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Often, we’re looking for that all-important chemistry. But do we really need to feel a spark on the first date?

The simple answer would be ‘Yes,’ but I’ve never been a fan of simple answers and life isn’t straightforward or black and white.

A while back, I asked my fiancé if he’d felt a spark between us when we first met. To clarify, we weren’t on a date. We met in the kitchen of a cottage in Cornwall on a cycling weekend with mutual friends. He walked in wearing lycra and a helmet while I was putting lasagne in the oven.

He gave me an honest answer: ‘No, not really,’ which of course I didn’t like to hear. I then asked myself the same question and came up with a similar (if more wordy) response.

I know I felt something. He had a kind face and a calm, peaceful presence, which I was drawn to. But I also came up with a long list of reasons why he wasn’t for me – reasons which would have scuppered our chances of a relationship if we’d met on a date rather than as friends.

Fortunately, I had an entire weekend to get to know him and to grow to like him. No pressure. No rush.

So based on our experience, and on the stories of many couples I’ve met who didn’t fall in love at first sight but who are together nonetheless, I’d suggest we don’t need to feel a spark on a first encounter and that curiosity could be enough of a basis for a second or third date.

Do you feel curious? Do you want to know more? Also, ask yourself these questions: how do I feel in his or her presence? Do I feel content and relaxed? Can I be myself with this person?

If you are someone who craves that spark, it’s a good idea to be aware that fireworks can sometimes be a red flag rather than a green light.

We’ve all seen Hollywood movies featuring passionate clinches and lightning bolts. Some of us have come away with the conclusion that real connection has to look like that. But these instant attractions can be unhealthy.

When sparks fly between two people, it may be the case that they both have deep, unmet needs for love, affection or touch or that they have unhealed wounds and they’re craving comfort and support. They’re drawn to each other like magnets and they stick together like glue – for a while. And then the relationship unravels because they can’t meet each other’s deep needs or heal each other’s hurt.

I know this from experience. I’ve had a number of fiery relationships that, for a brief period, have transported me to another place. Sparks have flown. ‘This is like Hollywood – he has to be The One,’ I’ve thought. But these relationships that began with fireworks always went up in smoke. The attraction was unhealthy. I was either drawn to commitment-phobes, enticed by the thought I could make them commit, or I fell hard for people who had their own unmet needs and unhealed wounds, as I did.

After a number of crash and burn experiences, I understood that I had to learn to meet my own needs and heal my wounds as best as I could first. I had to learn to practise self-love and self-care. I had to re-parent myself and learn to soothe myself. I had to find healthy ways to experience hugs and human touch. And I had to resolve some of my childhood issues so that I didn’t crave male affection and affirmation quite so much – so that I could regain the power of choice when in the presence of an attractive man.

As I got healthier, I became wary of the chemical pull or the flashes of lightning. I set boundaries for dating so that I could keep myself emotionally safe while I found out more about the person I was with. I asked friends for support so that I wouldn’t repeat the same patterns over and over again.

We all have our own journeys. We all make our own mistakes. But can I suggest that you be wary of instant fireworks? Can I suggest that you tend to your own unmet needs and heal any lingering hurt as best you can, so that you’re not craving love and comfort? (Dating with a craving is like shopping for food when starving – we lose our discernment.)

And can I suggest that you go on a second or third date with people whom you’re curious about, even if there aren’t any immediate sparks?

You never know what will come of it.

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Dear younger self,

Today, you are praying for what seems like the millionth time, for your future husband. You know, God heard you the first time. He wants to give you what you desire, and He will, just at the right time. You want it to happen right now because you think you are ready. And you may well be. But God has other plans for you too. Good plans. Great plans, even. There’s so much He wants to teach you and to show you. For starters, you need to be able to hear Him more clearly. Above all the other voices and all the noise and chaos in this world. You need to know where He is leading you, and who He has called you to be. Right now, marriage seems to be all that consumes you. Sure, marriage is a good thing. God ordained it after all and put within you the very desire for marriage. But you were made for more than just marriage, and you need to realise that.

