I try not to moan about being single. Part of that is simply healthy emotional boundaries (not everyone needs to know), part of it is avoiding clutter in the social media space (face it, most people don’t care), but mostly because I simply find it irritating. As a wise man once said, if you aren’t content with yourself as a single adult, you will never be happy being in a relationship. That said, it’s a topic that has come up a lot recently among various people I know, and I’m never one to back away from a hot button topic.
I’m 27 years old and I have never had a serious relationship. I’m not opposed to one, but I’m not in a blind rush for one either. It isn’t like I’m waiting for the first thing in a skirt to give me a second look and we dart into the nearest church to get hitched. However, even as much as I try not to make a big deal out of it, I see and hear all the people around me who do. The opinions are rampant and rambunctious – “Relationships need to happen organically before they happen intentionally!” “Guys just need to ask more!” “Girls need to stop waiting for Prince Charming!” “Chivalry is dead!” “Feminism has killed romance!” “Don’t date around! You don’t want to be thought of as a HOOooooooOOOORE!” The expectations and unwritten rules are tremendous.
It’s into this setting that we end up with articles such as this: “Why Don’t the Guys in my Church ask Women on Dates?” (Relevant Magazine)
Now… articles such as this generally give me a 50/50 reaction – half “yay!” and half “blehhhh…” This happens for a couple different reasons. Firstly, I always cringe a little when overarching systemic statements are made based on anecdotal evidence – “This is why so many Christian women date unsaved guys!” or “Where are all the brave men?” being perfect examples. At the very least, it’s an extrapolation made from an incredibly small sample size; at worst, it’s an assumption with no “real” evidence of being anything resembling a social movement. Secondly, I usually cringe whenever a person of people group A releases a widespread diagnosis of people group B’s problem. If white people can’t do it to the black community and straight people shouldn’t do it to gay people, I see no reason for women to do it to men or vice versa. Lastly, there is usually (at least) a shred of truth that needs to be addressed… and that is worth applauding.
I am a guy. As such, I am who the lance is pointed at in both the letter and the ensuing article linked to above. For some of us, bravery has zilch to do with how excited we are about trying to transition a friendship into something else. As I mentioned, I have no real urgency to find a relationship – out of all the women I know, there is really only one (and if she reads this, I would hope she knows) that I have a real connection with to the point that I could find myself wishing our connection was more emotionally intimate than just “friendship”; and the extenuating circumstances around the one that I’m thinking of make it extremely unfair to rush. I am officially way too old to be concerned about starting a romantic relationship simply for the sake of the social prestige of “having” a relationship.
But even before getting to the point of where I am now, there is more to it than “just” men being cowards. This over-simplification of a semi-nonexistant problem places all the onus on people group A and simply expects that if PG “A” changes, the entire dynamic will change with it… and that’s categorically not the case. Because I like to write what I know, I’ll give a brief and non-detailed version of my story and let you figure out where it fits for people you know.
I like to think. More importantly, I like to think about things that I’m not necessarily supposed to think about. “I’ve always heard people say ‘X’, so why do we think ‘X’? Should we actually think ‘Z’?” Because of this, I usually find myself in between various philosophical groups. In my specific case of being in a tight-knit religious community, I find that I’m not “spiritual” enough for the religious folks but too saved for the non-religious folks outside. This invariably leads to friction. Again, in my specific case, I find that I have been rendered “undate-able” to the people in my everyday social circle. How do I know? I tried the casual dating thing. I have the distinct honor of having been rejected out of hand by 14 different women – with varying degrees of brutality ranging from “okay, I’m bummed but I understand” all the way to “I need to go sit in the corner and yell at Jesus for a while because all my issues got stomped on at once.” Yeah… I went 0-for-14. After that, I had to turn to an online dating service just to satisfy my curiosity of what it was like to get an answer besides “no”.
As a rational human being, injury breeds caution. When I consider asking a woman “out”, I have to weigh it against the likelihood of being in pain over being rejected. This alters the algebra beyond “Pretty; is woman; must date.” Why? Because being constantly in pain alters how you live your everyday life and drastically affects every social interaction you have. I have to be able to function – and I put that above whether or not a concerned third party is content with my marital status. If that is still a problem for someone, I suggest we need to have a conversation about how human beings aren’t “entitled” to be swarmed in potential dates. We have to realize that a broad-stroke diagnosis of “Cowardice” is wholly insufficient to describe an entire people group and lends itself to the cultural norms of a Victorian sexual ethic while doing massive disrespect to those for whom the umbrella is unjustly applied.
This is, of course, assuming that the problem is that the men in “Erica”s church are, in fact, not asking any women out on dates instead of just not asking “her”.
I promised a 50/50 reaction, and I have plainly stated my “blehhhh” reaction. Now for the positives. I absolutely agree that the unintended consequences of the Joshua Harris era need to be corrected. There is nothing wrong, conceptually, with casual dating. Women are just as responsible for the wanderings of their hearts as men are… the point Harris was making was that you shouldn’t write a check with your mouth that your backside can’t cash; the gruesome necromorph that it turned into was that if you did anything to cause a woman emotional pain, it was a grievous sin that you “might” get forgiven by Jesus for and you needed to repair your “true masculinity”. Ideally, dating leads to marriage… but your dating period is when you find out whether or not you can stand this person BEFORE you are committed to never leave them. These ideas I endorse wholeheartedly and wish they were more mainstream.
That said (buckle up), I don’t think that just fixing these issues goes far enough. I can lay out a massive philosophical case for why it should be okay for women to ask men “out”, but it’s honestly a subject for another time. I could make a massive philosophical case for why breaking free of the Victorian sexual ethic is the best thing that could happen to the church, but it’s a lengthy discussion to be had at another time. I could spend 1500+ words talking about how hard yet important it is to both be “sex positive” and maintain a sexual ethic, but that requires a post unto itself. The core issue for me is the one that sleeps just under the surface and is largely unmentioned by those in the church – namely, that our entire view of romance, sexuality and purity is formed by the Georgian/Victorian Era and not by intense Biblicality. Folded into all of the discussions about gender roles, the etiquette of dating, and even our core understanding of what we are (in the Western, Enlightened, Renaissanced, Euro-inspired society) is a mindset trapped in the philosophical anthropology of the 18th and 19th centuries. That, for me, is the real problem.