When I was growing up, I never thought much about dating or marriage because I figured it was one of those things that just “happened” to you. The process seemed simple: you and a boy meet, you “like” each other, he asks you out and you go on a date (usually involving a meal), and if nothing went terribly awry, you could go on another date, and another, until you got to the point where you liked each other enough to get married. The man would buy an engagement ring, get down on one knee, propose, and within a year of the proposal, you would walk down the aisle and begin married life together. All of this would ideally occur by age 26, an age which gave you enough time to finish your education and experience living on your own and taking care of yourself, but not so old as to start getting bored and/or lonely.
Ah, the good old days. Some people probably do still meet and marry in this fashion, but I feel like dating has increasingly started to resemble a war strategy, especially for those of us wishing to marry a fellow believer. There’s now all this pre-dating business to be taken care of before a single dating-oriented word is uttered, and it seems like dating itself is more like negotiations for a (holy) business merger.
These days, for the conscientious Christian, merely laying eyes on someone of the opposite sex and liking what you see is no longer enough reason to ask for a date. Instead, if you see someone attractive, your first move should be to spend an indefinite period of time observing that person’s character. How long this period of time is supposed to be, I have no idea. It should at least be long enough for you to engage in some heartfelt prayer asking God to show you whether or not you should ask this other person out, as well as consulting for guidance at least one older, married mentor in the church who knows both you and this other person. (It goes without saying that if you are a man, you should have or soon be having a job which would enable you to support a wife who didn’t have to work.) Once you get the go-ahead from your own observation, God, and your mentor, and you have a job, you may finally ask out the observee on a date. While on the date (for which the man pays all), you should make clear that your intention in asking for a date is to explore the possibility of marriage so as not to “defraud” the other person into believing you have intentions that you don’t really have.
I understand the reasoning behind this process, I do: who hasn’t known about the guy in the youth group (or college and career group, or adult singles group) who indiscriminately asks out every available woman within a +/- 10-year age range, seeming to go down the line in level of attractiveness until he finally finds someone who will say yes? Who hasn’t known at least one person who got asked out by someone who was very obviously not a potential? And many Christian women have expressed that they would rather not go out with someone they didn’t know at all and/or would rather be “friends” first.
These are good intentions, and all things that should be done — but why should half of the legwork be completed before the first date? Why can’t a Christian man see a Christian woman who catches his eye, ask her to go for coffee, and see if they like each other enough to go for a second coffee some other time? I feel like all the “prep” just adds pressure to the already pressure-filled Christian dating scene. By the time you get to the date, you’ve been calculated and tabulated and expectations are high. If you go to a small church where everyone knows everyone else’s business, quadruple those expectations.
I’ve been thinking, though….is a good percentage of the Christian dating “crisis” really just the result of there not being many alpha males in the Church? If a confident, charming, even mildly good-looking man chatted up a young woman, I find it very hard to believe that she would tell him she wanted to get to know him as a friend first. At the very least, he would be able to get her number so he could set up a non-threatening coffee date. The whole procedure that I’ve outlined above just seems beta to the max, something that’s designed to eliminate, rather than merely minimize, risk. Or is it necessary? Christian girls with an appetite for marriage do often have terrible cases of “oneitis,” which causes them to glom on to any potential suitor and hold on for dear life — until they are sufficiently emotionally kicked in the face enough to see that it’s not going to lead to the altar (after which they then mourn and mope for a year, making it impossible for any other guy to have a chance).
All around, dating in the church is a risky business — but, thanks to 2 Cor. 6:14, a requisite one.