[notice]Revivalist Shannon-Leigh Barry shares her wit and passion and the pursuits of her 20something heart in a monthly column that speaks to the desires of young adults in today’s Christian society. [/notice]
My experience in the dating field is filled with many memories, all of which came before I met Jesus. Accordingly, my personal dating experience lies somewhat outside any Christian context. So many guys knew of God, but few actually knew God – actually had a day-to-day relationship with Him. Thus, entering into the dating world of a “charismatic denomination” was as foreign to me as traveling to another country.
The following are a few of my observations on the challenges of Christian dating.
1. He is waiting for “The One”
I have a male friend who loves The Lord. He has a profound relationship with the Father that really demonstrates a history with God that has been built. He is an educated man with a flourishing career and significant wealth. He has already acquired multiple properties. The only thing missing in his thirty-something life is a wife. When I ask him why he doesn’t just pick a Christian woman from those in his circle or in his church, he replies with the notorious….. “I’m waiting for the ‘The One.’”
This is really not Biblical for a man. The Bible say he who ‘finds’ a wife finds a good thing and finds favour with God. To find something means you have to actually be looking for it, not simply waiting for it to fall on you. This is an easy way of saying I don’t want to face rejection so I will just wait for God to bring a woman to my doorstep. I do believe some people are set apart, but I also believe God will never take our choice away from us. Out of choice comes freedom and out of freedom comes love.
2. She is waiting for her “Boaz”
I have heard this line from Christian women so many times, but if they really knew the price Ruth paid for that man, they would gladly say: “Thanks, but no thank you.” The truth is, Boaz was estimated to be 80 years old when he married Ruth, who was probably in her 40s according to scholars. This is why he refers to her as ‘daughter.’ It’s a beautiful book in the Bible about God’s redemption but note that Ruth was married previously. Using this story as your model for romance is unrealistic, especially when Ruth goes and lays herself at an intoxicated Boaz’ feet. No pastor would EVER advise that. Beautiful story but probably not a model we should have as our precedent. It sets an unrealistic, and even unhealthy, expectation that a man is supposed to rescue you. You have Jesus. He already did that for you.
3. Celibacy and sex drives
Tell someone you’re celibate and they look at you like you’re from another planet. Honestly, this is a difficult topic for Christians, especially when they enter into relationships. How much touching is too much touching, and what are the boundaries that should be laid out? This is especially hard for singles in churches where celibacy and purity are rarely discussed, if ever. You’re commanded to remain a virgin until marriage, but no one explains how or why. The profound damage that sleeping around can incur upon you is not spoken about, and the value of one’s body is limited to cliché quotes like “temple of God.”
The truth is, Christians still have sex drives. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a virgin or possess a sexual history. We all have sex drives. This is a normal part of our anatomy. Without counsel on how to manage their sex drive single men and women can find themselves caught up in perverted forms of sexual release, such as pornography or excessive masturbation. And too often, people think of marriage as “legal sex,” the answer to their inability to self-manage. People should not have speedy marriages because of sex drives. If you have a problem with pornography before you get married, that habit and dependency will still be there afterward. Issues like these should be dealt with before entering into a covenant.
4. Marriage is ministry
This is a sensitive one if you dated someone previously and then felt pulled in a different direction in your callings. There is currently a heightened responsibility to choose a partner who really wants the same things in life. Relationships seem more purposeful for people who want to pursue ministry and use marriage as the initial cornerstone of a foundation yet to be built upon. The fact that women are being raised up in ministry now more than ever speaks to the growing trend of dual ministry relationships overtaking the old model of the pastor’s wife merely clapping her hands quietly in the front pew. The same goes for couples pursuing careers in other sectors. There is a purpose embedded in them to achieve.
5. Coffee dates are different from dinners
Outside of the church, the context of coffee is where people go to catch up. It’s a hopelessly simple activity. But for Christians, when a man or woman do coffee, there can be the most terrible awkwardness of unspoken expectation in the air. My friend says it like the women he just wants to know better are doing the marriage checklist on the first coffee date. “Ahhh did God speak to you about me?” Truth be told, whether or not God spoke to you holds little relevance to your rushed commitments and premature expectations. Speaking of…
6. The list of expectations
One friend said to me that as a man, he can feel pressured in dating to get everything right. Men must honour the woman and speak positively into her identity. They must guard and protect her heart or become friends with her friends. It’s safer in circles and friendships groups. Rules, rules, rules! The list is endless and a lot of the expectations are valid, but does it all really need to come out on the first few dates? Respect and honour will be felt through your personhood more than it can be seen by a few token actions. Remember that communication is key in deciding what each person’s expectations are. And when it comes to dating, try not to bring your former relationships into your new encounters.
7. A pool of brothers and sisters
This only happens in church… that moment when the woman puts you squarely into the brother box. Many women and men have failed to have healthy relationships with the opposite sex in the past, and so friendship is encouraged between the opposite sexes. The problem is that men will grow closer but women have something called the brother box. If a woman never told you this before, it’s that she sees you as a brother and can’t seem to turn on a sexual desire toward you. It’s almost like you are blood related now (or that she is simply using you to meet her affirmation needs). Be cautious, when you really like someone, to not play the brother card for too long. My one male friend says if he likes a female there is no way he is getting put into that brother box. He openly shows her that he is pursuing her.
8. Similar theological perspective.
Ultimately, you want to live out what you believe. Dating someone that does not have the same core values and theological perspective could make for a bad recipe. We would like to believe it doesn’t play a role, but being unequally yoked can refer to two Christians who believe in different things. We have denominationalism to thank for that. It’s not a perfect church, but we can make good decisions in our Christian walk that benefit us later in marriage.
Advice for people going through this phase
There is no formula for the perfect relationship. If you focus on being the best and healthiest version of yourself, you will attract someone who is emotionally healthy and in a place of being the best version of themselves. Bring yourself to the table and who God made you to be. Uniquely You. The Church doesn’t look like a healthy place if it is filled with broken people. Start by becoming whole and going after your passion. When someone meets you they cannot help but be taken by the amount of time you invested in yourself and your relationship with The Lord. Don’t treat singleness like a disease because it could be a memorable season for you. One of exploration and discovery. Take risks, especially if you are a male. A woman wants to be pursued. Lastly, have a realistic expectation of your desires and communicate them well. Communication is key. Get out of the prayer closet and go for coffee already. You might just find yourself in a budding relationship in 2014.