I work with Christian college students who are in the throes of dating or of wanting to be dating. Nearly every week during the school year, I am asked questions (mostly by ladies) about the ins-and-outs of the dating process. Questions like, "What's the biblical model for dating?" "Is it okay for girls to pursue guys?" and, "Do you believe there is one person out there for me?" I am even asked to arrange dates.
Yet when it comes to directing them to resources about relationships, often I'm uncomfortable recommending many of the Christian resources available. While no doubt the purveyors of these resources mean well, I find that many of the resources lack significant social and theological acuity.
Rules and regulations (mostly geared toward women) like, "Do not call or text him," "Never ask a guy out, let him pursue you, let him initiate," "Do not pray together," and "Only go on group dates" are often touted as inviolable and sacrosanct, as if they are dating principles derivable straight from the Bible. Really, most are cultural preferences, and are often one-sided and narrow in their approach. We need a greater vision—a more holistic way of thinking and speaking that contextualizes these admonitions.
For example, I believe we have conflated a unilateral campaign for sexual abstinence with deep, robust theological reflection on human relationships and sexuality. It's one thing to teach that God wants us to remain pure (which is, by the way, about more than not having sex). It's another thing to sabotage what might otherwise be sexually pure, healthy, male-female relationships with an inordinately long list of do's and don'ts. (I touched on this subject in another Her.meneutics post.)
Yet the Christian conversation about dating is making a turn for the better, if a new website and Christian college event are any indication.
Recently I found out about the site IKissedDatingHello.com. IKDH dubs itself as a place for "A (Somewhat Irreverent) Conversation Between The Sexes about The Trials And Tribulations Of Christian Dating." Obviously the name is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the title of Joshua Harris's best-selling I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Two friends, Chanel Graham and Sarah Roorda, met in New York City and launched the site in 2009 after a coffee-shop conversation. Chanel is a Biola University alumna with a degree in English, psychology, and a minor in biblical studies. Sarah graduated from Calvin College with a degree in business communications. They both live in Brooklyn. In order to find out more about IKDH, I contacted Chanel with a few questions.
MG: What motivated you to start the site? Did you feel that a particular perspective on dating wasn't being represented within Christian culture?
CG: We felt like there was an authentic conversation about Christian dating that wasn't happening. Or at the very least, the conversation that was happening wasn't one we could relate to at this stage of our lives. Of course there is a plethora of dating books and websites about topics like courtship or waiting until marriage to have sex or even dealing with singleness. But none of the resources we had available to us answered the deepest questions tugging at our hearts.
Like, if we have it relatively "together" in most areas of our lives, why can't we make our relationships work? Is it possible that Christian culture has taught us to approach dating in a way that's unhealthy? Why have our dating experiences been so damaging even if we've dated fellow Christians? We felt like the questions were worth engaging, and it turned out our community of Christian friends shared many of the same concerns. So we created a space where Christians could feel safe to explore the answers.
MG: What are some misconceptions Christians have about dating?
CG: One of the biggest misconceptions Christians have about dating is that as long as you're not having sex, you're dating appropriately. As we've explored on the site, there is an entire realm of how we treat and love one another well in relationships beyond how we relate sexually. Whether it's avoiding pseudo-dating where intentions are unclear, turning a mate into an idol, or even breaking up without wounding the other, there are many aspects to dating as a Christian that go unnoticed.
Another major misconception we've seen is the belief that marriage will solve issues of loneliness, insecurity, etc. Marriage is a wonderful thing, and we'll agree that a loving, committed relationship does give you the space to work out some of those challenges. But the work of submitting yourself to Christ's redemptive care doesn't begin the second you get married or land a serious relationship. There is room for growth, room to learn more about how to care for people well and how to engage in the work of relationship prior to walking down the aisle.
Chanel and Sarah aren't the only ones who have picked up on our need for healthier dialogue about relationships and sexuality. On Valentine's Day, Biola University kicked off its first ever "DTR" (define the relationship) Week. Biola reports that findings from an alumni survey show "relationships were the greatest joy and greatest pain for graduating students," and that many of their students either too quickly jumped into relationships "headed for marriage" or they dated "too casually." In events scheduled throughout the week, professors and speakers addressed topics such as abstinence, healthy and unhealthy relationships, homosexuality, and singleness, with the goal of fostering healthy conversations among students. Even Chanel and Sarah from IDKH were involved in the events going on at Biola.
It is my hope that refreshingly honest and thoughtful community conversations like the ones at IKDH and Biola become commonplace at Christian colleges and universities like mine and in our churches. It is about time. We desperately need them.