This past week, Boundless.org shared two posts related to Joshua Harris and courtship culture on their Facebook page. One was an NPR interview with Harris and the other was a link to Harris’ call for feedback on the ways I Kissed Dating Goodbye has affected you. It’s a popular topic, since so many people in the churches blame courtship culture for problems in their relationships and hurt in their lives. They say the church’s attitude towards dating and courtship made them feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexual desire, that it set up intimidating expectations for relationships, and it is why they’re still single (or, for some, unhappily married).
The complaints aren’t all directed at courtship culture, either. Another article I saw this week was published by Relevant Magazine and didn’t mention courtship at all. How Christians Ruin Dating is specifically addressing ways that singles in the church feel their fellow Christians are ruining their dating lives. There’s too much obsession with romance, too much gossiping about couples, too much emphasis on marriage. We just need to chill, they argue.
For those of us who are single young adults in the church, there’s no denying that the culture we grew up in influences how we view dating and relationships. But we’re also grown-ups and it’s time to stop blaming the church for all our relationship problems and take responsibility for the choices we’re making. We can’t keep using the argument “Christians ruin dating” as an excuse for not finding relationships. Courtship culture, church gossips, the pressure to get married … those don’t keep us from finding a spouse. We do that when we use the problems surrounding Christian dating as an excuse to not ask someone out, or to turn someone down when they ask us out, or to sabotage potential relationships.
- Before writing any more, I just want to make clear that I’m talking to single people in the Christian community who are in their mid-20s to mid-30s. I know there are people who married young after a courtship and blame that culture for creating their failed marriage. I know there are people who left the church because of hypocrisy and other issues, some involving the church’s attitude about sex and relationships. Those aren’t the people this article is aimed at. I’m speaking to young people, like me, who’ve decided to stay in the church and are still unmarried but want a relationship.
Marriage Focused Culture
One quote from the Relevant article says, “It’s hard enough to seek out a future spouse within a culture that idealizes marriage above almost everything else.” That article went on to talk about being made uncomfortable by matchmaking efforts, but let’s consider this idea about church culture making spouse-finding difficult. It’s ridiculous to think that being in a subculture that values marriage makes it more difficult to get married. If we want to get married, we should want to surround ourselves with people that support that goal. Sure the church could do a better job of relating to and supporting singles, but it’s better than the alternative.
Christians don’t have a monopoly on difficult relationships–there are plenty of frustrated singles out there who’ve never stepped foot in a church. We live in a culture where marriage rates are dropping, cultural and social pressures to marry are disappearing, and legal definitions of marriage are changing. Stand up in that culture and say you want a committed, monogamous relationship and you’ll find opposition, not encouragement.
The brethren who ask about your relationship status, try to set you up with other singles, and offer encouragement to pursue marriage while not making it your sole focus (the seemingly contradictory messages that “you should get married” and “you don’t need marriage to be fulfilled”) are not your enemy. Some are annoying (or inappropriate–like the woman who said “don’t give up” because my engaged friend might still break up with his fiancée!) but many are well-meaning folks who care about your future and your happiness. If we treat them as allies, they might actually help us find good relationships.
The Courtship Excuse
The courtship movement messed some people up. I get that. I feel deeply for those who tried to court and it didn’t work, or who found courtship too intimidating to even try. But at this point “I can’t ask a girl out because she’ll think I want to get married” or “I can’t go out with him because I don’t know if I want to marry him” are products of excuses and fear. We need to grow-up and stop blaming our inability to find a spouse on Joshua Harris. Our pasts and cultures influence who we are, but they do not determine who we become.
We’re the ones who make relationships in the church intimidating. There’s no real reason you can’t ask someone out to a movie, or include them in a group-outing invitation, or spend time getting to know them at church. We don’t have to be scared to let people know we might like them. Guys, most girls just want you to ask them out and see if the relationship goes anywhere –they’re not expecting a ring with that first cup of coffee. Girls, give the guy a chance–going out on a date or two isn’t a marriage agreement.
While we should avoid intimacy without commitment and be careful of leading people on, avoiding romance in our relationships doesn’t prevent those problems. I’ve experienced more heartache related to men who want to be “just friends” than from the ones who’ve actually asked me out. We need to stop making excuses for ourselves. Let’s keep the good things we learned from courtship and throw out the rest–not wallow in the negative and then wonder why we’re still single.
