Archives For Dating

If you’re single, you want to be married. At least, that’s what just about everyone in the church seems to believe. Nothing brings out the inner matchmaker of well-intentioned Christians like a sweet twenty something who has somehow evaded the romantic gaze of the opposite sex. “I can’t believe you’re still single!” we say, or “Those boys/girls are crazy not to be asking you out every day!” Meanwhile, singles cringe at the reminders that they’re not in a relationship or else take a few steps back on their journey toward satisfaction in Christ alone, rather than satisfaction in a perfect Christian romance.

From my vantage point, it seems that Christian singles are pressured on all sides to be married. (If you want to know why this mentality is a mistake, click here.) But I also believe that singles tend to put this pressure on themselves. One of the major factors in this pressure toward getting married is the constant quest for “The One.”

Dating Is Awkward

Perhaps we were introduced to our search for “the one” in youth group, when our youth leaders told us to not to settle in our dating relationships, but instead to think of a Christlike man or woman and to accept nothing less. Don’t lower your standards.

And of course, there’s value in thinking this way. You don’t want to marry some lowlife just because he or she is into you. But here’s the problem with holding out for “The One”: He’s not real. She’s not real. You made him or her up in your mind. Which means that until science progresses several steps further, he or she will never exist in the real world.

Maybe you modeled your “one” after a youth leader, a friend’s spouse, or the Lord Jesus himself. But in the first two cases, your perception of these people is far from the reality—no matter how well you think you know him or her, you haven’t seen the depths of their sins or the enormity of their annoying habits. And in the case of Jesus, no one matches up: read the book of Hebrews.

So your quest for “The One” can only lead you to constant disappointment, and you may end up (as an added bonus) messing with another person’s self-perception through your naive expectations.

Instead of focusing on “The One,” focus on each one. As you meet a nice boy or girl that seems to have potential (you know what I’m talking about—wink wink), get to know him or her better. You might think you want to date her right away. You may be absolutely convinced that you’re going to marry him. There’s a good chance that this is “The One.”

But wait! Stop! You don’t want to marry that girl. Nor do you want to be “A Couple” with her.

The Bachelorette - Rose CeremonyWhen you see a guy that you’re into, you don’t really want to marry him. What you’re really thinking is that you’d like to get to know him better so that you can find out if you’d like to be in a deeper relationship with him. And if you do decide you want to be in a deeper relationship with him, then you can eventually find out if you’d like to be married to him.

Because he could be awful. Really. I promise you that nobody wants to “Be Married”—as though that were a general category that someone can obtain without entering into it with a real life, flesh and blood, very specific human being. There are a near-infinite number of people on this planet with whom marriage would be horrible. HORRIBLE! No, you don’t want to “Be Married.” But you may want to marry some specific person you meet someday. And here’s the problem: you’ll never know until you get to that point. You don’t know you really want to marry her until you know her well enough to get a sense of where she’s heading in life, what she’s passionate about, how she handles conflicts, how quickly she repents of her sin, how funny or goofy or intelligent or serious she is.

And everything I just said about “Being Married” also applies—but in a less tragic and less permanent sense—to “Being in a Dating Relationship.” You may think you want to be “Dating Someone,” but there are so many people with whom a dating relationship would be miserable.

And there’s a failsafe built in: the other person has to want it to. So even if you’re mistaken in thinking that a relationship has potential, the other person has to agree. This safety feature of relationships has prevented more than a few major mistakes in the history of boys meeting girls.

The point is: just relax. You’re going to be fine. God knows what you need; and he knows better than you do. You can abandon your quest for “The One,” for that “Dating Relationship,” for “Your Soulmate.” Stop focusing on “The One” and start focusing on each one. As God brings people into your life, get to know them. Enjoy them. Don’t make them audition for the part of “The One.” Get to know those people better, and if at some point you prayerfully decide to test the waters of a dating relationship with one of those specific flesh and blood people, then go for it, and see what happens.

Wedding Cake TopperThis post is inspired by two overlapping events. The first is the approach of Valentine’s Day, when lovers are expected to show their affection through clichés (hopefully breathing new life into old traditions) and social media reflects the desire of many single people to be in relationships. The second is the progression of the Spring semester, during which college students instinctually know that the time to begin relationships is upon them.

A few years ago I wrote a six part blog series on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” That’s not a fair title, of course, but I was trying to capture some of the awkward tension that comes from the Christian community’s disagreement over what dating looks like, what it should even be called, etc. I also addressed factors like the suffocating pressure we put upon young Christians to be married—soon.

