Confused Christian Daters

See this sign right here? It’s for real on the campus of Seminary. Would you ever see anything like this in any other type of place? I can’t think of one. Where did they even get the “please” signs from? How much extra effort did it take to order them and put them up there? This isn’t the only sign like this on campus. Aren’t we Christians so polite?

That would be the question, it seems. Some weeks ago, the Matchmaker wanted to know whether or not dating Christians treat each other any differently  than those who aren’t (Christians, I mean–everybody in the question is dating). I posed the question here, and a bunch of you answered and the Matchmaker felt like you were maybe evading his question, and I argued that no, we Evangelicals just have weird, quirky ways of thinking about things, and if he really wanted to discuss this why didn’t he start commenting on my blog, too, for goodness’ sake, but then I thought I wanted to talk about his question some more, because I think what it really was, in spite of the “How would Jesus date?” framing, was, “Are Christians kinder to each other when dating than other daters are?” Maybe he feels that kindness-in-dating should be a byproduct among people who believe that God came down here in person and in kindness and are supposedly trying to live our lives His way (or maybe he’s just trying to figure out why, in spite of my best efforts, I seem to be more drawn to heathens). I guess that expectation might not be totally unreasonable.

I can’t really speak for everybody else here, but my own personal answer would be: Certain specific individual Christians are exceptional in their kindness and other-focused-ness, but it has not been my experience in every case or maybe even most cases. I would even venture to admit that I myself have not been overly exceptional in this regard. I think there are probably a lot of reasons for this, but here’s one:

Sex.

Here’s the thing. There may be some variations on how dating goes within the secular culture, but in this day of “we weren’t even alive to witness the sexual revolution so all we know is the aftermath,” most secular dating seems to assume that sex is going to happen, sooner rather than later. If abstinence happens at all (and I feel okay about using the word “happens,” because honestly, it’s a lot of work), it’s because of wanting the sex to “mean something,” but there aren’t these glitches in the process (and I suspect the consciences of most people) that come from waiting until marriage because of some kind of religious scruples or something. Even if many people buy into a romantic ideal of finding “the one” person to spend the rest of their lives with, there isn’t an assumption of there being a “one” person that you’re going to exclusively spend all your sexual energy on for your entire life. I suspect, in a way, this mindset takes a lot of pressure off, because you can have the physical fun, not only without the commitment, but without having to figure out if the other person is worth the commitment, or even if you are at this point, or if you’re compatible really, or not. Or you can figure that out while you’re having sex. Supposedly. Things may get confusing, but they don’t have to start out that way. In my limited experience and also somewhat limited hearsay, there are certain “kindnesses” and affirmations that are offered at the beginning of a relationship which may just be an overture for something else that you hope to get out of it not too much later, but at least there’s something of a code, and the kindness offered isn’t necessarily hypocritical, even if it’s also pragmatic.

Enter the Christian subculture. We’re confused from the get-go. Scripturally and traditionally (and according to traditional interpretations of Scripture), we hold and are taught that sex is meant for context of marriage and marriage alone. Not before, not with someone other than your spouse during–just marriage.

But here’s the deal. We live on this side of the sexual revolution, too, and it really goes without saying that our subculture is affected by our super-culture, if you will. What this means is there are a whole lot of conflicting rules that everybody’s living by, and it’s tough to know who’s living by which. When you get to be the age I just turned on Sunday, you’re dangerously close to People-Making-Movie-Comedies-Out-of-Your-Sexual-Status if you’re still waiting. Most single people in my age bracket haven’t always been that way, so they’ve had sex already, and although I can’t say this with any sort of authority, my guess is chances are good they weren’t abstaining before their erstwhile marriages either. This is not a value-laden statement–just a guess at facts.

