The Singleness Epidemic

1:48 AM

Boy meets girl. He likes her. She probably likes him. At least, they get along smashingly. They joke with each other at church. They agree on C. S. Lewis and covenant theology. Slowly, slowly, this boy starts wondering what on earth to do with the funny feelings. Being a good Christian kid, he waits for a sign. Prays. Tries to figure out all her virtues and vices from afar to make sure they could tolerate one another for at least fifty years. Doesn't dare get too friendly with her now -- doesn't want to get her hopes up, isn't sure she's the one just yet. Then he decides that, yes, yes, yes, he doesn't like the look of a future without her. So he does some more figuring -- does she like him? What if she doesn't? What if she does? What if it doesn't work out? How is he supposed to know? Why on earth is God so slow on delivering that sign? How is he supposed to guard his heart if he isn't 100% certain they will walk the aisle in a year's time? 

Don't laugh, reader. We've all wondered the same thing. How do we know...without taking the relationship for a test drive and collecting a few bangs and bruises?

Boy meets girl. And then everyone with good intention and an opinion pounces. Books, articles, movies, love songs -- all try to figure out the secret of maintaining a straight line between the first hello to the honeymoon. It remains a secret. Even to those who read both I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Before You Meet Prince Charming.

Since I witness excessive PDA and freshman romance as part of the college package, I think about these books, these love songs, these people who opine on guarding one's heart and finding the right one. I see relationships start. I see them crumble. I see them stay steady. And I think hard about this, because what if someone special shatters the air with the stunning realization that hey, he just might like me? No way do I want to mess things up.

That's why I question the Conservative Christian Standards of Dating and Courtship (CCSODAC, for short). Despite groundbreaking efforts, bad stuff still happens to good kids -- even to those who court. Relationships end. Hearts break. Wrong decisions happen. The looming figures of singleness in Christian circles frighten us to pursue a safer, surer way of marrying ourselves off.

Marriage is serious. Relationships are scary. And God forgot to add a relationship guide after the last map in the Bible.

One major problem: life doesn't work like a function -- plug in the numbers for x, watch for the little black mathematical box churn out the correct answer...or however functions work. Forgive my indifference to calculus. 

Many (most? all?) of CCSODAC's slogans stem from human attempts to save couples from trouble, heartache and sticky situations. Guarding one's heart. The slow giving away of one's heart that leaves preteen girls terrified that their five-year-old backyard crushes stole every last little bit of their heart and soul. Figuring out if s/he is The One before entering the relationship. Waiting for a sign, a word from God. Nowhere do these ideas show up in Scripture. Prudence, accountability, seeking God's will -- yes, absolutely, and to be fair, many of CCSODAC's ideas probably started with these in mind. Love is no license for stupidity, though it often seems to end that way. 

Really, it seems lovers fret more about getting hurt and losing it all than pursuing God's will. We have this rigid idea that all dating/courtship relationships must end in marriage or else the relationship fails. God would never lead a couple into such close quarters only to break them up. God wants us to know His will. God wants us to make the right decisions -- a.k.a. the ones that lead to marriage and five kids.

Is our view of God's will so limited as all that?

I came to realize that many of my so-called Biblical ideas about guarding my heart and keeping a steady head were all about shunning heartache. I desperately didn't want to get hurt. I didn't want to look like an idiot, admitting to the Facebook world that Bailey was in a relationship with so-and-so only to have to delete it six months later after that relationship fell through. I wanted love easy.

Everyone wants this. Especially parents. That's why the courtship movement appeals to so many people -- parents don't want their sons and daughters crying their hearts out over a lost love. They don't want to see their kids go through the pain of break-up -- not like they did back in the '60's and '70's when love came cheap and short. The kids themselves -- they want that happily ever after dream. And they're willing to do the right thing -- anything, really -- to make sure they don't wreck a promising prospect.

This mindset of avoiding pain and heartache under the guise of "guarding one's heart" and "seeking God's best" leads to two problematic scenarios in Christian culture.

