Psychologist Henry Cloud is a best-selling author and popular Christian speaker. His newest book, "How to Get a Date Worth Keeping," comes with a guarantee: "Be dating in six months or your money back." Cloud's approach is strikingly different from other recent popular Christian dating books. Instead of searching for "the one," Cloud encourages his readers to develop a plan to meet and date as many people as possible. His advice is rooted in Christianity, but single people of all faiths will find his dating tips useful and inspiring. Cloud recently spoke with Beliefnet about common mistakes people make when they're dating, whether God has a role in singles' dating lives, and the kind of values Jesus would want people to look for in a mate.

What do you mean when you say dating should not just be about marriage?
People tend to look at dating sort of like a safari--like they're trying to land the trophy. There are a number of things wrong with that. Number one, they're looking for "the one." When they get in that mindset, it keeps them from meeting lots of different people that may have attributes or aspects to their personality and character and spiritual lives that that they need and would love, but never would be open to because of this type they have in their head.

If you talk to most happily married couples and just ask them, "Did you think you would end up with somebody like him or her?" usually they just laugh and say, "No, he's the last person in the world [I'd have expected]." They got outside their type. God surprises people. So when somebody is kind of on the hunt, they get locked into a type. There are also lots of wonderful growth experiences people have in the course of their dating lives that really prepare them for the one. They learn about relationships, they learn about different kinds of people, they learn about themselves. It takes the pressure off.

You mentioned that people tend to stick to a certain type. What other common mistakes do people make in their dating lives?
Many times somebody's attraction to a type is pathological. Some people turn out to be nightmares, yet they continue to go after the same type over and over and over. That gets them locked in.

One of the main other areas that gets people stuck, especially people of faith, is that they don't really treat dating like the other areas of their lives that are successful. In all areas of their lives, they'll take ownership of making those areas of their lives work for them. If you're building a career, you work on yourself: you get your skills up, you get healthy, and you go on a lot of interviews to find the best company. Sometimes you use headhunters. That's the same way that you find a community, the same way you make friends, the same way you go about all of life.

But in this one area, people tend to think God's just going to drop this person in their lap. They think there's nothing that they have to do. They end up very passive about it. What I call on people to do is to take ownership and go about it purposefully. This is why I think Soulmatch [Beliefnet's online dating service] and ideas like that are so great--it's a place for people to say, "I'm going to think about my dating life, and I'm going to look for certain things, and I'm going to examine my traffic patterns. I'm going to treat this area of life like I treat the other areas of life that work."

There have been a lot of other popular dating books in the Christian market, such as "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," that take the opposite approach, that encourage people to focus only on marriage. Is your book in any way a reaction to those books?
I didn't write it in reaction to those books, but rather in response to a need that I continued to hear over and over. But there are some very stark differences [between my book and the others]. I don't think it's wise for people to assume, from just being around people in groups, that they can really decide that they want to marry someone, without a graduated exposure to them. Those philosophies do move from groups to courting, but it's courting for marriage. I don't think that gives people the exposure to different kinds of people that they really need. As a psychologist, I can tell you that there are people who look very good in a group, but they're very different in a one-on-one situation. You don't start to see how kooky people really are sometimes until you are in a one-on-one relationship where control issues, intimacy issues, and fear issues really begin to emerge that don't emerge in a group.

The difference between that school of thought and mine is, I believe, in some ways theological. I believe the Christian faith teaches a parallel track of responsibility between us and God. I think that God is the source of everything; I think he's the provider, He guides us and leads us, in the same way that he secured the Promised Land for the Jews. But then he told Joshua, "You've got to go out and possess and claim and fight for and move into the land that I've secured for you."

When Jesus says, "Don't worry about your life because God is going to provide," he says, "Look at the birds in the air, and how he provides for them." I think that God will provide opportunities and people and experiences, and everything we need to date and ultimately to find the one. But the birds have got to get out of the nest and fly in order for God to [do His work]. He feeds them, but if they're not in the air, they're not going to catch the mosquitoes. So my call is for people to get out of the nest and do their side of the story while they're trusting God.

That reminds me of what you say in the book, that God is not going to bring you "the one" unless he's the FedEx guy.
Yeah, if you think that FedEx guy is cute, you might have a chance.

You must hear people say things like "Maybe God doesn't want me to be married" all the time. What's your first piece of advice for people who think this?
Generally when people say that, it's a conclusion they're drawing from the results that they're getting. I think that answer is often given out of despair and not out of a providential calling. There are people, and Jesus said this, that for the sake of the kingdom they choose a life of singleness or service. Paul wrote about the same thing--if you're single, you have a lot more time to devote to serving and a lot more energy.

But when you hear people make that comment, it's usually out of the feeling of wanting to be married or wanting to be in a relationship, but it's not happening, so people think, "I guess God doesn't want this for me." I do believe there are things that we desire that are not in the cards. But more often than not, when people have a desire for a relationship and it's not happening, there are probably issues to be resolved and issues people could work on that would ultimately end in that desire being fulfilled.

