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.Read more →
Every girl who wants to be married has dreamed about what he will be like. Many of us have written lists of the traits our ideal man will have. Over the years, we’ve also heard various views on writing husband lists. Some people say you should have a list, so you know what you’re looking for. Others say that having a list makes your focus too narrow and that you’re “limiting God.”
I had a nice long list when I was in my teens, then a short list of “must haves,” and now a more specific idea that’s not written down. Recently, though, a married friend encouraged me to write a new list to pray over. She had a list, and when she was in her 30s she met a man who fit every thing she’d been praying for (right down to the kind of car he drove) and married him 2 weeks after their first meeting (yes, you read that right. They’re still happily married and have two teenage kids). I know other girls who’ve been told their standards were “too high” yet found guys who matched everything on the list they were praying for, and there are also ladies like blogger Lucinda McDowell who prayed for 24 things in a husband, and God gave her 23. Writing a list doesn’t make you “too picky” — it means you have standards, and that’s a good thing.
So I started work on my new list. And I thought perhaps other girls might find it useful to read about how I decided what to include. There are articles out there offering lists of non-negotiables for you to base your list on, but even the essential qualities are going to look a bit different for everyone. For example, if you’re Christian, some form of “He’s a practicing believer” is probably at the top of your list, but what does “practicing believer” mean to you?
Just a quick note … guys can write “wife lists” too, and I suspect that much of what I talk about here might be useful for that as well. Since I’m a girl thinking about a future husband, though, that’s what I’m going to focus on for this post.
I’ll be honest — I actually didn’t start with this step, but I think now I should have. You want your list to reflect the things you feel like you “should want” as well as what you truly desire, and so there’s often a feeling of not being able to ask for “little thing” or mention appearance at all. But if we’re honest, things that might seem shallow at first glance are still there in the back of our minds, which means they do matter on some level. Starting with free writing gives us a chance to put those little dreams on paper without feeling bad about them.
Grab a piece of paper and just start writing the first phrases and descriptions that pop into your head when you think about what kind of guy you would like to marry. Think about guys (real and fictional) you’ve had crushes on and list the things about them you found attractive. Think about guys you’ve dated and list things that you liked about them, and the opposite of the reason you broke up with him (i.e., if you’re boyfriend didn’t respect your boundaries, you might add “respects my boundaries”). Think about happily married couples you know and list things you want to see in your own marriage. Write down literally anything that you think of, no matter how unrealistic it sounds.
Now look back over your list. Circle anything that 1: doesn’t have to do with physical appearance and 2: you consider absolutely essential in a relationship. You’re looking for things that have to do with who he is as a person, like “loves God,” “good communicator,” and “we worship together.”
Next, look at the things you haven’t circled yet. Cross-out anything that you know is 1: not essential for you in a relationship (I crossed out “rich singing voice”), 2: only related to physical appearance (such as “taller than me), and/or 3: completely unrealistic. While you’re doing this, you might find that you can replace an unrealistic goal with a related realistic goal. For example, instead of “rich as Mr. Darcy” you might list, “able to provide financially for a family.” I would encourage you to pray about the things you want but know are unrealistic. Sometimes, we use unrealistic expectations to push other people away and shield ourselves from being vulnerable in relationships.
Now you have a sheet of paper with things crossed out, things circled, and a few things that are neither. For now, set this list aside.
Red, Yellow, Green
There’s a book called True Love Dates by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta that recommends writing three separate lists, and that’s where we’re going to start. Before you spend any more time writing down the things you want in a relationship, we’re going to write a list of things that are never okay.
