20 things to spot when observing Christian relationships

** WARNING – this post may lead to introspection**

If you spend enQuick-Easy-Valentine-Day-Treatsough time among Christians, especially those who are single and dating, some of these may be very familiar:

  1. The person who needs to be in a relationship just that little bit too much. Whenever an eligible boy or girl turns up on the scene they are the first to latch onto them, in the hope that maybe, this one, will be the one.
  1. The flirting butterfly. Every person is a target, they flit from one person to the next, pulling their best moves to impress the person in front of them. When one person rebuffs them, or often before they have the chance, they move onto the next. It’s not so much a relationship they are after but the affirmation that their flirting leads to when someone laps it up.
  1. The one who leads them on. They know they’re being flirted with, they enjoy it, they are the ones who lap it up – it makes them feel good. They’ve no intention of it going anywhere, but to turn the flirter down would mean turning down the attention. So they let it carry on.
  1. The one who seems above romance and relationship. They breeze through life as though attraction and emotion are unknown, they are busy in their own life. As far as anyone can tell they are attracted to no one, and no one is attracted to them. Except the person who is attracted to them but has no idea if they even notice.
  1. The one who is waiting for God to do it. They’re not exactly content in their singleness, because they’d rather be with someone, but they are trusting in God. This means they don’t do much on their initiative and are inclined to turn down offers if God hasn’t told them that it’s the one.
  1. The amazing girl who all the other girls can’t understand why no guy asks out. You hear the gasps of exacerbation and bemusement at why such and such hasn’t been asked out on any dates recently (or at all). This is likely to come with the tacit suggestion (and sometimes explicit) that you might want to rectify this state of affairs.
  1. The guy who doesn’t ask girls out. It’s not that he’s not interested, he is. It’s just he always finds a reason not to ask out the girl who’s occupying his thoughts. After a while he tends to decide he’s not that interested, or she’s not that interested, or sees she’s now with another guy.
  1. The married to Jesus one. They are so in love with the Lord, and he fulfils all of their needs. Until hot guy asks them on a date.
  1. I need a hero! They are just desperate for someone to fall in love with. Someone who is the right height, with the perfect colour hair, that compassionate but confident temperament who will sweep you off your feet without coming on too strong. Other than that, they’re off the market.
  1. The naïve one who everyone likes. They don’t know it but they have a legion of admirers. Guy after guy has a thing for her. All the girls wait around hoping she will be the one he picks. But it doesn’t happen, they seem immune to the volley of attraction they provoke.

    © April Killingsworth

    © April Killingsworth

  1. Friendship dependency. It starts with them hanging around and becoming friends, and being Christians they know that even if they were in a relationship with someone (not necessarily the friend in question) they wouldn’t get much more out of it then they do as friends. And they enjoy their friendship and lean heavily on it for emotional support. So friendships act as a buffer making crossing the Rubicon towards a relationship that bit less appealing (you know, they might get rejected and all that). This can lead to…
  1. The couple who aren’t a couple. They are categorically not going out, they are friends, they spend time together. Plenty of people think there must be something going on, but they’ve never even talked about such an occurrence. That would be awkward, and after all they’re not really attracted to one another. Problem is, getting a plus one to a wedding is even more awkward. But this is different to…
  1. The couple that will be a couple. Everyone can see it (apart from me), the friendship, the chemistry, the attraction. But it goes unspoken. Maybe they’re nervous, fearful of rejection, uncertain of the reciprocation of feelings, but they hold back. And everyone, the everyone who sees this as inevitable, hold back because to do otherwise would be meddling. Instead they just talk about it. And when they do they either become…
  1. The couple who want to convince you they aren’t a couple. Maybe it is early days in their relationship and they don’t want to be public about their growing amorous affection. They arrive separately, are distinctly detached in the post church mingle. But it is just a little too studied, a little too planned. Or…
  1. PDAs, alternatively known as: The couple who want to convince everyone they are in love. It’s all about the Public Displays of Affection. One minute they were single and the next inseparable. I’m all about showing your significant other how much they mean to you, but in church, during the sermon on atonement, really? I don’t think that’s what ‘his wrath was reconciled meant’.
  1. The couple who were a couple. They were going out, you knew about it, most people knew about it, but now you’re not so sure. It’s been a while since you’ve seen them together but maybe that’s just because one of them has been away. But because we don’t gossip no one talks about their break up, it just glacially filters through the ecclesiological eco-system hopefully in time to cut off another awkward plus one wedding invite.
  1. The Christian festival couple. In a blaze of camping induced romance they find the love of their life. They commit to each other 4EVA. The messages pass back and forth (in my day text and email, probably fb messenger, whatsapp and snapchat these days). But slowly it fades, until they embarrassingly bump into each other next year in the same showground having not spoken for months.
  1. The girlfriend (and sorry to be gender specific) who can’t do anything without their boyfriend. Being in a relationship mutes independent thought and the previously confident lady is a shadow of her former self.
  1. The over protective boyfriend (again, see above for apology). You get within a few meters of his girl and he’ll come alongside her and bring the conversation to a close.
  1. The wannabe matchmaker. They have a pairing for everyone, they think they’ve got skills in who suits who, and want their friends matched up pronto. Except, when it comes to it, the matching plan never hatches.single contact person

