In today’s featured article, “Stop Shopping for a Spouse,” I examine the idea of consumerism in Christian dating. I wrote:
“Hyper-intentionality created division between Christian singles as we sized each other up, hoping to get the ‘best deal’ we could. And in the process, we abandoned some basic principles of Christian relationships, such as loving one another, building each other up and considering others better than ourselves. I was as guilty as the next person.”
In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy Keller writes about what this mentality can do when carried into marriage:
“Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage.
“Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us.
“When we cease to make a profit—that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back—then we ‘cut our losses’ and drop the relationship.
“This has also been called ‘commodification,’ a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of ‘covenant’ is disappearing in our culture.”
What Keller describes here is not only characteristic of many marriages, it is also characteristic of the dating culture — even the Christian dating culture. This is an attitude that is cultivated long before a person says, “I do.” For that reason, it’s to our great benefit to straighten out our thinking before entering into a covenant relationship.
In the “Stop Shopping” article, I talk about learning to see, value and serve others rather than simply evaluating them based on their potential as a spouse. But what does that look like exactly? Here are a few of the outward signs of correct thinking I’ve observed. (You can add more to the list at the end of this post.) A right-thinking person:
1. Rejects favoritism. This one is as hard in life as it is in dating. Those who see, value and serve others in the way Christ advocates, don’t play favorites. James 2:1 says, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.” This verse was referring to how people were to be treated within the church. Refusing to play favorites means you invite everybody to go out to dinner after small group, not just the guy or girl you have your eye on. This summer at Pursuit, during a social gathering, I was pleased to see a vivacious young woman warmly inviting those wandering alone to join the conversation she was having with a small group. She invited everyone (even me) regardless of who they were or what they looked like.
2. Shows consistent kindness. It’s easy to be kind to someone you’re attracted to. It’s more difficult to engage with someone who is needy, unattractive or socially awkward. But as believers, we’re called to do that. Showing kindness to others — apart from what they can offer you — is a mark of Christlikeness. Going back to attitudes carrying into marriage, sometimes you have to show kindness to your spouse when they can’t offer you anything or there’s tension in the relationship. My husband has offered me such kindness on many occasions, and it was a quality I saw in him when we first began dating.
3. Offers friendship freely. Friendship has gotten a bad name when it comes to singles. No one wants to be banished to the “friend zone” or get stuck in a “friendlationship.” But the truth is, God designed friendship. He even calls us His friends (John 15:15). Instead of being stingy in our friendships with the opposite gender, we should seek to be good comrades to those God puts in our lives. I experienced a particularly rich season of friendship with men during my late 20s. I had four or five good male friends at that time. We would catch up a few times per month and stay informed of one another’s lives. At times, I would have dated a few of those guys (if they had asked), but there were others who I appreciated deeply but had no romantic interest in. Kevin and I continue to be friends with a few of these fellows, one of whom just got married this past summer.
Friendships with the opposite gender can be tricky (“Can a man and woman really be just friends?”), but I believe they are worth the effort. These relationships can give us insight into the opposite gender and a chance to relate to one another in a godly way. So quit fearing the “friend zone” and look for opportunities to be an authentic pal.
All three of these ideas are closely related. When we commit to treating others in a manner consistent with God’s Word, our thinking shifts from “buying” to “blessing.” What ways have you discovered to trade in consumer thinking in dating and live out God’s ideal for relationships?