Archives For Dating

Book of the Month: Altared

Mark Beuving —  September 25, 2012 — 5 Comments

The church can get pretty weird about dating. Last Spring I did a series of blogs on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” The popularity of this series doesn’t prove that I had a solution for making dating in Christian circles less awkward, but it does show that this issue is on a lot of minds.

I’m telling you, we are weird about the road to marriage. We can’t agree on what it should be called, how often it should be done, how long it should last, how close a not-yet-married couple should get, and on and on. Yet most church folk tend to be pretty opinionated about these things. And perhaps more germane to the problem, we all seem to have an urgency to see every single person in our churches married. I don’t think anyone is trying to make their single brothers and sisters feel bad or pressured, but the pressure is there nonetheless.

AltaredAnd now to my point. Last week a book was released that I have been waiting to see for a long time. The book is entitled, Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We. For years I have been wanting a solid book that helps Christians navigate the road to marriage, but I haven’t been satisfied with the go-to books on this subject (though each makes helpful contributions). This is the book that I’ve been wanting.

The authors, writing under pseudonyms (Claire and Eli) in the tradition of Soren Kierkegaard, help us think this issue through in a variety of ways. They offer their experience of being young singles in the church world. Sometimes they heard it said aloud, sometimes it was more latent, but always there was an understanding that the single person’s goal (duty even) is to get married as soon as possible. This was their experience, and I think most of us who grew up in the church can relate. The authors then survey a number of statements from prominent Christian leaders to reveal that this pressure to marry quickly and at all costs comes to us from the top down as well.

Marriage is a good gift from God, and the authors are eager to affirm this. It is the perversion of God’s gift that makes the pursuit of marriage an all-encompassing goal and contradicts 1 Corinthians 7 that the authors want to challenge. Their concern is that we can get so caught up in finding “the one” to love that we neglect Jesus’ command to love our neighbors—not just our potential mates.

So the authors explore love and marriage from a biblical perspective. What should our priorities be when thinking about love in general and marriage and dating in particular? They also did the difficult work of incorporating some of the most helpful thoughts from church history that come to bear on the matter. This gives the book a richness and continuity that we often miss out on.

Probably my favorite part of the book, however, is the narrative. “Claire” and “Eli” teamed up on this book because they saw the way our marriage preoccupation affected their own dating relationship. Both authors are gifted writers and insightful persons in general, and their story is woven through the book, sometimes from her perspective, sometimes from his. The effect is a compelling exploration in which one is personally invested, rather than an impersonal treatise.

So if you want someday to date someone, if you are dating and want to think through it more effectively, if the concept of dating seems awkward yet you aren’t quite ready to kiss it goodbye, then you really ought to read this book. And for the rest of you, everyone in your churches is either married, on the road to marriage, or wrestling with issues of marriage, dating, and singleness. This really isn’t an issue that can be safely ignored.

If you’d like to get a taste for the writing of one of the authors, check out Eli’s recent article in Relevant Magazine.

Why Breakups Hurt

Mark Beuving —  March 30, 2012 — Leave a comment

Breakups are the worst. I doubt anyone is going to argue with me there. In some cases, the pain from breaking up is so intense that a person will vow to never date again. It leads some people to resolve never again to open up their heart to a member of the opposite sex. The pain of breakups is largely responsible for the Christian campaign to “guard your heart.”

Have you ever stopped to consider why breakups hurt?

In an evolutionary framework, breakups really shouldn’t be painful. Our goal is to “survive” by passing on our genes, so the ideal mate is someone that we can successfully procreate with. Romance is simply an evolutionarily derived mechanism for getting ourselves connected someone who can help us have kids. In this context, a breakup shouldn’t be that big of a deal. If we break up, I can rule out the possibility of progeny with you and move on to the next prospect. This is a pretty crass way to put it, but it is consistent within an evolutionary worldview. A strict Darwinist who believes that romance or commitment have value in themselves apart from the prospect of children is being inconsistent.

But the Christian worldview gives us a reason for believing that relationships are significant. People are important, and we are designed to live in close relationship with the people around us. We long for commitment and intimacy. So breakups aren’t merely a bump on the road to procreating. Breakups introduce division where there was once unity. This is bound to be painful.

