Opinion: Calvin’s Problem with Dating

Opinion: Calvin’s Problem with Dating

If you ask someone how many people they’ve dated at Calvin, many will answer with how many boyfriends or girlfriends they’ve had altogether. We seem to jump all at once here from friendship into deep commitment. And though my Facebook feed and social group attest to the number of happy engagements and marriages that produces, it leaves a lot of single people lost.

 I think it’s safe to say that at Calvin we have a problem with dating. Almost everybody wants it, but no one seems to know how to turn those “campus crushes” into something more.

 And no one seems to know what dating means, either. There’s a reason that the “defining the relationship” talk, or DTR, has become a sort of Christian version of second base with couples. Famously, it’s the talk where two individuals who are acting like a couple actually admit that they are one.

 The scenario plays out like this: two people meet on Calvin’s small campus and feel a sort of attraction towards each other. They return to their separate groups of friends and begin analyzing every word of every conversation they’ve ever had together. The two begin to spend more and more time together, waiting months in an undefined purgatory of “just friends.” Only after they’ve vetted each other through weeks or months of “friendship” do they commit to dating each other — a commitment, it seems, that has an astonishingly high chance of leading to a marriage.

We should all know that a first date isn’t a marriage proposal. But people seem to be so concerned with not dating anyone that they couldn’t potentially marry that they lose sight of the “potentially.” With marriage on even 18- and 19-year-olds’ horizons, Calvin becomes a terrible place to date.

 We all know the couple who were high school sweethearts and have always known they were right for each other. But most of us don’t have any idea what we’re looking for. The pseudo-courtship principles preached in many youth groups don’t translate well to a campus where we’re far from the guidance of parents. And so we’re left without a way to navigate the terrifying waters of showing interest and asking someone out.

 What happens is that the stakes become far too high — fear of rejection keeps many silent, while the fear of a relationship they may not be ready for dissuades others. When a date means an invitation to “be dating,” it’s far too weighty of a thing to ask a casual acquaintance or crush. And that, I think, robs us of the chance to learn what we like and don’t like, who we’re attracted to and who we definitely aren’t.

 This also makes break-ups more painful. I can’t speak for all of Calvin, but I don’t know anyone casually dating more than one person at a time. This means that instead of a field of casual interests slowly progressing into one serious relationship, students are living lives of serial monogamy — each subsequent relationship with its own, sometimes brief and painful, lifespan.

Some Calvin students are ready for marriage. Others of us don’t feel that way yet. But I don’t think this dating culture is helping either of those groups.

Fortunately, I think there’s an easy fix to this. Friends, classmates, ask each other out on dates. Learn to take no as an answer, and learn to move on. But friends and classmates, when you’re asked, why not say yes?