God can grant your heart’s desire and give you a husband in a split second. But He’s chosen not to do that right now, and you need to trust Him. You may not understand why you have to wait when most of your friends are getting married, but during this period, you will develop and grow more and more into the person God created you to be; the REAL you. During this period you will discover a passion for worship, writing, leadership and many others. And you will realise that time changes your concept of what is important in a spouse. For example, instead of someone that makes your heart flutter, you will long for someone that stills your heart when there’s a storm. Instead of someone tall, dark and handsome, you will desire someone that is dependable and trustworthy. Instead of someone with a high flying job and fancy car, you will long for someone you can build a happy home with.

Over the coming years (and in your quest to find ‘the one’), you will get your heart broken. Multiple times. And it will hurt. You will wonder why God allowed it to happen, but the experience will draw you closer to Him, like never before. With time, you will heal, and all that pain from heartbreak will be a thing of the past. But through the process, you will find that God wants you to come to a point where you realise that He is all that you need. Right now, you think marriage will make your life complete, and bring fulfilment, but the truth is God alone can satisfy. In Him, you live, breathe, and have your being.

Marriage is good, yes, but it is a gift. And you must never exalt the gift (or the idea of it) above the Giver.

By the way, you will get married. You will find that some parts of marriage are just like you imagined, and some, even better than you could ever imagine. You’ve heard that marriage can be difficult, but you will find that marriage is really what you make it. And above all, you’ll realise that God had it planned all along.

Urenna

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Some couples who split up go on to build a healthy, supportive friendship. However, most people find that staying friends isn’t as easy as it sounds. A lot depends on the nature of the relationship and the split – and how that affects your ability to heal and move on. I totally get the desire to stay friends after a break-up. I’m a chummy sort – I like to get on with everyone, I hate bad feeling and I don’t like goodbyes. But staying in contact has never worked out that well for me, often leading to more pain for one or both of us.

So if you’re pondering whether it’s a good idea to stay friends with someone you’ve dated, try asking yourself these five questions to help you find some clarity…

1. Were we really friends in the first place?

Relationships often end because, once the intoxication of the romance and attraction has settled down, you discover you don’t actually have much in common, or you struggle to communicate well. Ask yourself honestly: do we actually have a friendship to salvage? If you weren’t genuine friends before or during the relationship, you’re unlikely to forge a good friendship afterwards.

2. Do we want the same thing?

Remaining friends means different things to different people. One of you may want a deep, ongoing, supportive friendship, including spending quality time together. The other might just want an amicable atmosphere with no animosity, so there’s no unpleasantness if you bump into each other. This difference in expectations can prolong the pain of a break-up, as you go through a push-pull process of discovering you’re not on the same page, leaving one of you feeling hurt and rejected all over again. It may help to discuss what ‘staying friends’ actually means to each of you.

3. Did we treat each other well in the relationship?

A good friend has many of the same qualities as a good partner. Was your partner kind, respectful, honest, supportive and trustworthy? If they didn’t treat you well during your relationship, they’re unlikely to treat you any better as a friend, so it’s probably better to cut ties rather than continue to have your trust and self-esteem eroded. Likewise, ask yourself honestly: did you treat your partner well during the relationship? If not, it may be kinder to create some distance and allow them to heal and make a fresh start.

4. Will it hold me (or them) back?

At some point, both of you will hopefully move on to new relationships. However, a friendship with an ex-partner can get in the way of that. If you have lingering feelings or hopes of reconciliation, you’ll be less emotionally available for new love. A new partner may feel threatened by your friendship with your ex. If your former girlfriend or boyfriend meets someone new, will you be genuinely happy for them, or will there be residual jealousy or pain? Will you feel the need to hide a new romance from your ex, in case they’re hurt by it?

5. Has the dust settled?

It’s hard to move straight from relationship to friendship, as feelings and habits don’t disappear overnight, and can muddy the waters of a friendship. Spending time together may continue to stir up pain and delay healing. Many people find that going no-contact for a period of time (say, a few months) allows romantic feelings to fade, and lets you rediscover who you are as an individual rather than as half of a couple. So you may want to discuss a period of no-contact, including unfriending or muting each other on social media. After that, it may be easier to start afresh, without your friendship being tainted by the pain of your break-up.

What’s your experience of staying friends after splitting up? We’d love to hear your stories and tips!

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The fact was, I was playing harder to get than most women I knew, and the scariest thing was I wasn’t playing it. I was it. I was quite impossible to get, as men I dated or encountered back then will testify. I wasn’t making eye contact, I wasn’t smiling. Basically, I wasn’t available at all. Well in my head I was but in my behaviour? Far from it.

