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Today's Christian Woman, July/August 2004
Dateless in Christianville
A close-up look at the dating drought in Christian circles.
"How do they all do it?" my friend "Noelle" asked as we sat at a trendy Cuban restaurant enjoying dinner on a Friday night last summer. She was motioning to all the couples around us, obviously on dates. They, no doubt, had been drawn to the restaurant's romantic atmosphere. We, on the other hand, had been drawn there by the yummy entrees that accommodated Noelle's recent conversion to the South Beach Diet.
I knew exactly what Noelle, a fellow never-married 30something, was getting at. We were a deserted island of single datelessness in a sea of coupledom. Again.
We compared notes about the months, nay years, since our last date. And when we recounted the social lives (or lack thereof) of our other single female friends, we saw a depressing pattern emerge. I looked across the table at Noelle, a college professor, a strong woman of faith, and a petite, blue-eyed brunette, and thought, If she can't get a date, we're all doomed!
|While we singles want meaningful relationships, we're both waiting for the other gender to make the first move.|
As much as I know singleness is about so much more than dating, I was troubled by what appeared to be a dating dearth. But what really clinched this as a full-on trend was when I addressed this topic in the column I write for ChristianSinglesToday.com (a section on TCW's parent website, ChristianityToday.com), and I received more than 250 e-mails from singles across the country pouring out their frustrated, heartbroken, or simply perplexed stories of datelessness. An informal poll taken on the site shortly thereafter revealed that 54 percent of single respondents hadn't been on a date in more than two years.
While I was comforted that my friends and I weren't trapped in some odd dateless vortex, I was disturbed by one vexing question: Why? In a society where singles make up 40 percent of the adult population and in which most of the singles I know desire to be married at some point, why were so many of us having such a difficult time getting a date?
No Man's Land
The million-dollar question on the minds of most single women seems to be, Where do I find quality men? In fact, the popularity of new books such as Why There Are No Good Men Left and Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School points to the universality of this heart cry. For believers, the searching-for-a-needle-in-a-haystack feeling intensifies because we're looking for quality Christian men. And this is no easy task. In our singles- and relationship-oriented mainstream circles, it's easy to find other singles, just not Christian singles. In our family-centric churches, it's just the oppositelots of Christians, but where are the singles?
"Since becoming a Christian two years ago, I've been on zero dates," explains Margaret, a ChristianSinglesToday.com reader. "I simply don't get asked out because our churches and Christian circles are horribly void of eligible men. No matter where I goBible study, church, singles groupsit's 90 percent women. Why isn't Christianity attracting single men?"
Some would argue this is part of a larger question about why our churches aren't attracting men, period. The popularity of the Promise Keepers movement and Wild at Heart, John Eldredge's book that celebrates adventurous manhood, seems to hint that men are hungry for a way into the church that respects their testosterone-tinted take on life. And if men who have the heavily preached-on issues of marriage and parenting to draw them into church still need a nudge, how much more daunting is it for men who are single?
To Date or Not to Date?
Another challenge for Christians is our biblical perspective on relationships and sex, which makes the stakes higher than for our non-Christian counterparts. For example, when nonbelievers date, the big question seems to be whether they'll end up in bed together; believers date, wondering if at some point they'll end up getting married. Our till-death-do-us-part approach can make the prospect of a simple coffeeshop get-together seem downright frightening.
"I quit dating because the women I went out with seemed to think that my asking them out on a simple date was the same as asking them to go steady," admits Dave, a ChristianSinglesToday.com reader. "I went out with one woman just for a movie and a cup of coffee. There was no romance, no deep, soul-baring talk, no physical contact. During our next Bible study, she literally was matching my color scheme to her furniture and making it clear to the other women that she was 'with' me. I didn't even know I had a color scheme!"
On the flip side, Alison, another ChristianSinglesToday.com reader, says, "For women who are only asked out once every six years, it's a little tough not to latch onto anyone who comes along."
And then there's Joshua Harris, the author of love-it-or-hate-it I Kissed Dating Goodbye. His book single-handedly revolutionized Christian dating by promoting a form of courtship called "smart love." While the book was targeted for teens and early 20somethings, it created massive ripples of confusion in its wake for singles of all ages. When meeting Christian singles, how can you tell if a person believes in dating or courting without having some potentially awkward conversations right off the bat? And if the person you want to date believes in courting, what does that look like for someone in her 30s? Is he still supposed to contact your parents for permission to date you? And what if they live in another state?
