Are you dating “the one?” How can you know for sure?

There’s an old proverb that says, Marriage with peace is this word’s paradise, and I believe it. But marriages that last are, in great part, the product of better decision-making before couples say, “I do.” Without this crucial front-end investment in dating and courtship, a marriage runs the risk of living out the second half of that old proverb: Marriage with strife is this world’s purgatory. But how do you beat the odds in your own journey toward a rich, fulfilling, lifelong marriage? Whether you’re dating seriously, dating casually, or not dating at all, your odds for a great marriage are way greater than the divorce rate. Why? Because you’re still single! You’re still on the dating side, where great marriages begin.   

The Ten Date Challenge: This year, consider taking the Ten Date Challenge—dates that are creative and fun, but perhaps most importantly, dates with a purpose. Agenda Dates are purposeful dates that give you and your potential mate a chance to experience each other in not-so-ordinary settings that provide extraordinary insight into each other. You may discover things about each other that you would not discover any other way: he expects you to cook just like his mama; she can’t stand being around kids; after the wedding tux, he’s not planning to wear a tie and jacket for any event; she flies off the handle when she loses anything from checkers to a chili cook- off.

These are fun dates because they challenge you both in some ways to push the limits of your relationship by placing you in settings and situations that will help you experience one another and learn about each other in new and insightful ways. These dates will actually move your relationship in the right direction (or wake you up to the need for moving in the opposite direction). I’m challenging you to go on the ten dates and see what you learn about yourselves from the experience. You can work through these dates at your own pace. But think of them as an assignment and not optional, because, take my word for it, they will greatly benefit you both. My advice is to work through these dates throughout the New Year, allowing yourself a healthy amount of time to develop your relationship. Are you up for the challenge?  

10 Great Dates with a Splendid Agenda

1.The Bon Appétit Date Are you hoping your significant other loves to cook or help in the kitchen? Maybe s/he hates being in the kitchen and needs a recipe to boil water. What if you’re both amateur chefs or total kitchen klutzes? A cooking date will help you answer these and other questions about your biases and preferences related to cooking. Here are some ideas for this agenda date:
  • Home cookin’. Invite your significant other over for a home cooked dinner. You do the whole enchilada…choose the menu, prepare and serve, clean-up. If you’ve never done this before, better start searching for some simple to follow directions. 
  • Team dinner. Work together to plan and prepare a nice meal for a small group of family members or friends.
  • Progressive dinner for two. One person plan and prepare the first  half of the meal (appetizer, soup, salad), and the other plan and prepare the second half (entrée, dessert). 
While on this date (or soon afterwards when it’s just the two of you) discuss what cooking and mealtimes looked like when you were a kid. Share your opinions about couples and families eating meals together around a table and families watching TV or a movie while eating together. Ask “What statement best describes you? ‘I prefer to eat the foods I already like prepared how I like them’ or ‘I like to try a variety of different foods prepared in different ways.’”

2.Dress-Up Date
The agenda here is twofold: One goal is to discover how your significant other adjusts to an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation. It’s also an opportunity for you to see this person in a setting people most people are going to be in, in the future. Here’s your chance to dawn your finest threads, put on your best behavior, brush up on your etiquette, and go somewhere special. A fancy date may be a bit uncomfortable, but it provides a chance to see how adaptable you both are.
  • Why are there three forks?  Save up for a special night at an elegant restaurant. I’m talking about cloth napkins and candles on the table.
  • To be or not to be.  If there’s a nice theatre, playhouse, or concert hall within driving range, get tickets to a Broadway-style musical, Shakespearean play, the symphony, or opera. Dress to the nines.
  • Posh party.  Host your own intimate, fancy dress party for yourselves  and a group of friends. 
While on one of these dates, ask how comfortable (or uncomfortable) you feel attending events where you’re expected to dress up? How much enjoyment do you receive from the events most people dress up for—operas, concerts, fancy dinners, dances, etc.?