As painful as breakups are, they carry an inherent testimony to the meaningfulness of life. They remind us that we are more than Darwin says we are. I’m not suggesting that we go around pursuing breakups for this reason, but as with anything in life, it is important to see this social phenomenon in a theological light. Our quest for relationship points to the reality that the universe is ultimately relational, a reality that is grounded in the eternal existence of the Trinity.

And let’s not forget the Christian hope that one day, when Christ returns, there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more division, and therefore no more breakups.

Of all the myths about dating we have explored this week, perhaps this one is the most difficult to shake: “Successful dating results in marriage.” Says who?

Let’s start by asking an important question: What is the goal of dating? Dating is all about getting to know a member of the opposite sex better. Marriage will probably be somewhere on the horizon, but I wouldn’t say that marriage is the goal of dating. Maybe it’s better to say it this way: The goal of dating is to get to know someone better, and while we’re at it, we will at some point determine whether or not it would glorify God for the two of us to get married.

Assuming you won’t be locked into a dating relationship until the day you die, a successful dating relationship could end in one of two ways: (1) You discover that God would be most glorified by you marrying this person, or (2) You discover that God would be most glorified by you not marrying this person. Either discovery is equally valid. Either discovery means that the dating relationship was successful.

Here’s something you may not hear every day: breakups are okay. I mean it. They’re not fun. Often, they’re very painful. But if you get to know someone well enough to discover that God is calling the two of you to different things, or that you’re not as interested in marrying that person as you originally thought you might be, or if you simply become convinced that God doesn’t want you to be married to this specific person at this specific time, then a breakup is a good thing.

If your dating relationship has been more of a test-run for marriage, then your breakup is going to feel more like a divorce. But if your dating relationship has been about God’s glory, if you have been relating to each other more like a brother and a sister rather than a pseudo-husband and pseudo-wife, then you can end the dating part of a relationship and still maintain a healthy relationship.

I know I’m being idealistic here, and relationships rarely end well. But I believe it’s possible. I’ve seen it happen. Though we will make mistakes and things will be more painful than they should be, God’s grace can saturate our breakups as well and we can avoid the division and devastation that so often accompanies breakups.

So how do you determine if your dating relationship should end in marriage? I have no clue. That’s as situation-specific a question as I can think of. But here are a few things to consider. Can you honestly say that you could glorify God better together than apart? What would you be compromising in order to marry this person? What would be gained through marrying this person? Can you read 1 Corinthians 7 and still be convinced that marriage is the best decision for you?

David Powlison offers five helpful questions for couples who are considering marriage:

  1. Are you both pursuing the Lord? (If not, you’re heading in radically different directions and should reconsider.)
  2. Are you both making decisions biblically? (This doesn’t mean either of you is perfect, but your goal is to glorify God by apply His truth to your life.)
  3. Are you both moving in the same direction? (Does one of you have a God-given calling to minister in Uzbekistan while the other has a God-given calling to minister in Seattle?)
  4. Do other people who know you well think you should get married? (Ultimately, the two of you have to make this decision, but there is incalculable wisdom in heeding the counsel of the solid Christians in your life.)
  5. Do you have the desire to accept this person for who he or she is and get married? (This should be obvious, but you don’t HAVE to get married to this person (or to anyone), so your own desire to marry this person or not should play into the decision.)

Dating is fun and exciting. It can also be awkward as all get out. It can be done to God’s glory, or it can be used as a means of pursuing your own passions and ambitions. My desire is to see Christians less stressed out about dating. The way we date is incredibly important, but I think that most of the pressure that we place on dating relationships comes from peripheral issues (e.g., what we call it, how long it lasts, how often we pray together). Biblically, we are given a lot of freedom about how a dating relationship looks and functions. Our relationships should be as diverse and idiosyncratic as the people in them.

If we are driven by a desire to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done, then we don’t have to sweat the details of dating. We don’t have to be scared about the what-ifs. Is your life about furthering your own kingdom or God’s? If you are pursuing God’s kingdom, then you can trust Him to guide your relationships for His glory and your good.

If you’ve come to the end of this blog series and want to go deeper, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

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.

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.