Church waves the 'say no to sex before marriage' banner so much, that in my mind, pre-marital sex was the glaring challenge to overcome – and if I managed said challenge, God would look down on me at the altar on my wedding day and say, well done good sex-avoiding daughter, I am most pleased with your lack of succumbing to earthly desires.
What I now realise is that God would probably have whacked me round the head saying, how did you purposefully grow emotionally and together, before he put a ring on it, girlfriend?
And as a friend so kindly shared with me (passed onto her from an American Pastor), 27 quickly becomes 37 in the whole dating game. Well I'm already well on my way to being seriously past it the primo age and I clearly haven't got too much time to sort myself out.
So here's the story. As a nearly-31-year-old, my idea of compromising in the dating game was going to his local pub for a drink rather than mine – or letting him wear those weird shoes he loves. I (possibly or probably?) sound like an idiot with a long-suffering boyfriend, but I have a feeling I represent many slightly older modern working girls who have focused on career, travel and life rather than waiting to find 'the one' (and who have boyfriends who fit in with their lives).
Sharing the same bed, sleeping together, and a 5-year-movie-type-engagement – these non-chrizzo pre-marital activities can help a couple grow closer together. However for a Christian couple, the old enforced chastity belt doesn't exactly bring intimacy in a serious relationship without some delving into character and emotions.
The Plain Reality
Without the sex, the relationship is exposed for what it is. Which means that unless you are pre-occupied with the Christian type of sex – i.e. the activity of not doing it – you get a chance to build incredible strong foundations for a great marriage (if you sign up for those hard times).
And so the light bulb pings; just resisting his advances for a church altar high-five moment with God might not prepare you for a married life. What I'm realising is that a dating relationship needs to transition into something more committed before it becomes marriage, with the two people building strong foundations for a future.
I'd been expecting that moving from dating to engagement (or marriage) to be comparable to a 0-60 Ferrari acceleration. But I've been hit with the realisation like a cold wet fish round the face, that doing 0-60 in a Cadillac Seville (i.e. slowly but consistently) might be more preferable. So I can't just do my breezy 6 nights a week social butterfly time with a throwaway night for future husband or seriously dating-boyfriend AND expect that the space for marriage is going to be an easy-yellow brick road to follow, and with a click of a red high heel, I'll be right and ready for that church aisle.
Now I'm not one to dream about my future in terms of partnership. I haven't already decided my future children's names or been saving wedding photos and hair dos on Pinterest. But I do want to be prepared for hitting the ultimate commitment before I get to say 'I do'.
And while that involves wiping out some of my commitments, it also means communicating well. I don't mean agreeing on everything – or always having to contradict each other's different opinions. Forging paths together, taking time to confront issues and not being afraid to tackle conflict, which God uses to shape us in relationships and for the ultimate relationship with him.
And so perhaps attending the pre-marriage course when we have a nice shiny ring on the finger is a little too late? By then we've already formed a precedent on how the balance will work with the two of us.
It may be too early to join his church after the first date or cross out every social engagement to snuggle up in front of a movie together after a month. Yet consistently dealing with discussions from the outset and being prepared to make compromise are essential. This will help to avoid 'the clash' – because there will be one at some point – whether it's pre-engagement, engagement, or a few years into marriage.
And I'd make a call – for couples in churches to model good relationships a little more transparently. And that means not just displaying how love is done – but the importance of how to handle conflict. It doesn't mean publicly airing dirty laundry but demonstrating that conflict is normal, right and can be done in a loving way that honours the other person.
Many young couples starting out choose to shy away from confrontation (often their eye is so focused on the shotgun bedroom prize) as they smugly share with others that they've never had an argument. As a friend of mine puts it – 'alarm bells go off!' With practice right from the start, a small disagreement shouldn't put any relationship on ice as preparation has been made for conflict. Instead, we need to learn how to grow in the challenges we have with one another to go deeper with each other and with God.
I might not be quite ready for the big 'M' word, but I know that by preparing my lifestyle and my character for it, hopefully means that it won't be such a huge shock when I do say 'I do.'
Originally from The Lake District in the UK, Amanda works in Publishing in Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. She is also working on fighting her FOMO and doing less.
Amanda Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amanda-robinson.html