The Church Kissed Dating Goodbye

This is not a post about dating, at least not really. It’s about me. It is about you. It’s about men and it is about women.

Twice in the past few weeks I have found myself in formal discussions about marriage, and being the only single person present I was turned to for the single person’s perspective. And here is the first problem: everyone is different.

Don Miller has written a couple of long posts giving advice for guys and girls on how to live a great love story. And following the comments on twitter led me to Ally Spott’s blog, and in particular a great guest post from Darrell Vesterfelt. It also took me further, delving into the hinterland of advice available for young (and those growing less young) Christians approaching relationships.

My first reaction is of quiet rebellion, resisting the broad generalisations in how guys and girls behave. I want to insist that I am not like that, and neither are many of the guys I know. I also want to reject the thinly veiled chauvinism that is often masqueraded as male headship. I also wanted to respond but had no outlet, so I started this blog.

One more piece of context before I kick off with some thoughts of my own. A couple of weeks ago the question of masculinity in the church got a whole lot of prominence on the interweb because some guy who leads a relatively large church as well as a baying legion of hipsters made a rather crass remark about effeminate worship leaders. #effemigate sparked a flurry of posts rejecting its bullying mentality. I also picked ‘Why Men Hate Going To Church’ by David Murrow off my sister’s bookshelf, and ploughed through it with exponentially mounting frustration.

I grew up in a church with lots of young people, and lots of young people who didn’t really date. So when Joshua Harris was at the height of his popularity his words didn’t really hit home. I also adopted a classic posture of British superiority – ‘well that might be how it is in the states, but here we’re much more civilised’. I now go to a church with hundreds of young adults in central London, most of whom (70% plus) are single, and by that I mean single, not just not married but not in relationships. So while the criticism of casual dating that was at it’s peak a few years back rang hollow the current meme of why Christians aren’t dating more hits home with a lot more force.

There’s quite a head of steam behind it at the moment, it is a conversation I have with remarkable frequency: why aren’t guys asking girls out?

Darrell’s post touches on the question of pursuit and initiation and the conversation goes on in the comments, settling around the idea that it is the man’s job to pursue but that shouldn’t stop the girl from initiating. I think the question resounding from the cheap seats is: what on earth does this look like? Initiating but not pursuing?

Pursuit is in danger of becoming the concept around which we define the male role in relationships. And the problem with that is it makes it like a quest, and it appeals to the rather tarnished idea of conquest. Me man, win woman.

John Eldridge, David Murrow and co have this idea of men lugging huge tree trunks up a mountain and making fire from a squirrel’s tail. And that’s the kind of masculinity I have the most affinity for. Except I also know girls that like adventure and the great outdoors, and believe it or not, I know guys who like to crochet.

I know effeminate men, I know strong women. We label characteristics with pejorative adjectives, strong women might be described as butch. It is less manly to be effeminate and less ladylike to be aggressive.

And this is where I think Mark Driscoll gets it wrong, we should affirm and validate people for who they are, not who we think they should be. I do not deny that men and women are different, but there are as many differences within each gender as between them. 

If we centre our understanding of masculinity and femininity on difference, and the idea of man as pursuer, provider and protector, there is an ensuing impact on how guys view girls. Even the language conveys meaning, to be a ‘guy’ is strong and compatible with being an adult. Whereas, ‘girl’ kind of runs out of steam, it pigeon holes women pre-marriage into a childlike state, a boy becomes a guy but a girl remains a girl. 

The corollary of man as adventurer, is too often to see woman as meek and mild. And it is this casually dismissive posture that makes me shudder. I think guys do need to man up, but this doesn’t mean that women are neutered.

Masculinity and femininity are not two mutually exclusive life forms, they are both found to some extent in everyone. How we talk about men and women in relationships should reflect this diversity and not try to expel it.

Maybe that’s a controversial enough statement to finish on…

I told you this wasn’t really about dating, but the next one will be: ‘In defence of guys not asking girls out’.

