The Moves

Jun 27, 2002 |J. Budziszewski

Should you date someone you know you wouldn't marry? What if you don't want to get married at all? Theo has some words to consider.

PART 1: Who's on First? »

"So does anything work?" Mark was saying. "What are the moves of courtship?"

"The first moves are all in your head," I said. "When you're enjoying a social activity with a girl, you should admit to yourself that it's inherently unlike a social activity with a guy friend. Call it what it is: A date."

"That makes it sound like it might lead to something," he grumbled.

"It might lead to something. That's the point. Dating generates expectations. The problem in our time isn't that it generates expectations — because it ought to generate them. The problem is that too often it generates either wrong expectations or conflicting expectations."

"What do you mean by that?"

"By what?"

"Wrong or conflicting expectations."

"An example of a wrong expectation is when the guy thinks he's entitled to sex. The sexual powers are too powerful to play around with outside marriage."

"I see that well enough. What about the conflicting ones?"

"For instance when the guy views the girl just as someone to have fun with, while the girl views the guy as someone she might be interested in marrying." I smiled wryly. "And I have to tell you, in a case like that my sympathies are with the girl."

"Why?"

"Her biological clock is ticking a lot faster than yours. From a purely physical point of view, you can father a child at almost any point in your life, but she has to have children while she's young. So it makes sense for her to be viewing every date in terms of possible marriage — and it's childish and selfish for the guy to expect her not to."

He grimaced. "So from your point of view, the whole purpose of dating is for the girl to find a suitable marriage partner."

"No. For both of them to find suitable marriage partners."

"Don't put any pressure on me or anything, Prof."

I laughed. "You call that pressure? I could put a lot more pressure on you than that."

"Like what?"

"Like saying that you shouldn't date anyone you wouldn't consider marrying."

"Hey, wait," Mark said. "You're going pretty fast. That's not in the Bible, is it?"

I smiled. "No, Mark. Do you think that lets you off the hook?"

"Doesn't it? After all, we're Christians."

"Nope. When certain Corinthians threw in Paul's face their slogan that everything not forbidden is permissible, he replied 'but not everything is beneficial.'1 Corinthians 10:23 (NIV); compare 1 Corinthians 6:12. See also Proverbs about "Wisdom." Thinking like a Christian means a lot more than doing what the Bible says; it also means thinking like the Bible thinks, even about things the Bible doesn't mention. That includes having respect for human nature as God designed it, like the difference between your biological clock and the girl's. It also includes realism about temptations."

"Well, OK, I guess I see that. But what if the girl knows I'm not interested in marrying her?"

"How do you know she knows that?"

"Because she says so. Why are you laughing?"

"Sorry. I happened to remember what my wife said about that to one of our nephews the other day, and she's very funny. Her advice was that if you're dating a girl and she says she understands that you're not interested in marrying her, don't believe her."

Mark was scandalized. "You mean I should expect girls to lie?"

"No, no. Well, yes, they do sometimes, but no more than guys do, and that's not what I mean. It's just that if a girl says she understands a thing like that, she doesn't understand herself any better than the guy does."

"I don't get it."

"Have you forgotten already? Think of Molly, Mark, think of Molly."

He winced. "I get it."

"Any more questions?"

"Lots. What about this? You say that I shouldn't even date anyone I wouldn't consider marrying. But what if I'm not interested in getting married at all?"

"Are you not interested in getting married at all?"

"I don't know. I haven't thought about it much."

"Then start thinking now."

"Why? I don't have to get married, do I?"

"No. But there's a good reason and a bad reason to avoid marriage, and the matter isn't just up to you."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Some people — especially guys — avoid marriage because they're too selfish to get married. Actually marriage and family are one of God's ways of breaking us out of our selfishness. So that's the bad reason."

He raised an eyebrow. "What's the good reason?"

"Jesus says that a few people are set aside by God for an unmarried way of life for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 19:10-12. Paul talks about this, too.1 Corinthians 7. But Jesus makes clear that the single life is difficult. Those who are called to it should follow it; those who aren't shouldn't try. So it isn't just a matter of going your own way. In fact it's the opposite of going your own way."

"So if, say, I was called by God to singleness — "

"Then common sense — creational common sense, the common sense about human nature that I called 'thinking like the Bible thinks' — says you shouldn't date at all."

"Because you'd be tempted?"

"Yes, that's one reason. And also because it would be cruel to arouse expectations of possible marriage which it wouldn't be right to fulfill."

Mark blew out his breath through his mouth. "I don't actually think I'm called to a permanent single life."

"Maybe not. Let's suppose you're not. What then?"

"Then it's OK to date. As long as I date only girls I might consider marrying."

"Right. Any thoughts about what sorts of girls those might be?"

"Um — compatible girls?"

"Naturally, but what else do you need to know about them?"

"That they share my faith in Christ?"

"Right, that's a scriptural absolute, and I'm sure you can see why. What else?"

"That they're — hmm — mature? Of good character?"

"Good. Go on."

"That's all I can think of."

"In the creation story, God blessed our first parents and then told them to be fruitful. Good thing for you and me that they obeyed that better than His commandment about the tree."

"You mean I should be looking forward to having kids? So I guess I shouldn't date a girl unless she would make a good mother, too."

"Right. Just like she shouldn't date you unless you'd make a good father."

"Me being a father — that idea's a little hard for me to wrap my mind around, Professor Theophilus."

I smiled. "It's easier to do it than to envision it. We were designed for it."

"Do you have kids?"

"Several. Anything else you find it hard to wrap your mind around?"

Mark thought for a moment. "Yeah. One more thing."

"What is it?"

"Suppose I did decide I was interested — in marrying someone. I mean if she was — still — interested, too."

"Go on."

"Suppose she was all those things — and I did feel something for her — though I'm not sure exactly what."

"That's hard for us males to sort out."

"Why is that?"

"I don't know. I have a theory, though. Want to hear it?"

"Yes."

"There's a part of the brain that communicates between the sensitive, emotional side and the rational, analytical side. It's said to be smaller in men than in women."

"So?"

"So my theory is that we men feel all the same emotions that women do, but we just don't notice."

Mark gaped at me for a second or two, then burst out laughing. "Are you serious?"

I grinned. "Only half serious. But you were saying?"

"Oh, yeah. Suppose I asked — this girl — to marry me — and she said yes. What then?"

"I'd say 'Congratulations.'"

"That's not what I mean. I mean, what are the moves for engagement?"

"I'd say the moves of engagement take care of themselves. Except for one thing."

"What's that?"

"When two people know they're going to be married soon, they begin letting down their guard. Actually this is one of the most important times to keep their guard up."

"You mean sexually?"

"Of course. For example, they may have every intention of remaining chaste, but spend every waking moment alone together. That's a formula for disaster, because being alone with the beloved is supposed to be arousing; that's how God made us. So they need to spend their alone time where there are other people within view."

I paused. "But aren't you getting a little ahead of yourself, Mark? We were talking about dating. You haven't even decided whether you want to marry Molly."

Mark startled, then gave me a sheepish look. "Oh, yeah. I forgot."

Copyright 2002 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.

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