Saturday, September 15, 2012

How long should you pray before asking a girl out?

Dating is a big deal, they said. Because the purpose of dating is to find someone to marry, they said. It's a huge life decision, so God should definitely be part of it, they said.

So this brings us to the question: How much does one need to pray before asking a girl out? Or, since I am a straight woman and I would prefer the guy to be the one doing the "asking" (though I definitely don't believe that's a rule handed down by God), how much do I need to pray before I start purposely spending more time around this guy, observing him more closely, asking him specific questions to find out if we might be compatible, dropping little hints that I like him?

The Christian dating books talk about being fairly sure this is the person you want to marry, very early in the relationship, or even before the idea of dating has been discussed between the man and woman.

So, how's this work? You pray and pray and pray, and don't say a word to your potential soul mate until you get the go-ahead from God?

I once heard someone say they knew someone who knew a pastor who said (super-reliable source, I know) a guy should fast and pray for 6 months before asking a girl out.

And I'm here to tell you why this philosophy makes no sense.

You need to pray about marriage because it's a very big deal. It's a huge choice that affects your life perhaps more than any other choice. And don't you think, if you need to carefully think and pray because of how much it will change your life, perhaps your potential significant other should also be thinking and praying about it, because of how drastically it would affect his/her life?

If you and God are spending 6 months hammering out the pros and cons of your future life with another person, don't you think that other person should have some input?

"How dare you! All of you. Standing around deciding my future. I am not a prize to be won!" Image source.
I believe that Christians should pray about it when they're interested in a romantic relationship. It's important, so ask God for input. But if, when you first mention to this person your interest in dating, you and God have already decided that you and your "potential soul mate" will spend the rest of your lives together, where is the other person's choice?

Yes, pray about it. But if you are entering the relationship with any kind of certainty, you're doing it wrong. You're planning someone else's life for them.  

If you think you're going to pray about it until you are CERTAIN you will marry this person, and THEN you make the first move, I'm sorry but that's wrong. Yes, let's take dating seriously, let's not mess with someone's heart, but there needs to some middle ground between leading someone on and planning out their entire life without their input.

And someone might argue "but if you're praying about it, God will only tell you to go for it if the other person would be willing too." Still, where is the other person's choice? We can get into debates about free will, is it still a choice if God already knew what they would say... I don't know the answer.

But what I do know is this: If you and God are talking, without any input from the outside world to give you a reality check, isn't it going to be easy to get all wrapped up in your own little world, your own little fantasy about how your life is supposed to play out? What happens if you decide this is totally the person you want to marry, and then they reject you because they just honestly were never interested?

Then, of course, you get on the internet and complain about being "friendzoned." Image source.

Which of these is a better strategy to determine compatibility:
  1. All by yourself, analyze everything and pray.
  2. Think, pray, be a friend to your "potential soul mate", show some interest, start discussing dating with them, and then when (if!) you are dating, spend time together, discuss marriage, etc.
No amount of prayer is going to guarantee me that Incredibly-Hot-Guy-That-Doesn't-Know-I-Like-Him is going to be my husband. I have to take a risk. If it was certain, then where is his say in the direction his life is going?

(Oh, did I say "Incredibly Hot Guy"? I, of course, meant to say "godly." Yeah...)

All right everyone, tell me what you think. This is my attempt to figure out this dating stuff.


  1. I have lots of thoughts on this issue because I left the church I was a part of due to a horrendously painful relationship. I had wanted to end it but I waa advised to keep going for another year before I couldn't take anymore. That was in 2008, and until this year, I couldn't enter any church without having a mild panic attack and crying my eyes out. You might say I've lost the faith I loved but I see it as that faith having been stolen from me.

    I don't really see the necessity to pray much before dating somebody at all. By praying constantly before you ask someone out, all you're doing is reinforcing in your mind over and over again that this is a Big Important Event, and this person is a Potential Future Spouse. Instead of constantly praying about it, people should maybe just work on their own character and grow their own self-awareness. Dating is about getting to know someone. Dating shows you what kind of person you are compatible with. You might date someone thinking you're compatible then realise that there is something about them that you could never countenance in a future spouse. That experience has educated you about what you want and what you need, so there is no need to count it as a negative experience. Hopefully you can part ways amicably and stay friends.

