If you didn’t read Part 1, you can check it out before reading this.
Again, I’m working off the assumption that dating is a necessary element in a community of singles. The question is, how do we go about it in a way that’s clear, direct, and respectful? Because people have so many different definitions of the purpose of dating, it becomes much more helpful to have a skill set with which to communicate and clarify expectations when it comes to dating.
Based on what I wrote about how dating is for marriage but not necessarily “I have to marry you” commitment, here’s a roadmap for how I generally think it can work (obviously not all relationships follow this route which is totally fine!).
1) Date to get to know (could be non-exclusive dating)
2) Date exclusively
3) Date toward engagement
Somewhere in between 3-5 the family gets involved more extensively.
Chances are, you read this timeline and thought, “I don’t agree…”
If that’s the case, then that’s great! That’s what this post is about – having the skills to negotiate dating and expectations.
Let’s take the example of the “I will only date you if I want to marry you” dater. For someone in this camp, it’s likely that the person will have a hard time a) asking someone out or saying yes to someone when being asked out, or b) being at ease in the relationship.
In my personal observations and context, there are many frustrated women because there’s the perception that men will not ask women out.
Sidenote: I would argue against the perception that men do not ask women out, because I think more likely it’s the sentiment, “the man I’m interested in will not ask me.” This might be another blog post, but I don’t want to digress too much, because at the same time, I realize there are real reasons why the risk of asking someone out in an enclosed singles community like a church setting can be challenging. Some of the reasons are the following:
1) Risk of implicating and impacting friends and the community, making it more difficult to break up.
2) Risk of changing the status with a good friend and perhaps losing the friendship altogether.
3) Risk of putting pressure in the initial stages because of all the chatter (sometimes gossip) that can cloud the community.
End of Sidenote.
Back to the “I will only date you if I want to marry you” dater. In Part 1 I wrote that it seems unrealistic to get to know someone well enough without dating. So the folks in this camp are in a bit of a quandary unless they ask someone out or are asked out. Hence, the urge from blogs like mine to step out while still trying to hold on to their values – lest they prefer a more traditional position.
Here are the steps and skills I believe are necessary when it comes to asking someone out without putting so much pressure on the date.
1) The skill of asking someone out on a date, but clarifying what the date is and what is not. I used to be in this camp, so I know what a bumbling fool I was when it came to this. I didn’t know how to ask someone out without saying, “I really like you and I’ve prayed about it and I think I’d like to marry you someday.”
Whoa. Pretty much every girl I asked out wasn’t a big fan of this method.
Jay Feld, NLF’s counselor in residence, introduced a dating exercise for us at a Singles Retreat that I thought was rather genius. Btw, I’d highly recommend Jay as a counselor.
The exercise was satirical in some sense, but what it implied was that we can go on dates as long as we’re clear about the expectations.
Here’s an example of how the exercise worked.
The person asking someone out, says the following:
“I’m interested in getting to know you better, would you like to have coffee sometime?
In other words, I’m asking you out on a date, a date being defined as going somewhere sometime with someone to do something safe, fun, and life-giving.
Asking you out on a date, does not mean…
I want to marry you.
I guarantee a second date.
I have prayed about this for 10 months…”
I know, you might have reacted strongly to the above statement, but there are real people who imply as much when they’re asked, “I’m interested in getting to know you better, would you like to have coffee sometime?”
As you can see, this goes back to our definitions of dating. If the first step in the timeline is an easy “win” – i.e. getting to know someone, then it relieves the pressure exponentially. If I can take the request at face value – the person wants to get to know me better and wants to have coffee – then I don’t have to throw in all these other assumptions.
BUT, if I’m the person being asked out, I have the right to ask for clarification. These questions can help me clarify where the date stands according to my own definition or values. At the end of the clarification process, I can decide whether or not I want to go on the date as defined by the person asking me out.
Too many times people respond to the request while holding all sorts of assumptions about what the request is about.
Here are some sample questions:
“When you say get to know me better, do you mean in a romantic ‘I like you’ sort of way?”
“I’d be open to it, but why specifically are you asking me out?”
After asking these clarifying questions, the onus is now on the asker to be clear about intentions and/or what his/her thought processes were in asking the person out.
Most of the time, and I hope this is not a surprise or offense to some of you, the initial reason for asking the person out is because of physical attraction. Hopefully our church community can provide contexts for hanging out that would allow for people to get a little deeper than just physical appearance, but as it stands, physical appearance ultimately a lot to do with first impressions because it’s difficult to manufacture contexts in which meaningful interaction can occur.
I’ll have more on the church’s role in a future post. In Part 3, I’ll cover more on assumptions and the topic of “leading on” or “being led on”…