A few years ago, I had just started “talking” to a guy from church, and I told him we should keep things on the down low. I didn’t see the need for everyone to find out too early on.
But within a week, the head pastor of our 2,000 person church found out we were dating. Mutual friends were excited that a boy and I were planning on hanging out one on one—so excited, in fact, they started brainstorming our wedding hashtag. Before we had even gone to coffee. I also remember feeling shamed by my Bible study for not having set strict physical boundaries with a guy—by our second date.
Later, I went through a rather public breakup, and people within the church constantly asked me what happened—not out of care or concern, it felt, but out of a desire to know the details, to be able to better decide which side to take as our community severed.
If you’ve dated in the Christian circle for any length of time, you, too, probably have humorous stories as well as scars. As there’s no book in the Bible with a dating how-to, the “biblical dating” we strive for actually doesn’t exist—we’ve been left to our own devices to figure it out. And churches haven’t always done the best job helping us get there.
Like many parts of faith, Christian dating culture is home to many double standards. We encourage women to keep high standards and desire only the godliest of men, yet we pity the “forever alone” single women who seemingly received a lifetime supply of the “gift” of singleness. We encourage men to pursue women, to be forward with their intentions, yet when a guy has asked too many women to coffee in the same church circle, we label him “desperate.” Sex is seen as the ultimate taboo topic to be discussed, as well as the ultimate sin to be committed. Engaging in premarital sex is sometimes seen as equal to losing all worth as a human being, and yet we claim to base our faith on the Gospel of grace.
Groups of Christians mean well when it comes to helping people navigate relationships, but there are a few ways we all tend to make things way more complicated than they need to be.
It’s hard enough to seek out a future spouse within a culture that idealizes marriage above almost everything else. But when “post-college groups” is code for singles-to-mingle events and pastors seem to believe they have matchmaker in their job description, it gets uncomfortable really fast.
It’s OK to want a relationship. We’re created to be relational beings, after all. But when we, as individuals or as a church, are obsessed with romantic relationships, we miss out on so much more God offers us. We fixate on the idea of “knowing” so early on, we skip over the whole point of relationships—getting to know and connect with another human being. When we demand of a friend, “Do they love Jesus?!” after date one, we’re expecting people to have gotten incredibly intimate and vulnerable in the first 90 minutes of talking with someone. That’s typically not healthy.
If we’re dating with the intention of marriage, it makes sense that we wouldn’t want to continue pursuing a relationship with someone we see no future with. Yet, we focus on finding out so early on that we end up putting way too much pressure on something that isn’t ready to withstand it. Couples end up too serious too fast, or breaking things off far too soon. “He asked me out to coffee, but I don’t think he’s the one…”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced someone of the opposite sex “spouse shopping”—they get to know you enough to see if you’re a potential mate, and once they realize you aren’t, you seem to have no more use to them. It’s painful when you do ministry alongside someone who seems to think you have no worth because you aren’t going to be their spouse. In our obsession with the quest for marriage, we’ve forgotten to pursue friendships and nurture a Christian community to grow within.
If Christian millennials feel justified to gossip about anything, it’s discussing the latest on every relationship in our newsfeed. We dissect relationships—from Grey’s Anatomy to The Bachelor to that new couple we saw sitting together in church.
Though this can seem harmless, scrutinizing other’s relationships can quickly get toxic. If we harp on how unhealthy those two seem together, we feel less insecure about our own relationship status. If we discuss at length the perfect couple’s latest Instagram-worthy adventure, we’re placing them on a pedestal we can never reach. If we push to hear every juicy detail of the latest breakup, we fulfill a need to be “in the know” at the cost of someone else’s pain.
Our constant talking about relationships in the church—who’s dating who, who broke up, who we should set up—reinforces the unhealthy value placed on romantic relationships. It also creates an environment where relationships can’t grow and flourish. People don’t want to be vulnerable if they fear being judged; couples won’t ask for help if they fear their struggles will be discussed behind their backs.
By Making Relationships the Ultimate Goal
There’s nothing wrong with romantic relationships, but there’s so much more to life than romantic relationships. Fall in love with a new hobby, with a new ministry, with a new cause to back. Pursue deeper friendships, new talents, wholeness. Flirt with the idea of a spontaneous trip, of becoming someone’s mentor, of marking something off your bucket list. Strive to live a life worthy of the calling you’ve received, more than striving to find someone to live life with.
Your dating life shouldn’t be your whole life. Don’t allow a good desire to become your ultimate desire. When we’re solely focused on finding “The One”—attending Bible studies to scope out cute singles or trying out new ministries to find new faces—we’re living in a scarcity mindset. God calls us to so much more.
There’s nothing wrong with finding a person to marry along the way, but don’t let that be the sole focus of your life. Are we worshipping relationships or the God who created them?