What about, a friend asks, the normal Christians, who are confident, honest, and not playing games?

Married.

What have I missed? What should be in the A-Z spotters guide of Christians who are single, dating or getting into a relationship (provisional title)?

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On being single

Kweku and Fi wedding cake detailWind wisps through the air, leaves shiver on their stems. People bustle past the forlorn store fronts hurrying to find their way to some indistinct place. Their speed suggests purposes, urgency, a thing to be done before any other. But they carry on, moving fast but arriving nowhere. A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A perpetual asymmetry of intent and achievement.

A lot of movement but not a lot of action.

A lot of words but not enough openness. Frankness as shade to protect the fragile soul. Saying things we don’t mean to mask the heart. Leaving places too painful so we don’t have to wear our scars before those who know their cause.

The temptation to move on. The idea that some different place will be a better place. The hope that dreams might come true. The figment of our imagination we think might switch to reality if we loiter in its midst for long enough.

Continue reading

Seven fears that stop me asking girls out

© April Killingsworth

Two years ago I wrote a post “why guys don’t ask girls out”. This is a different post, it’s what stops me from asking girls out. Not why guys don’t, but why I don’t.

It is simple to slip into the abstract when writing about relationships, find the generalisation, the concept; the easy way out. It is also tempting to use other people’s stories, to aggregate examples and form a trend that is straightforward to talk about and respond to.

If you look at most of what is written about relationships that’s how it works. What is the problem, and what is the solution? It’s the mentality of glossy magazines and trendy bloggers, and we look for solutions because we think that if we have a list of things to do to solve the problem that’s the same as having it sorted.

… we look for solutions because we think that if we …

The other day Emily Maynard tweeted that if she were to write a book it would be called “I Have No Idea How To Fix Your Life And It’s Weird That You’re Looking In Books For That.” Continue reading

Why I write about relationships, and why I hesitate

good-relationshipsTwo years ago I started this blog with a series of four posts one day after the next on relationships in the church. For better or worse it established the foundations of what I would write a lot about, and more to the point, what I would be known to write about. I go through phases of leaving the subject to one side, letting it have a breather, but the issues do not go away and my opinions don’t always want to keep to themselves.

One of those four posts, “Why guys don’t ask girls out” gets hits every single day, and a few weeks ago I read it and winced not only at typos that continue to be read but what I said and the way I said it.

Many of the things I wrote on four consecutive days stand the test of time. There are some concepts and ideas that I articulated for the first time which had been percolating through my mind for many years, others that slipped off the fingers onto the keyboard without sufficient thought.

There are ideas I have rethought as I have written and reflected on a topic that is tender to many people. I have had to change what I do because of what I wrote, but what I write should also be affected by what I do – and too often I have written in a vacuum. Continue reading

Do nice guys finish last? Is pleasant unpalatable?