You’re Choosing To Be Single
This idea was a hard one for me to face. I’ve bemoaned the fact that I’m single and that there “aren’t any guys around,” but, as The Blithe Bachelorette blog pointed out, it’s not exactly true for many (though not all) of us. I’ve had a non-zero amount of dating opportunities and, while I have gone out on one date with every guy who’s asked me out, I’m the one who shut-down the possibility of a second date for various reasons. That was my choice, as is not doing things like setting-up online dating profiles. When you choose to wait for the type of relationship you believe God wants for you, you’re not a victim of Christian culture — you’re a believer strong enough to wait for a godly relationship.
There are also other ways we can choose to be single that are less positive than intentional waiting. Few things frustrate me more than seeing someone say on Facebook how much they really want a relationship if only they could find the right person, then to learn in personal conversations with them that they “aren’t ready for romance,” or they’re “not looking right now,” or they just don’t see any of their godly single friends “like that.” You’re not going to get married by complaining about your singleness and waiting for God to drop the perfect spouse in your lap.
If we want to get married, we need to take steps to get there. One of those steps is taking responsibility for how we view relationships and stop blaming other people for the lifestyle choices we’re making that aren’t leading to romance. Another is putting the idea of soulmates in its proper context by looking for someone with whom to build a soulmate relationships rather than searching for a mythical “the one” who will complete you. Another is choosing not to make romantic relationships our ultimate goal. The relationship we should be most focused on is our relationship with God, and cultivating that relationship is also going to have the side-effect of making us a person who’s more ready for a godly marriage.
8 thoughts on “The Church Isn’t Ruining Your Love Life”
I think the first thing to recognize is that when it comes to people – there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach to living life. We’re all too different, too unique, too mysterious, and too interesting to all live the exact same way at all times. For a great many people, I Kissed Dating Goodbye was taught to them as “the answer” for all the ills of dating culture as it was changing and evolving. For some it delivered on that promise, they had the good fortune of being the right kind of person who was suited to that book and their circumstances were in their favor. For others, it failed them miserably for some reason beyond their understanding. Some were told to get married and that God would bless them with love later on, some discovered red flags – such as a tendency to be abusive – after they had said ‘I do’, compatibility and chemistry just weren’t there for others. On top of that, Christianity’s pro-singleness stance is almost non-existent; most have never heard even one sermon affirming singleness. As a result many came to believe that Christianity considers singleness a disease that can only be cured by marriage; and in our world where single people now outnumber married couples – Christianity fails to speak to the reality of half the world while broadcasting it’s pro-marriage ideals to the whole world as if it were stuck in the past.
Statistics also work against us, there are more single women in Christianity than men, if all the women are to be married off, they’re going to have to look outside of the church to find potential spouses. I’m also seeing the sentiment that there are people who just don’t want to get married – they know that they are happy as they are, that they don’t want complications or to disappoint others, they know they’re terrible with relationships, they don’t want children – Christianity tends to ‘steam-roll’ such individuals to force them into the mold of marriage to cure them of their selfishness, irresponsibility, immaturity, etc. and end up doing more harm than good when these relationships naturally fail because they were not wanted in the first place.
Christianity often reminds me of the game of Life, where once you reach the marriage square, you must stop and wait to get married before you can continue living life. For those of us whose singleness endures, that’s whole years of our life that Christianity considers us as less than we could have been were we married. That’s not the Christianity that Jesus preached about.
I agree with you about how different people are, which is why I tried to make clear I wasn’t addressing this blog post to everyone – just a specific age-range of Christians singles who do want to get married and feel like the church culture is sabotaging those efforts. For those who don’t want to get married (and I know several), the issues are different.
I like how you bring up that life shouldn’t stop for Christians if we don’t get married. I have friends who have been single for many years and have lived wonderful lives for Jesus. I think of Philip’s “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9) and of the widowed prophetess Anna who “did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:36-38). Those women didn’t stop serving God because they didn’t have didn’t have husbands, and no one de-valued their contributions because they were single. I would like it if the church was more like that — finding a balance between encouraging marriage as a good thing while also treating singles as full members of the body with valuable contributions to make.
Nicely done, Marissa.
