In light of Valentine’s Day, I want to start an honest conversation about Christian dating culture at George Fox University (GFU). On February 14th, I sat in an apartment with seven other girls and a guy. My lifegroup leader had brought her significant other; we were going to talk about love. We were captivated as we drank tea on the couch and they answered our deluge of tough questions about relationships and marriage with poise and wisdom. I, for one, came in with a million questions and even more doubts. What if their answers were uncomfortable? What if it turned out that I had no idea what love is? They gave practical advice that I had never once heard from a pastor. And this is the great irony:in a of room six college students who had grown up in the Christian faith, a religion that is supposed to be characterized by love, not one of us knew what to make of the Christian portrayal of romance.
One statement my leader made, I will not forget. She told us that, as Christians, we are pressured to focus on the future, especially in regards to marriage and dating. And she said to us, “You can’t anticipate that future because you don’t know that ‘you’ yet.” As a collective group, we have made romance more about control than love; people try to control their future, their ability to plan and commit, and let’s be honest, when they can have sex. We no longer trust and explore. We control and “‘obey’.” And, by and large, we have been taught to do this by the Church.
Think about the last time you were given actual, practical relationship advice in a church service or chapel that wasn’t based on control or obedience. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Now think of the number of times you’ve walked out of a service feeling ashamed of your choices or having heard a message about finding the person God planned for you. If you grew up in the faith, you’ve probably heard this too often to count. That’s a lot of pressure to put on relationships. And that’s a lot of pressure to put on any person: they have to be the “‘one.”’
I have had experiences with relationships that have hurt me, as have most of us. This is a part of life —, a part of growing up. But because of the messages taught in Church that link our relationships with our identity, I believe that the love hurts more often than it heals. What hurt me the most was not the actual break up but the fallout from it. There was this sort of unspoken expectation that it would work out, because, in a subversive kind of way, Christian uUniversity dating culture says, “If you date for longer than a month, you’re in it for life.” It was as if “, no” was not an answer that was allowed; expectations had already determined our future. My lifegroup leader pointed out that we often throw around phrases about love and marriage like they’re nothing. “Oh so when’s the wedding?” Elbow, elbow, nudge nudge. “I’m gonna talk about this at your guys’ reception.” It’s like we don’t even consider the idea that it’s okay to just date to get to know someone or that dating may be just as much about getting to know yourself. Being at a small school doesn’t help. With one sighting at Chapters or Coffee Cottage, everyone knows and everyone cares.
I am not against dedicated relationships. I’m in one. But we must remember that it takes a while to get there. There will be failures, setbacks, and close calls. There will be almosts and not-quites and some-days. But marriage is not for the faint of heart and divorce statistics will back that up. So, we must ask ourselves: in a culture where one date means marriage, what are we really telling our children about commitment? You may wonder why I’ve brought up this issue, or what the point of talking about it is. And to that I would respond, why not? Why are we more afraid to talk about dating than we are to get married after 6 months? It’s time that we stop being afraid and start having these kinds of conversations. Ask someone out, go to coffee, get to know people. If you like it, you really really don’t have to put a ring on it. At least not yet.