Horrible Christian Dating Advice

This is a the first draft of a chapter from a book I’m working on about how to have heretical beliefs about everything and still be a Christian. 

Rich was digging a hole in Christy’s front yard that night to bury a box that contained all the letters they’d written each other … Had his feelings for Christy changed? Not at all. But he realized that he couldn’t be guided just by his feelings. …Even though it hurt, he knew that the most caring thing he could do for the girl he loved was to get out of her life and end the relationship that was distracting both of them from serving God and obeying her parents.

…When he had carefully wrapped [the box]… he had placed one new letter on top of all the othes. …In it, Rich asked her to marry him.

– Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl

I don’t mean to be harsh, but THERE IS SO MUCH PSYCHO GOING ON HERE! “Because I love her” is a horrible reason to leave a relationship. Also, you’re not actually “giving up” a relationship if you write a proposal letter and stick it into a box that you bury in her front yard, probably secretly hoping that her creepily-controlling father will come out and find you crying and burying your heart in his front yard.

I never realized before I re-read that insanity just now that that passage led to behavior on my part that drove both me and my ex-girlfriend absolutely insane for almost a year of our lives. If God came to me in a dream tonight and asked me which Christian author I would most like to have gone unpublished, it would probably be Joshua Harris.

A close second would be the slightly lesser-known Eric and Leslie Ludy. Their book When God Writes Your Love Story has this incredible passage from Leslie:

Not long after my decision to “give God the pen” to write my love story, I learned a truth about loving my future husband that dramatically changed the way I was living.

I was innocently reading my “proverb for the day” which happened to be Proverbs 31.

The famous chapter in the Bible that describes the “wife of godly character.”.

I must admit, I wasn’t paying very close attention or taking the words too seriously. After all, I figured most of it wouldn’t apply to me until after I was a “wife”, which as far as I was concerned, wouldn’t be for awhile! Yet suddenly my eye fell upon a verse, and the words stood out to me.

“She (the wife of godly character) does him (her husband) good and not evil all the days of her life.” (Prov. 31:12)

Wait a minute! My mind raced. “All the days of her life?”

What was that supposed to mean? I had yet to meet any woman who had been married all the days of her life. Did this verse mean she tried to do her husband good… even before she met him?

I felt a gentle nudge on my heart. And somehow, I knew this was what God wanted for me. To seek my future husband’s highest good… starting right now.

“How can I love someone I’ve never met?” I argued back inside my head. “I mean, I’m keeping a commitment to abstinence for my future husband… so what else can I possibly do for him?”

The gentle nudge continued, ultimately forcing me to examine the way I was living.1

I don’t mean to be harsh, but THERE IS SO MUCH PSYCHO GOING ON HERE!!! “Give God the pen”? “Proverb for the day”? “To seek my future husband’s highest good… starting right now”? Also, There is no translation of the Bible that describes the Proverbs 31 woman as the “wife of godly character.” They completely made this up.

She’s reading Proverbs to learn how to be a good person, she’s reading Proverbs 31, and this is the passage that stands out. She ignores the next one about seeking wool and flax, the one after that about bringing food from far away, verse 16 about buying a field, verse 17 about making her arms strong, verse 21 about clothing her household in crimson (why?), and any number of other descriptions of Solomon’s imaginary “virtuous wife” with whom so many other virtuous women have beaten themselves over the head… and she gets hung up on the words “all the days of her life.”

She assumes “all the days of her life” means that if she’s going to be a Proverbs 31 Woman™, she’s going to need to do her future husband good and not evil all the days of her life, including before she actually meets him. The insanity is mind-blowing, but it gets worse.

From this little passage, Leslie extracts the principle that she is not supposed to fall in love with anybody other than her husband. She is not supposed to have romantic feelings for anyone who is not her husband until she gets married, and she’s not in an arranged marriage so she doesn’t even know who that husband is going to be.

It sounds all sweet and romantic in theory, and if you marry the first person you ever date, that’s fantastic! You haven’t “given away your heart” to anybody other than your husband (or wife because this principle moved to being about future husbands and future wives).

But people (normal people, anyway) don’t date (or court) someone because they think objectively, “That person would be a good person to be my future husband or future wife.” Emotions get tangled up in the decision as they get tangled in every decision we make. We’re human beings, not Vulcans like Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

And that leads to something far more sinister: If we follow this line of thinking, we learn to hate our emotions. We don’t want to be falling in love with that cute girl across the pew, because we’re saving our hearts for our future husband or future wife. When we start dating, we fight like crazy to turn off our feelings of attraction for the wonderful person we’ve met, and when we can’t, we get mad at ourselves – or worse, we can turn those emotions off, and if they turn out to be “the one,” we find it incredibly difficult to dig through the mountain of concrete we’ve put over our emotions and they start to wonder if we even like them.

Guard your heart, of course, but don’t go overboard. Feelings are normal, and as Dr. Laura Schlessinger often says on her show, “I don’t fix normal.”

Should you go out on a zillion dates to see who’s right for you? Maybe, maybe not. Will “not giving your heart away” save you? Not likely. C.S. Lewis warns that “To love is to be vulnerable,” and that a locked-up heart “will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

My wife and I “saved ourselves for marriage.” We don’t regret that, and we would encourage others to at least save sex for marriage.

