Why I stopped making dating about marriage

I used to subscribe to the idea that dating should be about marriage, but after many an unrequited love and no dates I determined something needed to change. When I did start to date I had some really enjoyable experiences but also encountered men who made dating about marriage. Those experiences, with men who made dating about marriage, convinced me more decidedly to stop looking at dating that way.

I don’t know anyone who starts a relationship hoping it ends…even the polyamorist probably hopes for longevity. I think at some point Christians decided to start at the end and work backwards. When marriage was arranged for business purposes and an individual had little say in the matter, yes, things did start at marriage. And maybe on Married at First Sight it starts there too, but not in real life. Over the history of time marriage became less about lineage and survival and more about “love”. Andrew Roots’ Children of Divorce discusses that history and a major shift in the ’60s if you’re interested in learning more. A favorite Georgian era conversation shows that trend toward “love” based marriage has been around since long before the ’60s.

Charlotte: Oh, for Heaven’s sake! Don’t look at me like that Lizzy! There is no earthly reason why I shouldn’t be as happy with him as any other.
Elizabeth: But he’s ridiculous!  {Speaking about Mr. Collins}
Charlotte: Oh hush! Not all of us can afford to be romantic. I’ve been offered a comfortable home and protection. There’s alot to be thankful for.
Elizabeth: But…
Charlotte: I’m twenty-seven years old, I’ve no money and no prospects. I’m already a burden to my parents and I’m frightened. So don’t you judge me, Lizzy. Don’t you dare judge me! Not all of us can afford to be romantic, Lizzy.

We all seem able to afford to be romantic today. We can largely thank birth control, women’s rights, and no-fault divorce for that extravagance. {I am not saying any of these things are inherently bad. I am merely highlighting their contribution to heightened freedom of choice for women in relationships and how ironically men actually end up winning. If this makes you bristle read up on sexual economics and let’s chat.}

I digress.

Believers in Biblical times did not have a choice in marriage, but we do. That extravagant freedom to choose marriage based on romance can be overwhelming and tempting. As a child of divorce I’ve experienced firsthand how that freedom poorly understood and exercised can have devastating consequences.

Without explicit Biblical instruction that speaks to the pursuit of marriage in our context of no-fault divorces and love-based marriage we often opt to date like culture dictates; only we abstain from sex. When Christians adopt culture’s model it’s bad news.

It appears that a heavy emphasis on dating being about marriage usually contributes to skipping a step in personal growth; mastery of healthy friendships with your own sex and/or family. And without that foundation of healthy relationships it’s hard to date well because, as a woman, friendships with men {since they may lead to more} are riskier and will bring new challenges where that foundation is essential to success.

When every brother we meet immediately gets sized up for marriage we often have ridiculous expectations no one will ever meet. Those expectations can lead to the begrudging resignation to singleness and “waiting for the Lord” to send a miracle. Or we tend to opt to date like the world and pray for a miracle in a different sense entirely.

In my experience neither of those options really goes well. Miracles do happen and the Lord does bring beauty out of messy beginnings, but we don’t get extra credit for that and we make life exponentially more challenging for ourselves when we live outside God’s guidelines. When we think about dating only as a means to marriage and not an opportunity to make a friend, learn something, and have fun we begin to believe and operate as if we have ownership of a person at first sight/crush/conversation/date/etc. We become so focused on marriage we skip actually getting to know the human being in front of us and mentally marry a small sliver of a person we hardly know.

Under this dating being about marriage mentality we see our brothers as commodities to be evaluated and discarded or obsessed over. We believe and are told we cannot and should not initiate anything with a man. A woman initiating can tend to be two extremes: desperately needy or unGodly therefore avoided at all costs. If you’re in the desperately needy category I urge you to work that stuff out before you date. If you’re in the avoidance category foregoing initiating entirely, know that you ultimately end up coming across as closed off, stuck up, or unapproachable. Middle ground is good ladies.

We do our brothers no favors when we demand they initiate even “hello” while we huddle in our sister circles and refuse to make eye contact with them; all the while silently praying one of them will risk walking up to a group of six women and pick one of us to talk to. And then we get mad at them when they don’t…and when they do…
Have mercy. Think about it; walking up to six women circled up and talking is mildly terrifying to anyone – male or female.

Let’s consider what it might look like to make dating about friendship* instead of marriage.

Because the best ones {marriages}, the ones that last, are built on friendships.

*Spending one-on-one time with members of the opposite sex whether on formal dates or informal hangouts (via texting or in person) i.e. building a friendship will naturally lead to an increased attachment from at least one party. Be careful and wise with how long you subject yourself to that stage of a male/female friendship ambiguously and how often you {as a female} initiate interactions. If you find you are want more and there is no initiation on his part or progression toward something serious change your behavior. You will guard your heart from unrequited love and subsequent bitterness and you will love your brothers well. And, your changed behavior may just prompt him to realize he does enjoy your company and he’ll want to do something about the present lack.

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