Scenario 1: Everyone becomes petrified. It's interesting to watch how different couples with different levels of exposure to CCSODAC go about starting relationships. Those who know enough about it to be careful and respectful usually start relationships rather earlier than others. They get a bad rap for appearing most like the world in the area of dating, but really, they one-up all the other relationships with their sincerity and simplicity. Those who subscribe to CCSODAC wholeheartedly usually wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, and it doesn't surprise me so many of CCSODAC's subscribers marry late or not at all. In other words, guys don't ask girls out. Relationships don't get started. They don't even get a chance.

Scenario 2: In order to technically abide by CCSODAC, special relationships get relabeled as something less than they really are. We call it Hillsdating where I come from. Maybe or maybe not they admit they like each other. In any case, the couple texts 24/7, hangs out all the time, attends school dances together, monopolize the other's time -- but they are only "just friends," technically speaking. That's where heartache breeds -- where a special relationship forms but never gets acknowledged, never gets supervised, never gets serious. It's irresponsible. It's confusing. It's a clear sign the two need to break up or get hitched. Good Christian kids do this because it seems safer to be "just friends" before plunging into a relationship even though everyone and his second cousin knows it's more than that. 

I don't pretend to know how to start a relationship properly. I've never been in one, though I have been hurt and know just as well as anyone else how much I hate it. Still, I think we ought to broaden our scope of God's will and trust more in His sovereign power to make marriages happen. It's no excuse to be a fool and line up a whole string of exes. It does mean that we behave honorably toward those we crush on, either pulling away, settling into real just friends or asking that girl out. It does mean that we recognize God's will may include a broken relationship despite our best attempts and prayers. And it means that even when our dreams crash, our God gives grace sufficient for the day. That -- not CCSODAC -- is the key to successful relationships.

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15 impressions

  1. I can't even begin to tell you how much I appreciated this post. Thank you. :)

    It's a lot of what I've been thinking about lately... especially in regard to getting hurt. I've come to realize that life is about loving passionately, getting hurt, and then getting back up again. Fear is not an excuse and life requires bravery if we are to follow Christ and be where He wants us to be (and yes, this applies to relationships too.)

    Anyway, thank you again. Your posts are always so poignant and very well-written and your blog is one of my favorites.

    God bless and merry Christmas!

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  2. You really nailed it in that first paragraph. How did you know what a guy goes through?

    I, too, have noticed the 'stalemates' that happen. Ever since I started liking girls way back at age nine, I've been afraid of 'putting all my eggs in one basket.'

    One factor that I've noticed in myself and a few other guys which holds us back is the "I'm not good enough" factor. A lot of us feel like no girl will like us because we don't feel adequate. "I'm not buff" "I'm no good at X" "I have all of these health problems" and the big one I have: "Every guy she knows is equal or better than me at everything I'm good at. I don't stand a chance." Lots of heartache here.

    I found your post to be uplifting and encouraging, and I am enjoying reading your blog. Keep up the good work!

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  3. Very true. I actually don't think dating is wrong, just that it's not a commitment. Courting means more of a commitment. Thanks for writing this!

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  4. This brightened up my whole day! Thanks for this breath-of-fresh-air perspective on a subject that's been beaten to death from every angle possible. Well, I don't know that I've heard this particular one expounded before. :)

    ~RacheL

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  5. We have this rigid idea that all dating/courtship relationships must end in marriage or else the relationship fails. God would never lead a couple into such close quarters only to break them up. God wants us to know His will . . . Is our view of God's will so limited as all that?

    I wonder sometimes if, in our chase after perfect love stories, we have neglected to truly seek God's will in relationships. Might it be God's will that we enter relationships that don't end well, so that we would draw closer to Him?

    God has taught me much on the lofty mountaintop. But He's taught me so much more in the valley-- in those dark places of hurt and confusion where I have no one and nothing else to cling to but Him. Maybe God's will for me is a perfect courtship story adhering to all the principles of CCSODAC. Or maybe my heart will be broken so that He can mend it back stronger and closer to His.

    This post reminded me of two others I read a while ago; you might find them interesting. (http://ylcf.org/2012/07/the-man-i-almost-married/ and http://ylcf.org/2012/07/the-man-i-married/)

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  6. Excellent (As always!) Bailey! Oh how I've missed you and your postings.