There is a pretty widespread mindset in both Christian and non-Christian spheres that the validity for sex has more to do with age and emotional readiness than with marital status. In the Christian world this is justified by the fact that all the “rules” about chastity were written in a culture where people got married a lot closer to puberty so there weren’t all these single people milling around into their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s. Nobody really expects you to go without sex that long. It’s just not healthy. All that stuff they tell you in youth group about how your virginity is the best gift you can give your husband is bunk by the time you reach late young-adulthood and early middle-age; most people would prefer someone with a little experience, and would prefer to have had some experience themselves.

I know this, because I’ve had it all said to me, and I’ve thought it myself, and sometimes I’m tempted to agree with it. But I don’t actually agree with it, and though I frequently get a little hacked at God for what seems like a divine hold-out for no good reason, I still think there’s godly sex and not, and that while not all marital sex may be godly (though it should be, and good grief, married people–don’t you know a good thing when you’ve got it?! Yes, I’m being simplistic here, and I know, I know, but here’s a single-never-married person’s confession of what I sometimes feel like when I hear married people complaining about their spouses), I don’t believe that “unmarital sex,” no matter how “good” it is, ever is godly.

Also, for the record, I would like to hypothesise that if we actually heeded the injunction to marry so as not to “burn,” and stopped absorbing the surrounding cultural mores about dating being an end in itself, and about some magical “one” that we’re waiting to marry, and about marriage’s sole aim being our personal happiness (instead of a covenant God-serving relationship which is ALSO supposed to be joyous and . . . heck–fun), there probably wouldn’t be so many Christian singles, at least, in their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s trying to make excuses for ourselves to have sex without being married.

What’s more, although I believe us to be such a minority I’m not sure I even know any single people (men, anyway) who agree with me that even 30 and 40 and 50-year-olds should practice abstinence outside of marriage, I think there still are some.

The point is, though, that everybody comes to the table with different expectations. How these competing standards and expectations complicate Christian dating is manifold, no doubt, but one of the ways is that . . . it makes many of us act like we’re still in junior high. I mean, me. Lately, and more than once, I have been told that I am awkward, which is true across the board (although I’m getting a little sick of being reminded of it). But I’m not the only one. How are we Christians supposed to comport ourselves when we’re dating? Is it appropriate or inappropriate to affirm our date’s appearance? When does a compliment cross the line? When (about seven years ago), a date of mine put his hand on my knee in the car on the way to a concert, was he wrong, or was I when I inadvertently flinched? Does the fact that none of my dates had ever touched me before that point excuse me, and what does that fact say about Christian dating? Is that kinder, or less kind?

How do you find out, if you’re a Christian, whether the Christian you’re dating believes that the sole purpose of dating is to find a someone to marry, and how do you find out what marriage means to them? How do you find out, without misstepping, whether the Christian you’re dating is old-school like me and committed to the idea of “saving sex until marriage,” or someone who would rather “test-drive the car.” (A phrase, by the way, which I frankly think is appalling and which also, from my perspective, says it all.)

What ends up happening are missteps aplenty, and misunderstandings, and people holding back on expressing interest because they’re afraid of what they’ll unleash–premarital sex on the one hand, or a commitment before both parties are ready on the other. It’s enough to make anyone grumpy . . . and not always very kind.

I don’t imagine I can, nor do I intend to try to, sort out this issue, but as someone who believes the ultimate reason for Christian dating is Christian covenant marriage, and ideally really good sex within that marriage, it seems to me that those of us trying to follow Christ in our dating should work on the injunctions to husbands and wives in Ephesians. There are ways we can show love and respect to each other in a premarital context without sex–we can build each other up and encourage each other without sex. I wonder what would happen if the question asked earlier got turned around. Not, “How would Jesus date,” but (dare I say it?) “How would I date Jesus?” It might change our approaches a little bit, I reckon. Well, it might change mine . . .

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15 thoughts on “Confused Christian Daters

  1. I think you asked some very good questions and in our sex- crazed culture, Christians are not immune to it’s influence. As to whether Christians are more kind when dating – i think kindness is a maturity issue and most people are not truly kind or compassionate until they’ve been through sme stuff and developed empathy… For most Christians- especially raised in Christian homes(2nd and 3rd generation Christians) that can take some time.

