I am a voracious reader, though you wouldn’t know it by adding up the hours of TV I watch each week.
If something catches my attention (or, let’s be honest, stresses me out) during the day, I instantly hit Google to find every article ever written on the subject.
When it comes to the topics of marriage, sex, and dating, I have always wanted to glean as much information as possible from any available and trustworthy source. This is because I have a horrible fear of messing up in these areas, probably reinforced by years of hearing about depressing divorce rates.
About a year and a half ago, I went through a rough period of break ups (plural, yes, break ups). And I was like, “Okay, what the eff am I doing wrong that I seem to be picking all these people who aren’t right for me?”
So I decided to buy a book to tell me exactly how to make the next one stick.
It was a book by a Christian author who also happened to be a licensed professional counselor, one who specialized in talking about dating and relationships. She, unlike a lot of Christian authors of the 90’s, actually believed in dating and didn’t see it as a sin inevitably leading to lots of premarital sex. So I wanted to trust her.
It started off all right. I mean, she seemed like a nice person. But then I got to the part where she started using her own husband as the ideal of what to look for in a spouse. And then the husband took over and wrote from his perspective about why his wife, the author, was also the ideal. And I was like, barf.
It wasn’t barf because it was so cute and lovely and mushy. It was barf because I was like, “So I’m supposed to use your husband as a measuring stick for my own relationships?”
Feeling like this was the case, I shut the book with an anger which came from a place of sudden insecurity.
I had been dating my boyfriend (now fiancé) for a little while at the time, and I felt like the author was pointing a major finger at me, shaming me for not going about dating the way I was “supposed to” (she wasn’t doing this, she’s probably very nice and smart).
This author had met her husband at a church conference. I met my boyfriend on Tinder, a notorious hook up app (there was no hooking up; I am very much an adorable prude).
Her husband wouldn’t kiss her for about five months in order to maintain the integrity of the relationship. My boyfriend and I watched a movie on our 4th date, so you know how that turned out.
In college, her husband had opted to stay in his dorm room on Friday nights reading his Bible rather than go out. This was definitely not my boyfriend’s experience, and certainly not mine. In fact, I probably would have found this Friday night hermit tendency a tiny bit of a turn off. Did that make me a bad person, attracted to un-Christiany people?
I’d like to say that this experience was an exception to other Christian dating books I’ve read, but unfortunately, it seems to be the norm.
Christian dating books have done little for me other than make me question if I’m doing anything right in my relationships. They have often left me feeling more ashamed, anxious, and insecure than confident in my own ability to make good choices.
Here’s just a few things I’ve learned from Christian dating books:
Both you and the person you are interested in need to have a pretty squeaky clean background, if not a perfect background, prior to dating.
This is apparently true even if you are both adults who may have over 25 years of life experience behind them. Both parties should have made very few sexual, emotional, or dating mistakes in the years prior to meeting each other.
You should have a defined and disciplined period of friendship before you enter a dating relationship.
I actually agree with this one, but life cannot always be controlled in such a way. What about the people who meet online, or are set up on a blind date, where immediately both people are aware the other is seeking a romantic relationship? Because we connected on Tinder, the first time my boyfriend and I met each other was on a date.
If you are going farther physically than just kissing (like, just kissing), you are on a downward spiral and are setting yourselves up for a messy relationship based on physicality alone.
Also, if you mess up physically, your relationship is now not as healthy as the couple that didn’t mess up.
Healthy love stories should play out in a specific manner.
You meet at a fairly young age, before you have had time to date a lot of people (you should not have dated a lot of people before meeting your spouse – this is crucial, and if you have, something is deeply wrong with you), you maintain a friendship, hopefully under the watchful eye of Christian mentors. You start dating, decide this union is blessed, and blissfully get married.
This has not been my story, and of all the stories of the amazing Christian women I actually know in real life, I don’t know one person who fits this bill.
The stories I know are ones of breaking up before getting back together, confusion, premarital sex, hook ups, heartache, fear, worry, difficult transitions to marriage, more than one failed relationship, etc. And yet, these same women are thriving in their marriages or single, dating lives.
These are the stories that are encouraging to me because they are real life. They point to a bigger truth than our own general inability to love other people well, and are not an indication healthy relationships can’t exist in imperfection, like so many Christian dating books will lead you to believe.
Christian dating books tend to focus on the extreme ideal rather than the real, and this makes for a pretty hard standard to live up to.
What I learned from Christian dating books is that while the author usually points out some fundamental and amazing truths about dating, I still had to take responsibility for knowing myself and my own story, and this meant understanding an amazing relationship might not necessarily fit into a certain box.
What has been your experience with Christian dating books? Has it been mostly positive or negative?
There are two books that I will endorse: Loveology, by John Mark Comer (my only beef with this book is that he and his wife married extremely young, so they didn’t have to wait many years for sex and had only ever dated each other). This is a great book in which the author talks about the ideal but admits his awesome marriage is definitely not ideal. You can buy it here.
The second is Are You Waiting For ‘The One’? by Margaret and Dwight Peterson. I haven’t even read this entire book, so maybe I shouldn’t suggest it, but the first chapter alone is worth reading. You can buy this one here.