Growing up Evangelical in rural Missouri, I was bombarded with dating books that told me how to date in a “Godly way.” They were chalk full of “biblically based” behavior guidance from first dates to vows. One of my personal favs was entitled Don’t Date Naked, a play on the concept of dating with the armor of God. Genius. Pure genius.
Although I was not actually doing any dating back in those days, I devoured these books. I wanted to be fully prepared with my Godly dating game plan when the time for me to commence a husband hunt at a realistic age (aka college, duh) arrived. It was also because I’ve always been interested and enthralled by the goings on of romantic love. And horny.
EL OH EL that my purity ring porn was Christian dating books.
The point is, I never learned how to date in a normal, not suffocating, strictly gender role-y get me to the aisle yesterday way. So, after enough bibliotherapy, real therapy, and coming out of my “What the fuck and who the fuck am I” life choice spaghetti slinging around 27 years old, I started writing my own version of how to “date to marry” as a Recovering Evangelical.
Save your body and heart for one person –
your future spouse. Plus Jesus.
You can recap my steps so far here.
Now, for Step 2 of Date to Marry for the Recovering Evangelical: Drum rolllll
You must get very okay with dating not ending in marriage.
WTF Mattie Jo! Isn’t this a series called DATE TO MARRY? What do you mean these relationships will not end IN MARRIAGE?
I know I know, pretend/projected reader. You all the sudden feel very slighted by this dating advice series with marriage in the title. But before you stop reading, don’t stop reading. I will explain.
Because everything in the Evangelical world is rooted in purity culture, “date to marry” logic taught that we should limit the amount of partners we have both emotionally and ESPECIALLY physically on our way to finding the partner God designed for us. Therefore, a solid tactic for excelling at Godly dating was to only fully date someone you knew FOR SURE would become your spouse. This way, you save your body and heart for one person – your future spouse. Plus Jesus.
I realize this idea makes no sense. How can you know if someone is marriage material unless you actually get to know them SLASH DATE THEM? And by dating them, you might figure out they suck and you would not want to be married to them?
The secular/obvious answer is, you can't. If we wanted arranged marriages, wouldn't we be another Abrahamic religion?
The answer we received as Evangelical teens, however, was something about group dating so you can really get to know the person before you spend ‘intimate’ time together. Prayer and guidance from the Lord who apparently has ample free time to play Judge Judy teen/college relationship edition. And faith. All the faith that the Lord will provide you the wisdom to make the right choice about your maybe spouse first date.
I’ve watched this “any guy I go on a date with must become my husband OR ELSE” anxiety wreck the dating experience of mostly otherwise sane women. They put immense pressure on themselves and the dude who just like, wants to grab a drink, to be IT. They can’t even enjoy the date because the whole time before and after they’re consumed with Is he pursuing me? Do I feel courted? Are we spiritually compatible? Will he be able to lead me spiritually? Can I introduce him to my family? WILL WE BE TOGETHA4EVA???
Or they decide very quickly (and completely irrationally) that he is THE ONE and are devastated when, months (days) later, it doesn’t work out. Probably because they’re behaving based on a projection of the person they’re dating not the actual person but what do I know. It’s not like I did the exact same thing for years…
The alternative reaction to this message drives women to marry the first person they’ve ever dated, which probably causes them hella anxiety on the daily. I’m not sure which is worse (it’s this one).
Even after all this work I’d done, I found myself still operating from the belief that if I successfully liked a dude enough in my adult years to call him my boyfriend, it would for sure end in marriage
Since I made it past 23 years old unmarried, I definitely fell into the former category.
After 1-2 dates I’d decide whether they were or were not “husband material.” Even though I didn’t really know what I wanted in a husband and I didn’t really know them. I would either quickly end things or quickly become obsessed because “OMG he is DEFINITELY GOING TO BE MY HUSBAND!!!” I did this well after I didn’t even consider myself religious!
I was also very afraid of relationships ending. I believed that if I actually got to know someone, got to like them – perhaps even grew to love them – and it didn’t end in marriage, that would make me a failure. I felt such deep shame around relationships not ending in “I do’s.”
The point is, I needed a new list. And compiling that list was going to require some research. And that research was going to require me to get really okay with many dates (and relationships!) not ending in marriage.
In early 2019, I started dating/calling this man my boyfriend for about 3 months when we decided to call it quits. After a slight altercation where I mocked his emotional response to March Madness (in my defense, I was high. And when I’m high, I think I’m the world’s best standup comedian), things got weird between us. We agreed that this “fight” was a symptom of the fact that he and I were not long term compatible and we needed to probably “make a decision” about where this was going.
I totally panicked.
Even after all this work I’d done, I found myself still operating from the belief that if I successfully liked a dude enough in my adult years to call him my boyfriend, it would for sure end in marriage. I mean, I did everything “right.” I did the personal healing, the no longer dating dickwads, WHY WASN’T THIS GUY I DATED FOR THREE MONTHS GOING TO BE MY HUSBAND???
What if “Dating to Marry” was just “Dating for Data?”
Because I didn’t want him to be my husband. And how the hell was I going to find that out unless – HELLO – we dated?! We found that, after spending a lot of time together for a few months, we were not long term compatible. And that was A. O. KAY.
Our breakup was the most non-dramatic, grown up breakup ever. It went something like this:
“Hey boyfriend, I think you’re great and this has been fun but I don’t think we are long term compatible.”
“Hey girlfriend, same.”
“Great. Can we still have sex tonight?”
We still follow each other on Instagram.
The greatest gift that relationship gave me was the breakup. It proved that I needed to burn this Date to Marry bullshit once and for all.
Or maybe, I just needed to reclaim it.
What if “Dating to Marry” was just “Dating for Data?”
Instead of putting pressure on every single man I went out with to be it or be gone, I could enjoy and – like a great virgo – take notes. I could make a list of qualities I desire in a partner. More importantly, I could make a new list of qualities I want to be as a partner.
So long as the guy I’m with is treating me with respect and I’m enjoying my time with him, why shouldn’t I continue seeing him? And if we break up, who cares?!
What if instead of diminishing the value of a relationship -- however brief or long term -- to its ability to make it down the aisle, I could do something more useful like ask myself important questions...
“Did I spend the relationship learning about myself? Learning how I respond emotionally, when I need to work on my reactivity, and/or practice better communication. Did I come up against some situations I’d never been up against before and navigate them with integrity? Perhaps I didn’t navigate them with much integrity, so now I know how to do better next time? Did I spend the relationship learning about the kinds of qualities I’m drawn to in partners, what I enjoy and what are non-negotiables? What behaviors to look out for in a healthy relationship and what to avoid. What I can put up with and what I absolutely will not stand for?”
What if dating to marry isn't “please please please please please be THE ONE” but rather “please show me my shit and teach me to be better for myself and the next one.”
Even if it's frustrating and disappointing and, at times, heartbreaking, I choose to actively experience the dating, the relationships, the breakups. And embrace it all as valuable information that will lead me closer to the partnership* I so desire.
Do a damn field study. Take in the fucking data.
*also a quick note to say I don’t even know if I care about getting married anymore. I just want committed partnership, and that doesn’t require tax deductions.
Oh and also, happy Good Friday! Which, can we all agree that "good" is kind of a mean adjective to use for the crucifixion day of Jesus. Shouldn't it be like "brutal as fuck Friday"? Anyway