This week has seen the revelation of a new, cruel kind of dating – known as 'pigging'. The practice, also known as 'pulling the pig', sees a man betting that he can woo a woman deemed to be the 'ugliest' in a given group, for the amusement of his friends.
The story making headlines this week was that of a one 24-year-old woman who was apparently lulled into a 'proper romance' by a 21-year-old man she met and slept with in Amsterdam. She was stood up, however: after later flying back to Amsterdam to meet her lover she found him nowhere to be seen, and later received the text confirmation: 'you were pigged, it was all a joke'.
It's a horrible tale that's elicited disgust from many, and been seen as emblematic of the hedonistic, abusive 'lad culture' that's prevalent among some young people today. That said, whatever 'rules' exist on the contemporary world of sex and dating, they are all unwritten, which can set the stage for confusion and deep hurt.
Are there rules for Christian dating? One might imagine more faith-filled romances to be a purer affair, a world away from the unkindness of 'pigging', but Christians can still be cruel and dysfunctional. It's worth stepping back to check our boundaries and principles before rushing headlong into the quest for 'The One'. It could save a lot of pain.
1. You're not The One
Christians can be obsessed with their dream of meeting 'The One'. God knows the plans he has for you, says the prophet Jeremiah, so that must mean he's got a beautiful, house, spouse and family lined up – predestined – for you. Well, it's a nice, romantic idea but it's also a crippling and unbiblical one. It can paralyse you in fear over whether you're dating the 'right' person or not, expecting a sign from the stars to let you know – rather than just looking at the actual emotional connection you have. And Scripture says much about love, but little about that perfect partner who makes your dream comes true.
2. Leave them better off
At Holy Trinity Brompton's Dating Course Will van der Hart offered an interesting 'rule' for dating: 'honour every person that you date, and leave them better off'. It's a bold contrast to the philosophy of 'pigging', that instead invites you to consider not just whether your partner is right 'for you', but what you can do for them. Even if the dating doesn't lead to a relationship, van der Hart said, consider how you can actually leave that person better off than before they met you. This principle gets that true love isn't just about making us happy, but serving another. Not easy to accomplish, but surely a noble goal.
3. Dating isn't biblical
Although 'what does the Bible say about dating' books and articles abound, its worth remembering that 'dating' isn't biblical. As a social concept, it's historically very recent, so searching for Scripture for a map on how to do it won't get you far. What the Bible does offer is principles for dating, ideals of virtue to aspire to that make us more like Christ. Love your neighbour as yourself, for example. Serve before being served, be slow to anger, quick to forgive. Show mercy, give generously, admit your faults.
Dating, as simply an extension of human relationships, should simply embody those ideals as much as the rest of our lives.
4. Boundaries are key
Boundaries in life are crucial to healthy relationship, romantic or otherwise. This of course applies to intimacy in dating, including sex. While Christian attitudes to sex and dating vary, at the very least it's an essential principle to talk, and make clear one's boundaries and expectations. Otherwise, misunderstanding and deep upset can soon follow. Assuming each knows what the other wants is a terrible idea, that at its worst can lead to serious abuse. No one should ever feel afraid to say 'no', or feel pressured to go where they don't want to. Failure to respect those boundaries should set alarm bells ringing – it embodies selfishness, not love.
5. Single and free
There's an inescapable stigma around singleness in the Church today, one that some are beginning to challenge. Marriage and family are often implied to be the obvious end goal of the well-lived Christian goal, an expectation that can only end in crushed hopes for many. And of course, Jesus was single, and St Paul was emphatic about the profound spiritual value of being relationally untied. He saw it as a gift, not a curse, as should we. Being 'alone' does not make you less of a person, and finding a romantic partner cannot ultimately fulfil you.
True contentment, Paul taught, could be found only through God alone. Which is good news: it means you can date, and date well, but that whatever happens won't change who you are.