The Top Five Myths of Christian Dating
- by Stephen W. Simpson, PhD, excerpted from What Wo Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2008 18 Jun
There are some myths out there that people assume to be gospel about dating. Christian culture is like any other in that we develop truisms that we accept without verifying. There are things floating around that have little or nothing to do with the Bible. Most are well intended and contain a nugget of truth. Some are flat–out wrong. Dating is hard enough without sifting through all this erroneous information, so let's debunk some myths. There are plenty of them, but let's focus on what I believe are the top five myths that make dating harder for Christian men.
Myth #1: "God has one woman picked out for you to marry. You are destined to be with her, and God will guide you to her."
Good luck finding this one in the Bible. There is plenty of stuff about God's will for his people, God wanting good things for you, and God's ultimate plan. Nowhere, however, does it say that God picked out a spunky brunette whom he's waiting to spring on you at the right moment. I'm not saying that he doesn't. When it comes to God, I'm pretty careful about saying what he does or doesn't do. But I do know this—if you rely on this idea too much, your dating life will get really confusing.
Some Christians take a lot of comfort in the idea that God will do the heavy lifting when it comes to dating. God will tell them if a relationship is right, and God will end it if it's not. All they have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. This may be the biggest excuse men use for being lazy in relationships, much less finding one.
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer addresses this issue in a wedding sermon he wrote for his sister from a Nazi jail cell. He says that God joins the relationship between a man and a woman at the point of marriage. Before that, the couple has to take the initiative. Rather than directing the course of the relationship, God wants the couple to grow and learn how to make a commitment. Once they've done that, God increases his sustaining presence.
I'm not saying that God doesn't have a will regarding your dating life. God may, in fact, have a spunky brunette in mind, and he's steering you toward her as you read this. But the Bible does not promise that God will provide a loving relationship for you while you sit around and do nothing. But, as in all things, it's best to ask for his guidance. The Bible promises he will provide that whenever we ask. Rely on God's love, wisdom, and sustaining presence while you're dating. Though God won't do all the work for you, he'll be with you every step of the way.
The good news is that most men don't have a problem with this. Regardless of your theology on the Predestination of Girlfriends, you're probably eager to be an active participant in your dating life. This brings us to our next myth.
Myth #2: "The Bible has clearly defined guidelines for dating."
People didn't date in biblical times. Dating as a socially accepted means of finding a mate has been around for less than a century. Before that, strict courtship rituals governed the path to marriage. Whom you married wasn't even up to you most of the time. Falling in love before you got married or engaged is a twentieth–century concept. Dating as we know it occurred after marriage. In college, I had an older professor from Japan whose marriage had been arranged. He made fun of modern dating, saying, "By the time you get married now, the fun is over. In an arranged marriage, the fun starts after the wedding!" (No, that wasn't a suggestion for you to set up an arranged marriage.)
For the Hebrews and the early church, dating wasn't an issue to be addressed in Scripture. Sex and marriage were, but not dating. When the Bible was written, a person basically had one of three options: remaining single, an amoral life with multiple partners or prostitutes, or an arranged marriage. There were courtship rituals in place, but nothing that looks like what we consider dating today.
The church has reached a difficult crossroads when it comes to pre–marriage romance. We no longer have rituals of courtship and arranged marriage to guide us every step of the way. This leaves a lot of room for error. It's also spawned a whole range of opinions and advice on how to handle dating. One glance at the numerous books about love, dating, and marriage suggests that we're making a lot of this up as we go along.
Of course, there are biblical principles that are essential in dating. If you follow the biblical prescriptions for gentleness, respect, sexual purity, and kindness (Gal. 5:19–23), you are bound to make much better decisions in dating situations. Your head and your heart should be in Scripture at all times, but you won't find specific guidelines for dating. Is it okay to kiss before marriage? The answer isn't in the Bible (though the Song of Solomon sure gives us a clue). How about going out on dates alone? Nope, not in there either. The Bible provides some crucial relational principles but doesn't address the specifics.
This requires more decision–making on your part. You can't follow antiquated courtship rituals anymore. (At least I don't advise it. Asking a woman's father if you can date his daughter without consulting her first might be a good way to never get a first date.) You also don't have a scriptural field manual that tells you how to behave in every situation. It's up to you to be in prayer and conversation with your Christian community about these things. You're going to have to think, talk, pray, and be ready to make some mistakes. Speaking of mistakes, let's look at our next myth.
Myth #3: "God will reveal to you the woman that you are going to marry the instant you meet her."
If this is true, I screwed up somewhere. I thought my wife was out of my league when I met her. We had a nice conversation, but I left thinking that she wouldn't go out with a guy like me. Regardless, I didn't get a divine telegram saying, "She's the one! Start picking out china patterns!"
Waiting for God to whack you on the head and tell you whom to marry isn't faith; it's fear. Many people want nothing to do with dating because of the risk and potential pain that it involves. This is certainly understandable, as dating can have traumatic results in unhealthy circumstances. But what do you think serves us better in the long run? Growing and suffering in the process of learning or a revelation that lets us off the hook? I would have loved to know that the beautiful woman I was talking to would one day be my wife, but I might not have worked as hard to earn her hand in marriage. I would have missed a lot of experiences that made me a better man.
