I didn’t expect to write two angry-at-abusive-mindset posts back to back, but here I am. This needs to be said.

Christians take romantic relationships too seriously.

Not even just courtship-only Christians, or virgins-until-wedding-night Christians. Pretty much any sincere Christian who wants to serve God and honor him with how they handle a romantic relationship is going to be prone to this obsession with doing things right.

Let me back up.

Now, first: I have no regrets with how my life so far has turned out. It’s mine, it’s beautiful, it’s messy, it’s hard, but I have been a survivor and I have grown through hardship and become more me, more whole.

But. I feel that I was told some things which are common assumptions for most Christians, and I now think that these are unnecessary and harmful. So I’m going to name them.

1) Christians are given special knowledge about God’s will for their lives because they can have a relationship with God, so they should to get things right in romantic relationships because otherwise they’ll be a bad witness for the gospel. Subtext: the world is screwy and doesn’t get sex or love right because they don’t know Jesus, but we can because we do know Jesus. Sub-subtext: it’s us vs. The World.

2) Christians don’t need to fool around because they believe sex outside of marriage is wrong, and they should be able to get things right in relationships because they have Jesus, so it should be possible to find your mate quickly/early on without dating around a lot. This will show the world how we get it right and make them curious about Jesus because we’re different, and getting married at 22 instead of 28.

3) If assumptions #1 and #2 are true, a Christian couple can actually manage to be virgins on their wedding night, so all Christians really need to try to live up to this standard. There’s no good reason not to achieve this. If you don’t, your faith is probably weak and you’re a bad witness.

4) We have to submit to our authority structures in the family and in the church to be accountable in our relationships. Unbelievers don’t believe in God so they don’t have any respect for authority or accountability or consequences, so they’re more likely to sin sexually in a romantic relationship or just do what feels good instead of being responsible, committed, or mature. Christians know we are sinful and our hearts may want to be just like the unbelievers, so we need to be transparent to authority and have our fathers, mentors, and pastors help and guide us and let us know where we’re in sin, being lazy, or hurting our significant other in how we act in our relationships.

5) You may not end up with the one you’re with, so don’t do anything that would be committing emotional or physical infidelity. If your desires are uncontrollable, you probably need to marry the person you’re with, because it’s [somehow] less of a serious sin if you end up getting married.

6) Dating early (15-17) is okay as long as you are serious and committed to “honoring God” with your relationship and have older, wiser people involved.

7) Christians can have better marriages than unbelievers even if certain things in a relationship are harmful or immature, because knowing and practicing biblical gender roles and committing to your marriage vows will honor God’s plan for your life and he’ll give you extra grace for keeping your promises when it’s hard.

I saw a lot of people acting on these assumptions inside the Christian bubble, courtship-minded and not, complementarians and egalitarians, homeschoolers and mainstream Christians. The folks at my Christian college seemed to all be in a rush to be paired off at the end of senior year and married by the end of the summer after graduation. The folks in my homeschooling community back home similarly pressured themselves to pair off and get married and have babies — it was as if they felt like real adult life couldn’t commence if they weren’t settled down and married. Most of them would never dream of living on their own (away from their family of origin) unless it was to get married. [That's an extreme that's less common, but you get the point -- real life starts when you're married.]

Even my husband and I rushed to get married because we were trying to sate the intense pressure we felt from my dad and others to “get it right” — and for whatever reason it wasn’t seen as a good option to break up or take more time to be sure that we were sure, or that we were mature enough, or had done all the single-life things we wanted to do before getting married. My dad certainly pressured us to find those things out, but it was because marriage was seen as the endgame, not because it would make us better individuals.

I have a few thoughts on how to why these assumptions are harmful and how we can improve the way Christians approach dating/romance, but I’m just getting the conversation going, really.

Dating doesn’t have to be huge, serious, or marriage-focused. Maybe it can just be getting to know people and yourself. Maybe it can just be enjoying a person for who they are, and maybe the romance can just naturally flow from that sweet spot where connection and friendship meet. Maybe taking all those crappy purity metaphors too literally restricts us and makes us more naive and vulnerable to abusive situations than we should be. It undermines healthy emotional development and a right sense of boundaries to commit yourself to this complicated, authority-and-shame driven path where it’s easier to “mess up” than it is to enjoy a person and learn from your relationship with them, and then either move on, or continue to grow in trust and intimacy in a wholesome manner.

