Archives For Why Christians Are Bad at Dating

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

A couple from TLC’s show “The Virgin Diaries” sharing butterfly kisses.

I doubt I’ll surprise anyone by saying that Christians are bad at dating. We all feel it in our bones and see it at every church function. Christians tend to be awkward when interacting with members of the opposite sex. Much of this is simply a human problem and not a specifically Christian problem. But our Christian culture places weird pressures and expectations on us, so we end up with some unique manifestations of awkwardness in dating.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’d like to explore some of this awkwardness. No, I don’t have any “moves” to pass on. And no, I don’t think that I’m less awkward than anyone else. But I would like to debunk a few myths about dating and the road to marriage that have become as engrained in Christian culture as evangelistic bumper stickers.

Here is a myth that most of the church has embraced, but that remains a myth nonetheless: “I need to get married.” Do you? Why?

I’m not surprised that Christians feel this way. Marriage, of course, is a great and beautiful thing, and I have been incredibly blessed in my marriage. I’m a huge fan of marriage. But should every Christian be married? I don’t see how we can possibly say or even suggest that this should be the case. Is it possible to be a godly Christian and not married? Jesus obviously thought so. So did Paul. In fact, read 1 Corinthians 7 if you’re tempted to believe that marriage is inherently better than singleness. Paul seems to be making the opposite case: remain single unless God specifically calls you to be married.

I have heard many young people (guys more than girls) appeal to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. “I have these lust issues, so I need to get married. Paul says so.” But believe it or not, marriage doesn’t magically cure lust. If lust is in your heart, then changing your external situation (having a spouse to have sex with) is not going to fix you. That lust is in your heart and will find new and more inventive ways to manifest itself. You may spend your honeymoon lust-free (probably you’ll just be venting your lust with your new spouse), but only gaining self-control through the power of the Spirit will change the desires in a person’s heart.

No, Paul seems to be talking about a person who is called to be married and who tries to deny that calling by trying to live single for the rest of their lives. In other words, Paul isn’t saying that you should get married as soon as you feel lust. Instead, if you are the kind of person that God has called to marriage (and this implies that there is another kind of person as well), then don’t run from God on this issue.

At every wedding you attend, you will hear the pastor read Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” For many, this is an affirmation that singleness is bad, so everyone ought to end up married. Adam was an unmarried man in the garden, God looked at him and decided that being unmarried was bad, so He solved the problem by creating a wife and getting Adam married. But I don’t believe that this is the point of Genesis 2:18. When God looked at the one human being He had created, He decided that human beings shouldn’t live in isolation. So He created another human being so that Adam could live in community. Eve was a wife, to be sure, but she was also another human being. If Genesis 2:18 means that singleness is bad, then Paul was mistaken in 1 Corinthians 7.

Let me just re-affirm that I like marriage. I think it is a good thing. But we all know that good things can easily become idols. Rather than assuming that you have to be married, why not leave that up to God? Here is the attitude I would recommend: “My goal is to glorify God as long as I’m single, and if God decides at some point to give me a spouse, then I’ll glorify Him in marriage.”

I think that much of the awkwardness surrounding dating in Christian culture stems from fact that every single Christian feels pressured to shop for a godly spouse. Let’s stop the pressure. Let’s play it cool, trusting God’s unfolding plan more than our own assumptions. Let’s not misuse the people God placed in our lives by constantly assessing their marriageability. Let’s love God and love people and allow Him to move us into the marriage arena in His time and on His terms if that’s what He wants to do with us.

Tomorrow I will try to sort through the awkward language we use for dating (e.g., courting, dating, boyfriend/girlfriend).

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

Happy Valentines Day!

When it comes to dating, Christians are often awkward. Sometimes as awkward as their non-Christian neighbors, sometimes more awkward. One reason that dating can be especially awkward in Christian circles is that we can’t seem to agree on what to call it. Some Christians have mild preferences (“I’d rather call it this than that”), but many Christians are outspoken, not only about how dating should be done, but about what it should be called.

During one Spring semester (isn’t it interesting how people tend to hook up in the Spring?), I was mentoring five different guys who had all begun new relationships. They all referred to their relationships in different ways: Couple 1 was “dating.” Couple 2 was “courting.” Couple 3 was clear that they weren’t dating, they were simply “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Couple 4 was dating, but they were clear that they weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend. And couple 5 didn’t want anything to do with any of it, insisting, “We just want to get married.”

The funny thing is, all five of these relationships functioned in pretty much the same way and moved at pretty much the same pace.

The courtship camp tends to be the pushiest with their terminology, claiming that if Christians are going to date in a godly way, it will look so much different than the way the world dates that we need to call it something different. My response to that is that a Christian should work very differently than a non-Christian—she will interact with her coworkers in a way that is distinctively Christ-like—but it doesn’t seem helpful to come up with a new label for that.

Here’s the key: It doesn’t matter what you call it, it matters how you do it.

