Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dating: The Weight of Expectations

For those who have noticed, yes I stopped writing my series regarding my thoughts on dating. Why? I suppose I got caught up in my life, being a youth interim for the summer and then back to working my retail job and my library job this fall. In addition, part of me feels like writing about dating always comes across as whiny or defensive, either crying woe is me or woe is them (referring to the opposite sex). I try to stay away from stereotypes, especially gender stereotypes; however, sometimes it is hard but necessary to cross the gulf.

I think there are a lot of expectations, some spoken and some unspoken when it comes to dating. What I would love more than anything is for people in the church to (1) Admit singleness is a valid life stage, one which does not cast spiritual demerits on our faith and character and (2) What we say is the biblical form of dating (known as courting) has more to do with the culture of the scriptures and the pre-industrial age just as dating is defined during and after the Industrial Revolution[1]. As far as I know, while there are godly characteristics of men and women, there are no scriptures that directly qualify courting or dating as right, wrong, holy, or unholy[2]. The problem is and never was courtship or dating, the problem is us.

(1) Financial - First off, I think any guy single past college is in quite the predicament, especially in such a bad economy. We are told by the church that, not only will God bless those who follow him financially, but also that those men seeking to marry need to be financially secure. What does this mean for today? It means we are going to see an abnormal rate of singles, both men and women in the church. A lot of the guys feel insecure not having the job they want or the money to date, much less to propose, buy a ring, and marry. On the flip-side, many females do not want to settle for a guy who cannot get a good job, and besides, they can make it on their own. They want the dream; however, the males cannot provide this dream. So, both seem perpetually stuck, unless one or both are willing to compromise some way, perhaps willing to admit richness does not need to be based on material possessions or jobs but on the life they can make for and with one another despite their circumstances, as they both seek to follow God and see him as Provider.

(2) Emotional - I think both sides tend to try to ignore this, say we are not affected by it. The truth is both males and females have emotions and when we like someone we instantly start to feel this or that, usually this includes some confusion. Maybe our emotions are conflicting with our logic. I think during these times it is best to seek out wise counsel from friends and from God, remember we should not fear our emotions but we should also not be enslaved by them. In addition, if you are using all your emotional energy on a person, it is probably best to become a little detached. Remember you are an individual and maintain your own identity. Christ made you unique and something to be cherished as an individual. Never sacrifice identity for any other, except Christ.

(3) Spiritual - Does this person love Christ? I do not mean; does he or she wear a cross necklace, sport a scriptural tattoo, or wear the Jesus tee. Forget outside appearances: Does he or she genuinely try to live and pursue Christ? Are they a new Christian? Where are they at spiritually? These are tough questions but usually the evidence will show itself, whether through friendship or within the first few dates. As a serious Christian, forgo the rules that say serious conversations should be kept on hold, and bring up some key questions to this person. However, this does not mean they have to have it all together, none of us are perfect, but there should be some depth, especially if you want your relationship to be focused and built on the foundation of Christ. That IS what you want isn't it? If not, as a Christian it is definitely something you NEED (and may need to rethink your priorities if otherwise).

(4) Physical - Let's all admit everyone has insecurities in this area, whether it is weight, eyes, hair color, or the space between your neck and nose - we all have some kind of insecurities when it comes to our physical appearance and on some level while we do not like being/feeling judged by others, we do this all the time, every day, sometimes without even knowing it. In some ways we are shallow and in some ways we just must admit attraction is a unique thing, not based merely on physical appearance but it does play a part. The question we must ask our-self is: How much should physical attraction play a role in dating? I think the answer is it must be balanced with other forms of attraction (EX: emotional, spiritual, humor, intellect, etc.)

(5) Availability - It isn't just the possible absence of a relationship status or the fact that there may be no name attached, or random pictures with you and another male/female, it goes to the cliques we have and the people we hang around. Basically, to show you are available or interested in anyone you have to move out of your comfort zone and just be real and admit that in life you are looking for more than "friendship" like your FB might claim. This means taking an interest in this person; however, walking the line between friendship and relationship can be difficult these days with the gender roles becoming blurred. Some still believe in the classic/traditional dating, some courtship, some more modern and equal, and others are kind of all over the place.

(6) Risk/Rejection - I think guys feel weighed down by this, I know I do... but I didn't start out that way. In the beginning I didn't date because I wanted to find someone with at least a little substance and quality. Then in college and through grad school I thought I did and pursued only to be rejected. The odd thing is as men we almost don't have an option to be truthful in this area. Our two choices seem to be a) To hide the hurt and cover it up with some kind of persona/barrier or b.) Admit our fear and hurt and risk being seen as unmanly for expressing our emotions/wounds. Trust me, until the female reciprocates a man’s affection and the longer she plays with his heart before rejecting him, the worse it is for the guy. Until that line crosses from friendship to either relationship or rejection, the guy is at the complete mercy of the female he is pursuing. I think honesty and open communication is very important here, well in all relationships, but especially in the beginning when so many confusing or conflicting or awkward feelings may be at play.

