A year ago, I began dating my best friend. It’s been an incredible year, full of a lot of growth. I’ve definitely learned a lot about relationships and communication and love and God. I’ve also learned that my dating principles look a bit weird to the rest of the world. That’s okay. My standards are not based in societal norms. They’re based in something far more powerful, my faith.

Focus on God first. This has become my mantra. God first, always, no matter what. This isn’t just a dating thing, but it plays a huge part in it. If my heart is in the right place, focused on my creator, than my actions will line up with what he wants for my life. His plan is perfect, but I’m not. I want to give into my flesh. I am selfish and proud. My heart loves to wander. It’s been really, really hard to not let my boyfriend become my focus. I love him, don’t get me wrong. I love him a lot. But he can never satisfy me. Our relationship, no matter how great it might be, can never satisfy. He will fail me over and over again, just like I will continually fail him. Because I’m not perfect. But God is, so I’m putting my ultimate trust and love and focus in him.

Dating is for marriage. I am dating my boyfriend because I want to marry him. There’s really no other reason to date someone. Seriously. Dating is purely to find the person you’re going to marry. It’s fun and exciting, sure, but you shouldn’t date for those reasons. You should date to pursue a relationship with someone who you think might be a potential partner through the rest of your life. If you’re dating for any other reason, than you’re setting yourself (and your significant other) up for disappointment and heart ache because you’re building and investing in a relationship you don’t intend to last.

Don’t date someone who doesn’t share your beliefs. 2 Corinthians 6:14 puts it pretty clearly, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” If God is my ultimate focus, how can I be deeply tied to someone who isn’t striving for that same focus? Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived. His focus was on God, but when he yoked himself to many wives who didn’t share his belief system, his heart was swayed. If the wisest man who ever lived was swayed by his relationships, than I know I can be too. Thankfully, my boyfriend is a wonderful man who loves God more than he loves me. Because of that, I know that when I falter in my focus on God, I’m going to have someone to encourage and support me, not drag me further away.

Remain pure. This is a big one that our world doesn’t get. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, we set up physical boundaries that we wanted to hold to. We promised each other and God that we would remain virgins until we are married. That, I know, is very contrary to the world’s view on relationships. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in full belief that sex is a great thing, but I’m also in full belief that it’s something meant for marriage, not dating. Sex was created by God to join a husband and wife as one. It’s meant for unity and reproduction, two things that are not intended to occur before marriage. Mark 10:6-9 says “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” It is only after that binding vow of marriage that sex, the two becoming one, is supposed to occur. My boyfriend and I are holding to that, but I know there are many Christians who have not. And that’s okay. It’s not an unforgivable sin. It’s a mistake, but we’re wired to desire that kind of connection. So when our focus isn’t on God, that temptation can take control. There’s forgiveness when we mess up. And thank goodness, because we all mess up.

Divorce is not an option. In the United States, roughly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. That’s half. Half. That’s a daunting number. But it also reflects a society that has its focus in the wrong place. There are Biblical reasons for divorce, such as abuse and adultery. However, simply calling it quits because of boredom or unhappiness would be selfishly breaking a vow made before God. I’m dating my boyfriend with the intention of marrying him and committing to that. So one day, when I say “I do,” I’m going to mean it. There’s no going back, there’s no re-dos. I’m not taking that vow lightly, so that means I can’t take dating lightly either.

Dating is not easy. It’s certainly a challenging growing experience that has taught me so many things I could never fully explain in one article. Ultimately it has taught me to trust and follow God with all my being for no one but him can fulfill or satisfy. With him as my focus, my guide, my Father, I can face not only the terrifying world of relationships, but also everything else this broken world has to offer.