unfolding." 10 Reasons Awkward Guys Are The Best
Kevin's stance on dating at church is somewhat similar. When he first met Traci, he had just gotten out of a serious relationship and wasn't looking to date anybody at all. "I knew that the possibility was there for meeting a girl on this college retreat, but I specifically told myself going into it that I didn't want that. I just wanted to focus on God, and that was it. But then I met Traci, and by the end of the weekend I thought to myself, 'I just can’t let this girl go.'"
More from YourTango: Please, Put Down Your Dating Checklist Already
Granted, both of their stories have ended in happy marriages, but none of the couples were immune to experiencing prior heartbreaks. "Dating is always a risk," Sarah continues, "and you have to go into it realizing that and accepting all the possibilities." Bake Your Way Out Of Heartbreak