(7) Gender Stereotypes - I already discussed briefly how this has affected the relationships between male and females in regards to finances; however, since the wave of the women's rights movement, many new (sometimes confusing) ideas must be faced. Are men and women equal? What is the place of a woman and man? What is their place in a godly relationship? I think a lot of our ideas, again, come from culture and only slightly what we see represented in scripture. Who was made in the image of God? Male AND Female (Gen. 1:27). When does the difference come? After the fall, actually it is a result of the curse (Gen. 3). If Christ has come to wipe away sin and restore us into that image, to herald in the coming Kingdom, then should we not pursue that image he created us to be? Both men and women should be equal but not deny our distinctions in gender, for we are each unique individuals and are all blessed with gifts but also have weaknesses. Both men and women need to learn from one another and remember the only one who we are truly ever under, the one who we owe our allegiance is always Christ. In our culture we focus so much on who is in charge and would do well to look at the Trinity of an example of a divine relationship of communication, work, and mutual respect and leadership.

(8) Character - It is last because I think many of us neglect this the most when becoming interesting or pursuing someone. We should be seeking out someone who is godly, seeks Christ, someone imperfect, someone who is somewhat wise, has integrity and their own identity and thoughts, and someone whom we can build and life with and would be a good husband/wife and father/mother. This is not to neglect or diminish emotional, intellectual, physical, or comedic attraction; but to say all these must be tampered with a little bit of insight. Who is this person? Now, the road to finding these things out can be taken through courting or dating or friendship; yet I do not think we should quibble and worry over the way it happens as long as we are seeking Christ. Honestly, God usually has a way of turning our assumptions upside-down and inside-out very often.

~ Daniel




Inspired by Boundless Podcast on Dating:
The Gents:
The Ladies:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Thoughts on the Single-Dating Christian

Introduction (Series Unfinished)
There are some things every person struggles with, something they would rather not face, rather turn from or ignore... I have always wanted to write down my thoughts on dating, but until now never seriously tried to make an attempt, whether it was because the words never seemed to come or because I was afraid of the potential awkward reaction from any single female friends.

But alas, I decided to move forward. Why? What could I have to say about something I have never really done with any amount of time? I think going through the process of pondering through things, lifting them up to God in prayer, and then going through the trouble (even agony, ha) of writing them down makes us face something in ourselves, maybe our fears, perhaps even our joys. For singles, we have all these desires, some good and some not-so-good, in relation to dating, in that wonderful land of singleness…

What this writing is not going to be: Well, it is not going to answer any of your specific questions, sorry to my detailed-oriented friends. This is also not going to give you any detailed insights into my own obstacles in dating, but it is hopefully going to give you a reference point to think and consider a different way of thinking about dating, and in reality, all your relationships.

It is going to be a way to look at some aspects, though simplified, that we will confront in dating: such as what is courtship? What is dating? What is the difference? Should I choose one over another? Then I will take a look at friendship as a possible foundation for any and all relationships. Why might this be a better way? What might the struggles be? What is the world’s reaction to just being friends? Should this be our reactions as well? Then, I will look at purity and it evil companion lust, along with the difference between good and sinful sexual desire. Next, I will take a look at gender roles briefly within a relationship. What struggles might we face? Is there a difference in our roles if we choose to court vs. date? Finally, I will conclude this whole thing at some point with a few final thoughts on the matter and what our reaction to dating says about our reaction to God in the midst of life, as we go through joyful periods and periods of strife.

But first, let us begin with looking at one story in a different manner:
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?" "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." "Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Matthew 19:16-21
Many of us, if not most of us, will read this story and think: How could he be so blind? Yet, in our judgment of the rich man we often fail to see our own shortcomings in such a similar manner. Let me ask you some questions: When you approach dating do you feel as if God owes you something because you have followed him for so many years? Do you think you deserve a spouse because of the good person you are or have become? Do you want God to reward your faith with tangible objects, including someone to love? I think this story teaches us that we can not use our goodness or works as a way to bribe God into throwing a potential husband or wife into our laps. I think our conversation with Jesus would go something like this:

Now a person came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good must I do to find someone to love and marry for the rest of my life?" "Why do you ask me what is good?" Jesus replied, "There is only one who is good. If you want to enter marriage, obey these things." "What things?" the person inquired. Jesus replied, 'Do not lie, do not commit adultery, do not envy, do not put up false facades, honor your father and mother,’ and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" "All these I have kept," the person said. "What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, "If you want a perfect marriage, go, sell your preconceived notions, desires, expectations, and lay them at the foot of my cross, and then... Then come, follow me."

What is your reaction? What feelings are coming into view? Are you feeling some kind of release? Are you feeling freedom, maybe anger? Are you feeling hope, maybe bitterness? Stick with that feeling, breathe it in, and accept your feelings; maybe of acceptance or awkwardness? Our first priority as Christians is that of Christ. The first lesson to be learned is this: Simply put, if we desire to date, if we desire a spouse more than we desire Christ, we are not ready to move forward.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. - Galatians 2:20
“Our responsibility is to love [God], study his word, deepen our relationship with Him, and learn to evaluate our choices in light of biblical wisdom.” – Joshua Harris
And now we can begin.

~ Daniel