Rachel* ran up to me, borderline breathless. I was standing next to the mailboxes in the student commons, sorting through my mail, making sure I didn’t grab a box-mate’s mail by accident.
“Is it true? Are you and John*… dating?” She half-whispered the last word, looking around to make sure we weren’t overheard.
I just smiled and shook my head. “We haven’t talked to our parents yet, and, besides, it’s nothing that serious. We’re just talking.”
“Oh, ok. Have long have you guys been talking?”
“Uhm, well, I’m not sure. We were just friends at first. Maybe since Christmas?”
“I saw you two at the Valentine’s Banquet. You’re totally dating.”
I blushed. “No, not yet. It’s not that serious. He just broke up in December– I don’t think we’re ready for that yet.”
She nodded. “I suppose that’s smart. Well, see ya!” And she dashed off.
Are we just talking? I wondered. Sometimes, it didn’t feel like that’s all it was.
I don’t ordinarily frequent the website for The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. As a feminist and an egalitarian, it’s frequently a hostile and triggering place, for me. I find many of the writers there antagonistic and distinctively lacking in grace and compassion. It is a forum dominated almost completely by men– and men who advocate for women to stay in abusive marriages, and men who use language like “conquering,” “penetration” and “colonization” to describe “biblical” sex.
So, I tend to avoid them. But, a woman I greatly respect posted a link to this article, and I was curious as to how CBMW would cover the “talking” stage in Christian boy/girl relationships. The article was written by JD Gunter, who I honestly don’t know much about. I read some of his other articles at CBMW, and it’s pretty typical for CBMW.
Anyway, the article starts off with Gunter giving a brief explanation of what “talking” is:
“Talking,” I discovered, is a widely accepted stage in current guy/girl relationships wherein a young man and a young woman get to know each other without better defining the relationship. This isn’t even a real stage of the relationship; it’s a pre-stage. They’re not just friends; they’re not really dating or pursuing marriage; they’re “talking.”
First off, to everyone else on planet earth who didn’t grow up in conservative evangelical culture, this is called non-committed dating: the two people haven’t agreed to any sort of exclusive or monogamous relationship. What this looks like will vary from person to person, as will the commitment level. However, in conservative evangelical environments, dating has taken on a completely different definition. Thanks to books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, conservative evangelicals teach that dating should be exclusively reserved for the intentional pursuit of marriage: “casual dating” is accused as being simply “practice for divorce.”
This is the assumption that Gunter is working off of. He incorrectly assumes that everyone has the same definition and purpose for dating that he does (although, for people who read CBMW, that might not be that far off). Christian dating, to Gunter and many others, is defined by its insanely high committment level. Anything less than “pursuing marriage” is presented to young men and women as reckless, dangerous. If you’re the young man in this equation, you’re frequently painted as a “wolf” if you don’t take a ring on every coffee date.
He moves on to complain about delayed adolescence.
Our culture suffers from a large number of males wallowing around in quasi-manhood for many years. Boys used to grow up, get a job, and move out of the house. But we have inserted this chain of life stages from adolescence, to the college years, to early career, and so on – all of which permit young men to put off growing up, taking responsibility, and generally acting like a man.
Can we stop for a moment and mention that delayed adolescence isn’t because my generation is immature and lazy, but because we’re trying to become independent in an economy still crippled by one of the biggest financial disasters this country has ever faced with astronomically huge student loans? This needs to be said anytime someone throws laziness as the primary reason for why people my age are still living with their parents.
Gunter blames this adolescence for why “talking” exists. Men aren’t stepping up and being “leaders.” They’re not initiating. They’re “scared.”
Which, granted, I’ve complained about this myself. I’ve written about it here, even. Women are shamed for even thinking of being the one to initiate. No “good Christian man” would even consider going out on a date with a young woman who had dared to ask him out. That’s too forward. It’s our job, they say. They get to choose. Not us silly women.
And, I’ve heard plenty of women over the years comment on this phenomenon. They have to wait for men to ask them out, but men aren’t asking them out. It’s frustrating. Gunter even presents a possible reason why:
In their defense, guys tell me they are afraid to ask a lady out because she might immediately assume he wants to marry her.
To be clear: in my experience, it’s not really the women who are responsible for this. Some might contribute to this perception, that’s true, but this isn’t because women are all hearing wedding bells he second a guy says “hi.” It’s in what all of us have been taught– that casual dating is wrong, intentional dating with the goal of marriage is right, and anyone who doesn’t “pursue marriage” is an ass.
And Gunter ends up saying the exact same thing every other conservative evangelical before him has said for the last fifteen years.
First, you should ask girls out that you see as potential wives.
Back the truck up.
How in the world are men supposed to find out if a woman can be a “potential wife” for you if you don’t even know her? Do men develop psychic abilities when they hit their early adulthood? The solution to this is usually “hang out in groups” but guess what that’s called?
The conservative evangelical approach to forming relationships is fundamentally flawed. There’s no possible way, in our culture, to get to know a person romantically, as a potential candidate for marriage, without going through some sort of preliminary stages. The rest of humanity calls this dating. Christians call it “talking.” There’s no need to villainize anybody for it.