If you grew up Evangelical, you are probably very familiar with the term “date to marry.” Since Evangelical culture is obsessed with heterosexual relationships and then creating very narrow and specific ways in which we – as complex and very complicated beings – are supposed to behave within them, “date to marry” is how we Evangelical confused tweenies to confused adults were taught to engage with the opposite sex.
In the normal or “secular” world, there are lots of reasons to date. You can date just to meet new people and improve your conversation skills. You can date for the purpose of getting laid because stranger sex is novel and fun sometimes. You can date for the purpose of trying new restaurants in a new city with a hot person. You can date post breakup to prove you can have a good time with another human who isn’t the heartbreaker. You can even date just for a free meal. And although I think this specific reason is kind of cruel and unfeminist, I also completely understand. Inflation is high. Girls gotta eat.
My subconscious world/life view was a divine punch card that, instead of earning me a free latte, earned me a person.
However, there is only one dating purpose option in Evangelical culture, and that is…Date to marry. The end.
I was raised to treat dating as a sort of capitalistic pursuit. Dating was a means to an end, another effort at goal achieving. If I did all the right things – pursued God, didn’t have sex or do anything too sexual with someone who wasn’t my husband, and only had interest in “men of God" -- I would get rewarded a husband by God pretty quickly. And it wasn’t just the husband that was the reward. It was getting to forego all the “unnecessary” heartbreak of relationships that didn’t end in sanctified matrimony.
The only purpose of dating anyone was to land myself in a white dress, exchanging vows and purity rings, and having an altar call. (I have personally never understood the altar call at Evangelical weddings thing. Isn’t mostly everyone there already a Christian? Are they really using up precious paid venue time for like, the one cousin who moved to Portland and got her nipples pierced? One lost sheep, I suppose.) Any other kind of dating was purposeless, worldly, and SINFUL.
Basically, do what God tells you, avoid hardship, get ultimate reward in the form of a spouse. My subconscious world/life view was a divine punch card that, instead of earning me a free latte, earned me a person.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this “dating to marry” approach to dating in New York City in my early twenties had less than ideal return rates. It did not translate to New York dating culture like, at all. I eventually just ditched the husband hunt effort, enjoyed some drinks and had a lot of sex I don’t remember* while all my friends back home got engaged. Some call it settling, I call it adapting.
*Months before moving to New York, I made the decision to no longer save sex time for marriage. You can read more about that here.
Dating has certainly caused me varying degrees of anxiety over the years (See: Guard Your Heart), but once I left the Midwest and landed in New York City –where I was certain I’d find a husband ASAP (LOL) – my anxiety around hanging out with the opposite sex took a weird, unexpected, internal turn.
My date to marry anxiety started manifesting itself in a deeply powerful prophecy: A self-hate-self-fulfilling prophecy.
My underlying belief that good women get rewarded good husbands led me to believe that since I was no longer good -- just enjoying drinks and having sex I don’t remember and all that -- God was punishing me. I was an unlovable ho, so God was husband withholding.
Lame sex, no husand, lots of well tequila. I live here now.
After 3 years of dating in New York City, I had a sort of meltdown and called my brother to discuss this sort of meltdown. Based on what I told him, he suggested two books “Living Beautifully” by Pema Chodran and “You Can Heal Your Heart” by Louise Hay. Additionally, a close friend of mine suggested “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Alan Singer.
This was the beginning of my bibliotherapy (and eventually real therapy) journey.
I was ready to give this whole change your thoughts change your life Jedi mind trick thing a try because I wanted to start living abundantly, God damnit.
These books absolutely blew my mind. They offered that our past is shaping our current beliefs and our current beliefs are shaping our lived reality. Life wasn’t a system of “do this and hopefully be blessed by God,” it was actually something I was building, one belief brick upon another.