    I agree with everything you said here. One thing I've noticed is in the CCSODAC world, there seems to be a heavy sub current of this whole 'readiness' thing. You have to be, in that way of thinking, 100% 'ready' to pursue a relationship. In my mind, I think what!?! You will NEVER be that ready for ANYTHING. Consider this family, (now I don't know them personally, or anything more than I'm about to tell you, but these are the facts that I do know) Boy had known girl for 7 years. He was around 23 when he met girl, then aged 19. Finally, at 30 and 26, they pursue a relationship, and they get engaged. That is all I know. What? 7 years they had known each other. What were they waiting on? They may have many reasons, but I'm left here just scratching my head. I see this same scenario occurring over and over again.

    There is only so much we can do to 'prepare' and be 'ready'. The rest comes AFTER the wedding. Yes, get advice from godly elders, seek the wisdom of the Word, etc. etc, I'm not advocating headlong rushing into something you know nothing about!

    Consider my friend, now married 18 months. Boy had known girl 10 years. He was 2 years younger and she thought of him as her buddy. He comes forward, and to her surprise she realizes she's always liked him! They entered a relationship and many told her she was crazy. He was 17, she was 19, he was young, still showed sparks of immaturity, but she believed in him. She could see what others could not. People said "sure he's great for you, but let him grow up a few more years, then he'll be 'ready'". With lots of prayers, advice and her parents insight, when he asked 'will you?' she said 'I do.' Now, no one would believe that there were any misgivings about the two of them together. He has matured and been the perfect imperfect man for her. She could see it all along, and she knew God would continue working even after the wedding.

    Anyway, take what you can from those ramblings, and thank you so much for sharing your heart with us here! God bless you sister, and Merry Christmas!

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  7. Anon -- many of my guy friends confide in me about their relationship problems, so I've come to see that guys have the same insecurities and apprehensions girls do. Thanks for sharing your perspective!

    Miss Madison -- those articles...wow. She echoes my heart and my weaknesses. Thank you.

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  8. This was quite encouraging and helped "organize" my thoughts on this topics.

    I have a dear friend who recently became engaged. Their relationship has been a breath of fresh air in that it was not cookie-cutter. Relationships are not meant to be mass-produced but to grow two fallen people together...bringing glory to God.

    Thanks for writing!
    Frannie

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  9. First I will admit that I did not read the whole article. I stopped right here: Don't laugh, reader. We've all wondered the same thing. How do we know...without taking the relationship for a test drive and collecting a few bangs and bruises?

    I think you do it the same way you do everything else in life, at least in a Christian life, by faith. When I met my husband, I knew he was the one because God told me so. I talked to him for 2 hours, he was from another country, 10 years older and we knew very little about each other. He too heard the Lord tell him I was the one BEFORE he even met me. If you want to know more, just email me.

    But anyway... I had for years asked God to lead or take me to my husband. And I was expecting to know when I finally met him. I knew the Lord would show him to me. I knew I wasn't going to be wondering or doubting. I knew that once the Lord brought the one to me I knew I would know he was the one!

    You see I had tried relationships before and even marriage. And I knew that taking a relationship for a test doesn't make it workable, on the contrary, it causes everyone involved to have emotional, physical and spiritual damage. So I was done "experimenting", I was ready to trust and live by faith.

    So almost 12 years later, we are still here... with 4 kids, living life by faith, enjoying each other, and giving God the glory because He is the only one who could have put 2 people that lived 5000 miles apart from each other together.

    So yeah!! how?? By faith!! You will get what you believe for! What are believing the Lord for? What do you think He is capable of doing for YOU? Do you think He cares? Do you think He is too busy to be involved in your mundane wanderings?? I know He is!!

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  10. Tereza,

    I'm a firm believer that there is no hard-and-fast rule to finding one's mate. Yours is a beautiful story of God's provision. I won't presume to know your full story, so I cannot say what role your previous relationships played in your walk with God. However, I've heard many, many other women share that though past relationships hurt, they don't believe those relationships were outside of God's will. In fact, they believe that God orchestrated those "failed" relationships to bring them closer to God Himself. By faith, they entered those relationships. By faith, they left them. By faith, they trusted God through it all.

