On the inherent misogyny of the “Dating isn’t Biblical” culture

The title is probably the most feminist thing I have ever said, but there’s a reason. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard that a couple married because a priest who knew both of them well took the guy aside and said “Hey Guy, did you ever think about marrying Girl?” On one side we have people decrying the perennial issue of a lack of vocations, on the other the only family that seem to repopulate the pews with a new generation that may give us a few priests are the Rees-Moggs. An awful lot of singles are lost between a religious vocation they likely don’t have and a marriage they often desire, but have no one to marry. This reticence to actually date people turns every occasion in which young people get together into some sort of hunting ground for a wife, including (in some blog posts doing the rounds on the internet a while ago) daily Mass.

If this is the situation in a church that still prizes singlehood the way  St Paul did, it’s all the more surprising that dating would be frowned upon in the Protestant churches, which sometimes seem to make marriage the end all be all of Christian life. But this is what happened: a guy with whom I was somehow friends on Facebook posted a video of a beautiful American girl with perfect lipstick giving young girls “tough love” over the question “Why can’t I get a husband?”.
Her reply was that the reason is they behave like girlfriends and not wives. There might be some truth in that, like the old adage “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. I find it simplistic, but not entirely untrue and it’s well-meaning, so if it was just the video I’d have probably let it go. It was a video addressed to women by a woman, so it can also be excused for not raising the point about men not stepping up to the plate. Except it wasn’t just the video. The video came with the comment: “There is no such thing as Christian Dating. Dating isn’t in the Bible. Mary and Joseph never dated.”

And thank you very much sir for stating the obvious, Mary and Joseph had an arranged marriage like everyone in their time. The Book of Leviticus is pretty much a manual to Old Covenant Jewish society. The Book of Proverbs is also dedicated to practical advice on living. So yes, there is nothing about dating in the Bible because there are other instructions about marriage in the Bible, which were followed by the society of the time. And, perhaps regrettably, are not what the society of our time does. So Mary can get away with an arranged marriage without the accusation of not having faith God will provide, but any woman who plays by her society’s rules in modern day is an infidel doing something unbiblical. Meanwhile nothing is said of men, or even society as a whole. The onus is on women. It’s our fault and our fault alone we’re single.

When I’ve pointed out in the comments that dating is simply getting to know someone on a one to one basis rather than in a group setting (although there is a lot of merit in getting to know people in a group), I was met by something along the line of “That’s courtship”. A word that is probably known to a modern woman just on account of having read Jane Austen. You can call it courtship if you’d like, but you’re creating a false dichotomy as the dictionary definition of dating is to go out with someone you have a romantic interest in. Courtship, instead, is defined as “1. a period during which a couple develop a romantic relationship before getting married” and “2. behaviour designed to persuade someone to marry or develop a romantic relationship with one.” So, not mutually exclusive. In fact, one could argue you date someone during a period of courtship.

I’m not trying to make a feminist point, but courtship implies actions taken by one of the parties (usually the man) while dating is more neutral. That’s why courtship went out of fashion as a word. You can call spending time with just one person doing Bible studies or getting coffees and talking for hours just being friends until you become engaged, but that’s your definition against a world that would see the exclusive nature of that relationship as dating, just to keep upholding the pretence that you’re not doing something unbiblical. Fair enough. Whatever makes you happy. Just don’t complain if someone calls you out on your hypocrisy, a trait much favoured by the Pharisees.
We don’t arrange marriages anymore. There is no close-knit society where people know everyone else well and can successfully make matches between young people. Many churches are so big you are lucky to get to know very well five of your fellow parishioners. This is the society we have to deal with, and if you think we should go back to living like 1st Century Israelites that’s all good and well but then the reason why women can’t find husbands is society, not women dating.

Not everyone has a conversion on the way to Damascus, and expecting our future spouse to just walk into our life in a dramatic fashion when we don’t even know whether marriage is God’s plan for us is, to me, rather arrogant. We expect to be so high in God’s books that we’ll just get what we want, no effort asked in return. Today’s reading of the Gospel at Mass was one of my favourite passages, Luke 18:9-14. It’s the story of a Pharisee thanking God for he was not like other men, such as the Tax Collector in the Temple with him at the same time, while the Tax Collector only prayed “Be merciful to me, a sinner”. The whole “This isn’t in the Bible” attitude rings to me of the first behaviour. God, I thank you as I’m not like these other people who date.

There are many benefits to dating, as much as there are dangers if you’re not careful. Many vocations to the priesthood or religious life have been discerned by dating someone and realising that, after all, they weren’t really cut out for being in this kind of relationship BEFORE they got married, which is good since marriage is indissoluble. Spending time with someone is a way to test whether your idea of marriage is realistic or too coloured by unmatchable expectations as much as it’s about figuring out whether you should be with that specific person. Christianity was the first main religion to give women equality to men (Galatians 3:28), then why are people treating women with the same contempt they were treated with by medieval monks?

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  1. Once again, a great read. I think it’s so important to have a relationship of some kind before marriage and have a chance to see if you are truly compatible. This should come from both sides and be a reciprocal affair. Telling women that they’re acting like girlfriends rather than wives takes us back decades.

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