I am sure all of us remember those first few weeks at seminary. You are asked the same questions about yourself over and over again. One of the most common questions you get asked is whether or not you are married. Now, if you answer no the assumption is that you are single. The church I attend in Grand Rapids is a very large church and, as such, has a registration form for small groups. Part of how they ‘do small groups’ is to match you with people at similar life stages. They match you with people of a similar age and in a similar geographical location. On the registration form marital status has two options: married or single. Type in ‘married or single’ on Google and the first hit, of almost 5.3 million, is an article from Huffington Post entitled “Single Life vs. Married Life.” This is followed by, “Are Married People Happier than Singles?” It would appear, from these two headlines, that there are two types of people in the world—those who are married and those who want to be.
I am currently in neither of these two scenarios. I am not married, but neither am I single. My current martial status would read: dating. Happily dating, might I add. But we don’t seem to have a check box for that. There isn’t a category for it. It doesn’t fit tidily in our understanding of relationships. And yet, it is a stage of life where several students at CTS currently find themselves.
Allow me for a moment to exercise some of my sports and mathematics background—odd for a seminary newspaper, but I think helpful. In statistics one way of analyzing a question is to frame it in such a way that there is one event with either a positive or negative outcome. For example, in the NBA you either win or lose a game—there is
no other option. All subsequent analysis of why you won would look at which factors contributed most strongly to the positive event of a win. Perhaps it was shooting percentage, or offensive and defensive rebounds, or maybe turnovers, that increased the odds of your winning. It strikes me that we have perpetuated a conversation regarding relationships in which we have done the very same thing. We have framed it in such a way that there is only one event (i.e., marriage) with either a yes or no (i.e., married or not married). We have subsequently analyzed which factors (e.g., age, career status, and religious identification) most strongly contribute to the positive outcome of marriage and have trained ourselves to develop, and prize, those characteristics. Moreover, we consider not the persons involved; rather we reduce them to characteristics that we have found to be favorable for marriage. My question is: Why? It creates a false dichotomy and inverts our perspective.
What if we held off on the false dichotomy? What if we looked at who an individual is in light of their relationships? Would it not be better to consider who I am because of my dating, rather than what about me contributes to the fact that I am dating? In my experience, and it is likely yours too, dating has formed me. I have had to take a serious look at idols in my own life such as selfishness and pride. I have also learned, however imperfectly, to engage in empathy and compassion. These are qualities that have developed because of my dating relationship, they were not necessarily things I brought into it. For me, dating has been a time of learning who I am and how I am to love another. (For the record the ‘another’ I mention is Jennie Palkowski.) Interestingly, I owe this growth to a season that is neither singleness nor marriage. I fully realize that these and many other good things can be learned in singleness and marriage, too. However, dating provides an unique way in which to learn them, and I think it wise that we don’t leave it out of the conversation.
Written by Anthony Vander Laan