It’s an issue plaguing many of the young adults in our faith communities, but not one we’re always willing to talk about directly. Is it harder to date in church?
In recent months I’ve met a number more people across some different churches. My travels have taken me to churches and non-denominational events of a variety of different kinds. As a person who has been actively involved in the young adults community in a few churches, I notice and regularly hear about a common thread of frustration and difficulty in many a Christian’s walk.
And that’s in the area of dating and relationships.
More specifically, there seems to be an overarching feeling and tendency to act as if dating in church is harder than it would be if it were done outside of the faith community.
Now, not everyone says this with their words, but it manifests regularly in action. Most often I find Christians and even Christian leaders who are frustrated in their faith walk because they feel held back in the area of marriage, or even that God is withholding things from them. It’s the sort of silent bitterness and difficulty that is often unaddressed in people’s hearts and lives and can result in people drifting away or developing debilitating addictions and habits in life.
It also comes up in the form of looking outside the four walls of the community to find someone with a different faith base than your own. I was asked a number of years ago now (wow) to write down a bunch of reasons Why Christian Girls Date Non-Christian Guys. This one caused a major stir, but was simply the result of a number of Christian women giving voice to their frustrations and asking me to write them down somewhere for people to talk about. And talk about them they did indeed. For the record, male and female alike can be swayed by this pressure.
As a result, I find this question of ever increasing pertinence to the faith community, with many leaders, conferences and resources taking the tone of glorifying how good things can be, but often not actually “going there” and discussing the giant elephant in the room… and in people’s hearts.
So I thought I’d take a look at whether or not it’s harder to date in church. I have a number of my own experiences in this area, but also I’ve had a number of people who have seen me as a sounding board (and sometimes the complaints department, especially about Christian men) in this area.
Can we go there? I think it’s time we have an honest assessment of whether or not it’s harder to date in church.
Not about church bashing
I’d like to open by saying that I’m not here to be a church basher. I don’t believe in it at all. For the record, I actually think there are several advantages that the church brings to the table that just don’t exist anywhere else. One thing is a set of guidelines to live your optimal life. Scripture is full of guidance and role models on all things love and relationships. Another is a community of accountability and support… if and when it is executed correctly. I have seen and known many couples who have found each other and grown beyond what they could have been naturally capable, with the church serving as an optimal environment for every season of life. I don’t believe it can be done as well anywhere else.
So take the following discussion as identifying and just going there with things so many people struggle with and complain about privately.
Dominated by comparison
I think the great thing about church is the ample number of positive role models people have in regards to faith, life and love. I think the downside of this is when we take the successes of our role models and use them to dominate our decision making in an unhealthy way.
By this I mean that many young adults feel the pressure to have their relationships match the pastors and leaders in their world. This particularly bites people in the early days of relationships. You feel like you’re supposed to feel like John and Lisa Bevere feel about each other. You use the metric of how hot a person is because you keep hearing your pastor say how hot his wife is. You’re pressured to have the conflict management skills of your pastors who have been married 50 years. Meanwhile here you are having just seen the person a few times over the last few weeks and you’re trying to work out what the path forward is.
Many relationships get choked out in these stages by comparison. It’s good to have role models, but not every journey is going to be the same. He’s not going to be Steve Furtick, she’s not going to be your female lead pastor who has been doing this since she was 15.
As the book puts it – do not despise the day of small beginnings. Every love story looks different. Some people get a giant shining light and amazing feelings on date one, but most people don’t. For many it’s a life long journey of discovery. Don’t be so prescriptive that you miss what could have been really good for you.
The pressure of so many eyes
I think the hard part about any smaller community is that most people know each other. When people start up together, usually people find out. When people break it off, everyone knows about it. People like talking about other people, and communities always have an awareness of what is happening within them.
For many, this is a scary idea. It’s the reason people are often too scared to start with someone in their community, and it’s also the reason people are too scared to break it off with someone in their community. Word gets out. If people are high profile within a church, it can get out there even more. There is no end to the opinion you’ll receive on your relationship.
I think it’s super important to let the right people and the right opinions in to your life. At the end of the day, you want to do the right thing, and you also want to make the decision that you can live with. No one else will be married to this person and live with them every day – it’ll be you. No one else will have to do the dating relationship with this person – it’ll be you.
And I find that church communities do regularly show the grace that people are afraid that they won’t. I’ve seen many people break up relationships and engagements without it being the end of the world. I’ve seen many communities get around a couple who need help in order to stay together. There is grace there. We just need to engage it.
Speaking of which…
Choked by a lack of honesty
If you’re not being honest or realistic about the state of the relationships in your life, you’ll never make it. It’s a recipe for all sorts of disasters. Woe to the person who falls and has no one else to help them back up.
And many times it’s on us. The church is a group of people just like you and I. And just like you and I, no one there is a mind reader. God has given people the breathing room to make their own choices, and very rarely will this be interrupted. You have to tell people what’s going on.
The Old Testament’s Hannah had a dream to have a child for years and years, but nothing happened until she opened her mouth and told someone about it. Many of us are still clinging to similar dreams in life, especially in dating, and not seeing any progress because we aren’t saying (or doing) anything.
More than that, many of us continue to make wrong decisions because we don’t seek or invite the voices of those ahead of us. How is your current relationship? Or how was your most recent one? Who knows about it? If it’s just you and the other person, you’re missing the great strength of the church, and then complaining that you don’t have it.
You can be surrounded by potential support and love, but it won’t mean anything if you hide the truth or run from honest questions.
