Note: This post will review advice from the book “How to Get a Date Worth Keeping” by Henry Cloud, Ph.D.
Since Valentines day is nigh, I figure now is as good time to talk about the nebulous and elusive subject that is dating. Everyone (single and coupled) has differing (and often conflicting) advice about this subject.
I’ve been single, in relationships, and dating…as a Christian and a non-Christian. So…I figured I would chip in my thoughts on this subject. Why not?*
There’s clearly distorted gender roles and dating advice spouted by secular entities out there (e.g. Hollywood and Cosmo), but the Christian dating zeitgeist also propagates damaging messages, summed up as follows:
1) Ladies: Just wait patiently on the Lord and He will bring you a man. You are a crown of God’s creation, a perfect princess who deserves a prince charming.. You don’t need to do any work at all. No need to waste effort cultivating what you can bring to a relationship, and certainly DO NOT PURSUE. Just cheerfully sit pretty and keep your legs closed, and God will handle it.
2) Gentlemen: Pursue with all your might! BUT…never think about sex while you’re pursuing. Ever. Keep it in your pants, at all costs. Take solace in the fact that once you’re married, you’re practically entitled to sex whenever, and of course she must submit. Only young, fertile women are wife material; a Proverbs 31 lady is icing on the cake. Your single life will be fraught with countless rejections and sexual frustration, but it’s OK…you’re dying to your flesh and becoming closer to God, right?
To me, this sounds like the perfect recipe for keeping people single and unhappy. Women are basically told to be helpless, and the men are rendered helpless by conflicting messages. This perverts the desires God placed in men to pursue, protect, create, and seek after God, and for women to connect, encourage, create, and seek after God.
Furthermore, this presents a paralyzing conundrum of having faith vs. applying real world strategies (as listed below). Am I not ambitious enough? Am I not believing God enough if I follow a strategy or dating advice, join a dating service, etc?
“God secures the promised land, but we must go out and get it.” -Henry Cloud, Ph.D.
Two summers ago, while wandering the wilderness of singledom, I read Dr. Cloud’s book “How To Get a Date Worth Keeping” with a singles group at my church. This book promised that I would find a romantic partner within 6 months or I could get my $10 back. OK…challenge accepted. **
Dr. Cloud wrote this book to help Christian singles get out of dating ruts, and in doing so dispelled a lot of conventional Christian dating advice, leaning towards practical advice that works across spiritual sectors AND gender roles… i.e. bringing some *gasp* “wordly” dating advice from which Christians can also benefit, such as:
Dating is about meeting different people, and less about marriage. You can’t assume from a 90 minute coffee date at Starbucks that person is “the one.” Taking the marriage equation out of dating really does take the pressure off.
Dating is a numbers game; the more people you meet, the better your odds. It’s not always about how spiritual you are. You actually have to put some effort into meeting people. Proverbs 10:5 states “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame.” Diversifying your efforts in meeting people will likely reap rewards. So go scatter your seed (metaphorically, not literally )!
Figure out what habits and thought patterns prevent you from meeting people. Psalm 139:23 states: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.” Work with God to heal and overcome these things.
What was most interesting about this book was how it really examined the gender roles the church enforces. It actually provided some accountability for women to step up and take initiative, where they were often encouraged not to. Of course, as someone who likes to see platitudes busted, I found the book refreshing overall. And it really did help me see past a lot of BS and take a good, hard look at myself and what was blocking me.
However, I do think Dr. Cloud got a bit too egotistical in thinking if people followed the advice in his book to a T, they would totally find their life partner. In other words, relying completely on his prescribed works.
One of the most jarring “works” he proposed was meeting 5 eligible people of the opposite sex a week. While the intent to break up ineffective habits and go out of your way to meet people makes sense, does it really have to be five?! Yes, he insisted on five. I’m sorry, not even the most extroverted people I know meet that many different eligibles a week. And as an introvert…I’d rather put my hand in a meat grinder.
He cited examples of former singles who obeyed his every word and found their life partner, but I am sure for each one of those, there are probably those who are still looking. What if you do everything right and it’s still not working out?
At the end of the day, we have to give God credit for bringing us into compatible relationships and marriages.
Please note that this does NOT equate to the obnoxious platitude singles often hear: “It will happen you least expect it.” God did not bring me to my boyfriend because I was just loving the single life, at the club, singing that Beyoncé song. I was working to better myself, and I was actively and expectantly looking, though weary and contemplating throwing in the towel and resigning myself to 10+ cats and many nights on MMORPGs. I really had to let God work some serious messes out. And it’s still a work in progress.
God does not bring us that person due to whether we are desperately looking or not…it is when we are ready for that person.
It is not whether we meet 5 new eligibles within a week, or within a decade. God’s intention is to bless us with a mate with whom we can grow spiritually, and grow closer to Him…not to fill a perceived lack or elevate your status. Meeting the right person at the wrong time can end in disaster.
There are exceptions where people really do serendipitously meet and are happy. But most of the time, people experience content relationships because they reap the harvest of their efforts — following practical dating advice, working on becoming a better person, etc. I will say that if simply waiting on God for your wife or husband is not working, then don’t discount Dr. Cloud’s approach. But it’s not the ultimate game plan for dating either.
*Sadly, I have never been married so cannot speak with authority on that. It’s a whole other animal. EDIT: But a week after this was posted, my boyfriend proposed…so I will know soon!!
**I met my boyfriend fiance within about 3-4 months of reading the book. But I attribute that to God’s timing, and not necessarily the book.