Are you single? Or in a dating relationship? Do you sometimes get confused by all the contradictory dating advice that‘s out there? In our society it’s almost become a competitive sport or game but with shifting rules and regulations.
Sometimes it resembles the game of ‘Dutch Blitz’ with everyone laying their cards on the table as fast as they can like in ‘Speed Dating.’ In other situations, dating seems so slow and strategic like a game of chess and we’re left wondering who made the last move. Then again, it could be ‘Scrabble’ with each person choosing their words very carefully trying to get the highest points, hoping to win in the end.
So what are the rules? Are daters to follow the advice of the author who says that men and women are from different planets? Or are the instructions in the book that speaks of capturing your man by using time tested rules more accurate? If you are a Christian, do you do your research thinking that perhaps there is a distinct game played in Christian circles? But even here, we find confusion. Do we kiss dating good-bye as Joshua Harris suggests? Or should we listen to Jeremy Clark and give dating a chance? Which rules should we follow to win at this dating game?
IS dating a game with rules to follow? The word game is defined as a diversion, entertainment, recreation; a competition or contest; game (as in hunting) is about getting your prey, hitting the target. We take a gamble in any game, which means taking a chance…risking…venturing out...facing uncertainty. In that sense, it definitely is a game don’t you think? Except that not too many want to be someone’s prey.
Maybe sincere dating has more to do with relationship than the competition it has often become in our environment. Relationship is defined as ‘alliance, association, attachment, bond, connection.” If it is about relationship, then it involves our hearts, our choices. The tables are then turned as it were, in that relationship is about making the other person a winner, building them up. In some ways following the ‘game’ paradigm with it’s concrete rules to follow seems easier. If I lose I can blame it to some degree on the structure of the game so my heart is left intact.
But if it is about relationship, then our hearts have to be involved. This definitely feels like a gamble. As a Christian, these thoughts about the heart put me in mind of another relationship for a moment. God wants us not for what we can do for Him but He wants us for who we are. He wants our hearts. But what exactly does that mean? And why would a holy God desire my very human heart? The awesome thing is that we discover His overwhelming grace as we allow ourselves to be real with Him. He embraces us warts and all just when we think that He will be repelled by us. Slowly we start to realize that it is in exposing all aspects of our hearts to Him that a closer bond is created with Him. And it is in receiving this amazing acceptance from Him that we begin to do all that we can for Him to show Him our love in return. Sounds like a good plan for that dating relationship too doesn’t it? Albeit a more risky on than the earlier game plan.
When I first wrote this article several years ago, I serendipitously discovered a book by Nancy Groom after writing that last paragraph. In Risking Intimacy: Overcoming Fear, Finding Rest, Groom says that while we can find understanding about the differences of men and women from books like Venus and Mars these tools are merely cosmetic. She believes that they do not help us deal with our terror nor our stubborn self centeredness.
What is that terror that she speaks of and how do we protect ourselves from experiencing it rather than risking genuine intimacy? Groom and Larry Crabb both take this issue back to the Garden of Eden. Since the beginning of time, “men would rather wait than move so they don’t have to risk failure, and women would rather move than wait so they don’t have to risk aloneness.” The whole course of the world was changed because Adam, in his silence, failed to bless Eve. She on the other hand used her words wrongly choosing to move ahead rather than waiting for an answer from either God or Adam. Not hard to relate that to the dating scene is it?
So, who wants to play ‘Risk’? Authentic intimacy is risky. Men, you will need to risk inspite of your fear of appearing inadequate. To build that connection, you will need to speak to a woman’s heart even when you don’t have a clue what to say. In his book The Silence of Adam, Larry Crabb says that the only way to be manly is to first be godly. Okay, so men are called to walk into their terror of chaos and trust God by speaking. And we, as women, are called to walk into our own terror of disconnection and trust God more by keeping silent. We need to learn to wait…to not forge ahead…to trust…at the risk of being lonely in the process. It is in these kinds of risks where our hearts feel the most exposed.
Nancy Groom states that human beings often demand a formula which explains why we have ALL those various and sundry dating books on the market. She goes on to say that God does not usually speak to any of us in specifics but He does promise not to leave us or forsake us as we enter the terrifying unpredictable chaos of relationship.
Ultimately then, there are no rules or formulas in Christian dating except to love the LORD our God with all of our heart, soul and might (Deuteronomy 6:6) and to love as Christ, the servant leader, loved the Church (Ephesians 5:28, 29 and I Peter 3:7) . Entering relationships in this way will require utter dependence on the God who alone knows the beginning from the end, and who has told us only that in the end He wins. (Groom p. 149)
Reading the ‘How to” books on dating have left us less ‘real’ than ever, afraid that we might break the cardinal rule. Loving God and trusting Him in the process is our desire. But in our humanness, we may still often be more inclined to play ‘Scrabble’ than ‘Risk’. Whether you are married or single, I hope that you can say with me, as II Corinthians 4: 1,2, says, “Since God has so generously let us in on what He is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times..no masks…no games…no manipulation….” (The Message)