In my view, many Christians have forgotten 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul recommends singleness over marriage. Instead, single Christians don’t make it very far into their twenties without suspicious looks and comments from older (married) Christians. I also think some circles of Christianity have over-exalted forms of “dating” (whatever you want to call it) that make dating into a trial run for marriage.

I am convinced (perhaps naively) that if we do our dating right, our social lives won’t disintegrate into two-person love bubbles, our breakups won’t feel like divorces, and the single Christians in our midst won’t be treated like lepers. These are all major problems within the church. I don’t claim to have all of the answers for getting us to this point, but I’ve heard from many people over the last few years who have found the simple guidelines in that blog series helpful. So I’m summarizing and linking to those blog posts below, in the hopes that you might find them helpful as well. And for those over-achievers who want a book length treatment on the road to marriage and the accompanying dangers, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

 

Dating Series Part 1Part 1 – You Don’t Need to Get Married

Many people in the church assume that every Christian ought to be married. There’s a good chance that you believe that you ought to be married at some point (and soon!). But this mentality actually contradicts Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7. Some assume that they need be married based on poor interpretations of 1 Corinthians 7:9 and Genesis 2:18… READ MORE >>>

 

Part 2 – What Do We Even Call It?Dating Series Part 2

Though every marriage (aside from arranged marriages) begins with a “getting to know you and find out if we should be married” stage, Christians disagree (sometimes passionately) about what this stage should be called. Some call it dating. Some insist on calling it courting. Others are “just hanging out.” Some will identify as boyfriend and girlfriend, others avoid these labels. All of this disagreement leads to more unnecessary confusion and awkwardness… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 3Part 3 – The Love Cocoon

We all know those couples who are so grossly into each other that they make everyone around them feel awkward. If your dating relationship makes all of your other relationships crumble (relationships with friends, parents, God…), then your relationship has become an idol and is doomed to failure. The key is to be the kind of couple that loves each other, but also loves and acknowledges the other people God has placed in your life… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 4Part 4 – Test-Driving Marriage

In Christian circles, we tend to encourage dating couples to become intimate in every way except for one: physical intimacy is off limits. But this creates huge problems. When a couple becomes more socially intimate, more emotionally intimate, and more spiritually intimate, we shouldn’t be surprised when the physical intimacy quickly follows. This is how we’re wired. But there are actually other major problems with treating dating like a mini trial run for marriage… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 5Part 5 – Playing the Field

Many people think that if you’re not “out there” actively “playing the field,” you won’t get married. There is nothing wrong with going on dates, even seeking them out, but your relationships with the opposite sex cannot all be focused on evaluating their marriageability rather than getting to know people as peopleREAD MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 6Part 6 – Successful Dating Relationships Can End in Breakups

Most people would consider a breakup to be a failure. But when you’re dating someone, you’re really just getting to know that person better until you find out whether it would be more glorifying to God for you to get married or not to get married. Either is a helpful discovery, and in either case your relationship should be able to continue in a God-glorifying way: as husband and wife or as brother and sister in Christ… READ MORE >>>

19 Weddings & Counting

Mark Beuving —  October 29, 2014 — 2 Comments

I am going to (unwisely) analyze something that will probably make a lot of people upset. Last night, my wife and I watched Jill Duggar’s wedding on TLC. It was great. The Duggars are great. Honestly, how can you not love this gigantic family that clearly loves the Lord deeply, loves each other deeply, and constitutes a rare and refreshingly wholesome spot in television programming?

I am pro-Duggar. Hear me say that. But as I watched Jill and Derick’s wedding last night, I was struck by the focus of it all. The wedding (episode) was not about marriage, not about Jesus and his bride, not about love. It was (at least as I experienced it) about (1) kissing and (2) having babies. Please feel free to disagree with me entirely, but hear me out.

The Duggars are famous for their no-nonsense approach to courtship. Jim Bob (aka, Daddy and Pops) actually introduced Jill to Derick. Derick was serving as a missionary in Nepal when the relationship began, and since that moment every conversation, every Skype session, and every face-to-face interaction has been chaperoned. Meaning that as the “kids” got to know each other, Jim Bob was there, often sitting between the two.

Hand-holding was strictly forbidden until engagement, at which point it was carefully chaperoned. There was even a moment of controversy during the engagement in which the couple’s over-exuberance turned an approved (and chaperoned) side hug into a full-blown real hug. Not to worry, the anxiety died down when it became clear that this was the unintentional result of Jill zigging while Derick zagged. (It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t such a serious issue.)

