Person A: “So, me and so-and-so just started dating.”
Person B: “Oh, that’s so cool! For how long now?”
Person A: “We just started dating last week.”
Person B: “Wow, that’s great! So do you think you’re going to marry her??”
<screeeeeeeeeeech, the music stops>
Whoa whoa whoa, blanco nino. Let’s slow this thing down a bit.
I have no idea when this “I’m-only-going-to-date-you-if-I’m-going-to-marry-you” thing started in Christian circles. Actually, yes I do. I think it all began with a young man named Joshua Harris who kissed dating goodbye and wrote a book about it (though I believe he later said that it was his own path, and not for all). Wherever it started, I don’t like it and I don’t like what it’s done to the Christian community with regards to dating.
Before I dig into my problems with this view of Christian dating, here are what I perceive to be some positive aspects of this mentality in dating.
1. It is generally a good thing to not just mess around with anyone’s heart and emotions or fool around just because one is bored or feels lonely or feels better about him or herself only in a relationship. This mentality encourages responsible dating, which is a good thing. The extreme to which it is taken is not a good thing, IMHO.
2. It is generally a good thing to keep the idea of marriage and marriage potential in mind as one is dating.
I honestly don’t see any other merits in adhering strictly to the “I-only-date-who-I-can-see-myself-marrying” way of Christian dating. Maybe I’ll think of some later, but this is what I got for now.
These are my problems with the “only-date-for-marriage” mentality of Christian dating.
1. I generally have a problem with these “Christian culture” rules that are more “traditions of man”-based than biblically based. This view of dating is what I perceive to be one of those “traditions of man” rules. Where exactly in the Bible does it lay out that one must not date unless they know they are going to marry the individual? Where?? In what verse does it say that dating has to look this certain way? There are NO specific rules or regulations or guidelines at ALL in the Bible with regards to dating!! There are general principles of how a husband and wife relate, and there are general principles of how we should treat one another, both from which we can extrapolate what dating would look like, but I’m sorry Joshua Harris. I just don’t see it your way, and I have no idea why so many Christians buy into it, frowning and judging whenever they hear that couples are dating just to get to know each other. The Bible is my authority, not these man-made traditions, and if I asked you where you learned this view of dating, I would bet that someone at church told you it was the right way.
2. My second issue is this: how are a man and woman supposed to know right off the bat, right at the get-go of their dating relationship that they’ve met their life partner IF THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW THEM WELL ENOUGH YET? I mean, isn’t that the point of dating? Or you’re supposed to have figured it all out BEFORE you’ve even begun dating?? That’s a lot to figure out beforehand, and there are just some things you can’t figure out about a person until you’re in a dating relationship with them, for example, what they are really like when no one else is around, what they are like when they are mad, what they are like when they are mad at YOU, whether they fight fair, you get the picture. God can redeem all things, but I am pretty sure He’d caution against flying blind into a courting relationship when you don’t even know the person.
3. If we are supposed to commit ourselves to pursuing marriage at the beginning of a relationship and then later find out that there’s just no compatibility, we’ve really put unnecessary pressure and expectations on a relationship that was never meant to work out, which means we’ve unnecessarily and greatly increased the heartache that comes from committing too much of your heart to someone who you weren’t even sure about in the first place just because you thought it was the “Christian” way of dating.
4. It just doesn’t make sense! Take a look at the beautiful chart I made down below. (And if you’re wondering, Paint. I used Microsoft Paint.)
Saying, “I’m only going to date who I’d marry” is like putting all of your eggs in a basket that, for the most part, you don’t know all that well, or going all in with a poker hand where you’ve only seen one card (so many American colloquialisms! I’m so American!). Why on EARTH would God call us to commit right away to someone who at best we may know as a friend from the very beginning? It’s almost blasphemous and, dare I say, idolatrous. I mean, God is the only one who we could possibly put that sort of blind commitment and faith in. Doesn’t Couple B’s scenario seem much more likely to be pleasing to God? To grow in commitment to one another as you get to know one another? It just makes more sense. To me, at least. Maybe the chart only makes sense to me too, hahaha. I like it, I think I’ll use it in one of my Navs talks one day.
