The Absurd and Amazing Adventures of Cafe Girl: Why I'd Gave Dating (at Church) A Chance

August 17, 2012

Why I'd Gave Dating (at Church) A Chance

Full disclaimer: The Dude-I-Am-Dating was not part of my church community when we first met. In fact, when we met, I hadn't dated anyone from my community since the last serious and painful relationship. Like the men I mentioned in my last post, I was meeting singles outside of my church circle through online dating, mutual friends, and an inter-church singles group.

Throughout that season of dating, I found myself relieved. I was relieved because I could date in perfect anonymity. No one from my community was really watching. I dated quietly and without much fanfare. A small group of women in my life knew I was "out there" in the market. Months later actual dates would turn into hilarious stories told over breakfasts or happy hours, with cryptic references surfacing on Facebook and this blog. I'd tell these stories as if I was the main character in an urban chick lit novel. I figured if, by some horrible twist of life, one of the men I ever went out with found my Facebook or blog, I would invoke the all persons fictitious disclaimer - any resemblance to persons living or dead was purely coincidental.

As relieved as I was, I was also incredibly lonely. It wasn't just that I walked my dating life alone, away from the support of the larger community. It was also that I consistently met strangers. Sure, occasionally, I would get set up with a friend of a friend, but for the most part I was meeting men from whereabouts unknown, un-vetted by anyone other than an algorithm designed by a dating site web developer.

It wasn't bad, per se. It wasn't even damaging. It was just exhausting. Over and over again, I found myself comparing these early relationships with those I'd had when I dated within my community. And as awkward and as painful as dating within community can be, I found myself yearning for it. Here's why:

Reason #1: Community (pain in the ass as it is) is a hedge of protection.
And I don't mean in the community-watches-us-so-we-won't-have-sex way. I mean that community catches us when we fall. And in dating, we tend to fall quite often.

We, both men and women, fall when we are careless with the hearts of those we date, when we make fun of them when we should lift them up, when we have unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex. Community catches and protects us from ourselves when our girlfriends remind us that he isn't about to dump us because we had a fight. Or that we should seriously consider having a discussion with him about some needlessly harsh remarks he made.

Community challenges us to be better daters, to serve those we date, to be gracious to them, to remember that they are God's children too. It's far too easy to be selfish and judgmental towards those we date when Community isn't there to gently call us out.

Of course, let's not forget - community mourns with us when the relationship ends. They'll always be a comfort whether or not they've been privy to your dating life. But if they've walked with the two of you in relationship, they can comfort you more authentically and speak to both of your hurts. This kind of authentic, collective mourning helps us not to see the other as enemy - which, while satisfying post break-up, does nothing to heal the heart.

Reason #2: You can't hide ugly at church, nor should you have to. 
Community, if done well and authentically, is meant to reveal both our strengths and our weaknesses in a safe environment. I think what makes dating within community so incredibly frightening, yet incredibly fruitful, is that our weaknesses are on display for our potential partners to see very early on. This completely defies all conventional dating practices of putting on your dating game face and showing only your best, and most agreeable side to your dating partners. Sharing a community forces a level of openness and honesty about who you are that is a great foundation for the openness and honesty that is to come in marriage.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that if someone knows you "too well" you automatically fall into the "friend zone." That's for the emotionally juvenile. Ask any married person, and they will tell you that their love, intimacy and sexual chemistry grows when they are open and vulnerable with one another.

Admittedly, being open is an incredible risk. Even though I've always been part of faith communities that have encouraged me to be vulnerable with my struggles - whether it's doubt, or grief, or fear or anger, I often feared that showing my weaknesses would frighten away potential dates in my community.

Sometimes, it did. But more often than not, openness led men to see the type of woman I was and was becoming. The men that did approach me already knew something of my heart and my character. It made that dreaded "first date," where there's usually the struggle to find something to talk about, much easier. There was already a foundation of openness, honesty, and some level of friendship.

For me, personally, I find seeing a man who is open and honest about who he is, and where he is currently at, extremely attractive. I would dare say most women would agree that a vulnerable man is a sexy man.

Reason #3: Sharing a community of faith increases the likelihood that you share the same theology. 
I re-wrote this one over and over, trying not to come off sounding like a narrow-minded, conservative fuddy-duddy. I'm not sure I can. What I'm trying to say here is that sometimes, a difference in theology can a deal breaker. Maybe for most, it won't matter, but for some, me included, it matters a great deal because what we believe affects how we live our lives as single people and as married people. And when I talk about differences in theology, I mean big things - like egalitarianism vs. complementarianism or cessationism versus continuationism.

I won't speak for the entire Christian population, but as a woman who believes that men and women are equal, and therefore women can also hold spiritual leadership roles, and who also believes that the Holy Spirit and all spiritual gifts (even the scary ones) are alive and well today, I'm not going to be able to marry someone who believes the exact opposite. Nor, I suspect, do men that believe the exact opposite want to marry a woman like me. It's true that we all evolve as people and our views may shift over time. But if I'm pretty set in these two theological view points, why would I expect that my dates shift in their view points?

Also, maybe these issues don't come up in day-to-day dating or married life and we could live for years perfectly happy with our differences. But when we have daughters, you bet it'll affect how we raise her. What if she's been gifted to teach and lead both men and women? Would we never even see those gifts because one half of our family doesn't believe that women can be called by God to lead all kinds of people? What if my daughter feels like God is leading her to be in some sort of spiritual leadership role over both men and women? What then?

In my season of dating outside of my community, my greatest dilemma wasn't where to find Christian guys. It was finding the kind of Christian guy who shared similar viewpoints on foundational theological issues. Turns out there a quite a few Christian men in Los Angeles. The ones that shared my theological views constituted a tiny subset. The men in my community may not always share my theological views, but there's a higher percentage of them that do, compared to any other place.

Reason #5: Sharing your faith community is going to have to happen eventually anyway. 
Maybe dating in community is awkward, and strange, and feels like you're in a fishbowl. But, if you date someone long enough, and if you're serious about "becoming one," you're going to have to merge your communities of faith at some point. It's not like you can keep going to different churches forever.

Maybe some of you are going to wait till you're engaged to start going to the same church. But that's probably not very practical, since part of the journey from dating to marriage is being part of each other's faith journeys. And it's really difficult to try and be a part of someone's journey if you're driving in a different car. So at some point, after you start dating exclusively, and before there's a promise of marriage, you'll find yourselves having the discussion about being in the same community of faith.

I personally think that as we grow more emotionally intimate in our dating relationship, we actually crave worshiping together because worship is a high form of intimacy. At some point, it's going to feel incredibly lonely worshiping in one place while the person you love is worshiping clear across town. I know, because that's exactly what happened to me.

My two experiences of dating men from my community both ended sadly and poorly. These experiences left me believing that I needed to keep my community of faith a sacred place where I was going to heal when things inevitably ended badly. Keeping it sacred meant keeping my dates out. Which is why I never invited the Dude I was dating to visit my church, nor did I actively ask to visit his. He'd invite me, but I would hesitate.

Until one Sunday, I went to my church and just felt incredibly lonely. Worship was full, and rich and wonderful, and it made me sad that the Dude wasn't there. It didn't feel right that he wasn't beside me. It was  a shift in my heart I wasn't expecting. We'd only been dating about four months then. It would take me another five months before I would join him in his community for good. So here we are, exclusive, but not engaged, and sharing the same community. For me, it's risk. But it's one of those good, make-you-grow kind of risks.

All that pressure you feel dating someone in your faith community? Increase that hundred-fold, and that's the pressure you're going to feel joining your partner's community of faith after your relationship has become serious. The community can't help itself but watch, and ask questions, and say things. Some of these questions and things are going to feel great. And others are going to make you feel like you have all these expectations to fulfill.

The first time I went to the Dude's church, the community kept saying to me, "We have been praying that he would find someone." Implying that I was that answered prayer. It was awkward, but also incredibly endearing. I could see how much his community loved him, and rooted for him. It made me even more sure that I was with a good man - a man whose friends are so for him is a man worth growing to know more.

I've often pondered if I could have done anything differently in my years between my last heartbreak and meeting the Dude that I'm now dating. I think, for one thing, I would have tried to bear the pain a little more and tried to press into community rather than withdraw from it. I was so ashamed of being dumped that I couldn't handle being in the same community as the ex. I think it was my loss that I didn't let community comfort me and help hold my pain.

Unfortunately, the community I did land in after the break-up didn't have single men of an appropriate age. Most men were in their early 20s, or already married, or in their 50s and 60s. I think had the community been more demographically appropriate, I would have liked to give dating within community another go, in spite of how painful the last ending was.

In then end, if you're asking for my advice, here's what I would say: at the minimum, at least consider the single men and women in your community. Don't automatically dismiss them - being part of your community shouldn't be a mark against them. In fact, it's a great plus point - these men and women already know you, and to some degree, already do sincerely care about you. If that isn't a good start, I don't know what would be.

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