*I started this post in February but never got around to it.
I recently finished teaching a class for singles called “How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk/Jerkette“, and a common sentiment that I heard after the class was that it ended too soon. Indeed, much of the class begged other questions to be explored and discussed beyond the limits of a classroom.
All the topics within the course are not necessarily ones that I will discuss in this thread, but I did want to use this blog to talk about themes that were touched upon during the last class, most notably: perspectives on dating, assumptions, expectations, and community.
I only talked about these topics for about fifteen minutes in the two hour class (It was an eight hour class in sum), but I wanted to throw this out here because I think some fruitful discussion can come of it.
To clarify, this material is not in the JERK course. Instead, these are some observations I’ve had. And to clarify any further, I’m not a dating expert by ANY means – in fact, I consider myself a poor “dater” who luckily found a wonderful wife like Tina.
Also please keep in mind that I’m a pastor of a church in Queens, NY that has quite a few singles in our community. I’m mainly thinking about this singles community, not the broad category of singles throughout nyc.
Here’s basically what I talked about.
There seem to be two extremes when it comes to dating
1) If I date you, I will marry you – I find this perspective in many conservative Christian circles. I can certainly understand the thinking behind this view, especially with the cavalier ways in which people can approach dating. Terms like courtship have been introduced to emphasize that dating is for marriage, and usually courtship involves much prayer, discussion, asking of the parents’ approval, etc.
Yes, even before asking a girl out on a date.
This was the dating tradition I came from in college, and it put enormous pressure on the singularly important question – “Would you like to have dinner sometime?”
Some of the positives of this view: a strong respect for marriage, vetting oneself thoroughly before putting oneself out there, and a willingness to wait patiently.
Some of the negatives of this view (including unintended negatives): Unclear friendships where a guy and girl are getting to know each other but without laying down all the cards, fear in putting one out there initially, or fear in breaking up in the relationship because “I’m supposed to marry this person and I shouldn’t have said yes if I wasn’t sure”, inordinate pressure or ambiguity in male-female relationships.
2) I can and should date whoever I want, and it’s not necessarily for marriage – This view is generally about having a good time with someone that you’re romantically interested in, even mildly. Typically in contemporary culture the norm is for a man to ask a woman out, and then the storylines vary from there, and marriage may or may not be the expected destination.
Some of the positives of this view: Singles are hanging out and getting to know each other, people learn to take risks by asking someone out or saying yes or no when being asked out.
Some of the negatives of this view: Heartbreak when affections are unrequited or when expectations are unclear, garnering a reputation as someone who is loose and untrustworthy when it comes to relationships, and a lack of restraint and respect when it comes to relationships, boundaries, and marriage.
Somewhere in the middle is the view is what I would endorse. Yes, I do think dating is for marriage, but no, I don’t think that if one person asks someone out, they have made a lifelong commitment.
If I could speak more specifically to both extremes, I would probably say that both sides can use their position as a safety net or a sword, and usually there are more issues than simply, “this is the principle I believe”.
For example, the person who thinks dating is just for marriage might really just be hiding behind his fears of asking someone out, or he might be holding that position to have a judgmental stance toward others who are asking others out or those who have had failed dating experiences.
On the flip side, the serial dater might be hiding behind his fear of commitment, or he might be holding that position out of judgment because the other point of view is so old-fashioned and antiquated.
Ah yes, there’s a whole iceberg underneath what we believe sometimes… I’ll post more on this later. For now, please read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.
Whether one likes it or not, dating is the most popular way for singles to connect in our setting (western, displaced singles, urban), even if one believes that marriage is the goal.
One can argue all day that dating is not in Scripture, but there are a host of other things that aren’t in Scripture but are unique to today’s context (automobiles, internet and social media, etc). The key is adhering to Scriptural principles that are fleshed out in the way we do life together today.
The reality is, dating is part of our contemporary culture, and without it, it’s very hard to get to know someone one-on-one in an intentional way.
For example, I haven’t met many married couples lately whose relationships were pre-arranged in nyc. Nor have I met too many married couples in nyc who started dating by first asking the parents of the significant other.
I believe a community of singles should afford healthy space for dating (while also promoting group gatherings as opportunities to get to know others), but this means that dating has to be defined more clearly since so many people come from different backgrounds and perspectives on dating, courtship, and marriage.
Clarifying the definition of dating requires another set of skills within a community, and this will be subject of Part II.