Couples Are Still Singles

11:38 AM

It's a funny thing, dating. (Or courting, if you prefer semantics.) Dating relationships wind up the most intimate -- physically, spiritually, and emotionally -- yet they seem the most volatile as well. Nobody asks me, "So how are you and your sister Bethany doing?" They assume that the sister relationship stays relatively static as far as commitment and stability.

Not so with dating relationships. Doubts, questions, talk of breaking up -- these plagues rock that relationship boat. Significant others develop into best friends, close confidants, sources of spiritual comfort and strength. Yet there is more lack of commitment there than in any other relationship. One party can simply (though painfully) say, "You're not the one for me. I'm done. There's somebody else. God told me." And then just walk away into another relationship. No one can accuse that person of adultery or unfaithfulness if the reasons seem legitimate.

It's a love held gingerly, something so fragile, something hoped to turn into the reality of a life-long commitment. Until then, the couple walks on eggshells.

I find it difficult to apply the wisdom of Scripture to dating relationships. There seems to be only two stages mentioned -- betrothal and marriage. And obviously, that was the culture of the time. No couple grabbed coffee at Starbucks to get to know each other better. Both relationships were backed by a promise, a commitment, a vow. That stability made the relationship real, serious. It made love easier -- no awkward in between stage of wondering if the love of your life could leave you at a moment's notice with no legal or spiritual ramifications. Love flourishes under commitment.

In any case, I was reminded by a recent course of events that dating couples cannot enjoy the benefits of the commitment without the actual commitment -- how totally free expression of touch, emotion, and future plans together cannot exist without that commitment. Not merely should not but cannot -- the threat of splitting up makes it difficult to plan a marriage or a life together.

It was good for me to take a step back and realize, "Wait. I'm still single." Which seems an odd thing to focus on, but the implications are huge for accepting that identity as still single in a relationship.

Take a look at this interesting verse: "And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. ... I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:34-35). Actually, just go and read the entirety of chapter 7. Wrestle with the seemingly paradoxical things Paul says.

Here's what I'm seeing: Until a couple says "I do," they need to strive for the mindset, the goals, and the activities of a single person. Paul flat-out assumes that the betrothed woman -- someone in a much more committed position than a girl "in a relationship" -- cares about the same thing the unmarried woman cares about: a passion for the Lord and personal holiness. Only the married men and women get the excuse of having divided passions between their spouse and the Lord. Only the married people. And if a couple singles start getting distracted and passionate and sexually tempted, they ought to marry ASAP -- because only married people can claim those divided passions.

Well, what if a couple finds themselves in the twenty-first century where modern life makes relationships awkward -- committed dating relationships with no ring or binding promise, college delaying marriage, financial reasons and cultural expectations and the price of milk making it difficult, if not impossible, to get married as soon as the couple starts burning with passion? Two options: (1) take a risk and get married in school and pool financial resources to barely scrape by. (That sounds negative, but actually can work quite well. See Candice Watters' piece, "Is It a Bad Idea to Get Married in College?" here.) OR (2) stop burning with passion. In other words, stop striving for the mindset, the goals, and the activities of married people when you've got to wait several years until marriage becomes financially viable and parentally approved.

What is the mindset of married people? It's anxious about earthly things -- pleasing their spouse. What is the mindset of single people? Solely pleasing the Lord.

I saw myself as excused from embracing only the single mindset because of this dating relationship. But I am not married. I am not even betrothed. I am single. I am currently devoted to Christ. I am currently pursuing a relationship with Him first. His desires and His needs and His commands come first in my life.

Single people in dating relationships, ponder these questions:

Do you spend more time in prayer and Scripture meditation than you do texting, talking, or Skyping with your significant other? Does your dating relationship prevent you from serving in your church, pursuing God-given dreams, and ministering to others? Are you currently defined by your relationship to your significant other or by your relationship to Christ? Do you feel pressured to compromise the pursuit of purity in order to please your significant other? Jesus' commands to flee sexual immorality come first.

In simple words, does your relationship to Christ come before your relationship to your girlfriend or boyfriend? If not, fix it. With the grace of God. Because until you approach the marriage altar and pledge yourselves to each other, you are held responsible to pursue God full-heartedly as a single person.

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10 impressions

  1. Those were some really good observations, and two really good pieces of advice. You're right, the "dating" relationship is awkward, and two people who are in one should NOT act like they are married. If they want to be married, they should get married, and if they can't, than they need to back off. You have to have the security of commitment in this deep of a relationship.

  2. I noticed the same thing in Scripture: Betrothal and Marriage are the only two things that the Lord ordains in the process of two-becoming-one. From my narrow perspective that comes from a lot more philosophizing and a lot less personal experience, betrothal represents the commitment and then marriage consumates the unity. When I was praying through this recently, the Lord again highlighted for me that the betrothal and the marriage are all that He cares about. He showed me that everything else is cultural. Being cultural doesn't mean that it's right or wrong or backwards or sideways; I just don't think it means that God has so many standards when it comes to relationships, so long as sin isn't involved.

