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Christian Dating Culture: Being Relationally Single and Spiritually Engaged

False reality

In Corinthians 13:4-7, it states, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Christians grow up and learn about the concept of love as a selfless act to perform for God and others. However, many are tempted and deceived by the manifestation of false expectations about what love looks like, how it acts and what its practices are in a relationship based on external influences of a Christian dating culture or observations seen in the church.

This pretense cultivates a naïve perception and environment that urges singles to pursue romantic interests carelessly and couples to display “perfect” attributes and characteristics in the relationship. Christian institutions perpetuate this lifestyle to their students, thereby establishing a distorted mindset about what dating should look like.

“People seem desperate.”

In a 2015 article, Christianity Today interviewed Jon Birger, author of “Date-onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Number Game,” about the effects of the dating life on women, as well as the dating culture in Christian colleges. Birger wondered:

What if the hookup culture on today’s  colleges campuses and the wild ways of the big-city singles scene have little to do with changing values and a whole lot to do with lopsided gender ratios that pressure 19-year-old girls to [date] and discourage 30-year-old guys from settling down?

When asked about what dating culture is like at John Brown University, the responses varied between female and male students—as to be expected. Presumably, the dating culture in Christian institutions puts more pressure on females due to traditional expectations and the perception of failure when they are single for a long period of time.

“I think there is a lot of good heart behind purity culture and dating culture, but I think the way the message has been communicated has created a lot of damage,” Zoe Ward, junior family and human services major, said. “These messages are communicated in various  conversations and distributed on different platforms. Countless ring-by-spring conversations on campus, social media posts and Instagram pages display people who would be ‘perfect’ together in a relationship.”

Furthermore, Ward analogized how the Church presents purity culture to women by using a flower, and every time that a woman is tempted to impure acts or thoughts, a petal is lost. Although dramatic in presentation, this notion tells women how no one is going to pick them if they have no more petals.

Daniel Escalona, sophomore marketing major, asserted that the dating culture at JBU makes “people seem desperate” to get into a relationship. “People want to rush into relationships because they think they’re going to find their happily-ever-after,” he said. “As a guy, I feel that the Church has never put that much pressure on me to be dating. I’m young; we’re all young, and we should be enjoying our youth and focusing on building a better relationship with God.”

Relationships in a busy world

Most college students in their early 20s have big dreams and aspirations, but they can easily lose sight of how much life is ahead of them when living inside of a bubble like JBU. Christian schools pride themselves on building wholesome and welcoming communities, but students, especially those living on campus, base their relationships off the environment around them. If students are not exposed to outside environments, there are no outside factors that are affecting their relationships.

College students live busy lives, and sometimes a relationship can be added stress. It is understandable why single students may feel lonely when they see another engagement announcement pops up on their feed, but there is value to be found in singleness.

“Sometimes we have more to learn from what we don’t have than what we do. We are called to discover more about the image of God that is inside of us,” Courtney McCollum, junior psychology major, said. “What about us needs to be explored before we engage in unconditional love with our lifelong partner?”

This sentiment is shared between both men and women since being single can be fruitful and full of lessons of self-discovery for individuals. Tanner Gerwig, sophomore economics major, said, “Don’t be discontent with that stage of life you’re currently in. A relationship doesn’t guarantee happiness, and there are many ways you can bring joy into your life without a partner.” Gerwig emphasized to not “set high expectations” for relationships and acknowledged that a relationship will come when the time is right.

Single for some, married for others

Two types of mindsets must be created to counteract the stigma of singleness and dating culture in Christian circles.

First, individuals should develop an attitude that repels the comments or posts of others. This does not mean to be crude in response or subconscious, but single Christians must avoid the self-defeating attitudes this culture might create within themselves. Reject the self-destructive statements and actions of this dating culture and mature a durable mindset that progresses—not regresses—self-confidence in singleness.

Second, keep in mind that, while the Church seems to insist on singleness to be less valued than relationships, the Bible seems to celebrate it. In 1 Corinthians 7:7, the apostle Paul states, “God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.” While Paul points out difficulties in both marriage and singleness, he acknowledges that singleness allows believers to freely concentrate on a relationship with God.

“It would be good to see your wholeness as a single person … and talking about being created in the image of God means you’re enough,” Ward said. “Paul talked about how in heaven people will neither be married or given a marriage, we will be one body united together.” Whether a person is in a relationship or not, Church institutions should be showing all members the same love and grace that God provides in our relationship with Him. Understandably, negative, individual actions perpetuate this atmosphere in such institutions, but, when we are relationally single without a partner, we are never spiritually alone.