Missionary Dating

May 31, 2000 |J. Budziszewski

People don't plan to change their opinions, get pregnant, lose their virginity, fall in love with the wrong guy ... or do they?

Part 1: Does It Matter Who You Live With? »

"Mark —"

I stopped and rubbed my eyes.

"Mark, about the girl you were going to share an apartment with —"

I stopped again. How do you explain the obvious?

"Look, I'm glad you're not going through with the idea. And I understand that you weren't planning to sleep with her. We don't have to spend much time on it. But just in case you get a bright idea like that again, let me ask you: Exactly how were you planning to turn off human nature?"

"What do you mean?"

"Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but opposites attract."

"I'm not attracted to her that way. Professor T."

I shook my head. "I hear this sort of thing all the time. A girl spends the afternoon with a guy, but it's 'not a date.' A guy has a special friend who's a girl, but she's 'not a girlfriend.' A girl and a guy are planning to live together, but he's 'not attracted to her that way.' We live in one of the most sex-obsessed societies in history, yet people try to tell me they don't have genders. I'm not buying it."

"But I'm really not attracted to her that way."

I turned to Mary and Sarah, who were enjoying Mark's discomfort immensely. "This girl Mark was going to share the rent with — is she pretty?"

"Hey! No fair!" Mark protested.

Mary just laughed.

"I don't know about pretty," Sarah said cattily, "but she wears her skirt up to here and her blouse —"

"OKOKOK! All right!"

"All right what?" she asked.

"All right you win. I wasn't being straight with myself. So lay off me. Besides," he added craftily, "I thought we were going to talk about the games you've been playing with yourself."

Sarah's smile evaporated, and her color, which had been fading for several minutes, began to heighten. "I don't know what you mean."

"He's talking about the guy you're going out with. The one who —"

"I know what he means, Mary."

Mary looked confused. "I thought you just said you didn't."

"It's true that we were going to talk about missionary dating," I reminded them.

"What's missionary dating?" That was Mary.

"Going out with someone under the pretext of evangelizing him."

"It's not a pretext," Sarah protested. "I really do want to evangelize him."

"Fine, but I'll stick to my description. There's always an element of self-deception in such relationships."

"Why do you say that?"

"I know," said Mary. "Because if you want to convert the guy, convert the guy. What's stopping you? To convert him, you don't have to date him, too. There must be some other reason."

"I don't have to date him to evangelize him, but if I'm dating him he's a lot more likely to listen."

"In that case, I sure would hate to be the guy," said Mark.

"Why?" Sarah bristled. "Do I have cooties or something?"

"No, but look at it from his point of view. Here's this poor chump thinking you like him, and all the while you're just using your sex appeal to trick him into church."

Mary piped in. "Either that or he's onto you, and he goes to church with you just so that —"

"But I'm not dating him just to get him into church."

"Why else, then?"

"Because I like him, OK? He's nice and fun to be with."

"Could you marry him?" I asked.

"Could I — what did you say?"

"Could you honestly ask Christ to bless a marriage between you and this fellow?"

"No-o."

Mary cut in. "Doesn't the Bible say somewhere that Christians should marry only other Christians?"

"Yes. Second letter to the Corinthians. Chapter six, last four verses."

"But I'm not planning to marry him. I'm only dating him."

"Dating is about marriage, Sarah. It's a search for a suitable marriage partner."

Sarah was appalled. "Are you telling me that I can't date anyone I can't marry?"

"That's exactly what I'm telling you."

"Isn't there such a thing as 'just friends'?"

"That was Mark's mistake — pretending that friends don't have genders." She glanced at him. "But it's not like I'm in love with this guy."

"How do you know you won't fall in love with him?"

"Why should I think that will happen?"

"Don't you spend a lot of time with him?"

"Yes."

"Well, how else do you think people fall in love?"

"But it doesn't always happen, right? I've dated lots of guys without falling in love with them."

"OK, but what's better — to date only people it would be all right to marry, or to date people it wouldn't be all right to marry and just hope that you don't fall in love with them?"

"God wouldn't let me fall in love with someone who — no, that's pretty stupid," said Sarah.

"Yeah, dumb," said Mary.

"Well — I guess I'll just plan not to fall in love with him."

"It would be nice if it worked that way, but it doesn't. That's not how we're designed."

"I'm emotionally mature. I can plan not to fall in love with someone."

"Sure you can. The way you plan not to fall in love with him is not to date him or spend time with him."

Mary interrupted. "Can you plan to fall in love with someone?"

"That's ridiculous," said Sarah.

"I sort of think it's what you're doing," said Mary.

"How can you say that?"

"When someone stands in front of a bus, I say she's planning to get run over."

Hastily, I cut in. "Yes, I do think you can plan to fall in love with someone — not necessarily with a particular person, but with a particular kind of person."

"You mean like 'Red hair, good-looking, likes modern jazz?'" asked Mary.

"No, I mean like 'Shares my faith, would make good husband, good with kids.'"

"How do you plan to fall in love with that kind of person?"

"You seek out and spend time with that kind of person, and you don't date the other kinds."

"But Professor T," said Sarah, "what if you just can't find that kind of person?"

"Then either you're looking in the wrong places," I said, "or else —"

"Where are those?"

"It isn't a mystery where you find Christians, is it? Either you're looking in the wrong places — or else, secretly, you don't want to find that kind of person."

"What to you mean, 'secretly'?"

"I mean that people deceive themselves about their motives. This isn't just about dating. People plan all sorts of things they don't admit to themselves."

Mark asked, "Like what?"

"Planning to change their opinions, planning to get pregnant, planning to lose their virginity, planning to fall out of love with their wives —"

"I don't see how you could do those things without knowing it. How could you plan to change your opinions?"

"By associating only with people who hold the opposite opinions. Haven't you seen that happen at this school?"

"Well, yeah. And I guess I do see how you can plan to lose your virginity."

"Sure. By putting yourself in the way of unnecessary temptations."

"But I still don't see how you can plan to get pregnant."

Mary rolled her eyes. "I'll explain it to you later."

"Do that. And I don't see how you can plan to fall out of love with your wife, either."

"That's because you're not married yet," I said. "There are lots of ways. For instance you might hire a beautiful assistant and take her with you on business trips."

Mary broke in. "And you might plan to fall into love with a guy by —"

"Never mind, Mary," said Sarah. "I can complete that sentence. 'By dating him.'"

Mary whacked her spoon on the table like a gavel. "Point carried! Conversation over! We can all go home!"

No one moved. Mary looked from one to the other.

"What's the matter? Don't we all agree now? When you said 'by dating him,' I thought you meant you get it now."

"Yeah. I get it now." This was worrisome. Sarah never says "yeah."

"You couldn't marry him," said Mary.

"No."

"So you shouldn't date him."

"No."

"So you stop."

Sarah didn't reply right away. "That's the part I have to think about."

"Didn't we just do that?"

"I know what I should do. I just have to think about whether I'm going to do it."

"If you know what you should do, how can you not do it?"

"I don't know! OK? Let's not talk about it any more right now."

Mark and I exchanged looks.

"C'mon, Sarah," he said. "I'll walk you home."

They rose and moved away. Mary was almost frantic.

"Professor Theophilus, Sarah was the one who converted me! Isn't she supposed to be further along than me? Isn't Jesus going to do something?"

I watched the backs of Mark and Sarah as they walked across the floor of the Edge of Night.

"I think He already is," I said.

Copyright 2000 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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