I feel like this probably could afford to be a dread month theme, but hey, it’s smooch month so let’s go with it for now.
Content Warning: Religious dating in a church environment. Some mentions of domestic abuse.
How’d you learn to date?
I’m not trying to be facetious here; I know that I had this really weird, unnatural vision of the whole experience because I never really did it, not at least, the way that I understand it’s done. What I know about it is mostly filtered through sitcoms and cartoons aimed at my age bracket of the time, and included things like having money to go out to dinner together and there were rules about having a nice jacket and you had to pay for things, and you needed transport and it was all tied to things that I just never had. I never had a car so I never took anyone anywhere. I never really had steady income as a kid so I never took anyone anywhere ‘nice.’
I knew how I was supposed to date, though. I knew that the right way to do things was to approach the pastor and tell him I had an interest in one of the girls in the church and to ask him what he thought and for his godly guidance. If he was okay with it I should go check with the girl’s dad (who the pastor might talk to first), and then if that was okay, I should go talk to the girl about it (whose dad probably told her). In this exchange, note, that I should not talk to her directly, certainly not to start with. Certainly not to build an engagement; there were two layers of gatekeeping to get through first, and an added component there was that they might talk to my father about it before anything went on in that direction.
I had no idea what girls were meant to do if they were interested in a boy, but I kinda think they had to throw out hints or just tell the boy to go check with the pastor.
I know it went in waves and I know it had some measure of planning to it. When new kids were born into any church, there was always some talk from pastors about what other kids were born, around the same time, and even with their genders being key factors for consideration. I even heard a pastor boast about it when talking about couples my age that got matched up – you know, he thought about that when they were kids and then they grew up and he recommended they date when they came to him and then hey, now they were probably going to get married. And that’s a totally normal thing in that community and it wasn’t really until I was a grown adult that I thought back on that and thought how weird that was.
This wasn’t even in the fundie church, mind you; this was later, in an Anglican church, where a minister was giving me advice for coping with my loneliness and sadness and rage, mostly from the fundie church, where he explained what a good job he did shepherding and counselling his flock, but which also had the inescapable feeling of how weird it was to hear this dude boasting about how he’d managed to call-shot two babies hooking up in fifteen years’ time.
In the fundie church, I was not in a cohort that started dating yet; I was fourteen years old when we left and neither I nor the other three members of my age range had started to reach out. Given that was our options, with two boys and two girls, that wasn’t exactly enticing prospects.
When I escaped into the real world and started trying to build relationships like these, I was both incredibly inept at them and confused by what to do. TV shows relied on you having this big blob of things to work with; you dated girls from your school, but what did that mean? I know I spent a lot of time literally just hanging around a girl I was interested in and that was it, eventually resolving to leave her alone when it became clear that it wasn’t a thing that interested her. Which you know, that’s not bad but maybe I shouldn’t have needed such a long slab of time to piece that one together when I was just told ‘no.’
The thing is, after that point, there were basically two internet girlfriends, one of whom turned out to live near me and went to the same anime club as me and suddenly I had an actual relationship and that one’s been going strong for twenty years. At no point though, do I think that either Fox and I thought of it as ‘dating’ though – we didn’t dedicate times to go to special places, I’d just go to her place and hang out (because her parents were less weird than mine).
I think about this when I think about all those relationships from my childhood, in the churches, that all, literally every one, ended unhappily. I do not know a single relationship in my age range in my cohort from my church days that lasted, and overwhelmingly commonly, it’s because women in those relationships were ignored and their interests or preferences were discarded in the name of being good partners… until something broke.
I think that dating, certainly play dating and social dating in that time tends to be a useful experience so you can get an idea of what it’s even like, being in a relationship. Not even necessarily ‘where’s it going’ or ‘what if you break up’ like those are fake questions – just that I feel that one of the things I and my cohort needed to make sure I didn’t make more mistakes was a chance to date, and learn how to date, was an opportunity to, well play at it.