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 prizes marriage makes it more difficult to get married. If you want to get married, you should want to surround yourself 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 fiancee!) but many are well-meaning folks who care about your future and your happiness. Treat them as allies, and they might actually help you find a good relationship.
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 nothing more than excuses. 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 heart-ache 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. Keep the good things you learned from courtship and throw out the rest — don’t wallow in the negative and then wonder why you’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 a Disney fairy tale 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.