    I think that question is a little misleading and off subject because people attract what they put out. You know, if you raised With a father who was kind- you will attract and look for men who are kind.

    Overall the Christian guys I have dated were by far kinder and looking for Spiritual qualities then the guys I know who are not Christian. I mean it is like the guys from the movie The Hangover vs guys from the show 7th Heaven… A huge difference!

    As to being celibate- we as Christians cannot let the enemy decieve us with all that crap in the media. When you meet the one God will bless th choices you have made. You come into the marriage with a lot LESS baggage, awkward conversations, and no potential landmines for the enemy to trip you up. (for instance, having had better sex than someone other than your husband).

    Any area we as serious Christians do not defend the enemy has a right to destroy! Any area of disobediance the enemy can charge us before God and then attack. That is why things always fall apart after the hero and heroine have unmarital sex in our cultures great love stories. Braveheart, When Harry Met Sally, and basically any other story out there. Those stories, like myths tell a truism that can be applied across the board.

    Jen, in case no one has told u this lately, you are beautiful inside and out and when you meet your future husband you will realize it had to be Him, he was worth the wait, and Gods timing was perfect.

    • I sure hope you’re right, Becca! 😉 Anyway, thanks for the encouragement. I especially agree with you about kindness being a maturity issue. I could probably tell some Jenn-stories to illustrate but . . . I won’t! I also agree with the “crap in the media” statement.

  2. Jenn…I am torn here because you have brought up so much I am not sure how much of it to respond to without going on a “rant” or writing a small book, something you alluded to by the way and I really get the sense you will :-). I do not believe that Christian dating is any kinder than secular dating and here is why: First men are involved and although I would love to be able to say with utmost sincerity that we can act with pure motives, Oh how I would really love to be able to say that, in all honesty, shamefully, I can not. I am sure there are many men out there who will disagree with me unfortunately whether they were able to admit it or not they would be liars. I hate painting this picture, as if men were some beings driven on nothing but hormones, incapable of any self control whatsoever, and in fact, I really am not trying to paint that picture. Men can have self control and we can be kind…the question is in the inner man, when you strip away the facade and the manmade wallpaperings, and look without prejudice at the motivations in the heart, what I see, in fact what every man will see if he is willing to look with that level of honesty, is really when we recognize our need for a savior! I am not a woman, and therefore I can not comment with any veracity the parallel details, however, I would venture that at that level there would be a similar outcome.
    All that being said leaves us kinda back at the beginning because now you have people who are alone and want to share their lives with someone. On one side there are those Men or Women, who have decided in recognizing their need for a savior to transfer their trust and purportedly everything else into the hands of this savior and are now saying, Savior I believe you have my best interest, as your best interest, help me,lead me, guide me, provide for me. If you have two people who come from this same vantage point, then perhaps you have a basis or at least a common perspective about what that Godly relationship might look like. There are of course Men and Women on the other side of this equation, ( and forgive me but I am of the mind that there are really only 2 sides) who have not, for whatever reason established this perspective and largely feel they are their own masters. The single difference between the two sides is a recognition of need. Yes I know there is the theology and the regenerate work that is going on once that need is recognized, but for the sake of this discussion I am trying to stay on track here.
    So both sides are capable of all kinds of goodness and all kinds of evil. I realize I haven’t answered any questions but perhaps just the discussion is enough for us to ponder for a while.
    On a seperate note, the act of marriage includes the performance, at least in most weddings of the vows. Vows equal promises of commitment! Given our society today and the fact that most people don’t use the word love and commitment interchangably leads to another discussion about whether or not two people really love each other, and host of other things.
    Does any of this make sense?

    • John, your general assessment of males is accurate. However, i find that women tend to be just as physically aggressive, often making situations uncomfortable and difficult for the man who’s pursuing purity.