Virgin Diaries First KissWe also saved our first kiss (to anyone ever) until we were engaged. We had originally planned to save the first kiss for the altar, but then we saw an A&E TV show about couples who were saving their first kiss for the wedding day. It was really creepy, and their first kisses were gross.

We had expected that our first kiss would be incredible and dreamy and magical, but it was really just kind of weird. Everyone told us it would be magical, but it wasn’t. We got better with practice, though, and now we’re big fans.

Don’t live a life run by guilt. Love God, and do what’s best for the other person. Don’t get paranoid about syncing your story up with somebody else’s, even if they’ve written a book about it. Just because it sounds cool doesn’t mean that you should make a vow or put on a promise ring.

The one thing that Kristen and I learned that helped us most in our dating relationship is that

NO TWO RELATIONSHIPS ARE ALIKE.

So don’t worry if you’ve done something that you regret. Forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let anybody force you to do anything you don’t want to do, and if they try to, run. Everybody marries the wrong person, and everybody marries the right person. The key is to stay with it and keep working on it unless they’re abusing you, in which case you should get out, and get out quickly.

If you’re reading this and you’re single, dating, or engaged, stop worrying. There’s a lot of space between “Do what feels right” and “If it feels good, don’t do it.” Abstinence is wise. Use your best judgment. The Bible doesn’t say anything about “saving yourself for marriage,” or about saving your first kiss for marriage, or about not giving your heart away to the first cute person who comes down the road. That’s just stuff we made up.

1Expanded Edition, pp. 100-101.

For more horrible Christian Dating Advice, see this post.

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

5 thoughts on “Horrible Christian Dating Advice

  1. This is a great post. The teachings of Josh Harris and the Ludys left me extremely confused about relationships as a teenager (not to plug my own blog, but I wrote about it here, where I realized all the chaos this “emotional purity” crap set in my life: http://unpublishedforareason.blogspot.com/2012/08/emotional-purity-when-you-use-up-all.html). I know a lot of people who have been equally confused by taking their advice to heart, and it’s caused lots of issues in their relationships in the future. Always glad to hear someone refuting the crazy things they say.

  2. That’s definitely a lot of psycho stuff, there. However, there are two points where you may be overcompensating. (You’ll really want to read to the end. I promise. It ends with what’s probably my favorite Chesterton passage ever.)

    First:

    But people (normal people, anyway) don’t date (or court) someone because they think objectively, “That person would be a good person to be my future husband or future wife.”

    Do you mean that whether or not a person would be good to marry does not enter in the decision? Or that it does not cause that first impulse toward dating? If it’s the first, then this statement is flat false, because very early on in courtship the likelihood of a marriage really does need to enter in. I think you’re going for something different, though, which is to say that we first think of dating or courting someone because of a crush, and that marriageability enters in only later. If so, then have at it, and best of luck to your book. (Just, please, clear this up a little.

    Second:

    I’ve always interpreted the phrase “saving yourself for marriage” to mean not getting “sexually active” outside of marriage. Is this used more broadly elsewhere? If “saving yourself for marriage” really does mean only not having sex, then, well, the Bible does say a great deal about that, because not saving oneself is either fornication or adultery or masturbation.

    Chastity really is a positive good, and virtue really is possible only in the negation of moral evil. However, and this is important, virtue is not merely the negation of moral evil. To quote Chesterton:

    But as I sat scrawling these silly figures on the brown paper, it began to dawn on me, to my great disgust, that I had left one chalk, and that a most exquisite and essential chalk, behind. I searched all my pockets, but I could not find any white chalk. Now, those who are acquainted with all the philosophy (nay, religion) which is typified in the art of drawing on brown paper, know that white is positive and essential. I cannot avoid remarking here upon a moral significance. One of the wise and awful truths which this brown-paper art reveals, is this, that white is a colour. It is not a mere absence of colour; it is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black. When, so to speak, your pencil grows red-hot, it draws roses; when it grows white-hot, it draws stars. And one of the two or three defiant verities of the best religious morality, of real Christianity, for example, is exactly this same thing; the chief assertion of religious morality is that white is a colour. Virtue is not the absence of vices or the avoidance of moral dangers; virtue is a vivid and separate thing, like pain or a particular smell. Mercy does not mean not being cruel or sparing people revenge or punishment; it means a plain and positive thing like the sun, which one has either seen or not seen.

    Chastity does not mean abstention from sexual wrong; it means something flaming, like Joan of Arc. In a word, God paints in many colours; but He never paints so gorgeously, I had almost said so gaudily, as when He paints in white. In a sense our age has realised this fact, and expressed it in our sullen costume. For if it were really true that white was a blank and colourless thing, negative and non-committal, then white would be used instead of black and grey for the funeral dress of this pessimistic period. We should see city gentlemen in frock coats of spotless silver linen, with top hats as white as wonderful arum lilies. Which is not the case.

    Meanwhile, I could not find my chalk.

  3. Thank you for that comment! I will definitely take those points into consideration and re-edit accordingly. (Not a canned comment; I read the whole thing and thought you made two good points, but I’m not editing until tomorrow.)

  4. Pingback: JESUS FIRST: More Horrible Christian Dating Advice | David M Schell

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