Sometimes I wish I was someone else.

Sometimes I wish I had a little more bravado. Sometimes I wish I laughed at things other people found funny. I wish I was more spontaneous. I wish I was unpredictable. Surprising. I wish I had that edge. Whatever that edge maybe.

That edge that makes guys attractive to girls. And makes dates more than pleasant.

Because sometimes I think I am dull. Just dull. Barely making the mark of mediocrity known as pleasant.

Sometimes I wish I was someone else.

Someone better, scrap that, not better necessarily. Better is a bit too much like nice which is a bit too much like pleasant which sounds rather like code for dull. Different, I want to be different.

nice-guy-emotionsYesterday Threads’ anonymous Girl About Town wrote about her date with pleasant Christian guy. And it provoked quite a reaction. Guys split down the middle between trying to demonstrate their ‘fun’ credentials, and those like myself who sneered at the somewhat faux virility and opted instead for self-deprecation. An elaborate double bluff showcasing introversion and nerd like pursuits as a masquerade to shield insecurities.

It’s a cliché that good guys finish last, but sometimes that is what it feels like. It feels as though to achieve success in one part of life I have to screw up a little more. I could swear here to make my point with added weight but I don’t want to. I prefer not to swear.

We turn finding someone to build a relationship with into a game, where there is success and failure, and we are tempted to try and stack our hand. We weigh percentages and hunches and work out what would give us an advantage. Wondering whether if we were someone else the road might be easier. Wondering if a new identity might help. Thinking the grass is always greener through our rose tinted glasses.

We want everything to be okay, we want to be without blemish so we erect structures and façades to shelter our fragile self. We are told there are ways to behave, things to do and not to do, and knowing that we don’t always live up to that we sometimes try to present an image that we do.

I think that if I wear the costume enough it might become a second skin. It is never quite home, but close enough that I lose sight of the ways it betrays me.

Sara Kewly Hyde commented: “I think sometimes rather than discovering the fabulous and unique individual God’s made them to be, some men (people) are trying to be what impresses others and that in turn can lead to… Well a whole host of insecurities, the fruit of which is sometimes blandness… I think as Christians we also struggle to assimilate our dark or shadow side so at times repress it rather than asking God to glorify himself through it. Repression can also = pleasant but nowt else. If we allowed our imperfections to be as visible as our good bits then it’s unlikely ‘pleasant’ would be the adjective de jour here. Pleasant is great if accompanied by other adjectives.”

Another friend simply said: “pleasant might also mean stifled”.

When guys hear they are too pleasant, the immediate reaction can be to add another layer of characteristics they think might help. So as well as being the good Christian guy they also need to be the Alpha male chopping down trees, skinning rabbits and rescuing the damsel in distress. I mock to make a point.

Christian guys are told to pursue, protect, provide and pastor, and that becomes another list of things they ought to do to make the mark. If they are being rejected as dull, dismissed as pleasant, then they are not doing enough to woo the women. Emily Maynard commented on cultural norms that so heavily circumscribe Christian dating, which create a culture imbued with such deep, existential morals and genderised stereotypes. And the fear of slipping into sin or causing someone else to sin.

We are afraid of doing it wrong. Asking the wrong girl out, acting improperly, not being sufficiently chivalrous, not picking up on signals, showing too much affection, or more likely not enough. And under the weight of it, all that emerges is a bland pleasantness that might not be offensive but betrays its insincerity. It can also freeze us into inactivity.

The layers of personhood expected to be worn to fulfil the role of the right Christian guy become so deep personhood is lost. In trying to be something we stop being ourselves.

Here’s the challenge, I get the thrill of the different, the exciting, the edgy, but telling Christian guys they are too pleasant puts them on the defensive. It knocks their security and only encourages more layers covering over who they are.

Truly pleasant

Being nice is not bad. Being pleasant is not just about being polite. And good guys do not need to finish last. But if the pleasantries are a charade or a forced manicure they leave an emptiness where you or I should be.

Dave Shearn put it like this: “I think lots of us are non-committal and non-confrontational in the name of being ‘loving’ and that is lame. Passive aggression and people not agreeing with God that he made them awesome also doesn’t help.”