      Re-entering the dating world in my mid forties was daunting. Having engaged in online dating, both Christian and secular sites (i use the same profiles on both that distinctly express my faith/love of the Savior), it has been my unfortunate experience to have been lied to and manipulated several times by “Christian” women. These exclusively from Christian sites. Conversely, i’ve had better experiences with genuine Christian women from the non-Christian sites.

      Therefore, i concur that it really is a personal heart issue for each of us despite gender. Each of us must examine our motives and consciously pursue personal holiness.

      • Totally right, Tony. I think maybe it really is different for women in some ways such that we can “tease” with a little less effect to ourselves than to the guy we’re with. And some of us may be aware of this and manipulate that fact, and others of us may have very little idea of what we’re doing.

  3. After thinking for a while I decided to post my thoughts on sex as well.

    Sex…just hearing the word reminds me of the culture we live in. Everything around us in some misguided way or another finds a way to spin sex into the picture! Quite frankly it is my opinion that we, and I say we collectively, have a warped( to say the least) perspective on sex. Don’t get me wrong I like sex, and feel that in the context of my marriage it is wonderful. However my senses are bombarded daily with unholy ideas, thoughts, images and suggestions. We are, (in my opinion once again) a hyper sexual society! With so much emphasis on sex it’s no wonder more of us walk around anesthetized to the fact that it’s even a problem. It has become the norm. Throw in there the idea of a healthy, holy, monogamous,God fearing relationship, and the hope of finding such a thing seems daunting.
    Then there is “the Christian Alternative” meaning we date each other and have all kinds of sexually related activity without performing the actual technical act (trying to be accurate, without being too graphic). This I don’t believe is what God intended either.
    All that to say I still believe that the “Godly relationship” is still worth pursuing and can still be found. Nothing, I know is perfect, and compromise once made can’t be un-made.
    The idea of going through this life alone, looking through my prism evokes a deep sense of sorrow if that aloneness means I am not fulfilled. In reference to this topic, that’s I guess not really a fair assertion because I am already married. However if for some reason I ended up alone again, a bigger question for me would be…. is God enough for me

  4. Sory after reading the end of that statement it sounded like I was trying to infer some kind of judgement or expectation, I’m not. I was doing a bit of self reflection there. The disturbing part is I am bothered by my answer to that hypothetical question.

  5. Fantastic expression Double-N!!

    Historically, living in the post sexual revolution is on par with many OT/NT cultures in which pre/extra marital sex was common place and even part of many religious expressions. Our struggle is not unlike those of the faithful Hebrews or the early Christians.

    And, Yes! …there still are some.

    • Thank you Tony for affirming what I believed but felt unqualified to paint with a broad brush about! It’s war out there and the enemy is relentless…Thankfully, if we so choose, can take up the armor prepared for us and rebuke that enemy!

  6. First off, 34 male and still waiting. So we do exist. 🙂 Even those of us who are handling the not doing it still have to struggle with our thought lives though, especially with all the stimulants that surround us.

    One odd thing is that some of my best encouragements to wait have been from girls who not only hadn’t waited but were currently sleeping with someone. There was the girl who had said in front of me among friends that her boyfriend was a jerk and she only kept him around because the sex was good; she pulled me aside one day and asked if I was a virgin, and when I told her I was, her response was “Stick with that. It’s not worth it.” That’ll throw you for a small loop. I told her that she couldn’t change the past, but she could still choose her future. Got a small nod before we got interrupted by others. Then there was the girl, also not a virgin, to whom I mentioned the “want someone experienced” argument when we were discussing virginity, and though I don’t remember her exact words, she basically said most girls would be glad to have a guy that could learn what she enjoyed, not have to unlearn someone else’s stuff.

    People don’t really realise the way sex is designed to build connections, and the emotional damage that can result over time from repeatedly making and breaking those connections. If sex becomes just something you do with whoever, it can no longer perform the building role for which it was designed. Confuse love and sex, which most of our culture does, and you won’t really understand love or be able to give it properly.

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