Recently, a friend of mine got taken aside by an older guy at church for a stern talking to. He was told he wasn’t guarding the hearts of the women in our church community.
His crime? He had taken a couple of different girls out for coffee in the preceding weeks.
The very serious attitude of this older guy towards dating is not uncommon. In an attempt to push back against hook up culture, Christians often treat dating like it’s a big deal. We discern a potential relationship for weeks, if not months, before making a move and if we do start dating, we feel like the relationship has to be heading directly towards marriage.
The result is that in many Christian communities, dating is surrounded by awkwardness, pressure, and enough unnecessary expectations to fill a mega-church. Heaven forbid, as my friend learned the hard way, you ask someone out to coffee just because you’d like to get to know her better.
THE WRONG RELATIONSHIP GOALS
It’s time for us to say goodbye to our overly intense attitude towards dating and just chill out a bit. A couple of weeks ago, when Relevant shared an article by Pastor Mike Todd titled Three Ways to Transform Your Dating Life, I was hopeful we were going to get an encouragement to do just that.
Pastor Todd went viral several years ago with his sermon series “Relationship Goals” which tackled the topic of relationships is a raw and relatable way. To date, the series has accumulated over 6 million views on YouTube.
When it came to the task of rehabilitating Christian dating, he seemed like the right pastor for the job.
Pastor Todd starts strong. He writes “you need to take time — without everybody else applying pressure or giving an opinion — to see if you’re really attracted to the other person, if your values line up and if you can help each other become who you’re meant to be.”
I mean, can I get an AMEN?! We rebuke pressure in the NAME OF JESUS! Lord, break your church couples FREE from the CHAINS of everybody else’s opinions!
So, how does Pastor Todd suggest we attain this new Christian dating utopia, free from pressure and opinions? Through a 90-day process, during which it’s recommended that you’re advised by a trusted married couple.
Wait, what?! In what world would a formal 3-month pre-dating process lead to less pressure in a relationship? There’s only been one point in my relationship where we regularly met with a trusted married couple over the course of several months and it was when we were doing our marriage preparation.
DITCH THE EXPECTATIONS
Any kind of pre-dating process that good Christian couples are expected to go through is going to lead to more pressure and expectations, not fewer.
I’m speaking from personal experience. Several years ago, I was interested in a girl at my church and I asked her on a date. She replied by informing me that she was taking the year to focus on her relationship with Jesus (that old chestnut), but that she would be interested in spending the next few months growing in intentional friendship.
So that’s what we did and let me tell you, the idea that we could have ordinary friendship in these circumstances was a joke.
When you’re attracted to someone, and you know they’re attracted to you, and there’s a clock in the back of your mind that’s slowly ticking down until you’re allowed to date this person, it’s impossible to have a normal friendship. You might not hold hands, but you can’t help but get emotionally invested in the relationship.
When we made it to the end of this time of “intentional friendship” there was a significant expectation that, having honoured the Lord in these months, our relationship would work out.
It didn’t. Just a couple of months later, it was clear that a romantic relationship wasn’t right for us. Had we gone straight into dating, I suspect we would have figured this out after 3 or 4 dates. Instead, we went through a 6-month process with too many expectations and a lot more heartbreak than was necessary.
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THE PURPOSE OF DATING
The purpose of dating is to get to know someone, so that you can decide whether you want to be in a committed, exclusive relationship with them. That’s it.
If you’re contemplating asking someone out, you don’t need to have pre-picked out an engagement ring or be pondering how good you would both be at married ministry. You can just be thinking, “I’d like to get to know this person better, I should ask her/him on a date.”
However, unless Sunday was your first week at church (hope you got the free Bible), you’ve probably heard the dating advice “you shouldn’t date unless you’re ready to get married.”
Too often, I think this gets interpreted to mean “you shouldn’t date unless you’re ready to get married immediately after the first coffee date (and preferably before the two of you hug for the first time).”
Again, the intention behind these expectations is positive. As Christians, we shouldn’t just date because we’re lonely, or bored, or because the person we’re interested in has a body straight out of Song of Songs. We’re called to date with integrity and purpose.
The normal process, just so we’re crystal clear, is to go on a handful of dates and then decide whether you want to enter a committed relationship. It’s at that point, once you’re in a relationship, that you determine (usually over 1-2 years) whether this is the person you want to marry.
If we imagine a seriousness spectrum, marriage is very much at the “take this very seriously, don’t just be chill about it” end of the spectrum. But asking someone on a date should be a lot more relaxed.
LET’S ALL JUST CHILL OUT
I think the fear, particularly among older generations of Christians, is that if we immediately jump into dating, our relationships are going to sexually and emotionally mirror those of our non-Christian counterparts.
Yet I’d argue that it’s precisely because we’re Christians that we can all chill out about dating.
As Christians we recognise the importance of physical boundaries, taking things slowly and getting the advice of older, wiser mentors. We can get to know someone in a casual setting without it being complicated by the fact that we’ve jumped straight into a sexual and/or emotionally unhealthy relationship.
But also, which situation do you think is more likely to lead to a positive long-term relationship? Being able to get to know each other in a low-pressure environment, where if it doesn’t work out everyone recognises that it’s not a big deal; or dating weighed down by expectations, troubled by the belief that if this doesn’t lead to marriage, it’s a failure?
The sooner we kiss our uptight attitudes towards dating goodbye, the better.