As soon as I say that, however, I want to make another point clear: There is no “one right way” to date. The Bible doesn’t give a specific path from friendship to marriage. Arranged MarriagesArranged marriages are shown in a pretty positive light, but I haven’t seen any popular level dating books advocating that approach.

Though the Bible doesn’t offer us a methodology for dating, it does give us principles that guide us in thinking about the road to marriage. For example, don’t have sex outside of marriage (1 Cor. 6:12-20, Matt. 5:27-28)—as much as Christians try to get around that one, it’s pretty clear. Or take communication within a relationship. A couple should be loving and honest in how they communicate, not manipulative and deceitful (1 Pet. 2:1). Or consider breakups. If couples head down the road to marriage, then realize that this isn’t what God wants for them, breakups are going to happen. The Bible doesn’t say anything about breakups, but it does talk a lot about division in the body. So however breakups work in dating, we can’t allow them to cause divisions.

As long as we are following biblical principles and pursuing God’s glory, we have a lot of freedom in how our dating relationships look. My wife and I dated for four years before we got married. I know other godly couples that dated for less than four months before getting married.

Ultimately, the difference between good and bad dating is whether or not the relationship brings glory to God. If every decision you make in your relationships is governed by biblical principles and a desire to glorify God, then you’re on the right path. And please don’t pressure other couples to call it exactly what you did or do it exactly as you did. Christian dating would be less awkward if we removed these unnecessary pressures.

In the next post, I will discuss our tendency to make our dating relationships into an idolatrous, all-consuming focus in our lives.

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

We have all seen it happen. We watch with excitement as an awesome Christian boy and an awesome Christian girl begin hanging out more and more. They gradually show signs of being interested in each other, and before you know it, you have a new couple on your hands. All of their friends are excited—until it becomes clear that this couple no longer needs friends. Their relationship is exclusive, isolated even. Two people who formerly had a solid support system of friends now have only each other. Cupid has struck, and the only thing that matters is the relationship.

This is unhealthy for several reasons. First of all, nobody likes a couple that is always isolated in a love cocoon, even when they are in public settings. It’s just not fun to be around; it makes everyone feel awkward.

But there are more important reasons why this is unhealthy. At the top of the list, God is the most important relationship we will ever have. Anytime our human relationships are pulling us away from our relationship with God, those relationships have become idols.

It’s also important to remember that God designed us to function in the context of the church body. Your relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend is important, but it is only one of the relationships God has given you. You still have a responsibility to the other people God has placed in your life. This may mean sacrificing some of the time that you want to spend with your boyfriend or girlfriend, but a dating relationship doesn’t give you a free pass to be unfaithful in other areas of your life.

Beyond that, I can’t think of a more effective first step toward falling into all kinds of sin than isolating yourself from the body of Christ.

The reality is that God has placed you and your dating partner in the church body so that you can be an active part of what God is doing around you. An essential part of glorifying God is you actively using your gifts to be a blessing to the people around you (see Eph. 4:1-16 and 1 Cor. 12). So if isolating yourselves as a couple means you are no longer ministering to the church body, then you are in sin.

When couples get so introverted that the rest of the world ceases to matter, breakups are literally the end of the world. When the relationship ends, you have to redefine yourself. You also have to start from near-scratch in making friends and building a support system.

Edward and Bella sharing an apparently painful wedding kiss

And I know, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend will never break up—you’re one of the world’s great love stories, like Romeo and Juliet or Edward and Bella—but do you really want to be setting yourself up for that kind of failure?

While we’ve all seen the isolationist couples in action, most of us have also seen couples who are very into each other, but who also make the people around them feel welcome and appreciated. These couples are able to show their affection to each other while also reaching out to and serving the body of Christ.

So let’s ditch the whole love cocoon that makes everyone else in the room feel like a third, fourth, fifth, or fifteenth wheel. Let’s learn to see our dating relationships as one of our God-given relationships, and strive to be faithful to all of them.

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

Today we come to one of most potentially destructive Christian myths about dating: “Dating is a test drive for marriage.”

Maybe you would never say it like that, but I think that this is where a huge chunk of Christian dating relationships live. If you’re dating, you’re most likely looking toward marriage somewhere on the horizon. So what is your dating relationship right now? It’s a test drive. It’s a probationary period. It’s a 90-day money-back guarantee.

I know, I’m being unfair. But we have all seen dating couples that essentially function as little married couples. I would go so far as to say that our Christian culture pushes dating couples into functioning this way. We give them the impression that every type of intimacy is right and good—except, of course, for physical intimacy. So become socially intimate (your identity is now as a couple). Become emotionally intimate (share every deep dark secret and every shimmering aspiration). Become spiritually intimate (the more joint Bible reading and prayer sessions you can have the more godly your relationship is). Basically, we give dating couples the green light on functioning as a married couple in every way except the sex and the cohabitation.

