Dating and “Christian” Values

I was browsing my news feed the other day, and I came across this post from Kotaku.  They have a biweekly dating advice column that I usually pass over because the thought of reading about the romantic woes of what I presume are mostly male letter writers usually doesn’t have any sort of appeal; male gamers tend to fit a certain profile, and I prefer to subject myself to minimum eye rolls in the course of any given day.

This one caught my interest precisely because I knew it was going to cause me some eye rolls, but morbid curiosity got the better of me.  It’s titled “My Crush Keeps Betraying My Christian Values.”

Stop and take a moment to consider what lies waiting in this letter.  How many ways will the writer slut shame the object of his infatuation, and how myopic is he that he can’t differentiate between what he thinks is important and what another human being thinks is important?

I had to know.

Let’s see what the letter writer has to say:

I am an 18-year-old homeschooled guy who has never dated anyone before.

Full stop.

There are a couple things implied by this introduction that need to be addressed.  They’re not even things that should be ridiculed.  First thing is the writer’s age.  I’ve worked with teenagers for a few years now, and the one thing I can say with pretty strong certainty is that they don’t have a clue about relationships at eighteen.  Developmentally speaking, you’re not fully mature until your early twenties, let alone filled with the experiential wisdom that allows you to understand that relationships are built on the give and take between two people according to their individual needs and desires.  Second thing is that if this kid’s been home schooled, then he’s doubly sheltered (necessary caveat: not all home schooling is bad; home schooling based on a fundamentalist desire to shield your children from the culture at large is).  Again, neither of these factors is his fault; by themselves they don’t imply the writer’s worthy of ridicule.  They do suggest that whatever follows, he’s going to need the core advice that he spend some time engaging with the world outside his home and church to help round out his perspective on whatever issues he’s asking for help with.

Let’s move on.

In the recent years, I’ve had a secret crush on a certain girl (I’ll refer to her as ‘L’). We’ve known each other since we were little grade school kids romping around on the beach and having fun, and we grew up as friends. Everything seemed nice and rosy up until middle school. That’s when L took a turn for the worse (behaviorally and morally). She called stupid the idea of waiting until marriage to have sex, something which utterly contradicts what I believe as a Christian, according to the Bible. Although I still liked L, it saddened me deeply to learn of her new viewpoints. Things hadn’t gotten much better in the years to come. She succumbed to the flirtations of other guys without restraint, going along with anything just to be given attention (all the while that I watched it all dejectedly). She’s even casually dropped a couple f-bombs when sharing with me some mildly bothersome experiences from school. Despite all these metaphorical daggers being inadvertently stabbed into my heart through the years, I’ve still had a crush on her, and somehow kept alive a faint glimmer of hope. My heart has refused to acknowledge that the way things are now is how they’ll be forevermore.

Here’s the background on the object of this kid’s affections, L.  The first, most obvious thing, is that she is, in his mind, every bit an object.  There’s room for him to feel disappointed that L doesn’t share his beliefs, but what he describes here goes way beyond that.  The phrase, “She succumbed to the flirtations of other guys,” utterly removes her agency with regard to how she chooses to pursue romantic relationships.  L isn’t given any credit for making her own decisions or having her own motivations here.  Even the elaboration that she “[goes] along with anything to be given attention” suggests that what motivation the writer does perceive from her is based in vanity rather than any sort of desire based in intimacy or even simple libido (make no mistake that the writer’s phrasing is just a series of euphemisms for L’s active sex life, which he thinks of as something distasteful).

Also note how this section closes out with a ton of wallowing in his own bad feels for how her decisions about her personal life are constant betrayals to him despite his own admission that he’s never professed a romantic interest in her.  People can make their own choices about their relationships, and it’s dickish to claim entitlement to someone else’s affections if they’ve never agreed to reciprocate in the first place.

One last bit of information now:

And as for the dating situation: like I said, I have never dated anyone yet. I have been cautious and vigilant in whom I’d even consider as a potential date. Any fault I’d see would be a turnoff, and I just couldn’t seem to gain any ground.

I have had an idealistic perspective on dating in general. My dream is to marry my first date; I want to make it count. I want to be able to say I have never dated anyone before I would have met my future wife.

It’s important to remember that this is a kid writing this letter; he’s young and naive, and he probably has no clue how warped any of his perspective is.  The simple answer to his ideas about dating is this: don’t expect anyone to be perfect, and practice maintaining relationships so that down the road you can have a successful marriage if that’s what you want.  Sex is not a prerequisite for dating, and if you feel strongly that you should wait until marriage, then communicate that with your romantic partners up front.