What I showed was: I don’t care about you, I don’t want you in my life and I’m not interested in getting to know you. What I thought was: why don’t you see me? Why don’t you want to get to know me? Why don’t you come closer? What I felt was lonely, sad, depressed, and very, very anxious. Anxious about staying alone forever, anxious for guys to come closer, anxious about not being able to cope with the reality of a relationship. But none of that showed in my behaviour, at least, not for most observers.

The funny thing was, I didn’t realise that until I read this book about playing hard to get. I thought to myself: ‘Wait a minute, that’s what I’m doing and it isn’t working! On the contrary, it’s backfiring like crazy’. What happened? Because of my attitude guys mainly stayed away. There were two types of guys that did ask me out though: the ones oblivious to non-verbal communication (usually not a success) and the ones I didn’t consider an option. The ones I deemed too small, too ill-educated or too young. The ones I didn’t think were handsome enough. Come to think of it, it was quite a big category of guys. To them, I could be friendly and nice. Strangely enough that led to invitations for dates…

Guys tell me this all the time, they need to feel safe and connected in order to ask you out. They need to know you sort of like them. They don’t need you to flirt with them necessarily, but they do need to know you are not looking for Mister Perfect and that you are available for connection. And all you need to do usually to indicate this is to smile and make eye contact. To be interested in their lives, their opinions, best of all, their advice on matters. ‘Don’t ask a guy out, ask for his advice’ I usually say to women who ask me how to indicate their interest. ‘Ask him how to replace a car tyre or how to approach your boss regarding a pay raise’, anything goes. Just ask him ‘Hey, I need your advice on something’ (remember this for when you’re married, because it works wonders on domestic issues such as how to get him to take out the recycling as well).

Everybody likes to be invited into another person’s life. No one likes to be left out, ignored, kept at a distance. The reasoning behind playing hard to get is of course that no one likes to be stalked and overwhelmed with attention either. But there is a wide gap between stalking and ignoring. And true, healthy dating and flirting are about walking the line between the two. Paying attention without overdoing it. Indicating you like someone without overwhelming them. Showing you are available without giving up on your own life. It’s all about balance!

Now, getting the right balance is a unicorn, but still, unicorns are good to chase. So next time someone advises you to play hard to get explain to them why you will not do such a thing and how you will ‘walk the line’ between ignoring and overwhelming. How you will be available, interested and connected without losing yourself and without playing games. That will make for happy dating!

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You just aren’t feeling a spark but want to be friends

Fantastic, it’s always great to meet more like-minded people. But be aware that the other person may not share your platonic feelings and might be thinking this is leading somewhere it’s not. If you’re totally sure this isn’t anything romantic on your part, now is the time to be honest and open in the gentlest, kindest way you can. The caveat to this is that love can often blossom from friendship, so remember that even if you don’t feel an immediate spark, it’s worth keeping an open mind and not writing anything off until you’re absolutely certain.

You assume you’re officially dating

We all make assumptions to some degree, but it can cause a lot of upset if you find out the hard way that your supposed boyfriend or girlfriend is seeing other people too. Before it can get to that stage, let them know you’re not dating anyone else and would like to be exclusive – if they respond in kind then you’re all set! If they don’t, then you’ll need to consider whether to proceed on this path, if the future’s uncertain.

You’re getting mixed signals

There can be a variety of reasons for this and what one person interprets as signals, is not necessarily the same as another person. If you’re finding yourself analysing, wondering and gathering the opinions of every single one of your friends, now is the time to bite the bullet and ask. It’s not an easy thing to be direct in this way and effectively ask someone whether they’re interested, but it’ll save you wasting tons of emotional energy (and the likelihood of getting it wrong) trying to fathom out their intentions by yourself.

You’ve been seeing someone for a while, but their dating profile is still online

Just because someone’s profile is still visible doesn’t mean they’re actively seeking dates. Many websites have an auto login system when you visit one of their pages – even if it’s a blog, events or general information section and many people forget they’re profile is still up. So don’t panic. However, it is time to have a chat. You could choose to ask the other person whether they see this as an exclusive dating relationship, or you can gently open up a dialogue by explaining that you’ve deactivated your profile – and why.

