The dating scene at church is pretty weird. I mentioned before that a part of this has to do with the weird social dynamics that exist between Christian guys and girls. There are all of these unspoken rules that Christians make where you don't want to get too close to one another unless your intentions are clear and you're actually interested in them.
But what if you meet somebody at church where your intentions are clear? What if you're actually interested in somebody and you both want to date one another? You'd think things would be a lot less complicated where you can just get to know each other and start a relationship, right?
Just know that if you ever try to date somebody in church, there are even more unspoken rules that you need to follow. That's because our Christian subculture has created a certain protocol that couples are supposed to follow before pursuing a relationship. And if you don't follow this protocol, expect some weird vibes from people at your church. Strange, right? Let me try to explain.
Why You Can't Just Start Dating
Try talking to any Christian couple and ask them how they got together. What you'll usually hear is some weird, complicated story about how they met and liked each other in college but didn't start dating until months or even years later. Why the delay?
Well if you ever start dating in the church, there seems to be this mandatory probationary period that Christians are supposed to go through. That's because in the church, you're never just dating - you're always courting. You're not just starting a relationship - you're also getting ready for marriage. You're not just becoming a boyfriend or girlfriend - you're preparing to become a husband or wife.
Serious stuff, right? That's why church folks believe you should never rush into a dating. I mean think about it. If you wanted to be a doctor, you can't just go and work in a hospital. You need to first take exams and classes and go through residency before you could ever practice medicine. That's because being a doctor is serious stuff. If this is something you really want to pursue, you better be well-prepared.
Well, the same goes for Christian dating. If this is something you really want to pursue, you better be well-prepared. And that's why if you ever like somebody in the church, you can never just start dating them. If you want to follow proper protocol, you need to first go through this probationary period to prepare you for this life-changing endeavor.
But what exactly is this probationary period?
The Christian Probationary Period
From what I observe, this probationary period is supposed to be an intentional time where Christians try to slow things down and discern whether or not this relationship is part of God's will for them. Now how exactly they discern God's will may vary from couple to couple, but there are generally a few things that Christians tend to do during this time.
1) Stay Away From One Another
During this time of discernment, Christians are supposed to keep a healthy distance from one another. That's because you're not dating yet. I mean, you're trying to use this time to figure out if God even wants you together in the first place, right? So no sitting next to each other at church or talking to each other during fellowship. Sure you can interact when you guys are alone, but (strangely) you just can't do so in public church settings.
2) Seek Counsel
Most couples also use this time to reach out to people in order to receive counsel about their prospective dating situation. Ideally, this counsel should come from an older brother or sister who's married or has experience with relationships. Even better is if this person can mentor you so that you can learn about Jesus and what it means to be in a relationship.
3) Become Spiritually Ready
One particular question that Christians are supposed to ask themselves during this time is, "Do you feel like you're spiritually ready to be in a relationship?" Now, what exactly does it look like to be "spiritually ready" to date? To be honest, I have no clue. And I'm not sure why Christians only seem to ask this question when they're trying to date somebody. But whatever the case, you need to get ready.
4) Wait on the Lord
Lastly and most importantly, Christians are expected to just wait before they date. The reasoning for waiting varies - it could be until the Lord makes things clear for you or until you have to work out some kinks in the relationship. But no matter what, there's always this extended period of waiting that Christians go through before dating.
And this is why so much time takes place between the DTR and the facebook status changing. It just seems right for people to wait before they date.
Jumping Through Hoops
Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong for couples to go through some type of probationary period before dating - especially if they're doing the things I mentioned above. I mean, it's good for couples to have boundaries and become spiritually ready (whatever that means). It's wise for Christians to receive counsel (Prov 15:22) and it's good to wait upon the Lord (Ps 27:14).
But at the same time, I can't help but feel a little strange about this dating culture. We've kind of created a "Christian process" on how to date. So if two people want to get together, there's a certain protocol that we expect Christians to follow. If they don't follow this protocol, their relationship tends to feel less valid to us and we probably won't invite them to speak in our dating panel.
What's even stranger about this whole process is the apparent lack of sincerity behind it. I mean for starters, Christians who go through this probationary period tend to still act like a dating couple. They're still talking and texting and even holding hands - but they're now just secretive about it. However they insist that they're not dating but are waiting. Interesting.
But what makes all of this even more strange is that every Christian couple who goes through this probationary period seem to always end up getting together anyways. They're supposed to use this time to discern if this relationship is something God really wants for them, but they always end up discovering that, yes, this is God's will. It's seriously amazing that when it comes to dating, the Christian God seems to always gives a green-light to His people - so long as you go through proper protocol.
This makes me suspicious and makes me feel that a lot of us are just jumping through hoops. We're seeking counsel and praying and waiting not to figure out what God wants us to do but to feel better about what we already plan to do. In other words, we've simply created a Christian way to date. While the process seems sincere, its inevitable outcome reveals something more suspicious is going on here.
I point this all out not to sound like a hater but to simply make an observation about the way Christians approach dating. We feel like there's a biblical manual that we unconsciously expect couples to go through when in reality I suspect most of this originates from one too many Christian dating books.
I also point this out not to encourage couples to just rush recklessly into dating relationships. Rather, I hope Christians would do the opposite and see things like counsel, prayer, and even waiting as wise principles rather than required rituals. It'll make you not do things simply for the sake of doing them, but to do so out of sincerity. Stop dating in secret. Just date if you must.
But lastly, I point this out because it's all just kind of funny to me that a lot of Christians have made dating a lot more complicated than it probably needs to be. This is because Christians have probably romanticized dating more than the secular world. But I wonder if churches need to relax a bit more and see dating as simply dating.
Perhaps this way, we won't be so concerned about finding a proper formula to making sure things are going to work out.