“Stop” and “Slow”
The first thing you’re going to write is a Red list of traits that always mean “stop” when you notice them in a relationship. If a guy has any characteristic from your Red list, you do not pursue a relationship with him (no matter how many good traits he has). My Red list includes things like “does not believe in God/won’t respect my belief” and “refusal to communicate,” along with others like the examples Debra Fileta gives in her book:
Abusiveness (physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual)
Dangerous and uncontrolled temper or displays of aggression
Pattern of dishonesty or betrayal
The next step is writing a Yellow list. This is for things you’re not sure about and would need serious consideration and discussion before moving forward in a relationship. They give you pause, but don’t mean the relationship can’t work. A few on my list are “previously married” and “trouble handling money.” Here are more examples from True Love Dates:
Family of origin issues and problems
Unhealthy habits or behaviors
Lacks motivation, goals, and dreams
“Go” For It!
Now for the fun part — the Green list or “husband list” of things you want to have in your relationship. If Red means stop and Yellow means slow down and reevaluate, Green means you can feel good about going forward with a relationship. Here’s where we get to go back to the free writing exercise.
I sorted my list into four categories: “Personal Values,” “Family and Relationships,” “Makes Me Feel …” and “Personality.” The circled phrases from my free writing exercise ended up in the first three categories, and many of the phrases that were neither circled nor crossed out ended up in one of the last two categories (you might even list a couple of the ones you crossed-out if they are still important to you). I saw the “Personality” category as representing things I want, but some of which could be negotiable. Here’s a few specific items from each list, so you can see what I’m talking about without me sharing a copy of the whole thing:
follows God and Christ first
uses his gifts to serve in some way
demonstrates integrity, commitment, faithfulness
Family and Relationships
respects and helps set boundaries
hospitable; welcomes guests and visitors to our home
Makes Me Feel …
protected and cherished
listened to and understood
like I’m valuable and contributing to his life
slow to anger
enjoys discussing ideas
Looking At Yourself
Now that you have your list, turn it back on yourself and ask if you have those qualities. Would the guy you’ve written about want to date, or marry, you? Some of this should match pretty easily — you wouldn’t list a guy who wants 6 kids if you didn’t want 6 kids.
Others might be harder. If you listed a man who spends time with God every day, will he want to marry you if you regularly forget to study? Or if you ask for a guy who will never cheat on you, are you prepared to be faithful to him? If you want an Ephesians 5 husband, will you be an Ephesians 5 wife?
I hope this post was helpful to you — writing the list that inspired it has certainly helped me. While we know that God knows exactly what we need without us telling Him, I think it is helpful for us to have something more to ask Him than “please give me a good husband.” You’re putting effort into pursuing a relationship by figuring out what it is you’re looking for. God bless you, my dear readers.
Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)
The study is 20 years old, but I first became aware of it last week. In two days, I saw two different articles talking about falling in love and Dr. Arthur Aron’s “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness.” (As an interesting side-note, this Dr. Aron is married to Dr. Elaine Aron, who we’ve talked about in connection to her research on Highly Sensitive Persons [HSPs].)
Aron’s study wasn’t actually intended to explore the science of falling in love — it was designed to study closeness and included both men-women and woman-woman pairs (because the sample group, a psychology class, was 70% women). The couples who fell in love were an unintended side-effect. Mandy Len Catron’s recent article “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” which called attention back to this study, demonstrates that the principles Aron used for studying accelerated intimacy between strangers can be applied to romantic relationships.
It’s a fascinating idea, made even more fascinating when you read his published research paper (what can I say? I’m a nerd) and find out about some of his other results. Is there a difference in closeness for introverts and extroverts? Can you truly become close to someone in less than an hour? What is it that effectively increases closeness?
Introverts and Extroverts
One thing I found fascinating about this study, which wasn’t brought out in any of the other articles I read, was Dr. Aron’s observations on the role introversion and extroversion played. In Study 3, Dr. Aron had the participants take a Myers-Briggs test, then used those results to create extrovert-extrovert, extrovert-introvert, and introvert-introvert pairs. Some of the pairs were told the experiment’s goal was to get close to the person you were paired with, and the others were told the study was about “dyadic interaction” and their job was simply to work through the questions.