Dating can be complicated and confusing when there are misunderstandings. While it’s hard to broach a subject knowing you might not get the response you’d like, maintaining open and honest communication is undoubtedly the way forward – and saves you so much heartache in the long run.

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I had been a married Christian for 8 years and so I’d never had this thought before, I’d never even considered the ratios of married to unmarried Christians in my friendship group. However two years of singleness has shown me how difficult it can be to meet other single people. Especially if you attend a smaller church, or if you are in your 30s or 40s, or if you, like me, are a single parent who spends most evenings watching Gossip Girl repeats and eating too much halloumi cheese.

While I was at the conference I felt God was calling me to start a network where we honour and bless single Christians by running quality events that would bring people together in a relaxed, non-church environment. So Honoured was born and since last summer we’ve been busy running events and growing our following in Nottingham and now London and Manchester. We’ve run tapas evenings, games nights, single leaders’ events, and socials for different age groups.

It’s been an exhilarating adventure and incredibly daunting. However at the heart of it is a one idea:

People are better connected.

Whether it’s for romance, friendship, or just to meet other people in the same boat as you. And it also struck me that running a singles event is actually very simple. If you are frustrated with how hard it is to meet other single Christians in your area, I’d really encourage you to give it a go. Here are my 3 top tips for running a meetup…

1. Be brave

It takes a lot of courage to plan a meet up or event. As a single person you might feel embarrassed about running an event and putting yourself out there. You’ve no idea how many jokes I’ve had to endure about Honoured existing purely for me to find a boyfriend! However I can tell you from experience that the exhilaration that comes from running singles events is well worth it. Personally I feel like it has also deepened my relationship with God as I have had to rely on him, ensure my whole identity is secure in him and trust in him to use my steps of faith to build his Kingdom and bring him glory.

2. Get a core group

Start with a group of friends. Plan the meetup with them and make sure they can all come to support you. They don’t necessarily have to be single. In fact we often have married people helping to host our events as it can be less daunting for them to make introductions and make sure everyone is included and feels welcome. If you already have a core of friends there’s less pressure as you know, regardless of who else turns up, you’ll have a fun night.

3. Examine your definition of success before you start

Before an event we always refocus and pray through how we hope the evening will go. We always leave space for God to do the unexpected and we remind ourselves that if the event blesses just one person then it is a success. You might attract loads of people to your meet up or only a few but either way God will use your courage in stepping out.

We need more single Christians to step up and run singles ministries – there are some awesome things going on but still many areas where there aren’t events or meetups for people to access, especially events for those under 40. Events need to be run by single people because we know what type of events we’d like to attend and we’ll be the ones accessing them. However it will take courage from all of us and a step of faith – it’s not easy. But as with all risks we take following Jesus, he will always be faithful and the adventure will always be worth it!

You can find more help and ideas about running a ministry for singles or supporting single people in your church at singlefriendlychurch.com. And to find out more about Honoured go to honouredsingles.co.uk. Check out the meetup section of the Christian Connections site to post your meet up or to see what is happening near you.

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This is a dilemma many people face at some point. We find ourselves interested in someone who professes a faith, and then discover they have a bad boy (or bad girl) past. Should we trust that they’ve moved on to better things – or does a leopard never really change its spots?

Well… people can definitely change. It’s the bedrock of the Christian faith that no matter what we’ve done, we can repent, be forgiven and become a ‘new creation in Christ’. St Paul, who had a less than savoury past himself, told the Corinthians: ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.’

We’ve all read books like The Cross And The Switchblade, where a dramatic conversion leads from a life of crime to a world-changing ministry. I’ve personally known a couple of people with hair-raising histories, who turned their lives around after coming to Christ. They were such pillars of the community (and good spouses) that it was hard to imagine them in their former lives.

However, many people, despite a genuine conversion and the best of intentions, slip back into old ways. Coming to Christ rarely results in instant change – for most of people, it’s a life-long process. They have to unlearn deep-rooted behaviours, often linked to early emotional experiences, which are their ‘go to’ responses, especially during times of stress.

Change means finding new coping mechanisms, breaking contact with bad company (who may be their only support network), and creating an entirely new way of living. Even with ‘Christ in us’, it takes time, effort, commitment and strength. And if addiction is involved, it may mean professional support for the rest of their lives.