Be careful if you think God has told you that Betty from the bookstore is the one for you, but you have no idea if she feels the same way. If you plunge in, convinced that you are on a mission from God, and she's not sure yet, it's a quick way to scare her off. Our unconscious mind can kick up powerful feelings that sometimes get mistaken for a message from God. Maybe she was nicer to you than anyone you've met in a long time. Maybe she's the first woman you ever met that likes Cracker Jacks as much as you do. Or maybe she's just drop–dead gorgeous. Of course, a woman who's nice, white–hot cute, and likes Cracker Jacks might be someone you want to ask on a date. I just wouldn't go ring shopping yet. Especially if you want a second date.
Myth #4: "You have to be friends with a woman before you can date her."
This is the point where I might tick off some of you, so allow me to assuage your anger before I explain this myth. I am not saying that you cannot or should not be friends before dating. I'm also not talking about a man and a woman who are interested in each other and agree to be friends for a period before dating. Some of the most successful relationships begin in friendship. Sometimes you don't even know you want to date someone until you're friends with her. I've met couples who were friends for years and then fell in love. It's a super way to start a relationship.
The problem is that a lot of men think the best way to pursue a woman is to befriend her while hiding their interest in dating her. This is a rotten idea and sets a lot of men up for trouble.
Tommy was a client of mine who tried this approach. He had been interested in a woman at his church for a few months, but he was terrified of rejection. So he made his best effort to become her friend, never letting on that he wanted to be her boyfriend. He gave her rides to church, had coffee with her, and talked to her on the phone two or three times a week. Whenever she needed help or support, Tommy was there. But he never asked her out. Then another man in the church asked her out, and she accepted. When she shared the news with Tommy, he was devastated. He told her about his true feelings, and she was shocked. She was hurt that he didn't tell her sooner and expressed regret that he'd never asked her out. However, she refused to back out of the date with the other guy. It proved the end of their friendship, and Tommy retreated into frustration and despair.
You have to be honest about what you're doing. Don't kid yourself and don't lie to her. Be friends all you want, but if you want to date her, she needs to know and you need to ask her out.
Some people distinguish "dating" from "friendship" based on one thing: physical intimacy. More specifically, kissing. A man and a woman who are interested in each other remain "friends" by going out only on group dates and refraining from intimate contact of any description. Apparently, this means they aren't dating.
Friendship and dating are categorically different. Of course, you must be friends with the person you date, but there's much more to it. The emotional "heat" that occurs between people in a romantic relationship is both more exhilarating and more complicated than friendship. People have higher expectations for someone they're considering for marriage. Friendship cannot contain the emotions, intensity, and intimacy that dating does. If you and a woman are hot for each other, you aren't "just friends." I don't care if you go out on dates alone or with the whole church choir. It also doesn't matter if you wear a HAZMAT suit and stay ten feet away from her at all times. If romance is the goal of a man and woman's relationship, they are dating. Confuse it with friendship at your peril.
Myth #5: "A man's sexuality is a ravenous, snarling beast that should be kept in a cage until he's married."
I admit I've never heard it put that way, but the implication is out there. Any lecture or book on dating inevitably includes something about sex (and, yes, this one does too). Frequently, the message is "Control yourself! Your sex drive is out to get you! It's just waiting for one weak moment to jump out and turn you into a nymphomaniac and demolish your soul." And then we wonder why so many Christians end up with sexual problems, both before and after marriage.
The Bible tells us to save sex for marriage (1Cor. 7:2). That's crucial. But you knew that already. The problem is we tend to emphasize this prohibition and leave it at that. No one talks about sexuality before marriage because sexuality before marriage is bad.
This leaves us with a small problem. Our sexuality is part of who we are from the moment we're born. If you take away a man's sexuality, you take away his identity. Your sexuality will be there, playing an active role, from the moment you ask a woman out. In fact, without sexuality, men wouldn't date. They'd play video games and eat pizza. Our sexuality is what gets us interested in women in the first place, and that's a good thing.
Did you think God gave you a sex drive just to torture you until you got married? There are plenty of things God does that I don't understand, but he's not cruel. Many people confuse sexual drives with sinful desires. Though sexual drives, like all drives, can become sinful, they're holy in their raw state. Yes, I said holy. Your sex drive comes from God. If you don't think that makes it holy, take it up with him.
The trick we have to pull off is holy, healthy expression of our sexuality before marriage. It's not easy, but it can be done. It will look different for different people, but it needs to be expressed. Otherwise it will force its way out. Look at the crisis of Internet pornography running rampant through the church. Men are dying for a way to embrace and express their sex drives. You can't ignore your sexuality, and you can't white–knuckle your way through life until your wedding night. Your sexuality isn't bad. It's not sinful or dirty. It's a gift from God, and we need to figure out a way to embrace that gift before marriage.