    Anyways, I like your thoughts on betrothal, but I'm not sure how it would or could be implemented today. I don't have a strong understand of what betrothal looked like during that time period, but my (stereotypical and barely researched) understanding is that the betrothed couple didn't have much of a relationship with each others. I believe that the parents made the decision, the daughter's permission was asked, and then the couple didn't have direct contact until the wedding. All communicate was done through the parents.

    If this is what betrothal looks like, it's easy to see why the betrothed can focus on the Lord. On the other hand, if you're "courting" or "dating" (whatever) and trying to make a good decision and get to know each other and grow in trusting each other and figuring out if God has marriage in mind for the two of you, your thoughts WILL be on the other person.

    Consider how this would play out in even the most conservative of Christian courting rituals. Boy, girl, and girls parents get together once a week and the four of them discuss important topics such as doctrine and parenting and church and money use. Parents and daughter decide together if boy is "the one." Clearly, that takes so much time, thought, consideration, and prayer. It will be on the minds of those involved.

    I think your thoughts on keeping God as your first love are important, but following the Lord is important even after marriage.

    Further, I believe that marriage is from the Lord. To think about marriage and the one you are going to marry can be thinking about the things of the Lord.

    And finally, Paul precedes all of this by saying that it's not a command; it is his recommendation. He explicitly states that the Lord didn't tell him this. With that, I take his words not as a standard or a command,. If someone I respect (pastor, parent, grandparent) gave me his opinion but was humble enough to add that the Lord didn't tell him this, I would weigh his words differently. Yes, the Bible is God's Word, but it must be read in context. Understanding that this is Paul's informed opinion based on the standards of the time, not a command of the Lord sheds a different light on what he was saying.

    My argument in the last two paragraphs are not fully developed- I'm still processing how to reconcile all of that.

  3. This was such an inspirational and instructional post to me - thank you so much for sharing! (Update: I've actually just gone back and read several of your recent posts - I love how rich and grounded your blog is! You've got such a clear perspective.) I think even as a single girl, it's hard not to get carried away imagining or hoping or planning for what it will be like "one day", and ultimately spending too much time that way and not near enough time focused on Christ and His goals for me. I don't want to say too much, though, since I think you've covered everything sufficiently with the post. Just wanted to tell you that I appreciate this blog & what you're saying. I'll be sticking around. ^.^

  4. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift. obat mandul

  5. Dear Bailey,
    I think very few people think of this! Although I am not courting/dating/betrothed, I can appreciate all of what you write.
    Another piece of godly wisdom to add to the stack.
    Thank you again!
    Your sister in Christ.

  6. Very interesting post. I think I agree with you in concept though I know we differ on the implementation. I was committed to my husband and knew he was committed to me long before we actually got a marriage license and stood in front of witnesses to make our vows to each other. I think there comes a time when you know your guy is "the one" and if you also know he knows the same thing about you, then your mindset will naturally change from that of a single person to that of part of a couple. This is a good and right thing in my opinion. And I think it is astute of you to be aware that your relationship is not there yet. A related point: I liked how you started the post with how people ask how a romantic relationship is going. In my experience, when you *know*, others do too. They may even know before you. When my husband and I had been dating about 9 months he met a childhood friend of mine. The friend said to me, "You two are obviously going to get married eventually." just based on seeing us together for a few hours. When I later told a friend who knew us both that we were engaged, he was more confused than surprised. He said, "I assumed you had been engaged for awhile."

    Curiosity question: Did your boyfriend read this post before you posted it? If so, what was his reaction?


  7. Adele,

    Actually, my friends joke about us getting married all the time and see us like a couple, an engaged couple. This is pondering about how to be single when the relationship (at least from my perspective) IS there, but marriage is still far off.

    My boyfriend's reaction was, "It's really weird to think of me as single." I don't remember him offering an opinion on whether this post was correct or not.

  8. I'm glad that was your boyfriend's reaction. :-) Thanks for sharing.


  9. There are numerous examples in the Bible of no betrothal, for instance Ester or Abigail. (Ester 2, 1 Samuel 25)

    Consider Ruth. Is not her encounters with Boaz just such as modern dating? He perceives her and treats with special concern. And she abides by his requests. And then she approaches him further, and he fulfills the cultural requirements of their day and place.

    I've read 1st Corinthians. It's in a good book. If you date, it is for marriage; as meat is for the belly. (1 Corinthians 6.13)

    I didn't realize you could pursue purity. I mean you can't wash in a hogwallow? If I understand correctly; you either got it, or you ain't got it.

  10. Okkkk, let me clarify something that I thought obvious:


    The only reason I mention betrothal is because (1) it, besides married and unmarried, is the only relationship status mentioned in Scripture; and (2) Paul lumps even the betrothed into the unmarried/single category. The point was that if betrothed/engaged people who HAVE a promise to marry count as singles, so do dating couples.


    Well, you just killed the very point of sanctification. ;) Why pursue righteousness? You either got it or you don't. Guess I shouldn't even try, then.


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