Extroverts reported closeness in all cases, but introverts only reported closeness when they were told that closeness was a goal. Dr. Aron says, “these data shed doubt on the view that introverts are less social because they are less skilled at getting close. Indeed, when getting close is made an explicit task, introverts became as close as extraverts.” When introverts want to get close to someone, we’re just as capable of socializing with them as extroverts.
Is It Real?
The experiment succeeded in producing a feeling of closeness between two people, but is that closeness as real as a relationship that develops over time? Of the 58 people who completed follow-up questionnaires, 57% had a least one more conversation with their study partner, 35% got together to do something, and 37% started sitting together in class. One couple got married 6 months after the study.
So are we producing real closeness? Yes and no. We think that the closeness produced in these studies is experienced as similar in many important ways to felt closeness in naturally occurring relationships that develop over time. On the other hand, it seems unlikely that the procedure produces loyalty, dependence, commitment, or other relationship aspects that might take longer to develop.
In one of Dr. Aron’s tests, he paired individuals with shared interests, and individuals who shouldn’t have gotten along well based on their different responses to a questionnaire. He also conducted tests where pairs were assigned without filling out pre-tests to determine whether or not they were compatible. In all cases, participants reported similar levels of closeness. That indicates we can rapidly feel close with just about anyone, but on the long-term this closeness might not last because other considerations (like whether or not you share important values) will eventually come up.
Small Talk’s Not Enough
One thing Aron’s research found was that small-talk doesn’t do anything to bring people closer together (which I’m sure many of us have suspected for years). Talking about things people had done, what they liked and disliked, or other people they knew did not produce closeness between the two study participants. Here are some examples of the small-talk prompts used in his study:
If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
Do you like to get up early or stay up late? Is there anything funny that has resulted from this?
What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s albums do you own? Had you seen them before? Where?
In contrast, the types of questions which did draw people closer together focused on how they feel about the way they live their lives, why they think the way they do, and what helps them connect with other people. Here are a few examples, and you can read the full list of closeness-generating questions at the end of his published research paper (which I linked in the intro), or by clicking this link.
What would constitute a perfect day for you?
Is there something that you’ve dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?
Tell your partner what you like about them: be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met.
Maybe there is a reason people devote so much time to small talk, which we introverts find so frustrating because we crave deep conversations. If we were having deep conversations with everyone, though, we’d feel very close to a lot more people. Maybe small talk protects us in a way, though it can also hinder genuine conversation.
Now that I’ve read about this research, part of me would really like to try it out and part of me thinks it sounds scary. I always thought that love is a choice, but there’s a part of me that feels like falling in love should just happen, then once you commit to the relationship you choose to keep loving each other. But Dr. Aron’s research indicates that you can choose who you become close to in the first place, and you can reach a level of closeness in less than an hour that approaches closeness you feel for people you’ve known many years. I think I’d be rather picky about who I went through these questions with, but it might be a great way to let yourself be vulnerable and open up possibilities in a relationship.
If you grew up in a conservative Christian setting or the home-school community of the late 1990s and early 2000s, you mostly likely read I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. After its release in 1997, it quickly became the go-to book in the courtship-vs-dating debate. If your friends didn’t hand it to you with an enthusiastic, “You have to read this book,” your mom probably thought it “would be good for you.” Or maybe you just picked it up on your own because of that suave guy on the cover tipping his hat (you know what I’m talking about, girls).
When I first read this book as a very “Christian” never-been-kissed teenager, all this courtship stuff seemed like a good idea. I mean, who doesn’t want a relationship guaranteed to lead to true love while keeping both God and your parent’s happy? The problem is, courtship doesn’t reliably work, and it gives you some pretty weird ideas to carry around if you eventually start trying to date like a semi-normal person.
Never Be Alone With A Guy
After reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye, my teenage self wrote up a list of things I would and wouldn’t do now that I knew the “right” way to interact with guys. Number 4 on my list was “ I will not put myself in a potentially compromising situation by being alone with a guy unless there are other people in the near vicinity.”