Now some clarifications. I’m intentionally playing up the sternness of it all. The Duggars are a fun group, and they all seem to be thriving in ways that most families don’t. Also, I have no intention of sending my daughters (now 3 and 5 years old) out into the world to make out with whomever. That’s not happening. I believe in wisdom, patience, principles, and the limitation of physical intimacy prior to marriage.

Chaperoned Date

But in my opinion (which you don’t need to share), this ever-watchful-chaperoning approach to dating (courtship) has some potentially negative side effects. One side effect is what it communicates. Do the Duggar parents trust their kids? I’m sure they do. And why wouldn’t they? Those kids are angels! If you set a Duggar loose for three days in Willy Wonka’s factory with a clear command to eat no candy, you can be sure that no candy will be eaten.

And that’s the irony. The Duggars seem to have done an incredible job of raising godly, trustworthy kids. So why treat them like criminals? Sigmund Freud thought that all human interaction boils down to the urge for sex. But the Bible doesn’t teach that. And the Duggar’s don’t believe that. So you don’t need to send your kids into vulnerable situations, but you might try letting them have a conversation or two that’s not wire-tapped. Maybe even a devotional time on the morning of their wedding that’s not chaperoned (that was a real scenario).

As I said, my girls are young, so I do not know what I’m talking about here. But it seems to me that this vigilant chaperoning communicates (probably unintentionally) that these wonderful young people are untrustworthy.

The second side effect I see is that it turned the marriage (episode) into a giggle-fest about kissing and having babies. Now, I know that the Duggars didn’t edit the footage for this episode. I’d be willing to bet that everyone in the family said some wonderful things about the true meaning of marriage that the producers simply didn’t find compelling. However, the courtship emphasis on lack of physical contact and private conversation made the marriage about the kiss. And, from the moment the “kids” got engaged, the big question was how quickly the couple would begin having kids.

Duggar Wedding

Kissing on your wedding day and having children in your marriage are both great. I’m for those things. But marriage is more than kissing alone. It’s more than reproducing. I’m sure the Duggars communicated these truths to their children. But I do think it’s unfortunate that the televised version of their wedding came down to unsupervised kissing and the any-minute-now expectation of having kids.

And now let me backtrack. I realize that it’s terrible to critique the Duggars, especially when there are so many obviously flawed programs and people on television. The Duggars are indeed a bright spot. But much of what we love them for is their quirks, their well-meaning (and probably well thought out) idiosyncrasies, the things that make them, well, Duggars.

Many of those quirks are wonderful. But perhaps we would all do well to consider that the opposite of sexual immorality is not constant policing. The cure for physical temptation is not Jim Bob’s inquisitive look as you accidentally front-hug. Sexual immorality comes from the heart (Mark 7:21–23), not unsupervised finger-contact. The Duggars know that. We should too.

 

This seems to be the conventional wisdom on the subject: men and women cannot be friends. Things will always turn romantic for one or the other. They will try to manipulate one another and one or both will always be hurt.

I understand where this line of thinking comes from. Who among us hasn’t experienced unreciprocated love? Who hasn’t fallen in love with a friend? Also, affairs happen. People are manipulative. Men and women pursue their lustful desires under the banner of friendship.

But I don’t think the Christian community has considered the implications of saying that men and women can’t be friends. Here are a few reasons I believe we need to stop saying and believing this.

 

1. All love involves boundaries.

Men and WomenBy saying that men and women can be friends, I’m saying that they can love each other in a certain sense (that’s what friendship means) and still keep that love within its proper boundaries. Take my sisters, for example. I love them deeply. Yet there are boundaries that my love for them will not cross, expressions of love that are simply off limits. The same with my mother and my daughters. The same with my coworkers and students.

Now, people go astray in all of these areas. Incest and affairs are realities. But we can’t let the sinful distortion of love push us to throw out love altogether. In every friendship, there is genuine love. Yet that love must stay within its proper bounds. If that love prompts romantic feelings where they don’t belong, the love must be redirected.

Consider this: even with my wife my love has boundaries. Jesus says that if I love my wife more than him (actually, if I don’t hate her by comparison), I’m not worthy to be his disciple (Luke 14:26). So while marriage opens up many expressions of love, I don’t have free reign to love my wife in whatever way or to whatever degree I choose. My love for God may be boundless, my love for my wife may not.

 

2. Women are not valuable only insofar as they are potential partners (and vice versa).

Lloyd Christmas "putting out the vibe."

Lloyd Christmas “putting out the vibe.”

