I remember a few weeks ago I met with a member of our church who wanted to grab coffee and "catch up." I knew there was probably something going on - most likely a girl he met. I suspected this because this is usually why young Christian guys want to meet with their pastor. So while we met I asked what's new in life and sure enough he replied, "Well, there's this girl..."
What was interesting though was that he started asking questions that a lot of young Christians tend to ask when they're thinking about dating. "Am I ready?" "What does a godly relationship look like?" "How should I lead?" "How do I know she's the one?" When I hear questions like these, a part of me is encouraged by their thoughtfulness and supposed godly way of thinking.
However another part of me often thinks, "Dear God - calm down and have some fun."
A Brief History of Christians & Dating
Before I explain myself, let me quickly explain the context of Christianity and dating. Dating is a fairly new relational category that began around the 20th century. So ever since its inception, younger folks were constantly hooking-up, shacking-up and breaking-up. This was obviously disconcerting to Christian leaders, but they knew "dating" was here to stay. So rather than reject dating, Christians tried to redefine it.
Perhaps the most influential attempt is seen in Joshua Harris's book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997) where he rallied Christians to redefine dating as "courtship" i.e. a pathway to marriage. This was a needed word at the time and after the book came out, many individuals who read it felt convicted to end their dating relationships - including my wife back when she was dating another guy in high school. So I guess I should thank Josh Harris for that.
But as a result, Christians have now created a culture where dating should be taken very seriously. It's presented as a bridge that only leads towards marriage - so you better be sure which bridge you choose to cross. A part of me appreciates this because when I see non-Christians, their view of dating is often too casual. But another part of me worries because when I see Christians, their view of dating is perhaps a little too serious.
The Problem With Christians & Dating
I find this overt seriousness problematic because of what I observe. For example, there are so many Christian girls with such high standards that they won't give guys a chance to take them out. And I understand because if a Christian girl views dating only as a bridge to marriage, than she'll view guys not as a potential "boyfriend" but as a potential "husband" i.e. someone she may spend the rest of her life with. Under that criterion, not many guys will make the cut.
This mentality also explain why Christian couples are often so afraid to break up. Since they treat their dating relationship like a marriage, any dissolution will feel more like a divorce than a break-up. It almost feels like a "sin" for Christians to break up because like a marriage, "they should've tried to make it work." And usually after a break-up, Christians are expected to take a one-year vow of dating celibacy - otherwise they're shady for moving on too quickly.
Sadly, this may also explain why Christian couples struggle with sexual purity as much as non-Christians. But while non-Christians hook-up and break-up with a consumeristic mentality, Christians do the same with a covenantal mentality. Because for Christians, dating is treated like a covenant; therefore many couples will freely give themselves to one another emotionally and spiritually - and the physical aspect will soon follow.
Some Advice to Christian Singles & Dating Couples
Don't get me wrong - I think it's a good thing to not have an overly-casual view of dating. However I think Christians often swing too far to the other side of the pendulum where dating is seen as an extended engagement period. So in light of this, what are some things I'd advise Christian singles and couples?
1) Lower Your Expectations. When a guy asks you out for coffee, he's most likely not carrying an engagement ring in his pocket. I wish then that Christians would be more open to going on dates. Unless that person makes you want to vomit, you should give them a chance.
2) Have Fun. Christians who think about dating act so solemn and serious. But I'd hope Christians would see it as fun too. Don't just see each other as partners but as play-mates (non-sexual way).
3) Don't Be Afraid to Break Up. It's not a sin to break up and it shouldn't feel like a divorce when you do. Couples shouldn't give up too quickly, but I'm convinced that many Christians need to consider breaking up more than staying together.
4) Keep Marriage In Mind. When I say this, I'm not asking, "Do you love this person enough to marry them?" What I'm saying is, "Do you know this person enough to marry them?" Keep marriage in mind by learning about their values, families, career aspirations, etc. These are important to know when marrying someone and dating should be a time where couples learn these things about each other before saying "I do."
Some of you may disagree with all this. And I know some creepers out there will see this as reinforcement to pressure a girl to date them. But just to explain myself, I used to be one of those Christians who advised people to be careful when they date and only go for it if they know they're ready and if that person is marriage material.
But after years of counseling Christian singles and couples, I've concluded that many of us probably take dating way too seriously, which is why there are so many painful casualties that come from dating. We should still have standards and consider if we're ready to date and if this person is someone we can imagine a future with - but I can't help but feel Christians in this generation need to lighten up a bit when it comes to this topic.
So whereas before when someone liked a girl I'd say, "Dude are you sure?" now I'll more likely reply, "Dude go for it. Just be wise and treat her right...and don't touch her."