For us girls, this idea makes interacting with both married and single men awkward because you just know if you’re alone with them for any length of time you’re practically forcing them to have impure thoughts about you. This simply isn’t true (for one thing, people are responsible for their own feelings and thoughts), but having that idea in the back of your mind can make you feel guilty even in completely innocent situations.
Brothers, Not Boyfriends
That cute guy you walked past at the supermarket? the coworker who smiles at you every morning? They are not potential dating material–you’re are supposed to treat every man you meet just like you would your brother. If you start to even think about him as a potential boyfriend, you need to get your thoughts under control because you’re defrauding him and his future wife (who probably won’t be you). And courtship says the same thing to guys as well–think of every woman you meet as your sister until you’re ready to get married to her.
There are several problems with this idea. 1) Even after being told how “wrong” this is, you might still wonder (even briefly) if every attractive man or woman you meet is “the one.” The only difference is you feel guilty about it. 2) I’m perfectly comfortable leaning against my brother’s shoulder, looping my arm through his, going to him when I need help with something, and laughing and talking freely with him. That’s okay, because he actually is my brother. If I treat another guy like that, he’ll think I’m flirting and people will ask if we’re dating. 3) if you really do succeed in thinking of all your friends in a completely unromantic way, you’re less likely to pursue a romance.
Dad Has To Approve
Ideally in courtship, a man will decide he wants to pursue a relationship with a girl he is friends with, and then he will ask her father for permission to court her. As a young teen, having parental approval before you go out on a date makes sense when you have involved, caring parents. But courtship extends this principle to any age, and it becomes more and more impractical as you get older. If a girl plans to move out of her parent’s house, go to school, or work outside their home, she’ll end up interacting with men who’ve never even met her parents and who haven’t heard of courtship. Have fun trying to explain to a really great guy who just asked you out for coffee that he needs to talk with your dad first because there’s no such thing as a casual date.
Personally, I have a good relationship with both my parents and I want them to approve any man I marry or even seriously date. However, they haven’t met all the guys I know, and I’d be comfortable going out with a guy who hasn’t met my parents but is respected by our mutual friends. Other girls don’t have a good relationship–or any relationship–with their parents. Courtship gives the impression that if her father is not in the picture, the guy better hope there’s a male authority figure in her life to talk to because heaven forbid she make up her own mind about something like this.
First Comes Courtship, Then Comes Marriage
Up until a couple is officially courting, they aren’t supposed to be alone or interact romantically in any way. Groups outings are the rule. Then as soon as they’re courting, they are set on the fast-track to marriage (it’s basically like an engagement, which makes proposals almost a moot point). Either you’re “just friends,” or you’re “exploring the possibility of marriage.” There’s no in between.
This brings us to a problem with courtship that underlies all the ones we’ve talked about already–courtship assumes that every interaction between men and women is extremely weighty and romantically charged. You can’t go on a casual date hoping to get to know someone better because courtship tells you there’s no such thing as a “casual date.” You’re either friends, or you’re on the road to marriage.
Most people I know who’ve bought into the idea of courtship don’t actually get to the courtship part. It’s too intimidating of a commitment. When you leave courtship and try to date normally, though, you still have this idea that if a guy asks a girl out, that must mean he’s thinking of marrying her someday. It’s a really weird headspace to be in.
Courtship rules say absolutely no physical intimacy before you’re married. Depending on who you talk to, this even includes hand holding, hugs, or a quick kiss. Also, they add in the idea of “emotional sex” so that even having feelings for someone becomes wrong. Now, I do believe that God intends His people to save sex until marriage, but going to this extreme is a recipe for–you guessed it–more guilt.
People have written whole articles about how the teachings of physical and emotional purity from courtship books like I Kissed Dating Goodbyeactually damage healthy relationships. You second-guess every hand-hold and shoulder touch, wondering if you’re sending the “wrong message.” You’re scared to fall in love because you don’t want to give pieces of your heart away to someone you might not marry, as if caring about someone leaves you with less capacity to care about someone else later (I wrote a whole post addressing this idea).