Here is a little breakdown of what I figured out I believed about myself in about 6 months and umpteen self-help books:
I was still defining myself by the fact that I did not get married to the one and only man I’d ever loved right out of college. I believed he did not “love me enough” to choose me as his wife, and internalized that to mean I was not enough; that I did not deserve love.
I was undeserving of love from God because I was choosing to have premarital sex and slowly falling away from the Evangelical Christian faith. If the God of the Universe didn’t love me, no good thing could or would ever come my way.
Evangelical culture loves a “quiet and gentle spirit” in women and I simply cannot think of two more opposite ways to describe me than “quiet” and ”gentle.” The more I got to know my true self in New York City, the more I liked my true self. But felt like I shouldn’t like my true self because me just being me was “wrong in the eyes of the Lord.” Oi.
Love was always something to be sought from an external resource i.e., God or Future Spouse. I did not know loving myself was an option.
I genuinely thought I was a piece of shit. I never said a single nice thing to me. I was always beating myself up -- from auditions, to my body, to romantic endeavors. And I repeated these mean messages to myself constantly.
The concept of Original Sin contributed heavily to my belief that I was bad. I believed I was born bad, and that I’m nothing without God. And since God didn’t approve of me and my lifestyle choices…you get the picture.
These books suggested that if I continued to believe I was inherently bad and unworthy of good things, I would never receive good things. If I wanted my dating life and my life in general to start looking up, I had to adjust my beliefs. I had to change the way I thought about myself in the world, with my higher power, and with others.
A quick break to say that, if you are a Recovering Evangelical and something as simple as going on a date has led you to a panic attack/existential crises, perhaps reading all of the above will give you some permission in self-grace. We are up against some real shit, my dudes.
Once I became aware and gained some fundamental tools for how to healthily process former beliefs that used to define me within the Evangelical mind heart body matrix, I came out of my religiously and sexually wounded fog.
The best news is, you don’t have to wait for God to change all of it via blessings from above!
At least, that’s what the books said. And I was ready to give this whole change your thoughts change your life Jedi mind trick thing a try because I wanted to start living abundantly, God damnit (see what I did there).
It didn’t happen overnight, that is for sure. Changing my known, familiar, and life long operating system was/is HARD FUCKING WERK. But I just kept at it, little by little. The first steps for me were:
Catch myself when I say a mean thing to me and replace it with a nice thing. Remember in youth group when they used to tell boys to replace their lustful thoughts with a Bible verse? Kinda like that.
Celebrate the smallest wins. Like literally if I didn’t put ketchup on my vegetables at dinner and instead seasoned them with Himalayan Salt and Umami like a real adult person, I gave myself a mental gold star.
So I did all that. I began consciously and action-ly practicing all of this.
In conclusion, my suggested first step(s) in "dating to marry” as a Recovering Evangelical is to identify your limiting beliefs-- specifically in dating and your view of yourself-- that stem from how you were raised in Evangelical and purity culture. This is an ongoing venture, but you have to start somewhere.
Then, see where those beliefs are proving to be true in your life because you believe they are true. If you want a different result, identify what that different desired result is and get really specific about how you can adjust your thoughts on this topic. How you can show up for you.
Since such an integral part of what makes the Evangelical motor run is disconnection and distrust of oneself, this step is essential, and cannot be skipped.
A final note to say you don’t have to be fully focusing on yourself OR dating. These actions are not always exclusive. We did not leave the black and white, right or wrong, sin or sanctification of Evangelical culture to exist in binaries. I’m simply suggesting that a decent amount of healing so you can go into the dating space with personal clarity – as well as allow for growth within dating – is necessary.
Once I became aware and gained some fundamental tools for how to healthily process former beliefs that used to define me within the Evangelical mind heart body matrix, I came out of my religiously and sexually wounded fog. Which made me better company like, in general, but definitely on dates.
Turns out, “dating to marry” as a Recovering Evangelical had nothing to do with someone else. Instead, it called me to live a life where my greatest priority was not my relationship with my future spouse or my relationship with Jesus.
My greatest priority was my relationship with me.