    This is all I'm trying to get across: the failure of a relationship does not necessarily indicate that one or both parties failed to follow God's will. It means that God has bigger plans than just marriage and successful relationships -- namely, abandoning oneself wholeheartedly to Christ. God is capable of bringing the right couple together without any previous heartache. Praise God for that! God is also capable of bringing couples together and then separating them, for their greater good and His greater glory.

    He does everything in love. We can't dictate how exactly He will choose to do so in every single relationship. That's why we have faith -- to trust in God's best for us, even if relationships fall through.

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  11. hey Bailey,

    I just realized that my last sentence came out wrong. Instead of I know He is! it should read: I know He is not!!

    Anyway, just wanted to say that I agree with you. Yes, even in the "failed" relationships God works everything out for our own good. And I was one that needed the failed relationship to learn to trust and obey my Lord. He literally told me NOT to go into that marriage but I went in anyway. So you see, I had to learn to trust God.

    I can't say I fully do today, but that experience reminds me every time I try to do it my way instead of God's way that His way is way better. :)

    So yes, we can't dictate how He will direct us into marriage and that is why the Word of God and wise counsel are good pointers.

    The important thing is to have a close relationship with Jesus and then everything else will be an extension of that. :)

    BTW, I admire you so much and love to read your articles. You seem to be very centered in your faith and know how to express it well.

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  12. Thank you for offering your thoughts, Bailey. (Wow, it's nice to have you back.)
    I've been doing some struggling with this issue, also. As to the scenario you described in the opening paragraph, if I were the girl, I'd want the young man to go to my parents and tell them what's going on and how he feels---before he told me. They could offer some insight into my feelings for him, and, if he met their approval, maybe even some advice for how to win my heart. It seems to me that parents are a great buffer against a crash.
    If he does love me, what he definitely should NOT do is wait. Chances are, I'm thinking exactly the same thoughts about him, and just want him to DO something. Waiting will certainly produce heartache, while getting things started (with the help of parents) just may turn out wonderfully.
    <><

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  13. I randomly found your blog on account of a friend posting your "How do you say love?" post. I was very happy to read this post titled "The Singleness Epidemic." I have been in one relationship and I learned a lot about myself, about women, and about heartache when it ended badly a little over three years ago. Haven't had a relationship since then.

    You hit the nail on the head. You show a tremendous amount of perception and insight when you say:

    "Despite groundbreaking efforts, bad stuff still happens to good kids -- even to those who court. Relationships end. Hearts break. Wrong decisions happen. The looming figures of singleness in Christian circles frighten us to pursue a safer, surer way of marrying ourselves off...Still, I think we ought to broaden our scope of God's will and trust more in His sovereign power to make marriages happen. It's no excuse to be a fool and line up a whole string of exes. It does mean that we behave honorably toward those we crush on, either pulling away, settling into real just friends or asking that girl out. It does mean that we recognize God's will may include a broken relationship despite our best attempts and prayers. And it means that even when our dreams crash, our God gives grace sufficient for the day. That -- not CCSODAC -- is the key to successful relationships."

    You are the first person I've heard who has admitted their might be flaws to the christian relationship paradigm, or CCSODAC as you call it.

    Sometimes, you just have to go for it! No amount of following all the right rules laid out in a relationship book will guarantee that you will not get hurt. All relationships (really anything worth doing) involves pain and vulnerability at some level.

    Thanks for the post, God bless.

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  14. Thanks Bailey,

    I did not know conservative Christians had standards of courtship and dating. Perhaps if I were to read more extrabiblical sources, I would know what ritualistic performances God demands of Christians for such things.

    My opinion is life does work like a function. The constant in each life is God. There are just too many variables for me to figure out what it (my life or anyone else's life) will look like. But, God knows. I can do what he says to do, believing he loves me. Or I can do anything else. And God still knows how it will turn out.

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  15. Hey, guess what two people were talking about this just the other night? ;)

    Very very true, Bailey. And that's all I'll say, because I'm too lazy to rewrite the opinion you already know. :P

    xo!

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