Dating and Discernment
Reported by Ana Imes
On October 29, Abigail Favale, William Penn Honors Program director and associate professor of English, spoke about Dating and Discernment as part of the Couch Lecture series at George Fox University (GFU). The Pennington lobby was packed with students eager to hear from a professor about healthy dating relationships.
Whether the concept of “ring by spring” disgusts or excites you, you have most likely considered what a healthy romantic relationship should be like. Favale addressed this from casual dating to marriage.
Favale encourages casual dating, which she defines as a nonexclusive stage in which you take time to get to know others as human beings. “Ask somebody out and get a cup of coffee,” Favale said. Going on a date with someone doesn’t imply exclusivity, or commitment beyond interest. These things are unnecessary before you decide to take your relationship to the next level.
Once your relationship becomes more serious, it is imperative that it does not turn into what Favale calls a “pseudo-marriage.” The relationship may become exclusive, but this isn’t a reason to ignore other relationships or remove emotional boundaries. It is acceptable to consider “whether or not this person is your beloved” and to begin to discuss what marriage means to you, but you should not assume that your relationship will end in marriage, Favale advises.
Emphasizing that you may or not be “called into marriage,” Favale encourages serious partners to ask themselves whether they or not they called into marriage. The process of answering these questions should include prayer and consulting spiritual mentors. This may end in a breakup, which should not be seen as a failure, but as “successful discernment,” if those involved are not right for each other.
During the discernment process, it is crucial to recognize that “marriage isn’t magical,” but rather, it is “an invitation to lifelong sacrifice,” according to Favale. Discuss marriage in a “pragmatic, unromantic way,” and ask yourself whether the conflicts that arise with your partner will be reasonable to address within that context.
After all, marriage should not be isolated from the problems in your community. Favale lists sickness, mental health issues, and fluctuation as potential obstacles in a lifelong commitment. Unfortunately, the negative aspects of the human condition do not disappear when you get married.
Favale’s views of healthy dating and marriage are reasonable, and unfortunately, unconventional in the context of a Christian university. The “ring by spring” culture promotes “pseudo-marriage” dating relationships in an unhealthy way, even if it is just a joke. Dating is just dating, not marriage. If you want to be in a healthy marriage, you need to be a healthy person. According to Favale, “The best way to prepare for a marriage is to make yourself a good partner before jumping into a serious relationship.”