On The Junia Project, we talk a lot about the egalitarianism/complementarianism debate in various parts of life – Church, marriage, community, family – but there is another part of life that we haven’t really addressed… dating.
So on this Valentines Day, as the only single member of The Junia Project admin team, I want to write a little bit about egalitarian dating.
Now, on one hand I feel like I shouldn’t be the one writing this – I mean, I don’t date a whole lot, and I am far from having anything “figured out” in that arena. But on the other hand, I do have some experience with the egalitarian/complementarian debate in romantic relationships.
YOU SEE IT ALL STARTED WHEN I FELL IN LOVE…
He was sweet and kind. He made me laugh and he loved Jesus. We had a lot in common, including growing up in Southern California and coming from large Christian families. We met the second semester of our junior year of college, and we fell in love hard. We had talked about the whole “egalitarian thing” on our second date and he had assured me throughout our relationship that we could make whatever life together that we wanted. We ended up dating for almost three years before I learned his honest thoughts about gender roles.
When it came up, he said he thought I wasn’t “honoring Christian doctrine” in my beliefs about women in the Church and in marriage. He said that he wanted to make sure that when we were married, he would lead as the head of the family. This led to a series of very difficult, tear-filled talks, and eventually God gave me the strength and peace to walk away. It wasn’t because he was a bad person or anything. It was because, well, as I said in a previous post:
“Because he didn’t know what he was asking of me
Because he wanted something from me that he wouldn’t give in return”
IT WOULD BE ALMOST TWO YEARS BEFORE I COULD BRING MYSELF TO TRY DATING AGAIN.
And that’s where I find myself now: in my mid-twenties, navigating this crazy dating world. But that relationship, and topic of our breakup, had a big impact on me. Since then, all sorts of new thoughts have entered my mind about dating.
I mean, think about it:
In theory, all you have to do is find someone who you can love and who can love you back.
But if you’re a Christian you also have to find someone who loves Jesus and the Church.
And, if you are an egalitarian Christian, you also have to find someone who truly thinks of you as an equal and can live that out in everyday ways.
And that makes dating a little more complicated.
Instead of asking myself the normal questions that one asks when going on a date (Will we ‘click’? What if he doesn’t think I’m funny? Does this necklace go with this shirt?), now all sorts of new questions have entered my mind about dating (Does it mean something bad if he holds the door for me? Will he be offended if I offer to pay my half of the check?).
These may seem like trivial things, but what I didn’t realize in my previous relationship is that, even though I didn’t read anything into these cultural dating norms, those actions actually meant something deeper to the guy. In a way, they were symbolic of his underlying mindset that men lead and women follow, that men provide and women are provided for.
But I want any relationship I am in to be based on mutual servanthood, not hierarchy.
I bring all this up because I know many others are feeling the same way. I have talked to college students and 20 somethings who find themselves in dating relationships with guys who do not value their career ambitions or ministry callings. It seems like most Christian women I talk to these days have either never thought to talk to their boyfriends about gender roles (assuming they are on the same page), or are too far into a relationship to bring it up, for fear of losing something special. It’s a hard place to be in.
Which brings me back to those questions that float around in my mind while on a date…
THE EGALITARIAN DATING QUESTIONS
Now, this is not a “dating how to” blog post. Instead, I want to pose the very questions I have been thinking about to you, the wonderful Junia Project readers. Hopefully we can have a discussion that is helpful for all those egalitarian singles out there. So, if you’re up for it, here are my top 3 questions about egalitarian dating:
#1 Who Pays for the Meal?
This question is tricky. My friends and I come back around to this question quite a bit. In an equal partnership, how do we deal with issues of money? Should the person who initiates the date buy the meal? Should couples make a rule out of splitting the bill? What if one person makes a lot more money than the other person? Should that person pay more often?
The traditional dating norm is for the man to pay for the meal, but that tradition goes all the way back to a time when women weren’t allowed to hold a job in the market place and men provided out of necessity. Should we continue this tradition simply because it’s seen as “normal”? Or should egalitarians date differently?
I feel like taking turns is a good option, as it promotes the idea that both people are responsible for caring for each other, and that money doesn’t fall into a gendered category of responsibility.
What do you think?
#2 Who Opens the Door?
I always thought that opening doors for people was simply a nice thing to do. I didn’t realize that some people really have a problem with women opening doors for men until I dated my ex-boyfriend. It is seen as his role, it’s what he is supposed to do. What’s an egalitarian to do with that?
Do egalitarians take turns opening doors for each other? Is it too culturally weird for a woman to open her man’s door? Should we even be worried about it?
Personally, I hate that we have to think about who opens the door at all. I am not offended when someone opens a door for me, but I did learn in my last relationship that intention matters. So it makes me wonder about the guy: Why is he opening the door? Why is he always the one to drive? Is it to be kind, or is it to show you that he is “the man”? Does he need to have that in order to feed his ego? It also makes me check myself: Do I need him to do that in order to feel feminine? If so, that might point to an underlying insecurity or issue in us; Perhaps we are looking for our identity in the wrong places.
I have also known some egalitarian men who open doors for women as a sign of respect and a sort of apology for the things women have to go through in a patriarchal society. In this sense, it is an act of service, and they don’t get offended when I open doors for them as well. Is that too one-sided, or are they on to something?
#3 When Should You Have the “Gender Roles” Talk?
This seems to be the big question. Speaking from my experience, I know that it is extremely hard to have this conversation when you are a few years in and deeply in love. However, I did have the conversation at the beginning of the relationship, only to have the guy take it back in the end. What does this mean for all of us who are dating today? Should we have the talk up front or throughout the relationship?
If you do decide to bring it up, how should you do it? Do you skirt around the question (So, what kind of a church do you go to)? Do you ask them straight out (So, do you expect me to stay home raising kids for the rest of my life)? Do you bring it up on the first sight of possible patriarchy (I noticed you quoted John Piper earlier…What do you think about his views of gender roles)?
How do you handle that conversation?
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
These questions are interesting to consider. They bring up issues of chivalry and tradition. While I do not get upset or offended when someone adheres to cultural dating norms, I often wonder if I should. I mean, many of these dating norms stem from patriarchal cultural trends. If egalitarians adhere to them are we contradicting our beliefs? Should egalitarian dating look different than complementarian dating? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below. Oh, and Happy Valentines Day!
Graphic Credit: Kate Hickman