And dating relationships should never, ever be focused on proving a point about Christianity “getting it right” or some other bizarre evangelism-by-example tool. That goes against the truth of grace and the power of the incarnation. Relationships are human. We’re going to do some things right and we’re going to hurt each other. Jesus became human, not to show us how to do it right, but to meet us where we’re at and free us from shame.

Let’s talk about this. What do you think? How can Christians avoid making the subject of relationships and romance a legalistic fear fest? How can we practice healthy boundaries and emotional growth in romance? And can we please, please talk about how a right theology of the body would improve everything about Christian dating assumptions?


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=68110455 Julianne Christie

    I think a lot of the intense fear and worry over Purity (capital P: including physical/emotional/spiritual/etc) is the result of so much stress put on the children by their parents. Even though our generation was raised in this “court not date!” mentality, we have to remember that our parents were NOT raised in it. Very few of our parent’s generation were part of the courtship-frenzy. Physical purity was encouraged (as it always has been for a zillion years), and especially pressured on the girls. I was talking to a really great older lady in her late 60’s about it and her words were very simple: “Premarital Sex? Most of us just didn’t do it.” Sure some did, but she was quick to remind me that “People back then also got married a lot younger than they do now. The economy is different now than it was then and it made more sense to get married right out of high school than wait until we were in our 30’s. Believe me, if I could have waited until I was 30 to get married, I would have!” This lady was not at all raised in a courtship and Purity-obsessed community. She was raised in a typical middle-class home, and was public-school educated.
    Our parents were also raised in that culture, but since then have become aware of the ever creeping-in sexual education of the world. Premarital sex is now much more accepted than it once was, and they are worried that their children are going to be craving sex and be wildly sexually active starting at age 8.
    The best thing they could do is not scare their children entirely out of sex – how confusing it will be on the wedding night! (“Sex is sinful and you should be ashamed of your bodies!!! Ok you’re married now, have at it! Suddenly it isn’t sinful- but remember sex is only to make babies!”) Be matter-of-fact about sex. Explain that the clitoris has one function – female sexual pleasure. If God had intended sex to be only about making babies, why would He have made it feel so nice?
    Explain to your kids that the act of sex (not rape!) brings two people together emotionally and intimately – as well as very physically. If you want your kids to remain virgins until marriage, give them the support and the tools needed to WANT to stay virgins. Virginity isn’t a terrible burden that is finally thrown off as soon as the wedding dress and the tuxedo come off. But don’t make them feel like they’re going to hell if they decide NOT to wait until marriage to have sex.

    • YourStandardIsNotGods

      god created boundaries. if we can not teach our children to understand and accept these boundaries, then you are right, they will remain confused. but really, it is a simple concept to understand. don’t take shortcuts. there is a proper time and place for sexual intimacy – and that is only within a marriage. all other activity IS sinful indeed, and dirty. let’s teach our kids this concept. nothing legalistic about it at all. god says to do it this way, the right way. if we can not accept god’s absolute standard truth then we are all doomed for confusion. and we do need to teach our children that an eternal consequence of sin, any sin, not just sexual immorality, does put us in jeopardy of punishment. there is nothing wrong at all with a healthy fear of god’s righteousness. thanks!

  • Bethany

    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing, and please continue doing so.

  • Abbey Ferenczy

    I agree with all of the assumptions/misconceptions that Christians live by when it comes to romance. And I also agree that there was intense social pressure at that particular Christian college to be if not engaged, ready to be engaged, by the end of our careers there. Several of my friends agreed that they felt more socially accepted once they had a ring.
    Thankfully, I didn’t have that kind of pressure from my family, but I did definitely feel it at school. My experience was actually almost completely opposite. The people who knew me, my friends and my family were extremely discouraging of my engagement, but my acquaintances at the school were more than eager to talk to me about all my plans and make me almost “accepted” as one of the crowd.
    The problem, I think, with the pressure at that particular school and in general within Christian communities is the rush to get from being good friends to fiances to spouses. There should be no rush because there is a time for everything, for every season. Something is lost in the rush between each step, and that is usually the logical side of things that help someone to think through the compatibility and other issues that can be overlooked in favor of the pressure, approval, romantic feelings, etc.
    I will readily admit that my marriage has not been perfect, and a lot of the issues that have arisen may have caused us both to have second thoughts had we known before we were engaged. I will admit that we have both hurt each other severely, perhaps beyond repair, but we’re still trying.
    Many things are sacrificed when rushing into things and avoiding logic and even intimacy in relationships. I’m not saying premarital sex is going to help anything, but knowing several couples who shared their first kiss on their wedding day, ignoring the physical side of romance can be detrimental.
    Pressure to be perfect is destructive, on so many levels. It is only in God that we are perfect. Not in our spouses or families or friends…

