Not ‘swiping right’: Thoughts on modern dating culture

So, ‘Tinder’ is trending, according to The Telegraph (in case you didn’t already know).

An older friend of mine sent me this article and wondered what I, as a 20-something, made of it. To be honest, I’ve always chickened out of really tackling the issue of relationships on my blog. But in light of the recent Ashley Madison scandal, I sense there is some timeliness in the theme. I do feel honoured, too, to have been asked for my thoughts on the subject… and so here they are. I’m guessing any kind of relationship-centric topic is going to be of some relevance, so whatever your age or status, I hope you’ll find this of interest. Please read the Telegraph article before continuing or this won’t make much sense!

Before I go any further I have to acknowledge that the picture painted by the item in The Telegraph is not entirely representative. I’m not simply pointing out that as a Christian, the idea of casual dating seems alien to me. Several of my friends who do not profess to have a practising Christian faith are in long term, committed relationships. Nonetheless, the casual view surrounding dating was clearly prevalent when I was at university, so I do think it’s becoming the norm for many people.

The article in The Telegraph highlights many possible causes for the growing serial monogamist (or even serial polygamist) attitude toward dating (and you’ll know that because you read it, right? ;)). Amongst those: fear of commitment, fear of missing out, fear of living up to social expectations, fear of marriage failing. Notice how all of those stem from fear. Make of that what you will.

What the article also implied is that a generally selfish and self-focused attitude towards relationships is another major factor in the way dating rules have evolved. This quote, for instance: “I love being single and don’t believe in long-term monogamy. If anything, I think it is a ludicrous concept in a society that is faced with unlimited choice.”

Keeping one’s options open is clearly a product of the times, but I’d suggest selfishness has fuelled this mentality. Whilst I do believe in discernment when it comes to relationships, viewing a potential partner like a shiny new car that you get to test drive for as long as you want before you fully opt in is kind of tragic to me. And by that, I don’t mean jumping into things without consideration. But human beings are fragile. Valuable. It seems to me that even casual dating demands some amount of trusting the other person with your vulnerabilities. And I imagine favouring this non-commital approach over allowing a deeper connection to form is actually making people lonelier than ever.

I do think the article contains kernels of truth. It discusses people’s unwillingness to settle down until they find the right person, which is rational, I guess. But there’s a difference between compatibility and perfection, the latter of which will never be found. It isn’t fair to play with other people’s emotions in the process of searching for that perfection. This article (as well as my own personal observations) suggests to me that many people view relationships as geared entirely toward personal satisfaction, rather than something that involves sacrifice, perseverance and active demonstration of love. ‘Love, love is a verb, love is a doing word…’ Love is a choice that you have to make again and again, not something that can be relied upon purely as an emotion.

Does this at least partly come back to fear? Have people adopted a selfish outlook because general expectations have lowered over time? So selfishness in this case is more to do with self-preservation, and is adopted as a defense mechanism? Like, ‘I take what I can get and leave before things get messy’? (I’m asking a lot of rhetorical questions, I know). The Telegraph’s article suggested that it isn’t so much that people don’t want to be in a relationship, but rather that they “just don’t know how” to be. Maybe people my age don’t know how to do lots of adult things. My generation don’t seem to be as ‘adult’ overall as my parents’ generation. I remember coming across people at university who sort of acted like giant babies.

I don’t know how plausible these theories are. I feel like this is the kind of thing I could elaborate on for a long time because there is a lot to pick apart, but I would be interested to hear what you think.

The friend who sent me the article wondered if this would explain why Christians my age can find relationships so baffling. I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems that with a lack of models to go on and the impact of cultural influence, figuring out how to do relationships is becoming increasingly difficult. And even if you have a clear idea of how you want to live out your faith in that part of your life, it’s going to look pretty strange to a lot of people, and that might cause some self doubt and second guessing.

I’m definitely not an authority on this subject, and I’m not going to offer advice on how to be in a relationship, not least because no single model is going to work for everybody. However, to me, it’s clear that God designed us for more – and for better – than what we see exemplified around us. I do think it’s important to remind ourselves of that, and not to buy into what our culture tells us is good.

Whether you’re married, in a relationship or single, I think there’s beauty in ‘not conforming to the pattern of this world’ (Romans 12:2). In offering an alternative through the way you life your life. An alternative that doesn’t have to be boring; an alternative that isn’t birthed from fear.

One thing is clear: I’ll never swipe right (or left).

Hopefully this gave you some food for thought, despite not being very conclusive. As always your opinion or general feedback is always welcome!

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Still

Dear God,

I am suspended like a photograph of a bird mid-flight, and I wait to be released into the next part of your plan (as many graduates are doing right now). I try some doors and consider and re-consider and turn options upside down and inside out because I can’t resist analysing things to death, sometimes.

But I am learning that I can trust my gut feelings about options that might fit the dreams you inspired in me, and that helps to narrow things down.

The waiting period is hard because my view is so restricted to what is directly in front of me, and that really comes back to control, doesn’t it; that there’s a part of me that likes to see things arranged out neatly and I can manoeuvre the little pieces… not like pieces on a chess board because life is decidedly less black and white than a chess board… maybe more like The Sims. Waiting periods are good for trust. You’ve shown me repeatedly through times like this that you are entirely capable of holding my life in your hands, allowing room for variation and surprise and spontaneity, whilst handling those little pieces with perfect skill.