One major problem I have with the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it over-sexualizes, or at least over-romanticizes, love. It’s saying, “I won’t be friends with a woman unless we’re heading towards dating/marriage.” This is part of the reason breakups are so awful—you’ve now made each other ineligible for “friendship.”

This one actually makes me angry. A Christian man will look at a woman made in the image of God—a human being for whom Christ gave his very life—and say, “I’ll only get to know / be edified by / invest my time in this person if there’s a chance I’ll marry her.” If you can’t interact with a woman without playing romantic or sexual possibilities in your head, then yes, you’re not ready to spend time hanging out with women (and vice versa). But that’s a horrible place to be, my friend. That’s a sin issue you need to attack for the glory of God. Your sisters in Christ are too valuable to be sidelined because of your lust (and vice versa).

 

3. We can’t divide the body of Christ.

Another tragic consequence of the men-and-women-can’t-be-friends view is that it splits the church in half. Half of the church I may be edified by, I may use my Spirit-empowered gifts to bless, I may see and appreciate the image of God in. The other half, meh.

One of the reasons I love being in a small group in our church is that I get to interact with men and women over biblical issues. I get to learn from both genders. I get to know them better. I get to hear their perspectives. We get to use our spiritual gifts to build one another up. If you read 1 Corinthians 12 carefully, you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t talk about two bodies of Christ: one male, one female. No, we’re all stuck in this body together. There can be no divisions, all suffer and rejoice together (vv. 25–26).

 

The Challenge

Picture a flower garden. I could do nothing to my garden but compulsively soak it in Miracle Gro. But uncontrolled growth leads to a tangled mess. If every flower is allowed to grow however it will with all of the growing power I can give it, ugliness abounds. But if I carefully tend the flowers, adding fertilizer to this plant, skillfully pruning that plant, my garden can grow beautifully.

So it is with love. We cannot let our love for each person manifest itself in any way we may desire. We certainly can’t pursue distorted versions of love. Love requires pruning, discernment. And that’s the challenge. We have to be careful to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). But shunning half of the body of Christ out of fear is not Christian. I don’t know precisely what your relationship with members of the opposite sex should look like, but they are your neighbors, and you are called to love them.

[If you’re interested in delving in to this topic further, I recommend this blog series on dating, and this excellent book.]

Love Is Never Lonely

Mark Beuving —  February 14, 2013 — Leave a comment

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)

Everything that Paul says about love here requires multiple people. Towards whom is love patient? To whom is it kind? Whom does it bear with, believe, hope, and endure?

Holding HandsLove is always directed. Love that sits in one person’s heart and never directs itself toward anyone or anything is not love at all. The heart can sit in isolation and experience emotions like happiness, warmth, or satisfaction. But love does not exist apart from some object toward which it is directed.

My love for my wife is exactly that—love-for-my-wife. It’s not as though I have a store of love in my heart, like some sort of substance which I can choose to dispense here or there as the occasion requires. Love comes with the object. My wife and I stand together, and the love we share is manifested in the patience and kindness we show toward one another, it can be seen in the absence of irritability and resentment between us.

Love that sits alone and focuses on self is not love. For this reason, love is never lonely. You can feel longing for an absent loved one, but you can’t experience the pain of a love that has no beloved—there’s no such thing.

A major problem in the church is our equation of love with romance. The result is that Christians feel pressure to find “the one” they love—their soul mate, their spouse. I am pro-marriage, but I am against the notion that we can begin with a vague sense of love toward “the one” and then sift through all of the candidates until we find him or her. Love requires an object. You can’t love a hypothetical person.

This can also cause us to devote all of our “love”(pseudo-love, really) towards a non-existent object rather than directing it toward the people we interact with every day. We can get so caught up in finding someone to love romantically that we fail to love the people that God has placed in our lives, even as we feel the sting of the “love” we think we feel towards the lover who does not exist.

Because love is always directed, we are only loveless when we have isolated ourselves from people. With each person comes the potential for love. We thrive as human beings not when we have romance, but when we have love. And love is as near as the person next to you. This may include romance, but it doesn’t have to. It has nothing to do with the lovability of the person; it has everything to do with the choice to love.

God first created a solitary man, then declared that it was not good for this one man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). So he created a woman—a wife, yes, but a companion above all. Another human being. An object for his love. Someone to bear with, someone to show patience and kindness.

Love is never lonely. It is as near as the next person to walk through the door. “Let brotherly love continue,” urges the author of Hebrews (13:1). The choice to love will never leave us lonely, because love is always directed.

Happy Valentine’s Day!