    • YourStandardIsNotGods

      call me an idealist, but a couple waiting until their wedding night to share their first kiss probably is the most romantic virtue i can imagine. not that i believe hand holding and semi-passionate kissing falls under the category of sin. (push it too far, say maybe fondling, then yes we may just have an argument!) and i agree that waiting until marriage to remain sexually pure indeed does not guarantee bliss or a perfect marriage. but it does provide for a better foundation. trust me. or better yet, trust god. it is by his command and instruction that we strive for maintaining our purity. our bodies belong to god, and only until after we are married, are we instructed or permitted to share ourselves with our spouse. nothing wrong for storing this treasure of wisdom in our hearts until that time comes.

  • Saxon @ Let’s Drink Coffee, Da

    I totally agree with your thoughts that our relationships should not be solely to prove a point – that God can make us love better, show us the path better, and find the right mate better than non-Christians. I grew up under the influence youth leaders who really wanted to live out the “I kissed dating goodbye” values. We weren’t always taught those values explicitly, but most definitely by example and encouragement. It seemed like back then, the more things a person could restrict themselves from made them more holy and closer to God….which is so very much like the Pharisees! As a result of this mindset, when I met the man who is now my husband, I was absolutely terrified to start dating him because I wasn’t sure that he was “the one.” How ridiculous is that? That we’ve been either consciously or subconsciously taught that we should know before we even start dating if that person is “the one.”

    Please keep up the wonderful writings! I just read an article a Christian girl posted on facebook tonight that was basically reinforcing every single harmful legalistic teaching you just mentioned in your post. Reading things like that half way anger me, and the other half just wonders if there is any hope for this to ever change and be “normal.” I can remember being that girl who followed all those rules…and all I thought of people who disagreed was that they didn’t really know God or that they had gone astray. How terribly wrong and deceived I was.

  • YourStandardIsNotGods

    jesus said if you love me, then you will keep my commandments. does our lack of keeping his commandments make us not love him? no, of course not. we are sinners. we fail. we repent. we receive forgiveness and redemption. the true loves comes in knowing that we failed, and confessing our failures to him. like any sin, sexual immorality is no different. what i’ve seen though is once an individual becomes involved with another, emotionally and physically, without commitment to maintaining a permanent lasting relationship, then that just becomes a pattern, and lifestyle of successive ungodly relationships. much like any sin, once you ‘do it’ once, then it makes it SO much easier to repeat the sinful behavior. my advice to young people would be to guard your purity with vigor, not in the attempt to ‘prove’ your love for god, but to simply follow his commandment, which only has you and your well being in his utmost plan for your life.

  • YourStandardIsNotGods

    you have definitely initiated a lively conversation. why aren’t more people commenting? i can’t say that i agree with your opinions much, but then again, where your opinion or mine meets the biblical standard is the true test. i would like to mention one topic we don’t hear much about and that is singleness, or as some in the christian community would like to call it — kingdom singleness. i do agree that much of my own fear about my 18 year old daughter ‘messing up’ has shaped my attitudes. she is currently in a ‘romantic’ relationship. my wife is strongly disappointed in my view harshly disagrees with my approval to marry young. (there has been no talk about marriage at all at this point). but my daughter is smart. she is heading off to college and has plans to study engineering. i don’t think she has any thought of marriage until she graduates college or even until after grad school. so, in these next 4-6 years what is her attitude to be regarding dating, relationships, romance etc.? well, other than advice i can give her, the primary reference anyone should have is the bible itself. what does it say? any other source of information regarding a christian’s behavior towards another person of the opposite gender is only a matter of opinion, whether it be godly inspired or false affirmation from a pagan culture. and that is pretty much where any discussion should end. pick up the book, open it, and read it. or go online to bible.cc. blessings!