Yesterday I walked down that familiar stretch of country road and I was so frustrated, God, because despite recognising what you’ve done for me in the past, I felt such impotence at not being able to see. Quite literally at that point, as the low sun dazzled eyes already half-blinded by tears. Tears that sometimes just happen as a result of this being a really hard year, and yesterday was one of those times (and thank you to all of the people who don’t like going for walks that the lane was so empty, because I must have looked a bit of a mess). And then I turned around to look behind me and there was about a third of a rainbow visible against a wash of grey. It was bizarre, that stretch of rainbow, almost vertical, faint but definitely present. Where was the rest of it?

And you said ‘Look, isn’t that still beautiful? Even that small part? Even though you don’t see the whole thing?’

Yeah. It was still beautiful. Not seeing the whole picture doesn’t diminish the beauty of the parts I can see. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Beauty in stillness, in waiting, in the blind trusting.

The best part about waiting periods is that they’re temporary, of course.

Thanks for that, too.

A house divided…

The other week, I stayed a night at my grandparents’ home in Germany. I had a rare chat with my grandfather – or at least tried to, as my German is still far from fluent. Anyway, I say rare because I don’t see him often, and until recently our communication was very limited due to the language barrier. Yet there I was, talking with him at his kitchen table over pizza and a bottle of wine (one thing we do have in common). I got to ask him a bit about his life; something a younger me couldn’t have imagined doing! Among other things he told me a little about his experience of a divided Berlin, having lived closeby during his youth. To hear about the past directly from him was interesting to say the least. Even more interesting when I compare his Berlin (the Berlin I have studied, read about, watched films about), to the Berlin I’ve lived in. Most of you probably know at least a little about the Berlin wall so I won’t bore you with a history lesson, but suffice to say the city is very different now. It’s diverse but not divided. It thrives.

Maintaining both unity and diversity is necessary in so many aspects of life. And I think that many of us would claim to be tolerant and accepting of difference. Yet, applying this to my life as a Christian can be a challenge. I consider myself very tolerant, until I am confronted with something I don’t agree with. And then I realise how quick I truly am to judge, dismiss, or criticise. I admit, I can sometimes be far too hasty about making a judgement. This normally results in my looking foolish when I turn out to be wrong. But, you know, that’s not even the point. Even when I’m right, there’s a wrong way to handle it.

The bible says a lot about unity. I guess because God knew that, in our flawed humanity, we would struggle to get along sometimes. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10:

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

This is a tall order. In theory, we know that unity within the Christian community is necessary, but putting it into practice is less straightforward. I don’t know about you, but I feel like the older I get, the more I realise I don’t know or understand. Unity within the Church is a complicated issue, and there are so many questions that have been surfacing through observations I’ve made over time. Is there always a right and a wrong answer? Does it always matter who is ‘right’? What do you do when you are confronted with an opinion so very different to your own? When is it OK to leave a church over difference of opinion?

These are questions that are difficult to answer. And I am not a theological expert. But one thing is clear – it is nigh impossible for Christians to agree about everything. I mean, we can’t even agree on ‘sloppy wet’ or ‘unforeseen’ kiss. (haha, sorry…some of you will know what I’m referring to. It was a joke…)

But here’s the point: It’s not that I’m not allowed to have a different opinion. It’s what I do with it that counts.

I think something that God has been showing me in various circumstances is that Jesus is always the answer. I am not trying to evade these issues, nor simplify them to make myself feel better about the fact that they exist. But Jesus is our foundation, the Cornerstone on which we are all built. I tend to believe that to find an answer to any problem, you have to go to the root. In this case, to return to the bare bones of the gospel. To come humble and childlike to Christ; to look at the cross, to seek Him alone. To listen to His voice in the midst of clamour. Only then, I think, can we ever hope to come close to exemplifying unity, may that be in our local church or as a wider body.

Several times I have come up against issues of division and of disagreement, and I have asked, ‘Jesus, what do I do with this information? How do I respond to this situation?’. Often, I hear only this in reply: ‘Look to me. Keep your eyes fixed on me.’

I’ve seen first-hand what divisions can do to churches. I also know that being unable to address differences healthily can be quite harmful (I guess this would beg the question, how does one do that? But this post is already getting long). But I’ve seen people get hurt. My grandfather lived in a world where you either outwardly conformed to the views imposed upon you, or you were punished… arrested, even. Nowadays there is room (at least in this part of the world) for questioning and discussing things. And we should celebrate such freedom. I don’t know how long it will last.

Who are we to be so sure of ourselves anyway? To be so convinced that our stances on issues are right? We serve a God who is higher and wider and deeper than our understanding will ever fathom. He is also a God who is passionately interested in pursuing a relationship with us, all sinners saved by grace. That’s the ultimate leveller, really.

You know, everything pales in comparison to Jesus. Yes, there are instances where things happen that are wrong, and they need to be dealt with. But let’s not let minor gripes distract us from what matters most. Jesus is alive and He has overcome the world. Let’s focus on that.

I hope this does not sound condemning in any way. I don’t even know if it’s relevant to anyone so if it doesn’t resonate with you, feel free to dismiss it! This is simply my way of coming to terms with my own questions, but I felt maybe it was a good idea to share it. And of course, I welcome your thoughts.

God bless you!