So what’s the alternative? The Christian community ran away from worldly dating for a reason, and problems like shallow short-term relationships and accelerated intimacy are still there. But courtship didn’t give us a viable alternative. Instead, I rather like the idea of going back to a more old-fashioned version of dating (as suggested by Thomas Umstattd, whom I also linked to in the intro). Debra Fileta supports a similar idea in her book and website True Love Dates. It’s not perfect, and I don’t think relationships will every be easy, but at least it sounds better than courtship!
If you’re single (and you don’t want to be), you’ve probably asked yourself the question, “Am I being too picky?” There’s got to be a reason why you’re not in a relationship with someone, right? and you’re sure the reason has something to do with you. People of the opposite sex do exist, and if you’re not in a relationship with one of them you might think that 1) you’re not attractive and so they aren’t asking you out, or 2) you’re too picky and so you’re avoiding/turning down relationships with certain people.
As a 25-year-old single woman, I ask myself this question, too. And I’ve been encouraged to do so by much of the relationship advice I’ve read. You might have read some of this, too. I’m talking about those articles that tell girls to tear-up their “perfect man” list and give any decent guy a chance if he asks them out. Which sounds pretty good in theory, but that’s pretty much how two of the three dates I’ve been on were with guys literally old enough to be my father, and the third was with an atheist who obviously didn’t meet my first requirement that a guy I date have a strong, Christian faith.
Now, I’m not saying you should hang onto unrealistic expectations that will leave you like this skeleton over here –> but you do need to have some standards, and you don’t have to feel guilty for insisting people meet those standards. You are under no obligation to “pity date” anyone, or fling yourself at the first living breathing human who shows the slightest bit of interest in you.
This weekend, I spent a good bit of time catching up on Boundless.org articles that I’d missed and checking out TrueLoveDates.com. What stood out to me on Boundless was two articles that offer step-by-step guides for men and for women on how to get married. They can both be summed up in the deceptively simple advice “be more attractive.”
Well, thank you Boundless-author. Previous to reading this article I was going for unattractive. I’ll change that now, and dates will magically appear.
These articles are part of a three-part relationship series. The first article was devoted to debunking the myth of “the one.” I actually agree with most of what he writes in this one — many Christian singles are too passive, waiting for God to drop their perfect match in their lap or hit them with a revelatory bolt of lightning when he or she shows up. But usually when people tell you to stop looking for “the one”/”your soulmate,” they are also telling you “you’re too picky” (also see my article “Why I Still Believe In Soul Mates“). And I think it’s a little more complicated than this Boundless authors seems to think.
He says that if you’re a guy, there are only two reasons you’re not in a relationship: “1. You’re not asking. 2. No one’s saying yes.” The solutions are equally simple: “Man up” and “Be awesome.”
If you’re a girl, the reasons you’re single are “1. You’re saying “no” a lot” or “2. No one’s asking.” We’re given three things we can do to turn this around: “Demonstrate respect,” “Look good,” and “Be fun.”
Be (at least a little) Picky
Much as I love Boundless, TrueLoveDates.com had much more helpful tips this time. It’s a website run by Christian relationship counselor Debra Fileta. I’m really looking forward to reading more of her blog posts, and eventually her book. She has some great insight into the whole dating vs. courtship thing, but I won’t digress on that topic right now.
Even more helpful lists can be found in Fileta’s article What Women Really Want in a Man and What Men Really Want in a Woman. They are great, both for “this is what you should look for” and “this is the kind of person you need to be.” She says women want honesty, purity, strength, compassion, and humility. Men want realness, confidence, beauty, and passion. These aren’t impossible standards, and you really should be “picky” enough not to settle for less.