    OTOH, if you spend three or six months praying before dating - even if your potential boyfriend/girlfriend is also praying just as much - then there is a weight of obligation that is totally unhealthy. It means that if you break up, it will shake your faith in God: 'God, why did You give me no indications that I So-and-So wasn't my Future Spouse?'. Instead of seeing at as a learning experience, it is something negative that causes you to question your ability to hear from God. Also, the weight of expectation may cause greater heartbreak to the other party when one of you breaks it off.

    Anyway, the problem that systems like 'courtship' and 'pray for this many months before dating' try to address are problems that stem from character issues. It's the problem of young people dating each other because they think so-and-so is really hot and aren't mature enough to realise that there is more to attraction than appearance and giggles. It's the problem that a guy will laugh at a girl who isn't funny if she has a pretty face and girl will nod along to a guy's unintelligent perspective just because he is Mr Charisma. It's the problem of shallowness and immaturity. Establishing a courtship system, or a rule about six months of prayer or whatever, isn't going to fix the real issue there. Church leaders don't realise that they can't fix everybody else's problems and that the more people who are involved as mentors and counsellors and spiritual leaders in a couple's love life, the messier and more painful everything becomes. I knew a couple who lived up the road from me here in the UK who were chalk and cheese (a gruff Scots punk and and a carefree hotpants-wearing Californian). They divorced in the end. Years later I discovered that they had married young because their church had advised them that they should. I wonder if either of them still believe or did the eperience shatter their faith? So, I think the rules of dating should be: 1) Don't take it seriously and don't pray about it more than once or twice because a requirement of faith is not fixation on issues but rather leaving them in God's hands, 2) Focus on building your own character so that you act with integrity and don't just date any hot face that passes by and makes you laugh a couple of times, and 3) As far as possible, keep the damn church and their stupid, ignorant advice out. Sorry about the length of this response! Just have things to get off my chest is all.

    Leonora F.

    1. Wow thanks for sharing your experience. I think you're totally right about how making such a big deal out of it puts a ton of pressure on a relationship. If someone is praying for months and months, and then just a few weeks into the relationship, they realize it won't work, they might feel like they can't just end it because of how they made such a big deal out of it before. And that it would mean they can't hear God correctly, and maybe it was their fault for not praying enough to hear God saying it won't work, etc etc- I don't think any of that thinking is healthy. In my experience, because there would be so much pressure, it's made me so afraid of ever starting a relationship.

      Also I like what you said about dating being an educational experience- if you find that you and the other person aren't compatible, well, it's good that you figured that out. Hopefully you both learn something and move on with life, instead of feeling like breaking up is the worst thing in the world and it makes you a bad person.

      Also, perhaps you're right about how these warnings are given to teenagers because they're usually not mature enough to have healthy relationships, so let's just scare them so they won't- rather than addressing the actual character issues. I'm still trying to figure out how dating is supposed to work- trying to filter through a lot of the Christian advice I've gotten and see what makes sense and what doesn't.

  2. In my case it was important for me to pray about it, because up until a few weeks before I started going out with the man I married, I had no intention of dating or getting married at all. The other key difference is that we were in our twenties and going to school, so getting involved in a relationship was a much bigger deal.

    We weren't assuming that dating was something that would be followed by marriage, but both of us saw it (partially because of our ages) as something that we should be ready might lead to marriage. (It was also because of our personalities - he's a methodical introvert, I have Asperger's - so dating would require a larger emotional investment anyhow).

    Both of us had close friends of both genders (yes, I'm reinforcing the gender binary, but I can't figure out another way to phrase it) before hand, so it's not like we needed to date to learn how to do relationships. That's an important thing to remember - dating a lot of people isn't necessary in and of itself, but it's an important way to learn how to navigate an intimate relationship with someone of a different gender. Oh, and we did a lot of talking with each other before we started dating - about what we'd prayed about, and talking about the same things with each other that we did with God. We still knew it was a risk. What we prayed about (and discussed with each other) was to see if it was a good risk to take, and if we were comfortable that we were taking the same risk. I'm not saying that anything in this paragraph is necessary, I just wanted to highlight the differences between what we did and the purity culture model, because I agree that what you describe is messed up, and I'm just trying to show a third way.

  3. Cool! I agree- what you're describing sounds like a healthy way to look at it. It's good to pray, but to know that it's still a risk.

    I used to think that if you just pray hard enough, God will just TELL you "the answer" and then you'll never have to deal with breaking up and being sad.

    "What we prayed about (and discussed with each other) was to see if it was a good risk to take"- yes, definitely. Dating has risk, but if you find a person that seems pretty great, it's worth it to take that risk. :)