We Say We Want Honesty, but Do We Really?

Several wooden Pinocchio figures sitting on a shelf
In his post on Monday, Joshua Rogers’s title said it all, “Stop Lying to Your Online Dating Matches.” His encouragement for singles to own up to the reality of their lives (including those extra two inches you claim or the adventurous persona your pictures display that hardly mirrors your daily life) underscores a deeper cry resonating in our Christian dating sub-culture: people are hungry for honesty.

This week I posted a few questions on Facebook to single Christian guys, asking their perspective on an issue. Two hundred comments later, we had a full-blown picture of the perils and problems in our current dating landscape. Finally, I piped in asking for everyone’s best advice to the opposite sex during this weird, awful dating time. Overwhelmingly, the people agreed: “Be forward and direct,” said a close female friend. “Send clear ‘signals,’” wrote one guy, and on the theme ran: “Say what you mean, and be direct… be honest, be kind… be boldly who you are.” And one woman wrote what I think we were all feeling at this point, “It seems like guys want girls to be transparent about their interest and girls want guys to do the same. Are we making this way overcomplicated?”

Well, David Wheeler and Jacob Thompson certainly think so. That’s why they co-founded Settle for Love, a dating site with the slogan “Imperfection is beautiful.” David and Jacob fervently believe that we’re in this dating quagmire because we keep posting our perfectly doctored selfies and we fudge our salary on our Match profile. We, in essence, offer the photoshopped versions of ourselves. And it keeps not working out. So their dating site offers the pros and cons — the professional headshot and the last picture you untagged on social media, a list of your strengths and your weaknesses — right there on display as soon as you open a profile.

“We wanted a name like Settle,” says David in a recent interview, “because it just kind of, like, slaps people in the face and says, hey, wake up. You’re not perfect. Your partner’s not going to be perfect or your date’s not going to be perfect. Your wife’s not going to be perfect. But again, you can be perfect for each other.”

I think there are probably singles all across the country nodding their head in agreement. “Yes! We are just two imperfect people choosing to love each other! If you want a date, ask for it! If you like a woman, tell her! If you aren’t feeling this, be honest!”

I understand this, really I do. But I also think we’re kind of kidding ourselves.

Honesty Is Costly

Obviously, I’m all for vulnerability. I mean, I came out online as a fat single woman in the church, and on a bi-weekly basis I fess up to dating disasters and other unfortunate run-ins. But when we look at each other and say “All I want is for you to be honest,” that clarity comes at a pretty steep cost.

If I’m honest with a close friend and I confess my feelings, it can (and has) ended disastrously, effectively ruining the friendship (yes, despite being two mature Christians).

If I’m honest in a new relationship and express my desire to spend more time together or my hope that we can slap a label on this burgeoning baby of a connection, it can (and has) chased away the very man who was perfectly content to wade in the “get to know you” waters without the pressure of a relationship quite yet.

If I’m honest about my feelings, I would end up telling every moderately attractive, Jesus-loving, bug-killing bearded man that I thought we’d have a really great shot at this marriage thing.

What I’m trying to say is that honesty has its place — it absolutely does. But so does mystique and allure and the chase. There are actually studies that reinforce that we do respond to the chase; as one article notes, “Almost everyone — men and women — put a certain added ‘value’ on to something that’s not easily attainable. This is why can feel so good to save up for something like a special dress or handbag — and when you get it just feels priceless.”

I get it — boy, do I get it. I’ve wanted that ugly Fossil bag just because it was slightly more than I could afford and it was the thing all my friends wanted but few had. I’ve pined after that boy who wouldn’t give me the time of day (except when he needed help on a project, of course). And I’ve even felt myself flip from considering a guy to being turned off by him once he became a bit overeager.

Especially in romantic relationships, the beginning phase will undoubtedly hold a period of “sales and marketing.” This is where you’re doing your best to be an authentic version of yourself while also holding back just enough not to send the poor guy running from the restaurant as you share your entire testimony (and graphic details of your last surgery) over brunch. We all do this. It’s natural. And I don’t think, now that I’m quickly approaching thirty, I no longer see the need for the sales and marketing spiel; rather, now I know we each have one, so I’m watching and listening with that in mind the entire time. And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing.

If a man I’m dating is questioning his feelings for me, that’s what I expect — that’s what dating is. But do I want him to come to me and give me weekly updates of “I’m still not any more attracted to you than I was” or “Your laugh, your compulsion to clean, and your inability to even screw on your license plates are really starting to wear on me. But I think I’m still in this. Let’s keep dating”? Nah, probably not. There can be too much of a good thing.

The Bottom Line

Apart from being logical, I think there’s also a biblical precedent for this advice. We often hear the Scriptures of guarding our mouths as an admonishment against angry or volatile confrontations, but there is a much broader application here. Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who guard what they say guard their lives. But those who speak without thinking will be destroyed” (NIRV). In the heat of the moment, with a desire just to be forthright regarding my feelings for someone, I have often spoken without thinking, and the aftermath of these conversations speaks to the “destruction” alluded to in this verse. There is wisdom in guarding both the good and the bad, the honest and the deceitful

I’m not advocating for playing games, manipulating situations or withholding information that should be discussed, but I am saying we are each stewards of our time, our stories, our emotions, our words and our relationships. For me, being a good steward means we’re wading into the waters, slowly, not diving in headfirst. It also means sometimes I have to live in that place of ambiguity and tension — of wanting more but not having it, of growing feelings and doubts simultaneously — and that’s okay. Don’t rush the middle ground. Don’t be so eager for answers and for definitions and for control. I have to tell myself this almost constantly because I am a girl that likes clear expectations and straight lines and excessive explanation. But I don’t always get to have that.

Do we need more clarity in the dating world? Yes, absolutely. But I also don’t think it’ll fix everything. More direct communication would just mean you’re subjected to the erratic and fleeting emotions I experience and now share with you. It means you will begin to question our relationship as much as I do. It means for every doubt you have, you’ll now hear mine as well.

There is something to be said for mystique and mystery. There’s something to be said for being guarded, not oversharing and refusing to label something you’re not yet sure of. So let’s be bold and brave but also cautious. Let’s be honest but patient. Let’s be clear but wise.

About the Author

Joy Beth Smith
Joy Beth Smith

Joy Beth Smith hails from Charleston, SC, but she’s left pieces of her heart in Lynchburg, VA, Nashville, TN, and Chicago, IL. Joy Beth is passionate about connecting with other singles, and with the abundance of faulty theology surrounding singleness, marriage, and dating, she hopes to contribute to the ongoing conversations revolving around these issues. Joy Beth enjoys writing, reading, and coffee drinking, and you can often find her lurking in the corner of a local coffee shop pretending to read while shamelessly eavesdropping.