I was talking with a friend some weekends ago about items we have on our “future husband” and “potential boyfriend” lists. We were saying how it would be nice if we could find out more easily whether or not a guy was someone we would like to date before we agreed to go out with him, and I suggested (half-jokingly) “I say we prepare a detailed questionnaire for potential boyfriends and ask for at least 3 character references.” The more we talked about it, the better the idea sounded. After all, when you apply for a job, you have to answer a whole series of questions and you’re expected to provide references that can attest to your good character. Relationships are more important, and hopefully more permanent, so why wouldn’t we give as much consideration to finding out whether or not someone is right for you and you are right for them?
On the other hand, I’ve talked to more than one girl who was approached by a guy who was clearly working his way through a list of questions as they talked. They felt like they could see him putting mental check-marks down as he covered each topic. Ew … that’s creepy! We certainly don’t want to end up like that.
As I continued to think about this idea, I realized it would be less helpful to run people through a “prefect person checklist” than to have some kind of guideline for clarifying what we need in a relationship. There are certain things I think of as non-negotiable, such as a having a relationship with God. If I don’t clarify what that means to me before I meet someone, though, I might find myself making excuses for a guy because I like him, even if his beliefs differ from mine on significant points.
Before our conversation about surveying boyfriends, I came across something titled “My Little Book of Whether Or Not He’s Worth It” by Brittany Baily. There is much to like about her points, particularly her emphasis on not settling for a guy who treats you with disrespect. But I feel this kind of guide misses two very important things: 1) it ignores the importance faith plays in a relationship, and 2) it focuses entirely on what I need/want in a relationship. For my list, I wanted to address the need to have God as the center of your relationship, as well as the fact that a relationship can’t be all about what you want — you also have to think of the other person’s needs and be the kind of person they are looking for.
I’ve presented my list in a questionnaire form, mostly because of the conversation which prompted this post. I would advise against actually passing them out to potential boyfriends or girlfriends (but if you do, be sure to let me know how it goes!). Think of it as a guide to learning important things about the person you are considering, or in, a relationship with. You might want to fill one out with the answers you think you would like a potential dating partner to fill-in, and then answer one for yourself. Would your ideal match like the way you filled out your survey? If you meet someone who would answer one of these questions differently than you think you would like, will you be irritated by that or learn to live with it?
How would you describe your relationship with God? (you can’t expect someone to love you the way you deserve/need/want to be loved if they do not love God even more than they love you)
What do you consider a good amount of time to spend in prayer and study on a daily basis? (how much time they give to God is an indication of whether or not they are worth your time)
How important is fellowship with other believers to you? What influences your decisions about which church group(s) to attend?
What kind of boundaries (physical and emotional) would you want to set in a dating relationship?
How much time do you envision spending together in person, online, or on the phone while dating? Will you write letters and/or emails?
What would make you mistrust someone you were dating?
Are you typically introverted or extroverted? would you be comfortable spending time with someone who is more introverted/extroverted than you are?
How do you express anger?
How do you handle conflict?
Do you know what your primary love language is?
Is there anything in your past that you wouldn’t want to tell someone you just started dating, but probably should before you get married?
What do you consider your positive characteristics?
What do you consider your negative characteristics?
Do you want kids? How many? Would you consider adoption, and if so under what circumstances?
If you want kids, how would you like to educate them? Home school? Public school? Private school?
Would kids be encouraged to pursue higher education, if that’s what they want?
What do you consider appropriate discipline for young children? for teenagers?
Is it important to live near the extended family? Why or why not?
What kind of influence, if any, should our parents and family have over our relationship?
Are you closer to your mother or to your father? Why?
One Last Note
I hope you find these helpful. Feel free to add suggestions — I can continue to edit this based on feedback.
I also want to add that I talked about these questions with the friend who first gave me the idea, and requested feedback from a couple who has been happily married for almost 27 years — my parents. I’ve also been reading about psychology, love, and relationships for years, and drew upon that information for some of these points.