Permission To Take Things Slow : Thoughts On Christian Dating

The other day I had coffee with a friend of mine to talk about a guy she met. They’ve been on a few dates, and things are going really well. She told me a few things about him, but finished with, “He’s great, but it’s not like I know that I’m going to marry him or anything.”

I couldn’t help but think, “Well, of course you don’t. You’ve only been on a few dates.”

Now, I know my friend was being lighthearted. But, I also know that the Christian dating world has some funky sacred cows that need to be brought to slaughter. (Can a vegetarian say that?) These traditions have a way of making us say very weird things, like my friend’s comment.

Before we get in too deep, let me preface this by saying I am not a therapist or a relationship expert. These are merely a collection of opinions and observations I’ve gathered from experience and conversations with people over the past several months. Therefore, take everything here with a grain of salt and a heaping spoonful of personal discernment.

I find the idea of “biblical” dating advice interesting. After all, the Bible doesn’t offer much in the way of dating advice–which makes sense when taking historical context into consideration. So, we have three options. First, you’re welcome to revert back and trust your parents to make the appropriate, godly decision.

If you’re like me, that is a definite no. (No offense, Mom & Dad!) Instead, you can try navigating the murky waters of dating simply trusting your best instinct, community, and the Holy Spirit. Life-vest not included.

Lastly, you can take a vow of celibacy.

Okay. Take your pick.

If you chose Option 2, let’s continue on. Everyone else: It’s been real.

Now, I’m going to break down this post into three sections. There is nothing significant about these numbers, just a means to help my cluttered brain stay organized.

1. You have permission to not take this too seriously.

I need to start this by apologizing to Christian men on behalf of the ladies.

Men: I am sorry that sometimes we can be (frankly) bat-shit crazy. Not every woman, but a significant portion of us, have made this dating thing too serious. As a result, I know a lot of men that are terrified to ask a woman out because they aren’t completely ready to commit (to her, specifically), and are afraid to lead a woman on. For our psychotic tendencies in this arena, I am truly sorry.

This isn’t to take men off the hook, completely. Rather, to take responsibility for role we play in this issue. You don’t need to feel 100% sure about a person, before you ask them on a date. That’s the point of a date. To decide if we want to continue dating.

We take this thing–that has great potential for learning, growth, and fun–and make it stressful and way too serious.

You don’t need to have your kid’s names picked out before you agree to a meal. There is no need to consider commitment so early in the game. Dare I say it’s okay to give yourself the freedom to enjoy the company of another human being. In fact, you can even go on a date with that person several times before you make any kind of pact of exclusivity. (You might even get away with making out with them a few times before God sends lightning bolts in your direction. But, that’s just what I’ve heard.)

2. You have permission to take it slow.

This is the one thing I wish I had heard more in my last relationships.

For the past few years, I’ve worked in church leadership. Working in a church leadership position is like inviting people to be interested in the most personal parts of your life. I’m not saying that’s the way it should be. I’m just saying that’s the way it often is.

During my time on staff I was in two serious relationships. Both were good relationships, with good men, but both relationships had their own red flags. Surprisingly, few people–even those I was close with–ever asked me challenging questions about our relationship, how I was treated, or what I might have concerns about. However, there was one question everybody always seemed interested in asking:

When are you guys getting married?

In both relationships, people started asking early on in the relationship. At some point, it would be rare for me to go a week–even a few days–without being asked. I know their intentions were good. We love romance, and we are insatiably curious. Understandably, we get excited about the potential of our friends taking the next step. I totally get it, and I know I’ve been guilty of being “that person.”

However, in hindsight, I see the negative effect of this on relationships. This narrow focus creates a significant amount of pressure. Instead of considering if my relationship was healthy, I became consumed with how others viewed me, my significant other, and our “love.” Some people even had the audacity to say something must be wrong in my relationship if my significant other wasn’t ready to pop the question. Everyone had an opinion on if our progress was where should be–even if they didn’t know anything about the reality of our relationship.

Questions, doubts, and waiting felt like they were strongly discouraged.

The pressure eventually disabled my ability to enjoy the relationship and take the time necessary to learn about my significant other. Instead of being encouraged to use discernment on our compatibility, my focus was constantly being pushed to focus on one thing: marriage, marriage, marriage.

This isn’t to criticize those who choose short engagements or to be married quickly. Some of my  best friends chose that route and have happy marriages and beautiful families. I’m so thankful for those people. For some people, it works.

But, if you are currently in a relationship and you feel like your ability to enjoy your relationship has been ransacked because of the pressure to get married, please hear me: You have permission to take your time. 

There is no hurry. Laugh, play, and enjoy each other. Be sure you’ve had the opportunity to ask challenging and honest questions about your relationship. Force your community to give their honest opinions about your partner. If you haven’t already, ask them to weigh in on what they see in your relationship.

Don’t rush. You have your whole life to be married. Enjoy dating for what it uniquely is.

Likewise, if you know somebody in a relationship, frame your conversations cautiously–especially if you are part of the person’s “circle of trust.” Are you spending equal amounts of time encouraging your friend towards marriage, as you are helping them make good decisions?

3. Your have permission to doubt. It’s okay if you don’t “just know.”

A friend of mine is a marriage counselor. I told him once, “Everyone says ‘you just know’ when you’re supposed to marry someone. I don’t think my brain works like that. What if I never ‘know’?”

Then, he gave me one of the most relieving words of wisdom:

“Do you know how many couples that ‘just knew’ in premarital counseling, now sit on my couch on the verge of divorce?” He went on to explain that having that feeling isn’t a guarantee that your relationship is completely healthy. While it’s great to feel convicted about the person you’re with, it’s also totally normal to doubt.

Your relationship isn’t doomed if you aren’t 100% sure. You might just need extra time, and that’s okay.

In conclusion, as you can see, this isn’t an extensive list of advice. I could go on and on and even expand more on some of these things. Furthermore, this isn’t blanket advice for everyone. Each of us has to do what is right for ourselves, following the unique ways the Holy Spirit is leading us individually. However, my hope is that you’d find this comforting and reassuring if you are in, or have been in, the same position as me.

Give yourself permission to go against the grain.

I'm a Christian opinion blogger from Southern California. I believe in social justice, the arts, and naptime. You can read more of my writing at thetreeswillclap.com, or watch me struggle to make you laugh in 140 characters on twitter, @treeswillclap.

1 Comment

  • Reply August 22, 2014

    Kimberly

    Erica, I am sad that no one else has commented on this yet – I think is a spectacular article with fabulous advice. Great reminders for everyone whether you are navigating that relationship or helping a dear friend through the doubts and questions.

    I think it is sad that the Christian “culture” of sorts pushes in this way without truly coming alongside to help. As I was not raised in this culture when I first started seeing this trend it was very bothersome to me. As you said, the Bible doesn’t give dating advice and only slightly more marriage advice. I think that the job of the church family then is to step in and work through these things as a community – lend wisdom and prayerfully consider the relationships of the people around you that may be looking for some assistance. Honestly pray for them, help them to seek God’s will for their lives and don’t be afraid to point out where the relationship is going poorly, and of course encouragement too! Sadly it is something I haven’t yet experienced…I’m still looking for those people.

    Thank you for the reminder to be that for others even when others are not necessarily doing so for you.

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