I also wonder if there’s a false dichotomy that’s being set up between atheist-guy and pleasant-guy, is the very fact atheist-guy is such what gives him that edge? Pseudo-rebellious was the way someone put it. It’s not that Christians are necessarily more dull than anyone else, but they are known and to some degree safe, and sometimes an element of danger is alluring.

The unknown can be attractive but it is also dangerous. Because I hope one day to be fully known and to know someone fully. I want safety to be a good thing. In the long run maybe pleasantness is a valuable attribute.

That don’t impress me much

I want to marry someone who loves me, and not love who I might pretend to be. Someone who knows me with my frailties and my failings, who sees my longings and my hopes and dreams. But I also want to be a better man. And I think it is a noble thing to want to be with someone who prompts you to be your better self. Not some act to be more edgy or less pleasant. But to find the ways I can glorify God more fully. To see the ways I can live a more holy life. To bear witness to the image of God that gives me dignity and humanity. To echo in a quiet whisper the love that has been given me.

And be all of it. No one is just one thing. No one is just pleasant. No one is just dull. No one is just boring. And no one is just exciting, edgy or different. We are whole people with a breadth of characteristics and being pleasant is a good one to own. But if that’s all you see yourself as no wonder that don’t impress her.

And I think trying to impress a girl who takes your fancy is a good thing. As long as the impression you’re making is yours to give.

PS while writing this a friend tweeted a link to an interesting sermon on ‘new rules for love, sex and dating’ so I thought I’d share it.

Learning from Jennifer Lopez

It was one of those evenings. When you get in, picking up your small chips and battered sausage on the way home, grab the bottle of Bulmers which has been lurking in the fridge for an occasion such as this and swiftly fade into the folds of the sofa and absorb whatever the screen before you has to offer.

I could blame it on working all the way through the weekend, meaning I’m a little over halfway through this nine day week. Or I could blame it on a bout of lethargy that stopped me from getting that overdue piece of work completed. Either way I watched back to back films, beginning with Monster-in-Law, a pretty shocking Jennifer Lopez vehicle that weaved its way through her travails with her soon to be mother-in-law.

But like much inspiration it came out of nowhere. And this most unexpected of cultural landmarks offered up something to critique and something to appreciate. Jennifer Lopez’s character was sat shooting the breeze with a couple of friends wistfully describing her ideal man. He would be strong, but gentle, rough but in touch with his emotional side. It was a wish list that soon came true in the hands of Hollywood scriptwriters.

The inspiration came because it more or less echoed a conversation I had on Sunday, I’d rushed back for church from the conference I was at and lingered in the pub for a little while afterwards. Slightly in shell shock from the fallout from my previous post, it was a difficult time for me to be in company, the dissonance between my online writings and my face to face relationships abundantly apparent. The conversation was a critique of what girls look for in guys, wanting the best of both worlds, wanting the strength and the sensitivity. And I apologise because I wasn’t fully engaged in the conversation, but something stuck. And Jennifer Lopez’s words brought it back to mind.

We have wish lists. They can be long and they can be short. They can focus on the minutiae or the grand. When I was looking around houses my wish list was fairly short, I was flexible. Mostly, I had decided what I was going to do and that was the most important step. When it comes to relationships we have ideals and hopes and dreams. We manufacture edifices of imagination of what life will be like if it all comes to pass.

We want the strong and the sensitive, the fun and the focused. Whether it is a guy who will be unbreakable until he meets her charms, or the girl whose frivolity fades before the one true guy. We want to have it all.

But what if the most important aspect is not the marks out of ten that we ascribe but the decision that we take to engage in relationships.

This morning before I sat down to write I had my regular check of twitter and top of my feed was this from Lauren Dubinsky:

Whimsical? Probably. Profound? I think so too.

It is about the purpose and not the process. And that’s the part of Monster-in-Law that I appreciated. Amid the candy floss storyline that was always going to come good there lay a overriding decision that she was going to marry this guy. The details of the wedding, the disaster of the engagement party and rehearsal dinner faded before what was in her sights.

Maybe, just maybe, the first step is to decide to engage. There’s a lot of talk about waiting, and I’ve had my fair share. But I’ve also used waiting as an excuse for disengaging. A bit like that conversation after church on Sunday. I was there, but I wasn’t.

Where we end up may be less important than taking that step and deciding to make relationships, of whatever form, a priority. What do you think? Is it too much to just decide one day that it’s time to find a girlfriend/boyfriend, or even husband or wife?

Singleness and the church

This is not another post with tangential references to a Leonard Cohen song, I was going to title it ‘A bunch of lonesome heroes‘, but in the end went for something more self-explanatory. It’s about singleness in the church, and in particular in the church in London.

London is a peculiar place. And the church in London is somewhat of a outlier as well. The church is younger than in the rest of the country, even taking into account differences in the overall population it is still astonishing that 57% of people in their 20s who attend church do so in London. This creates one problem for the church outside of London – the lack of young adults, but it also creates problems for the church in London that are not as often recognised.

For churches in the centre of London there is frequently a distinct lack of older people, families and even married couples. That’s not to say they’re absent altogether, just that young single people make up a disproportionately large block. A while back a theory of church growth was in vogue, it was know as the homogeneous unit principle, and it came with its very own acronym: HUP. The idea was that people felt at home around people like them so it made sense for churches to reach out to people who were like them.

This isn’t a post about church growth, but I’ll say this: sometimes it works, we like things to be comfortable and therefore are inclined to go where the path is smoothest and when the congregation is like us there are less obstacles to us feeling at home. The problem is that this could descend down a road of ever intensifying stratification and the end point of that would be an infinite number of churches with a single preacher/worship leader/pew filler: me, or you. But not both of us. At its more practical it means that churches develop that are mono generational or mono cultural. This comes to the fore in London with churches that are young and hip. That means the church family becomes slightly dysfunctional.

It means that churches in central London have a high proportion of single people. For my church the natural affect of being based in the centre of the city is aided and abetted because it was planted only eight years ago, so most of the newcomers are students or young professionals moving into London.

This does two things, firstly it means that the members of the church suffer from not having the full range of people to interact with and learn from. In particular there is a gulf where father and mother figures should exist to provide wisdom and guidance to the younger generation. Secondly, it means that a culture of singleness is fostered as normality.

And this becomes enshrined in all sorts of aspects of church life, whether it is the make up of small groups or the type of social activities that build community around the more formal parts of church life. Added to this is the occasional fallout of relationships that do occur: how friendship groups are rent by couples splitting up. This all makes life a lot easier when a comfortable culture of friendship between groups of guys and girls is the norm.

Into this climate we import a further demographic trouble maker: the disparity between men and women. This isn’t as bad as sometimes it is presented to be, it’s roughly 60-40 in favour of the ladies, or the guys if you’re thinking of prospective dates. While the norm for relational dynamics is the friendship group and the limited dating activity is partly attributable to not wanting to disrupt this, beneath the surface many people remain discontent with the status quo.

It goes something like this: the girls look at the guys and think they need to sort themselves out and ask girls out, in the back of their mind lingers the fear that if the odds stay the same a chunk of them will stay on the shelf. And the guys return the looks, slightly paralysed by the pressure to make a choice and make the most of the favourable proportions. Guys know they ought to do something but don’t want to get it wrong, girls want the guys to ask them out but think it’s too forward to make this desire clear.

Without the wisdom of elders and the frank conversations between people at various stages of romantic liaisons, this becomes a secret minefield out of which the culture of singleness thrives.

This is all a bit detached and technical but I wanted to try and tease out some of the reason singleness has became an issue in the church, and identify the particular form that it takes in churches in London.

I’ll write more later in the week about my own personal experience of singleness. Of all the issues I write about it is perhaps the one which I have the greatest personal experience to draw on, but perhaps something I have dwelt on the least.

What do you think: is singleness an issue in the church? If so, why, and what can be done about it? Do we really believe that single people are equal with those who are married?