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11 thoughts on “The Church Kissed Dating Goodbye

  1. Danny Webster you are a legend! Brilliant post, great writing – and love the ‘controversial’ common-sense statements!

    I’ve also had a number of conversations recently about the fact that we hear lots about men pursuing women – and leaving aside the idea that this language can be very off-putting to anybody who has grown up knowing violent and possessive men, there is very little said from many church pulpits about what women are meant to do whilst they are being pursued, or, indeed, if they are not being pursued. Is the idea that they sit in a field and knit, hoping that soon a man will come looking for them, like a cosmic game of hide and seek? Is that really the best the church can offer?!

    I have been so blessed by seeing the examples of many, many godly men (as well as women) in my current church – men who are not afraid to be strong and proactive but who are equally not afraid to be sensitive to women and fight for equality. Let’s celebrate the things that make us different as men and women, but also what makes us each individually unique from another.

    • Thanks Jo, and sorry it took all day to respond. There are so many different issues all going on at once with this topic, it takes quite an effort to untangle them, so it looks like this is only the first of probably five posts on the topic. I’ve just written no. 2 on why Christian guys don’t ask girls out but sleeping on it first before posting as I’m not sure I’ve quite nailed what I mean to say.

  2. In agreeing with the view that people are different, I present two additional pieces of food for thought.

    Firstly, advice from well respected others is great and to be valued, but be sure to talk to, and listen to, the actual views of the man/woman in question. What might make one man/woman feel comfortable in forming a relationship might be different for another. Honesty and understanding each other will enable to you to move forward together in the way that works for you as a team.

    Secondly, I wonder if there is an increasing risk of the idea of a ‘man in pursuit’ and the ‘winning of a woman’ potentially becoming a romanticised view of the way in which a relationship should begin. Of course, there are times when a man may, for example, be sure that he would like to be in a relationship with a certain lady and it may take some time for her to come to this place too. (As an aside, let it be noted that some of those who have experienced this in practice will have found this to be far from a romantic process, but at times confusing and painful!) But, let’s not shy away from the possibility that there are other ways.

    Why do we not hear more about those couples who have begun the journey with both parties being mutually interested in one another (however tentative this may be) and gradually getting to know each other and seeing if this grows? Does this make either person any less of an initiator or any less sought after? Can all men really expect to ‘know’ that she is ‘the one’ before spending a decent amount of time together as a couple? And should we think the possibility is loss if we do not fall in love with each other immediately? Yes, it might be great if these things happen, but let’s not be led to believe that this in itself is what makes for a great lasting relationship. Let’s take our commitment to respecting each other and link it with an open mind to the possibilities, and a longer term perspective…

    • Thanks for commenting, the idealised notion of romance, is somewhere on my list of things to write about. It’s my main problem with Don Miller’s otherwise very good posts.

  3. I’m really glad you’re adding your voice to the conversation. Thanks for pointing me toward it.

    Something you said struck a chord with me. In regards to the man as the pursuer, you said, “A ‘girl’ kind of runs out of steam, it pigeon holes women pre-marriage into a childlike state, a boy becomes a guy but a girl remains a girl.”

    My problem with this is that it is contrary to my experience. It’s easy for me to pursue. In fact, I’ve always said that if it were my job to pursue I’d be married by now.

    What’s difficult is waiting. Being open, available, but waiting. And it is what is difficult that requires me to grow.

    I can’t speak for the male perspective, because I’m not a man. But I will say this: As a woman who has been dating for upwards of 12 years now, the more I lay down my inclination to pursue, the more I work to be open and available, the more patient I become in my waiting… the more mature and grown-up I become.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. Just to clarify, the comment about boys becoming guys and girls staying as girls was more about the meaning our use of language conveys than who should pursue.

      The whole question of pursuit as the male role is one I’ll get to as I think it is valid but too often mistakenly understood as disenfranchising women.

      • Got it! Okay, I re-read with that in mind and it clarified things.

        Also, I should have said that much of what you wrote really resonated with me. Keep writing. You’re really talented, and it’s important.

  4. Thanks for this. I wish that more Christian writers and leaders would write and speak about MUTUAL, human (not gendered) traits that help along relationships – respect, thoughtfulness, communication, etc. Relationships in the context of predator and prey reduce them to animalistic rituals, and that’s def. not Christian.

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