Already half an hour over our minute interview, I was once again at a loss for an answer. In a church culture where marriage to another Christian is seen as the best and often only option, but with a ratio of single women to men, the situation for women like Rebecca can be problematic.
But while our solutions have typically been to ignore this conundrum, or to bury ourselves in the latest dating self-help books, we have yet to look at this issue objectively.
It was for this reason that I started up the research partnership that I now run with a statistician in central London. And it was for this reason that I found myself researching Christian dating culture. Focusing on a large UK church with over 1, members, and collecting surveys from singles agedI wanted to learn what this culture looks like from a statistical point of view, and what were the reasons behind these trends. Over the subsequent weeks of analysis, the scenarios of single women like Rebecca appeared to be the norm.
Over a two-year period, the normal experience of a single Christian woman was to be asked out by two non-Christians, one Christian in general and no Christians from her own congregation.
Women were frustrated with the lack of dating occurring, and particularly with the lack of initiation from men. Men are meant to be men! In any case it became apparent that there was frustration from one side of the group! Over the same time period, the normal experience for a Christian man was to go on dates with two to three Christian women, but only one from their own congregation. People making too big a deal out of going on a date. There was clearly a lack of dating occurring.
Having grown up in the church myself I certainly could understand and identify with many of the comments already made and yes, I have been on a few dates too. However, I also knew that there was often a lot more going on beneath the surface. An interesting statistic in itself — but what did this look like? During interviews, I discovered that women felt there was in fact a lot of unofficial dating occurring. Likewise, in an interview, Emily said that her only experience of dating within the church congregation involved three months one-on-one time with a guy, but without ever making it official.
If you can’t find a spouse who supports your career, stay single
When she finally asked if anything was happening, he replied that they were just friends What was particularly interesting was that the more I talked with these women, the more I heard answers in which they contrasted their experiences of dating inside and outside the church. I honestly wish I'd ed them way sooner. Why did women feel that men inside the church were leading them on without ever committing to a relationship?
Why was there a high level of emotional intimacy but a lack of official dating?
And why were some women feeling as though Christian men were more keen for sex before marriage than non-Christian men? Intwo sociologists, Marcia Guttentag and Paul Secord, had noticed a similar pattern among other groups with gender ratio imbalances. Here, as we were finding in the church, there was a very low level of commitment, a low level of official dating, but a very high level of emotional and physical intimacy.
The reason proposed was simple if you understood relationships as an exchange of resources.
The individual looking to date someone else has to put in time, energy, effort and commitment in order to receive emotional and physical intimacy in exchange. Likewise, the person they are dating has to the do the same. In a balanced market, of course, there is usually an even exchange of these resources.
But, in an imbalanced market, when the supply of one group outweighs the demand of the other, as you would expect in any market, the value drops subconsciously. And so subconsciously, the theory went, Christian men do not feel they need to put in as much effort and commitment, in order to receive emotional and physical intimacy in return. And, likewise, the women who dated outside of the church were feeling more valued by non-Christians than by Christians. No commitment.
The second impact created by this imbalance of resources was the level of satisfaction experienced in relationships. In this instance, the gender that was in shorter supply — men — were predisposed to feel less satisfied subconsciously with their partners than they would in a balanced market.
As Guttentag and Secord stated in their research Too many women? It was over three months since that initial coffee interview with Rebecca. And while I had completed the data collection and analysis, the question that everyone was asking was — what are the solutions?
My initial reaction to this was being wary of a one-size-fits-all answer. Indeed, aside from the more than controversial idea of polygamy! But there are four things we can do that will alleviate some of the problems. Awareness - The first way is simply to be aware that these social forces may be subconsciously influencing us.
Likewise, women should be aware that social forces may subconsciously be predisposing them to feel as if they need to compromise and to risk devaluing who they are. They should be aware that, in this culture, there is a danger that in order to keep a guy interested, they may feel they should give more of themselves emotionally and physically than they want to.
Date outside of church - In the long run, the most obvious pathway that women can take is to date outside of the church. Although a taboo in many Christian circles, over 45 per cent of women and 42 per cent of men in our study said they would consider dating a non-Christian.
Try online dating - A third solution is to move from the immediate context of the congregation to the online world of UK Christians in general. The advantages of this approach are two-fold.
Firstly, in a church culture where women are often discouraged from making the first move see our review on Christian dating literature an an online platform allows women to take more initiative and to have more agency. Indeed, within the Catholic church, the gender ratio is closer to a split.
Online engagement allows this to happen with far more ease. Do not date - The fourth option is of course not to date anyone. Again, this may be seen as taboo in many Christian groups.
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However, we found that for many of the women interviewed, this was a choice that can be celebrated. While each of these solutions come with arguments for and against, and while many women may dislike them altogether, it is important to note that for those in the church who do use them — it benefits everyone.
The key in this sense is to create space for women who want to follow alternative paths of action. The result will be a ificant easing of the problematic dynamics highlighted in our study. In any case, simply being more aware and more critical of our own perceptions and behaviours is a good first step.
In a Western culture that right now is going through a huge wave of female empowerment, maybe it is about time to focus on the gendered power dynamics that we have in the church regarding dating and marriage. He loves to authentically tell the stories that matter — changing the way people see and understand themselves and others. for a free sample copy of Premier Christianity magazine.
Find out more. Vicky Walker is a writer and speaker, among other things. She writes about life, arts and culture, faith, and awkward moments in the form of books, articles, stories, and more, and she tweets a lot.
Tom Holland is an award-winning historian, biographer and broadcaster. He is the author of a of books, including most recently, Dominion: The making of the Western Mind Little, Brown.
What happens when you're no one's one?
Site powered by Webvision Cloud. Too many people take it too seriously expecting marriage at the end of a first date.
I've had more respectful dates on Tinder in the past six months than in three years at my church. Subscribe to Premier Christianity Special offer.
70 per cent of single women want christian men to ‘man up’ and ask them out
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