You write a lot about the importance of finding people with similar values. How can you help people define exactly what values they're looking for?
That's a really good question because what I find in working with a lot of Christians and people of faith is that they're very good at defining what they think are their spiritual values. But they define them too narrowly in religious content. I've heard Christians say, I'm looking for someone who really loves God and [for whom] God is the most important thing in his or her life, and who goes to church and is involved in service. These are all very important spiritual values. But what they omit is looking for some of the relational values and character abilities that actually make relationships work, which in my view, are also spiritual values.

Jesus said about the Pharisees, "You tithe, you do all these religious ordinances, but you ignore the weightier measures of the law, like justice and mercy and faithfulness." So I think that people should include, like Jesus did, people's relational abilities in their spiritual set of values. Can they get close? Are they trustworthy? Do they believe in freedom, or do they believe in control? Do they believe in forgiveness and reconciliation and working through problems? Or are they looking for an unrealistic Garden of Eden ideal? Do they believe in equality and respect for each other and commitment? Can they communicate? Can they talk? Can they get their heart close to another person? Those are the real fabric of God's life, but a lot of times when people are looking for "values," they get too religious and not spiritual.

It seems that a lot of people take "values" to mean not having sex before marriage.
Right. That's one of the problems. While I hold to that value and believe in it, sometimes that's seen as the only value that's important for single people to think about. It's so myopic. There are a lot of really chaste people who are relational nightmares.

But I think if someone walks the walk and isn't just giving lip service to their faith, then sexual integrity is something that they do practice. But it gets held up as a sort of golden calf.

Is your book geared more toward women or men?
There's specific advice to both men and women. For example, there's a section written just for men called "Where's the Testosterone?" In that chapter I talk to men about the complaints that I hear from women about how they would like them to be clearer about their desire, more initiating, more involved in pursuing her. And to the women I talk about how sometimes there's this continuum--some women don't want to be aggressive or ask men out, and on the other end, there's a turtle inside of a shell. I talk a lot about how a woman plays a big part in getting pursued by actually being pursuable. I wrote the book to both. Generally, as relationships books go, more women tend to read them.

One piece of advice you give to people is to form a "dating team." How does that work?
I do that for several reasons. A good support system meets your basic needs in life for being connected and grounded and supported and loved. It's only a connected and supported and loved person who feels good about themselves who really should be dating. If you're isolated and alone and having doubts about yourself, then you're going to make really bad decisions that are based on desperation.

The second reason is that dating is a risky world. There's a lot of hurt, and a lot of challenges that I think that people need to be put up to and pushed. Some of the people I've coached, I've really had to push them. So what a dating team does is kind of like a good trainer in the corner during a boxing match. You come back to the corner and they swab your wounds, they pour the cold water over your head, they tell you what you need to hear. They push you back in the ring. We need to be challenged like that.

The other thing is, love is not only blind, it's psychotic. People bring some people home that you don't want to stay there. So your dating team is your other set of eyes.

What are the main reasons that people tend to be attracted to the wrong types for them?
One of the main reasons is their early relational patterning. For example, if they experienced a lot of abandonment early on, then many times they'll be attracted to abandoners. If they experienced a lot of control, they'll be attracted to controllers. If they experienced a lot of self-centeredness, they'll be attracted to self-centeredness. It has to do with the wiring. That's why I talk about getting in touch with your relational patterns.

Sometimes it can be based on not having good models, or the peers that people hang around with and what they value. It can be sometimes out of unresolved aspects of themselves. For example, if someone is really passive, they might be attracted to aggressive types. Relationships multiply everything--they don't add anything. If you're half of a person, you think you're going to join up with another half of a person and will equal a whole, and that's not going to work. Relationships either bring out the health in people and expand it, or they hook into the dysfunction in people and make it worse. So that's why it's really important to work on these issues.

Since your book came out, have people shared their success stories with you?
A couple of months ago something similar to the story that the book begins with happened. I had done an event, and we were all sitting around having dinner. We started talking about dating and relationships, and this woman says, "I never get asked out." I was floored--she was cool, she was attractive, energetic, interesting. I said, "That can't be true." She said, "Seriously, I never get asked out," and someone else responded, "Men are intimidated by you." I hear that all the time and it's nonsense. I've taken too many people through that excuse to success--it's just not true.

She started to describe what was going on, and it was the same pattern that I had heard before. She was really shut down in some ways that she didn't know she was because she was so out there in the rest of her life. I gave her a copy of the book. I saw her a couple of weeks ago, and she told me, "I am so tired. I had five dates last week and I have four this week. I need a break!" She's having the time of her life, just over the course of a few months, and I hear that a lot.

I imagine that kind of commitment is hardest part for people with this approach--the amount of time and patience you have to devote to dating.
Yes, but the good thing is that you're putting in time and patience, but not to land the trophy as if the time and patience don't have value. What I'm talking about is a journey where, if it takes a few years to find the one, you're going to have so much fun and grow so much along the path, that it's going to bum you out when he finally comes along, because your dating life is over.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad