Cover Story

Christian boy meets Christian girl

"Christian boy meets Christian girl" Continued...

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

Encinias is looking for male role models and admits to watching a favorite professor "as a hawk." It's not that he's trying to map out a similar path, but he wants to see why this married Christian man with stellar credentials "has joy no matter what." Encinias doesn't want his fear to limit him: He is half-heartedly moving toward relationships and knows his decision is somehow "bound up with my parents."

Whether the reasons are old or new, many young men seem frozen, unsure of the right way to proceed. Many voices are trying to point the way, but one writer in particular has special influence: Josh Harris and his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye (2003) came up in nearly every interview I had. Even Christians who don't like the book feel forced to color within the lines Harris drew-"courtship" is best-because of his influence on so many of the other students in their social milieu. The book helped many Christians avoid the traps of secular practices like those at Parsons. But another result, according to many women, is both paralysis and pressure.

TKC student Catherine Ratcliffe says I Kissed Dating Goodbye shows well that "sexual purity is important," but it also led many of her classmates to "think we should never hang out unless we want to marry. In the 1990s, casual dating was the culprit. [Now] Christian couples will rush into relationships, saying, 'we intend to marry,' because they think they are not allowed to date unless they intend to marry."

Pressure, pressure, pressure. Ratcliffe says, "If girls do get asked out they think, 'We have to make this work. I might not get asked out for another 10 years.'" The "if" is big: Christian student after student in four states generalized to me: "Women don't get asked out."

Christian students at the University of Texas at Austin find a friendly haven at Hill House, an old home just off campus with books, comfortable chairs, and Bible studies. After one study, graduate student Stephanie Nestor told me that in the past year six of her friends have gotten engaged. In each case the guys had never dated before: "Guys want to be sure before they date that this is the one. In Christian circles, girls aren't getting asked out."

Nestor described a social scene focused entirely on group activities, where guys observe the women over time and then make a choice. That leaves most of the girls waiting. A conservative female seminary student concurred, "I am extremely frustrated by the dating process. I'm traditional. I believe in the man asking the woman out. Women don't get asked out."

Ellyn Arevalo, an assistant to UT professor Mark Regnerus (see sidebar), voiced her frustration: "You don't have to know you want to marry me to ask me out. . . . They don't ask me out. They don't ask anyone out. It is alternately frustrating and extremely painful. Your hands are tied."

Their hands are tied because they want the guys to initiate: "We want them to be initiators. But they are content with the way things are. . . . We want to be wanted. We want to know we're desirable. Christian boys are scared of girls who make advances."

The tension between dating and courtship takes place in an environment where "no one is rushing to make marriage a priority." In fact, many single Christians say their churches don't emphasize marriage in order not to offend singles-but it feels, Arevalo says, as though the church is saying, "Darn it, girl, why aren't you happy with this status?"

Daniel Evans, a male engineering graduate student, wandered in and asked if he could join the conversation. The women pounced: "Are most Christian guys wanting to have their whole career figured out before they start relationships? Are guys turned off by independent girls?"

Evans put up a stout defense. He is annoyed at the pressure he feels. He's afraid that if he met and married a girl in the next few years, she'd expect him to work as an engineer. He wants to do that for a few years, but long-term he wants to be a teacher and coach. He thinks a wife would make it hard to switch to a less remunerative career.

Under pressure from the female grad students he went further: He's "no fan of casual dating." He wants to "make sure as best I could" that he only asks out a girl if it's likely to result in marriage. He wants to be "fairly confident" and uses terms like selective to describe his process: "If and when I do get married, I want to enter into it with as few relationships as possible."


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