Last night Ike and I got to have dinner with one of our single guy friends, and over the course of the meal the conversation drifted to the topic of dating. I’ve only been married a year so I remember the ups and downs of the dating world well. Over the years I’ve had my share of break-ups, and I’ve also comforted a lot of broken-hearted friends. It’s definitely tough out there, and unfortunately “Christian” dating is not tremendously easier than any other kind.
Aside from the fact that we’re all imperfect human beings struggling to think clearly when our emotions are raging, it’s hard to pinpoint the one thing that makes dating so hard. To be sure, there are a lot of different factors in any given situation that can trip people up. But the more I think about it and the more I process my own experiences, it’s clear that one of the main contributors to dating speed bumps and train wrecks is sheer cowardice.
Just think about it–how often do men creep into a relationship slowly and confusingly instead of stating their intentions clearly? How often do women lie to men or coldly reject their advances, instead of gently and clearly explaining that they just want to be friends? How many men and women delay a difficult conversation because they like the attention they’re receiving, even if they have no intention of actually dating their pursuer? And how many men and women don’t have the guts to break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends, so they stop returning phone calls and try to gradually fade out?
There are so many ways that cowardice rears its ugly head in dating relationships. We don’t often recognize it as fear because it’s usually masked as “compassion”–we don’t want to hurt the person. Unfortunately our cowardice only ends up hurting them more. It’s a double insult: on top of rejection there is now disrespect.
It’s important to own up to this cowardice, but the language we use about dating often inhibits personal responsibility. It is instead common to speak in generalizations: “All men are dogs” or “All women are crazy” or “I’m always the friend but never the girlfriend or boyfriend.” This language has got to stop. It’s neither accurate nor Scriptural. All of us, at some time or another, has screwed up in some magnificent way along the dating path. So when we’re tempted to place blame on the opposite sex for being particularly confusing or ridiculous, Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 are a helpful directive:
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (v. 3-5)
Like the rest of the Christian life, it’s easy to focus on how we’ve been wronged while overlooking the many times we have wronged others. Dating is no exception. So with that in mind, the rest of what I’m going to say is directed specifically at women and it deals with your personal responsibility in dating. Many of us have been injured, but we have also inflicted injury, and we need to be honest about that fact.
So to begin, one of the primary reasons women get frustrated with guys is their lack of clear intentions. Many single women yearn for men who will “man up” and just ask them out. However as soon as a guy steps up to the task, he is likely to get shot down. Why? Become women don’t want just any guy asking them out–they want the right guy.
That is a common pattern among women and it is extremely discouraging to godly men. It not only sends mixed messages but is exacerbated by the fact that women won’t own up to it. After complaining that guys aren’t initiating, women find ways to weasel out of dates when the “wrong” guys ask them out.
Of course, some of this behavior stems from a desire to spare the guy’s feelings, but it can actually be more insulting to men when we treat them like fragile baby birds. They’re not gonna break and they’re not gonna cry. We need to be kind but we also need to treat them like the men that they are. After all, if they had the courage to ask you out in a gentlemanly way, they’ve earned a little respect.
One big question in all of this is WHY women freak out so much. Why can’t we respectfully decline like a mature adult ? (And I am here speaking of appropriate advances from men, not inappropriate ones) Well I have a theory. One of the reasons women get so wigged out when a guy shows them unwanted attention is that women assume men think like they do. When a woman crushes on a guy, she’s likely to get carried away by her imagination, dreaming about all the reasons why they’d be perfect together and how awesome their lives would be if they got married. However, I’m not sure that most men think that way. Sure there are probably some guys who get just as carried away as we do, but I suspect a lot of guys are thinking, “Hey, she’s cute. I’d like to take her to dinner.” Period.
Women need to beware of assuming too much about interested men, and consequently raising the stakes to a frightful level. Asking for a date is not a marriage proposal. If you can keep that perspective in mind and maintain a cool head, you’re much more likely to respond as a responsible, godly women instead of making bad decisions out of fear.
With all of that in mind, I want to close with a final verse that speaks beautifully into this situation. It comes from 1 Peter 3:3-6 and advises the following:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.”
The examples of women like Sarah (Abraham’s wife) remind us that sin is not far behind when fear takes the driver’s seat. We cannot let fear determine the way we treat others. Fear results in a fight or flight response. It causes us to lash out or trample feelings. It is not guided by wisdom or truth. And it is certainly not guided by love.
So if you’re reading this and you’re in the throes of the dating process, I truly sympathize. It is HARD and it is scary! But please don’t sin in your struggle. Respect your brothers and treat them as the wonderfully made members of the church that they are. Honor them according to the image of God in them. Be courageous. Anyone can date badly, but it takes a woman of real character, strength and devotion to Christ to date well.