5. This mentality feeds into shame if a relationship doesn’t work out, which is definitely not a good thing. The underlying message you receive from this mentality after a break-up is, “You’re a bad Christian because you weren’t committed enough.” Well, is that really the case? Or did you just realize from your time together that the two of you just wouldn’t work out? And is it so bad or is it God’s grace and goodness to show you now rather than when your marriage has failed? I like to think of it as God’s grace and goodness, and any thought which turns His grace and goodness into shame is straight from Satan. And it’s just too bad that some of the time, it’s other Christians who are the shamers.
6. I really truly believe this mentality is one of the causes of this epidemic where people who love God settle for less than His best, in how they pursue others and who they pursue. If a young man is told that he can only date for marriage, good GRIEF, that’s far from the thoughts of many young men! “Well, I guess I can’t date the Christian girls, because that is what they are expecting.” And so they start pursuing non-Christian girls, because they don’t expect to abide by the same “date-only-for-marriage” rules that their Christian counterparts expect, and slowly, these young men walk away from God. Now what if someone told these young men, “Hey, you might not know if you want to marry this lovely Christian girl and you might not be able to commit to marriage yet, and that’s okay, but you know you like her and you know you want to get to know her better to see if one day it could be a possibility. So ask her out to coffee!” Referring back to the chart, it is far less daunting and FAR more do-able to encourage a young man to make the leap from 0 – 1% commitment than from 0 – 100% commitment. And that’s all God calls us to do in life. Take it day by day, step by step.
On the flip side of this epidemic are the many amazing women of God, who wait and wait for these young men to man up and pursue. But since many of these young men aren’t even thinking marriage yet, and hold the mentality that dating is only for marriage, they’ve begun to look elsewhere, and gosh darnit, the ladies are getting tired of waiting! And so in sweeps a non-Christian fella, who’s okay with pursuing this Christian girl because he doesn’t have the same rule of 0 – 100% commitment that his Christian brother does, and you know, he’s a nice enough guy, so why not? It’s not like any other Christian guys are doing anything. And slowly, she starts walking away from God, because it was just too scary for both the Christian guy and girl to go all in from nothing.
This is speculation, of course, but I have no doubt it plays some part.
So I know what you’re asking: “What do you suggest, Alice??” Well, I’m glad you asked, Jenny, because I’m pretty sure you’re the only one still reading this at this point. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Date to get to know someone to see whether you could marry them later and save the “I only date for marriage” shpiel. Sure, you can see yourself marrying them now, but you’re only seeing them at their best at this point. You really have no idea.
2. It’s okay to go on dates. You think this girl is cute and like the way she prays? Ask her out to coffee to get to know her. It doesn’t have to be this huge dramatic DTR ordeal, I mean, what is the big freakin deal. Just get coffee. On the flip side, and as a word of advice to men, after a few of these dates, I would make it clear that you are interested in getting to know her better to see if the relationship could go further. It just saves on a lot of angst and guess-work on the girl’s part, and guards her heart.
3. Use dating as an opportunity to live out God’s commands and exhortations: to love one another, submit to one another, encourage one another, honor one another, look to the needs of the other, serve one another, etc. We don’t know much from the Bible about how to date, but we do know that God calls us to these things. And observe how your sig o lives these things out too, not only with you, but with their family, with friends, and even with those who annoy them.
4. Give everyone who loves Jesus a chance. I NEVER thought I’d marry a non-Taiwanese man, and I NEVER EVER thought I’d marry someone younger than me. I never thought I’d marry a hippie from Eugene, OR, I never thought I’d marry someone who once didn’t shower two weeks for a bet or thinks that brown and gray are a good color combination. RJ is nothing that I would ever expect to have married, and yet he is the greatest gift God has given to me, after salvation. God knew what He was doing when He brought the two of us together, and it is far better than anything I ever had in mind for my future spouse. So who knows? That guy you’re not so sure of who asked you out? Just go to coffee with him when he asks.
It’s not like you’re getting married (HA!!!).
5. Keep yourself open to learning, because there are learning opportunities with each person you date. No relationship is wasted in the kingdom of God, but helps to shape us into who we are today. You learn what you like and what you don’t like, what works and what doesn’t work for you from previous relationships, which are valuable lessons for future ones.
6. Just have fun and enjoy the journey of dating! Gosh, dating shouldn’t be nearly as angsty as we make it out to be.
I know this is a huge post with random and unorganized rantings about how I just hate what Christian culture has done to Christian dating, but I hope you are able to pull some nuggets of truth out of it.
In closing, I just want to say, let’s just all chill out a bit about Christian dating, okay?