3.Let’s Get Physical (but not sexual) Date
I remember the time I went jogging with my now wife in order to fulfill the requirement to work up a sweat (yes, I, myself, took the dating challenge). I wasn’t used to running with a female who was faster than me. I learned on this date that she was one fit woman. We also learned that neither of us was lazy or allergic to exercise, something helpful to know if you desire an active future. On this date, you need to work out and work up a good sweat together. Some ideas:
  • Hit the streets. Push yourselves with a long steady run. Be sure to have a goal to motivate you, like ending at a favorite lunch spot or ice-cream parlor
  • Ain’t no mountain high enough. Get into the hills for some energetic hiking, rock climbing, skiing, or snowboarding
  • Got blades? Lace up for ice-skating, roller-skating, roller-blading, or snowboarding. skateboarding. 

Discuss how important it is to you to be regularly involved in physical activities. Do you prefer doing physical activities alone, using the time to think, pray, recharge? Or do you prefer doing these activities with others as a social outlet?

4.The Let’s-Kid-Around Date
A lot of people don’t talk about kids until after the wedding. Bad idea. This date eliminates the possibility of finding out after your married whether or not you and your partner have differences in opinions about kids. You’ll need to borrow two or three little people, such as younger siblings, nieces, nephews, or neighbor kids whose families you know well. Or you can volunteer yourselves for free babysitting to friends who have kids. This date is all about you having fun with real, live kids.
  • Park it. Take some kiddos to a city park or playground for a picniclunch and a couple of outdoor games.
  • Talk to the animals. Most kids love animals, so get close to some of  them by visiting a city zoo, petting zoo, wild animal park, or aquarium. You can save money on food by packing snacks and juice boxes.
  • King me. Spend a couple of hours playing board games or reading age-appropriate books with them. 
Some conversation starters: How comfortable (or uncomfortable) do you feel playing with or relating to children? Infants? Toddlers? Teenagers? Do you want to have children someday? Why or why not? What is most exciting or what prompts the most anxiety about being a parent? How many kids would you like to have? Would you consider adoption? What are your opinions about stay-at-home moms/dads, placing kids in daycare, physical punishment?

5.The Get-Your-Game-Face-On Date
Who doesn’t like a little competition? Well actually a lot of people. And in the wake of a win or loss, some very strange reactions can arise. So here’s the chance to see how well that competitive streak is worn.
  • Take the field. Lock horns in one-on-one sports such as tennis, paddleball, ping-pong, H-O-R-S-E, or a foot race. 
  • Deal with it. Shuffle the deck and zero in on an exciting card game tournament—poker, gin rummy, bridge, canasta, etc.
  • Chairman of the board. Nuke a tub of popcorn for an evening of  board games like Monopoly, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Checkers, Scrabble.   
Discuss how competitive you are at games and sports. How badly do you need to win? Would you characterize yourself as a sore or gracious loser? (If losing leads to rage, this must be addressed, perhaps in a counseling setting. If it’s not, then prepare yourself to be ready to lose at everything in order to keep anger at bay.) In what ways does competition bring out the best in you? In what way does it reveal your “dark side?”

6.The Cup-of-Cold-Water Date
This date has the purpose beyond getting to know each other—it enables you to invest yourselves in service to others. You’ll learn about your compassion for others, your perseverance in selfless work, your generosity with your time and energy…and so on. Here are some service project ideas.
  • Soups on.  Volunteer to serve meals at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your community. Connect with the guests.
  • Elder care. Help an elderly person with chores like painting,  gardening, housecleaning, raking, shoveling snow. Don’t ask. Just show up and get it done.
  • Personal shopper. Ask your church for names of shut-ins who may need someone to do errands or shop for them. 
Be sure to discuss how much of a role you want volunteer work to be a part of your life. How much or how regularly would/do you give to church? Would you be interested in mission trips? What did you learn about each other on this date?