One chap at my church previously had a gambling addiction that led to theft and other crimes. After leaving prison, he desperately wanted to start afresh. The community embraced and supported him, and gave him part-time work doing practical tasks around the church. He was a grafter and seemed to be doing well. Sadly, he struggled to find a full-time job (a criminal record will do that for you), money was short and then that gambling addiction reared its ugly head again. Money started going missing from the church collection and the fairtrade stall… it didn’t end well.

If you meet someone who has made serious efforts and progress in building a new life, they may be one of those who turn their lives around permanently, with Jesus’ help. If they succeed, then they could make a good Christian partner, especially if they’ve already shown evidence of long-term change, and you could be on your way to a bright future together.

But proceed with caution. Don’t be too quick to tie yourself to someone. Remember, once you’re married, their debts become your debts, and your money is their money – Christians aren’t immune to being left homeless and destitute by a financially irresponsible or lawbreaking spouse. Expect full transparency (personal and financial) if things get serious, be wise to any red flags, and be prepared to walk away.

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These questions seem relevant as the Lenten season of letting go draws to a close and as Easter offers the opportunity for new beginnings.

Letting go, in my experience, doesn’t happen overnight. It can be a slow, gradual process. We might have to let go of something or somebody a number of times before we feel truly free.

Letting go can also be challenging. Sometimes we hold onto things or to people because they feel safe and familiar and because the opposite is scary and unknown.

But I believe that if we can find the courage to let go, despite our fears, we’ll create room in our lives for wonderful things to happen.

So what might we need to let go of?

Perhaps we need to let go of an ex-partner who is taking up space in our heads and hearts and stopping us from being open to a new relationship. Maybe we need to let go of an image of the kind of man or woman we think we should be with so that we can become open to different types. Perhaps we need to let go of an unhealthy behaviour or belief system that is preventing us from living to our potential or from recognising our true value and worth.

We are all unique. We all have our own stories. We all need to let go of different things. If you’re not sure what you need to let go of, maybe my letting go journey will help you to think it through.

I’ve had to let go of many things in order to create space in my life for happiness, fulfilment and a healthy and loving relationship.

Many years ago now, I had to let go of a compulsive behaviour that was damaging my self-esteem. I had a binge eating disorder – I overate to manage painful emotions and to numb unwelcome feelings. The excess weight I was carrying and the fact that I was self-harming with food undermined my confidence and dented my self-worth, severely impacting my ability to date or have romantic relationships. I had to learn both to love myself and to deal with my feelings in healthy ways. As I did so, my weight normalised and my self-esteem grew.

I had to let go of my yearning for status and external validation, which masked my deep-rooted low self-esteem. I had to let go of a job title that made people say ‘wow’ but that was making me miserable and, most probably, keeping me single because I had no time to date.

I had to let go of the image of perfection and togetherness I’d been so keen to present to the world. When I got signed off my high-flying role as a political journalist with depression, anxiety and stress, I initially felt ashamed. But my newfound vulnerability, and my ability to share that vulnerability with others through my writing, changed my life for the better.

I had to let go of the fantasy I had created in my mind about how my life would turn out. I had to let go of the idea that I would be married by 40 with a few small children. I am now 47 and happily engaged but I don’t have children. That is something I’ll probably be letting go of for the rest of my life. But the more I can let go of the fantasy and embrace the reality of my life, the more content I feel.

I had to let go of my expectation of the kind of man I should be with. The idea that I should date and marry an alpha male with a high-flying career similar to the one that had consumed me for years kept me single for a long time. Once I let go of that ideal and became open to other types, I was able to fall in love with the man I was meant to be with, rather than the man I thought I should be with.

I had to let go of patterns of behaviour that were leading me into dead-end or unhealthy relationships. I had an attraction to unavailable men, which I later realised was because I was scared of love and commitment myself. I also had a pattern of running away from available men who wanted to be with me, again because I was scared of intimacy. Ultimately, I had to let go of my fear and trust that it was safe to love.

Along the way, I also had to let go of ex-boyfriends who were taking up space in my head or heart. Sometimes I had to stop seeing them as friends or remove them from my Facebook feed. I had to do what I could to let go of the fantasy that some day it might work out with them. I had to let go of the old to make space for the new.