My own interaction with a guy who'd "kissed dating good-bye" was confusing at best. I met "Dale" at an art class years ago, and we started hanging out together at concerts, movies, and church eventssometimes in groups but often just the two of us. Finally one day, when we were enjoying a picnic together, I asked what on earth this relationship was if it wasn't dating. After some hemming and hawing, we finally concluded that dating isn't necessarily the root of all evil, that it can be done in a God-honoring wayand, in fact, that we were pretty much doing that already. There was a palpable sense of relief at being able to call a spade a spade.
While I certainly think it's vital to be wise and purposeful in approaching romantic relationships, this situation only underscored my hunch that many older singles use the I Kissed Dating Goodbye approach as an excuse to avoid repeating past relationship hurts or to avoid commitment.
The expanding role of women in our postmodern society also plays into the equation. As one who's always been more workaholic than domestic diva, I'm thrilled to see how female CEOs, professional athletes, politicians, and news anchors now share center stage. But with equality comes a whole heap of confusion about what role men and women should take in a relationship. For example, when I'm out for lunch or coffee with a date, do I expect him to pay out of tradition, or do I? Or do we go dutch? What's the subtle implication of each option, and are these things really what I want to communicate?
A guy friend recently told me I was too independent, a quality off-putting to men, who, according to him, like to be needed. The I-am-woman-hear-me-roar side of me bristled a bit at this revelation. "Isn't neediness bad, too?" I questioned.
Margaret, a ChristianSinglesToday.com reader, shares my confusion: "As for the men who say single women have blurred gender lines, I have only one comment: What choice do we have? Unless we're married, we'd better be financially independent and skilled at doing things on our own. I'd love for a man to help me with these things. But if we can't even get them to date us, how can we get them to help us, let alone marry us?"
Making the First Move
Perhaps one of the biggest areas of confusion that stems from defining gender roles is the issue of who asks whom on a date. Another recent inquiry at ChristianSinglesToday.com asked whether it was OK for women to ask men out. In the more than 100 impassioned e-mails we received, it was easy to spot a distinct difference between the men and women's responses.
For the most part, men thought the idea of women asking them out was great. "It helps a man avoid the embarrassment of being rejected by someone who's not interested," explains Michael, a ChristianSinglesToday.com reader. "Also, with the expanded roles and accomplishments of today's women, I don't think it's out of place for them to ask men out."
Women, for the most part, still want men to make the first move. Catherine, a ChristianSinglesToday.com reader, explains, "Guys today appear to be gutless; it takes far too much hinting to get them to wake up. Basically, this indicates their masculine character has been watered down by a culture that's allowed them to let go of their God-given roles. We want men back!"
So it seems that while we singles all want meaningful relationships, we're both waiting for the other gender to make the first move.
Where Do We Go from Here?
While it's obvious many factors have contributed to the current dating drought in Christian circles, what's tougher to discern is how to move forward. Personally, discovering I wasn't the only one Dateless in Christianville was a huge relief. It helped me see that my wide open social calendar wasn't necessarily due to the fact men had somehow deemed me not date-worthy. But it didn't mean I was off the hook. Just because the issue isn't necessarily internal doesn't mean there aren't steps I need to take if I sincerely desire to be in a relationship.
I got a peek at a potential solution to the dating drought when a single friend begged me to sign up for a Christian online dating service with her last January on a spontaneous New Year's resolution whim. Within two months we each found ourselves in a dating relationship with a great Christian guy. Similarly, our mutual friend Kristee is seriously dating a man she met at a speed dating event. While there are still pitfalls and needed cautions with these trendy new ways to find love, they're fast becoming the new "normal." Current stats show that 45 million people log on to online dating services each month. While these stories aren't exactly what you dream of telling your grandkids someday, they sure beat the possibility of not having grandkids someday.
Rutgers University's 2003 National Marriage Project speaks to the troubling effect divorce has had on those who grew up in the '70s and '80s, asserting that many singles today are "more insecure about relationships, and more likely to experience a divorce themselves." Yet not all current statistics are worrisome. The median age for first-time marriage for women is up from 20 in 1960 to the current age of 25, and for men is up from 22 in 1960 to 27. The results of this slower pace to the altar apparently are healthy. According to the Rutgers marriage study, "The increase in the median age at first marriage appears to have had a strongly positive effect. One recent study by a prominent demographer has found it to be by far the single most important factor accounting for the recent leveling off of divorce rates."
When I look around at my cool Christian friends who are still single and dateless, and still receive heartfelt e-mails about my "Why Aren't Christians Dating?" column from last year, I hope and pray these new stats are a glimpse at a better, healthier trend to come.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian Woman magazine.
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July/August 2004, Vol. 26, No. 4, Page 42
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