What’s not so simple is the writer’s underlying assumption that he’s going to find a perfect partner.  This line, “Any fault I’d see would be a turnoff,” is gross.  It feeds into the Madonna/whore dichotomy that a lot of men fall into in their conception of women.  The simple advice counteracts it, but it ignores the specific problem of failing to see half the human population as fully human.

The fascination with not dating before marriage also smacks of the subculture that buys into Joshua Harris’s message in I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships.  Harris was twenty-three and unmarried when he published his book, and it’s pretty obvious that a lot of what he had to say at the time was simply built on the assumptions that young people with little experience make about things.  If you’re interested in getting an overview of the book and why it’s very not good, you can check out Samantha Field’s review series (first post found here).

Again, it’s important to remember that a lot of this kid’s perspective is derived from the fact that he’s a kid.  He’s immature, and through no fault of his own he was raised in a subculture that’s instilled some seriously damaging ideas about how women should behave.  Having said that, the fact that he’s a product of his culture doesn’t reduce the potential harm he could do to people near him (the failure to recognize boundaries, the unrealistic expectations placed on other people, the self-obsession are all traits that could lead to abusive behavior in the future).

Now, a separate issue that I want to address with this column is in the comments themselves (you would think I’d know better than to read comments, especially on a site like Kotaku where there’s a large population of entitled men who don’t grok their own sense of entitlement).  It’s been a while since I touched on this topic, but I figured it was time to bring it up again.

Christianity is not monolithic.  American evangelical and fundamentalist Christians do not have a monopoly on Christian belief.  To say that a person’s sex life offends your beliefs as a Christian erases all the Christians who don’t have a problem with premarital sex.  Do not assume that any one person’s Christian beliefs (regardless of whether they say they believe something “according to the Bible,” because hermeneutics are things that exist) are representative of all Christians’ beliefs.

I saw so many comments to this letter along the lines of, “That was pretty harsh advice, so here’s a Christian perspective” that would then include so many of the same sexist assumptions the writer makes in his letter that it was infuriating.  Christianity is an old, complex religion, and there is a lot of room for disagreement about its details, and it’s tiring to see evangelicals, fundamentalists, and non-Christians alike perpetuating the idea that it is only a fundamentalist Christian theology that’s representative of the faith as a whole.

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5 thoughts on “Dating and “Christian” Values

  1. As annoying as it might be to read conservative and fundamentalist viewpoints, it’s important to take the pulse of where their thoughts are at – to see how alive and well these teachings are. I saw it this way – it’s not fair for me to expect other people to follow the rules that I was taught especially if they weren’t taught the same rules and don’t have the same understanding about what the rules are.

    • It’s a fair point to say that you should be aware of what differing perspectives are saying on a topic if your goal is to be in conversation with those perspectives. Even in terms of compassion, I think it’s good to try to practice empathy with someone’s else’s mindset; that strikes me as good practice in working to be more Christlike.

      At the same time, there needs to be room for saying firmly, “This viewpoint is actively harmful.” The subject in this case is a young man who shows a lot of presumptions that will likely lead him to hurt women he pursues romantically; a justice-oriented perspective that prioritizes their well-being isn’t going to have time to be gentle in pointing out how he’s working from bad information.

      • I guess it’s something in the water, something fundamental to that particular sub-set of Christianity that has the all-or-nothing black-and-white type thinking, I’ve been reading Slacktivist’s breakdown of Left Behind and the same treatment of women exists there – women are either angelic or they aren’t. They don’t see grey areas. It is a really harmful viewpoint … but one so old and common that defeating it has always proved a challenge. For me, when I realized that other people had other viewpoints, I began to question my own. So continuing to speak out against it, offering alternatives is a good idea.

      • Slacktivist is a great resource for seeing how the white evangelical subculture operates; I started questioning a lot of these same assumptions myself after I started reading Fred’s blog a few years ago.

        In terms of looking at how fundamentalism is damaging to women in particular, I might suggest you check out Samantha Field’s blog; she was raised in a fundamentalist church, home schooled, and attended Pensacola Christian College where a long time boyfriend raped her; she’s spent years unpacking all the baggage that kind of experience gives a person, and she always does it in a way that’s extremely engaging. She and Fred are the two religion bloggers that I read compulsively.

        http://samanthapfield.com/

      • Thanks! I’m most interesting in taking down complementarianism a notch, so I hope that her page will help me to learn about the thinking that underlies it.

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