So what would you like to let go of? Who do you need to let go of? Is there anything that’s standing in your way as you seek a loving relationship? Or is there someone who’s taking up space in your heart?

Remember, letting go isn’t easy. You may need some support. But the rewards are incredible.

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Does this person draw me closer to God?

A godly relationship will draw you closer to God. Whether it is praying together, or attending church, or even having discussions about your faith, when two people in a relationship love God, there is a certain level of depth to that relationship. The Bible says that ‘Iron sharpens iron’. For example, someone with a shared faith can help keep you going when life gets tough. This is why it is so important to only date or consider marrying someone that truly knows and loves God.

Do we bring out the best in each other?

A godly relationship challenges you. You want to be the best version of yourself and the other person wants you to be the best version of you. They can see your potential, and even your hidden talents, and they can help draw them out. If you’re with someone that brings out the worst in you, that’s not a good sign, no matter how much you think you love each other. Godly relationships bring out the best in you.

Are we open and honest with each other?

Can I challenge him/her? If you cannot be honest in your relationship, there could be trouble ahead, especially if this is as a result of fear. A godly relationship allows you to be yourself, to challenge the other person if you feel they’re doing something wrong, and allows you to share your concerns and feelings. Being open and honest with each other helps to build trust. If you don’t trust the person you’re with, that’s a big warning signal!

Does this relationship make me compromise on my values?

It is possible to love God, and still make mistakes. We all make mistakes, because we’re human. But, a relationship that makes you compromise on your morals or values over and over again is not godly. Such a relationship does not glorify God and should be addressed. The Bible says to flee sexual immorality. But I’m not talking just about sexual sin here. A relationship where you’re forced to lie, steal or cheat, in order to please the person will be detrimental to your soul and is not worth it.

Is this the kind of relationship I would like for someone else?

I have found that sometimes the easiest way to tell if a relationship is right is asking yourself what you would say to a close friend or sibling if they were in the same situation. Would you tell them to run? Would you tell them to be careful? Take things slowly? These days when there is so much pressure to settle down, get married and do what everyone else is doing, it is wise to stop, and take stock. Ask yourself, does my relationship glorify God? If the answer is not ‘yes’, what are you going to do about it?

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1. Compatibility

This doesn’t necessarily mean having the same interests, liking the same food or having the same taste in music, although that’s good too. Does it feel easy to be around this person? Do you feel fully yourself when chatting to them? Do you laugh and effortlessly enjoy spending time in their company? If so, this may well be someone with whom you could spend the rest of your days.

2. Character

The Bible tells us not to be unequally yoked, and someone’s character is a significantly large part of that – if you’re going one way and they another, you could end up in a relational tug of war. Gaining emotional and spiritual maturity is an ongoing journey. While we’re all a work in progress, it’s worth making sure that the person you’re considering is on the same path and values good character – both for themselves and for you.

3. Kindness

It’s often said that a great way to get an insight into a date, is to watch how they treat the waiter or waitress, bartender, or even just the people they pass in the street. Do they tip after a meal? Do they step aside and let others pass rather than pushing ahead? Gauging someone’s reactions to others (especially those from whom they have nothing to gain, who they’re not trying to impress) and the world around them, can be better than focussing purely on how they treat you in a dating scenario.

4. Integrity

Here, actions speak louder than words. If your date promises to call the next day then doesn’t, or stands you up without a very good reason, then the chances are their promises are like pie crusts (easily made, easily broken). Of course life does get in the way sometimes, but if someone makes a habit of not doing the things they say they will, then that doesn’t bode well for a future together. If you’re someone who finds it difficult to keep to arrangements and often lets others down, then this is a great time to examine your heart, and make some changes – and not just for the sake of a prospective spouse.

5. Interest

It may sound obvious, but is the person in question interested in you? A good sign of this is the kind of questions they ask – ones that are relevant to you, not just generic stock questions – and the details they remember from previous conversations. You don’t have to have the same hobbies and likes, but showing a genuine interest in who you are and the things you enjoy and care about, is certainly key.

It isn’t a one-way street – while you do need to weigh up if someone is right for you, bear in mind that they may well be doing the same with you. Dating and relationships provide great opportunity for self-development and personal refinement. So, grab this opportunity to grow in character, kindness and integrity and seek someone who is compatible (and interested) to travel the path with you.

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