7. The “I Thought You Brought the Camp Stove” Date
Plan a camping trip in which you sleep (separately) in tents or under the stars, cook over a camp stove or open fire, and explore the great outdoors together. Who’s better at living off the land? Can you be happy seeing each other first thing in the morning without makeup (her), without a shave (him), and with bed hair (both)?
For beginners. Camp the weekend at a national or state park with campsites, fire pits, toilets, and showers.
For the more adventurous. Backpack your gear into the woods and clear your own campsite beside a river or lake. Spend three or four days hiking by day and fishing for your dinner.  

Let me put your mind at ease. You may not enjoy sleeping on the ground or using an outhouse or a bush as a restroom, but it won’t kill you. And you may just discover some things you do like, including being with a wonderful person in the middle of God’s creation. Discuss what you like/hate about camping. How do you handle a disruption in normal routine, such as sleeping in a tent and cooking outdoors?  

8.The “You Want Me to do What?” Date
Choose something for the two of you to do that you know the other person doesn’t like to do (ideas below). Your significant other also chooses something you don’t like to do. Then set a date and do them on the same day or within the week.

  • A square dance lesson
  • A firing range
  • A fashion show
  • A boxing/wrestling match
  • Spend an afternoon weeding the garden
  • Get out a bucket, rags, a vacuum and clean a car 
The person you marry will not be a photocopy of you. It’s good to learn to be gracious and open-minded. Talk about what are your favorite things to do. What kinds of things do you not enjoy that are popular with others? What’s the most important thing you learned about one another on this date?

9.Faith Date
On our radio show, New Life Live, we’re often asked if it’s okay to marry someone from a different faith. But if it’s important to you, why would you marry someone who doesn’t share your faith. A big part of the Ten-Date Challenge is for each of you to learn about the other’s spiritual journey and to share your own journey. Possible date ideas:
  • Your church or mine. If you’re from different churches, attend services together at both of them on the same weekend, if possible.
  • Faith stories. Discuss your journey of faith—how it began, the highs and lows along the way, the present state of your relationship with God. 
  • Word to the wise. Read a book of the Bible together and talk about what it means to you.
Christians are instructed not to be linked with someone who is not a Christian. If you want to experience life with your soul mate, it’s vital you agree on how to grow your souls and where they go when life on earth is over. What do you sense is God’s direction for your life, such as your purpose, contribution to the world, and so on? Does this direction seem compatible with God’s direction for your loved one? Who have been your primary spiritual mentors and role models? What are some of the best ways couples and family members can encourage and strengthen one another in their spiritual journey?  

10.Meet the Parents Date

For parents who live in your community:
  • Treat them to lunch or dinner at one of their favorite spots
  • Host a dinner at your home. 
  • Take a picnic to the park followed with a walk 
For parents who live in another state/region:
  • Plan a trip to your parents’ home so they can show your loved one some of the local sights and attractions.
  • Arrange to meet the parents midway somewhere for a weekend of sightseeing and getting acquainted. 
  •  If an in-person meeting is impossible, set up a video conference
 When you’re with your significant other’s parents, take advantage of the opportunity to learn about them and about your special date’s place in their lives. Here are a few questions you might use
  • How did you meet and fall in love?
  • Tell me about the day my beloved was born.
  • What special memories do you have of him/her growing up? 
  • What are your dreams/desires for him/her?    
If you’re serious about someone, Agenda Dating will keep you from rushing into marriage with ignorance rather than insight about each other. These ten laser-focused dates involving you and your significant other may test your limits, but they’ll also open your eyes to greater understanding of yourself and the person you’re dating. Take the challenge. And don’t forget to have fun!    

Steve Arterburn is the founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and host of the #1 nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show, New Life Live! heard and watched by two million people each week on radio and TV. Steve is the founder of Women of Faith conferences and serves as a teaching pastor at Heartland Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Steve is a bestselling author of books such as Every Man’s Battle and Healing is a Choice. The above excerpt is from his book Is This the One? Steve resides with his family in Fishers, Indiana.