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I can see where you’re coming from, and I agree with your assertion that eventually, we have to leave behind excuses and take responsibility for our actions. But I think the culture in which we find ourselves plays a HUGE role in the degree of comfort we feel making decisions or even in how many decisions we feel are available to us. You say that if you want to date someone, just ask them out. But in my home church, I couldn’t do that without everyone assuming (ourselves included) that this was not just a date but the beginning of a relationship. That’s a lot of pressure to live with!
More than that, I think it’s important to consider the benefit of understanding where our insecurities and neuroses come from. For a long time I thought I was helplessly single, and it was only in digging into my history with I Kissed Dating Goodbye and modesty culture that I began to understand what was driving my actions. Once I understood the motivation, I could begin to move forward with a different attitude. I “blame” my past for how I was, but not for what I will become. I take responsibility for that (as well as my current culture, which is one that supports authenticity and exploration, which makes being open to dating far easier than the culture I used to be a part of)!
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I did try to focus the article on how we should take responsibility for our actions as we move forward, but I get where you’re coming from, too. I definitely think our culture plays a huge role in who we are and the ideas we have about relationships, and that it’s important to understanding where our insecurities come from. For me it wasn’t so much “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” as it was other courtship texts, but I had some pretty strange ideas about what to expect from a relationship when I was in my late teens/early 20s and I know they’re still influencing me to a certain extent. And I agree that the church culture can limit our available options in a number of ways outside our individual control.
I really wanted to avoid making this article about the guys, but there is a part of me that felt I was writing to them more than to single women. I would say the majority of single Christian women I know who want to get married are taking steps to get there and are open to a relationship. The Christian guys I know have either already married or they’re not really pursuing it. Even the ones who say they want to get married don’t seem to treat it as a priority. I’m not sure why, and the older married men in the church I’ve talked with about it seem equally puzzled.
I’ve noticed the gender gap too. I know so many single women working in the ministry who want to find a partner to work alongside them…but there are SO few men around. In so many areas of church life, it feels like the men need to step up and get on the level of women who are ready to get married (or at least date!) or go out into the world and serve. It can be kind of depressing when I think about the likelihood of me ever finding someone.
I agree with you on taking responsibility for our decisions. But I disagree with you with not blaming courtship culture. The fools who wanted to social engineer the church to do that agenda have ruined the church’s atmosphere of making resilient disciples. That means being able to bounce back from rejection and become stronger. They have denied the masculine powers of confidence and made an entire generation of males either low in self esteem, or have left the church. This results in disappointed females who don’t ever get asked on a date! The pastors continue to push the ‘just hang out ‘ nonsense. Yet, These pastors who are actually man children themselves push the ‘man up ‘ speeches but do not even know how to be men themselves. How can I substantiate this? Because they do not ever teach boys how to be men, but just blame men because they know males won’t complain. A man must be trained, taught and encouraged, not berated and made to look like an idiot.
The whole men need to man up is a load of rubbish. The pastors and leaders of the church need to stop pandering to one side of the equation and actually start teaching men how to be men. We males need men to follow, not be berated by clowns in the pulpit. Because no one else is. Women no offense, can’t do it. God designed his church to manufacture godly confident males, yet the evangelical church actively discourages our masculine identities and strengths. Hence the males tapping out of church. The evangelical church does not appeal to masculine psyche. The theology is never on the walk of salvation, or the becoming the pure reflection of Christ through obedience and soldier like discipline, but always on the propitiation and born again experience. Although the born again experience is amazing in its experience, it’s not the only part of our faith. All of these things I would equate with the disappearing male. Hence it creates a culture where male efforts have a tendency to not be appreciated and a perpetual spiritual immaturity in both males and females abounds. It is trying to be a thirty year old single man in the church who would like to meet some one. It is especially trying when your burning desire since you were young was to preach the word, only to have the doctrines of the church changed purely to meet the whims of emotional experiences, rather than the doctrines of Christ. Take responsibility yes, and indeed I do acknowledge my mistakes, but when will the Bible teachers who encouraged the courtship culture and simping ever get up and apologize for emasculating our generation of males and by extension infantalizing females, or indeed contributing to it. The crickets remain. I don’t blame Josh Harris. He was only a kid when he wrote it. He was part of a cultural current which has been involved in crazy making for sometime.
From a burnt out and disallusioned former deacon and preacher.