Attentive to the wrong voices
I do need to mention though that just because you’re in church, doesn’t mean the person you’re listening to is worth listening to. What is the fruit of this person’s life? If you’re getting relationship help from the person who ghosted the last girl in his life, or mistreated her last potential male friend, you might not be getting the help you need.
It is possible for single people to give helpful dating advice, and for married people to give bad advice. Vice versa is also true. More than a relationship status or position, you want to look at the fruit of a person’s life. Are they living trees or dead ends?
The church is full of people who are going to let you down. There’s no getting around it. But we can usually find the advice that is right and true and godly if we seek people who are consistently right and true and godly in every area of their lives.
Making more effort outside the church than within the church
This usually accompanies the feeling of being at the end of your rope, and giving up on Christian guys or girls altogether. The sad part is that once this happens, all of a sudden an extra increase in effort and intentionality takes place. You get all dressed up, you wear your best cologne, you put yourself out there, and you’re open to romance from the word “Hello”.
Whereas in church you say no to every date, you overlook every girl or guy you know, you constantly make negative comments about the girls or guys at your church, you only hang out with people of your own gender, you don’t have any decent friends with the opposite sex… you get the point. I hope.
You’ve got to try. Same as getting a job, buying a house, making any friendship at all. Faith without works is dead. God isn’t going to just drop someone in your lap, and even if He did, you’d still have to talk to them and get to know them before you get anywhere with them. Here’s a sobering thought – what if God has already dropped someone in your life, and all that’s missing is you to act on it?
Christian guys/girls don’t ask me out
Heard this one so many times that I wrote much more extensively about it at Why He Hasn’t Asked You Out Yet.
Leading with friendship and discounting romance
I’ve written about this one before because it’s a problem no matter where you are. Most relationships in church start with friendship and have no allowance or consideration for potential romance. This is great… but only if you’re willing to promote someone from friendship. If you’re not, you’re saying you want to start as friends but waiting for the next tall dark handsome stranger to join the congregation. Friends rarely sweep you off your feet, mainly because of familiarity. You can read more about that one over here.
Driven by the dream of one person only
In churches, we are regularly told and encouraged to live our best life and to discover who we are called to be. I love this about church. There’s no other place you get such focused attention and assistance in this area. The downside is we become so independent and so driven by our own dreams that we’ve failed to learn how to do this with a partner or a family along for the ride.
Relationships are two people becoming one. It’s more than just one. As good as you could be alone, chances are you can be even more together with someone, if you’re willing to learn the dance of two instead of the motorbike ride of one. Have you got room for someone else?
Not getting three lights
What does this mean? Well, in order to have a relationship, you want to have three lights – yours, God’s, and theirs.
Many times Christians struggle with only getting two out of three. Mainly, the one they’re not getting is the one from the person they’re interested in.
No matter how many dreams or ideas or confirmations you’ve had, you need the other person to be on board. You don’t want to have something where you and God have to drag someone through life.
Persist, pursue, give it your best, but make sure to accept when you’ve done all you can. Otherwise you’ll be 38 and still waiting for the person you liked when you were 16 who has long since moved on. God will let people make their own choices. Be sure to release yourself and release the other person to do the same. That means you’ll be able to let someone new truly enter your life.
You won’t and can’t be interested in someone else while you’ve still got something else hanging around. Maybe it’s the one you’re still keen on who is taking the place of someone who could be mutually keen on you?
When do you let go? When do you stop trying? When do you know if you’ve tried hard enough? The answer is: It’s different for everyone. Prayer and the support of wise counsel will help you work out the line.
Failing to recognize what you say you want
I think a lot of people fail to recognize what they say they want. This applies to everyone really, but it’s especially true in church.
What does a faithful man look like? What does a virtuous woman behave like? What about those other things you like? What about the things you want to do with your life? How do you know that you haven’t already met a good (or even a perfect) match?
The truth is you don’t always know. You usually meet someone in their relative infancy. Their dreams aren’t fully formed, they’re not always in the career they aim to be in, they haven’t always bought the house or the car yet.
But what is the direction of this person’s life? And what is the direction of yours? Will pursuing something with this person take you closer to or further away from the person you’re called to be?
If you don’t know, you can’t see it.
More than this, there are realities that come bundled with the things you say you like. If you say you want someone who can help teach you, be wary that they may be annoying you by trying to make everything a lesson. If you want someone who’s a leader and taking charge, be aware of the responsibility and commitment such a lifestyle comes with. If you want someone quiet and gentle, be willing to be patient and gentle as they open up. Sometimes the thing that’s keeping you from dating them is the thing that you say you like.
Good friends, good pastors, and good older couples help immensely on this one. Sometimes you need someone to say, “Hey, you said you want a girl like blah blah and blah… this girl here has blah blah and blah”. Sometimes you need some help to get out of the way of your own happiness. Sometimes you need someone to add some much needed common sense to your floaty spirituality.
In truth there are many other complexities, but these are some that really get in the way and make it seem like it’s harder to date in church. I don’t think it’s harder – I think it has unique challenges though. I think in many other arenas and circumstances you’ll find much much harder pressures.
I realize this is a loaded issue that many pastors, leaders, and congregation members have a vested and even an emotional interest in. And I think it should be. How many people in our churches today have been tormented and held back because they haven’t talked to anyone about these things? Sexual addictions, loneliness, and relational madness run rampant while we fail to recognize the unique pressures that exist in our faith environment.
But I hope we also recognize the massive potential we have to build and foster relationships that make a lasting difference and change the world. And therein lies one of the greatest gifts the church could give, if we only tackle these things head on and get honest about these areas of our lives.
How about you? What are your experiences and/or reactions in these areas?