Goodbye and Hello

Goodbye and Hello

When I was 25, like so many other young evangelicals in the ’90s, I kissed dating goodbye.

Of course, it was a bit easier since I’d never been on a date.

I was a late bloomer to put it gently. From elementary school on I was a social pariah with my peers. By Jr. High, I was spending my free time with college students (fundamentalist Baptist theater majors, to be more precise), and by the time I was actually in college and at a reasonable dateable age, I was firmly ensconced as the kid sister.

When I was 25, I struck up a conversation with a guy I knew slightly at an outing for my singles group from church. We ended up talking that whole evening, and after spending several more group outings in a similar fashion, we had a conversation. He’d been married before and divorced, and he wanted to do things differently — he wanted to do courtship instead of dating.

Courtship meant you didn’t do things one-on-one unless marriage was in the offing. The man asked the girl’s parents for permission to court her. And nothing physical — not even a kiss.

I was all in. The idea that one should take these things seriously appealed to me. I had been explicitly taught, “Don’t go on a first date with anyone you wouldn’t marry — then you won’t have to break their heart and yours down the line.” My parents have lots of wisdom, and maintaining a conversation with them as a part of the process made sense.

And other than telling him that, no way was my first kiss going to be the public one on my wedding day! (a compromise he agreed to), I was content to honor the physical boundaries.

(In retrospect, most people miss how bone-melting holding hands can be when you’re not wondering how far you can get away with — or he will try — going.)

We courted for an intense three months until he showed up for our Valentine’s date and broke up with me, glad “things hadn’t gone too far.”

For him maybe.

I was blindsided. When he showed up for the date and asked if we could go for a walk, I was honestly thinking, “Well, I know we’ve covered money and kids and all the important stuff, but it’s really too soon for him to propose!”

A few years later and a second relationship ended, I did some counseling with a pastor who told me, “I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but you really need to learn how to casual date.”

It was so true. While the courtship model was intended to honor men and women and help them take romantic relationships seriously, for me it gave a first date the weight of near-engagement. I had to be fully invested from the start, just getting to know someone, and the results were devastating me.

It took well over a decade for me to find a context where I could learn to “casual date.” Evangelical churches and seminary contexts are so messed up on dating that approaching it casually is nigh to impossible. And it was particularly so for me — it’s hard to take a first date lightly when you’re only being asked out once every couple of years. Maybe.

I now realize that may have been because while I certainly belonged, I just as certainly didn’t fit the conservative evangelical contexts I was in.

I made my own chance a few years ago when, after being affectionately bullied into it by a friend, I dove into online dating. There’s nothing like ten first dates in three weeks to help you learn to take a first date lightly!

I decided to say yes to meeting anyone whose profile didn’t scream (or whisper) “Absolutely not!” and give myself the chance to be surprised. I found I could take the person seriously while taking the date lightly. And I found that men who hadn’t been raised in an evangelical culture tended to be more emotionally and relationally mature (though there are always exceptions going both directions).

I kissed dating hello, and I began to understand how to enter a story without needing to know what the ending could or should be.

For more stories about “Life After I Kissed Dating Goodbye” see