This is a bit of an aside, but I think this push toward social, emotional, and spiritual intimacy accounts for a lot of the trouble that dating couples encounter when it comes to physical intimacy. Intimacy is intimacy, and people are not wired to be intimate in every way but one. I’m not suggesting we teach dating couples to be cold and distant, but we shouldn’t push them to be marriage-like in general and then act surprised when the physical intimacy follows.

Here’s why we shouldn’t treat dating as a test drive for marriage. Biblically, we have two categories of male/female relationships: brothers and sisters in Christ, and husband and wife. You can throw in “betrothed” as well, but I’m just going to include that in the husband/wife category. Dating isn’t “partially married,” or “temporarily married without benefits.”

Until you are married, you are a brother and sister in Christ. That’s a huge connection, but it doesn’t give you the green light to function like a married couple. It means that a dating relationship is a subset of being brother and sister in Christ. Get to know each other, become more intimate in appropriate ways, but always be aware of the fact that until you enter the married/betrothed arena, you are brother and sister. I think that if Christian couples approached dating this way (regardless of what they call it), relationships would be way less awkward in Christian circles. There will always be some level of awkwardness, but I think this takes some of the pressure off of dating. You’re essentially getting to know each other better until you decide whether or not marriage is what God wants you both to do.

Let me add another reason that dating shouldn’t be a test drive for marriage: Breakups shouldn’t feel like divorces. When a couple lives as though they’re married (even without the sex), a breakup isn’t that much different than a divorce. Your world changes, and someone that you’ve been extremely intimate with (even if you have remained sexually pure) is suddenly an enemy, or at least an awkward acquaintance that you don’t want to run into. I’m not saying that a breakup won’t be awkward or difficult if you structure your dating relationship appropriately, but it shouldn’t look anything like a divorce.

Here is one other problem that comes when dating is treated as a test drive: you end up with a lot of confusion about roles. Marriage comes with certain roles, rights, and responsibilities. But these don’t apply in dating. You have no rights over your boyfriend and girlfriend. As a boyfriend, you are not the “head” of your girlfriend. You haven’t made an unconditional covenant with the other person—remember, you are still brother and sister in Christ. I have seen a lot of confusion result from boyfriends and girlfriends trying to function as pseudo husbands and wives.

Dating gives you the opportunity to get to know another person better, and from there you can decide together whether or not it would glorify God for you to become husband and wife.

But I think that’s decidedly different than “playing the field,” and I’ll explain why in the next post.

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the seriesWhy Christians Are Bad at Dating

Life can be hard for single Christians. Christian culture puts a lot of pressure on singles to get married. As I have said, marriage is a great thing, but it’s not the only thing. If you’re a single Christian of marriageable age, however, chances are you often find yourself on the receiving end of well-intentioned pity. Your very presence brings out the matchmaker in everyone—nothing would make them happier than to get you married.

I think this type of pressure leads to another huge myth about dating and the road to marriage. Many single Christians get the idea that if they’re ever going to get married, they need to be out playing the field. But it’s a myth that if you’re not actively dating, you’ll never get married.

First of all, never forget that marriage is not your goal in life—God’s glory is. It’s not about finding a person to get you where you want to be (i.e., married). It’s about glorifying God, and if that means marrying a specific person that God has placed in your life, then go for it.

You need to trust God enough that if He wants you to be married, He will bring the right person at the right time. Meeting new people is great for many reasons, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be hosting your own privatized version of The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I’m not saying that you should live as a hermit, but you’re not casting for the role of future bride or groom.

There’s nothing wrong with going on dates. Nor is it a problem to go on blind dates or to use a matchmaking website. Those are all fine ways of meeting other people. The problem comes when we date aggressively out of an urgency to get married. It’s a problem when we stop getting to know people as people and begin evaluating each person for their marriageability.

How about this instead? Get to know the people that God brings into your life (this could include blind dates or website matches). As you make friends with members of the opposite sex, you may find that you really enjoy spending time with one person in particular. So spend more time with that person. Remember, you aren’t auditioning this person for the role of spouse, you’re simply enjoying spending time with this person and getting to know him or her better. If this keeps up, you might find it helpful to call it dating. (You may have been calling it “dating” from the beginning since you’ve been setting “dates” to hang out.) Or maybe you’ll call it courting. You might start calling that person your boyfriend or girlfriend. His or her hand may even find its way into yours from time to time. And from there…

My point is this: don’t start with a mental or emotional attachment to the concept of being married and then date until you find “the one.” Trust me, you don’t want to “be married”—as though that were a general concept that one can evaluate without thinking about being married to a specific spouse. With almost every person on the planet, marriage would be intolerable. You don’t want that. But there may be one person on the planet with whom marriage would be a joy.

So get to know the people that God brings into your life, and if you discover that God is drawing the two of you together and leading you into the marriage arena, then go from there.

I know I’m being infuriatingly vague with all of this, but remember that I don’t believe there is “one right way” to go from being single to being married. Whenever we are talking about human relationships, we should be speaking more in terms of art and mystery than formulas and schematics.

In my final post on the subject, I will argue that not every dating relationship should end in marriage.

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