What is dating? I don’t know. I’m trying to be humorous in part, but I genuinely have no clue what the word “dating” actually means. Part of the problem is that everyone seems to assign different definitions to the word.
After interviewing a few students on campus, three main interpretations of dating emerged: hooking-up, casually seeing someone, and dating for marriage.
All of these variations are differentiated by the intent behind them. Hooking-up has more of a short term, lower significance label on it, whereas dating for marriage signifies strong intention to marry the person you choose to date. Casual dating falls somewhere in the middle. It attaches more significance than hooking up, but doesn’t carry the same weight of dating for marriage.
My youth pastor once framed dating possibilities with the following statement: “You’re either dating to break up or to get married.” I’ve carried that phrase with me since middle school. When you’re dating someone, there really are only two options. It either ends or it continues.
As I discussed the concept further with students on campus, I began to wonder: does dating mean something different here at Gordon? How does our campus shape the way we perceive romantic relationships? What is dating culture like at Gordon?
Daryus Vaughan, a biblical studies and political science double major, described dating at Gordon, saying: “People like marriage here; they enjoy the concept of marriage and being able to experience it in the future. Ring by spring is probably a minority of the students. However, I would say a big portion of the students here are in the middle, where they desire relationships and also desire to be with the one. There is a lot of optimism and hope for relationships here.”
From his standpoint, dating is defined as getting to know a person with an intention of romantically pursuing them for marriage. Contrary to the norm, he observed a strong desire amongst Gordon’s student body for real relationships: “Hook-up culture is real in college. I’ve seen hook-up culture here at Gordon. But, contrary to the norm, here at Gordon a lot more people than in most colleges desire relationships, not just to hook-up.”
In his mind, an intention to honor God is the most important thing in dating relationships. He jokingly described a majority of the couples on campus as “cringey” due to the PDA taking up in most residence hall lounges.
One girl said, “I come from a background where dating simply means getting to know someone.” Whereas another defined dating as “being in a relationship with somewhat of a commitment. If you’re not going to go on dates with other people, then you’re basically dating.”
However, Vaughan did concede the following point: “I would also say it can be surprisingly cute at times because there is an authenticity in those cringey relationships. The desire to be in a relationship is a beautiful thing when it comes from a place of genuine affection. The problem is more so the maturity level.”
Vaughan closed out his interview by noting the importance of being fulfilled in Christ, which provides a better foundation for romantic relationships. Romantic relationships can’t be formed out of a need for validation of fulfillment; we must instead be fulfilled in Christ.
I also interviewed a small group of junior and senior girls about Gordon’s dating environment. They immediately began voicing different definitions of dating as well.
Another girl voiced her frustration and concern regarding the pressure of dating on Gordon’s campus. She described it as a “safe-ish place to date” but most definitely not a healthy one. She correlated it with the size of Gordon: “We are such a small campus that everyone knows each other’s business. You could hang out with a guy once and people will ask if you’re together, which is really toxic because it assumes men and women can’t have platonic relationships.”
However, others did mention the potentially positive aspects that come with having a small campus, such as accountability. Personal responsibility is also amplified due to the higher stakes when dating on a small campus—everyone knows everyone.
Furthermore, community and fellowship are strongly encouraged on campus, which are both very important when entering into dating relationships. The support, as well as an augmented level of communication caused by close communities set up healthier frameworks for dating.
Concern over the pressure marriage puts on dating relationships at such a young age was voiced numerous times. The correlation between college and marriage was one many of us grew up hearing in Christian settings. The concept of women attending college to find a husband or get their MRS degree struck a chord in the discussion.
One of the junior girls eloquently stated, “MRS degrees are kind of garbage, because it dismisses so much of what we are doing at college. We are here to get our education, not find an eligible bachelor. There are men everywhere; I am here for me.”
One of the girls, who is currently in a committed multicultural relationship, expressed an appreciation for the opportunity to explore differences in dating relationships: “It’s cool to see people exploring, especially when it comes to cross-cultural dating. I like having a space where you can try to have a relationship with someone who seems so completely different from you.”
She deemed her experience as a testimony to the benefits of cross-cultural dating, saying: “If I didn’t start dating my current boyfriend, I never would have become friends with the people I am today. I never would have thought in a million years that I would like these kinds of people and I love them. Dating someone different from me has really opened me up.”
As you can see, dating is a complex concept. The word itself has different definitions and can therefore be easily misconstrued depending on the context. It’s important for us to recognize possible discrepancies revolving around the ways we interpret phrases.
If dating means hanging out to one person and interest in marriage to another, then we have to clearly communicate our expectations to one another as we pursue romantic relationships.
Every campus has pros and cons when it comes to dating. Gordon has classic tropes like the O-Crew couple, the La Vida couple, study abroad couple, ring-by-spring couple, and so on. None of these relationships are inherently bad.
No dating relationship should be viewed from the outside and laughed at or diminished. It is important to respect the relationships we see around campus. We should acknowledge and find ways to be respectful when it comes to the different types of relationships on campus.
My advice to our community when it comes to dating is to value the feeling of freedom. In our society, freedom and dependence are often characterized as antonyms. However, sometimes the best forms of freedom are found through a healthy degree of dependence upon others.
When you’re in a romantic relationship, you shouldn’t feel trapped. You should feel free. You should feel free when you are with them and when you are not. Hold the relationship loosely enough for both individuals to grow. Relax. Date wisely or don’t date at all. Find fulfillment in what matters. Strive for mutuality. Be free.