Fear & Shame in Dating

Shared with permission:

A few months ago, an alumnus called me seeking advice about a potential romantic relationship. You see, there was a boy that she liked, but she was convinced that she had ruined the potential relationship. She felt enormously guilty for being “too forward” and afraid that she was not letting him lead.

Her crime? She smiled at him.

That’s it.

Yes, I’m being totally serious. She smiled at him from across the room and afterwards, she was convinced that she had broken a cardinal rule of opposite sex relationships.

What kind of effed up teachings produce this level of ridiculous fear? This total inability to engage the opposite sex in a normal, friendly manner?

For once, I knew I couldn’t blame this on Christianity at large, because she was not raised a Christian. The Honor Academy was her only exposure to Christianity and these problems and mindsets did not exist before she went there.

Now, this may be an extreme example (or maybe not?) but I’ve heard from dozens of alumni – especially women – that after the Honor Academy, they feel incredibly uneasy around the opposite sex. Why is that? I’m going to give a few potential reasons, but I hope you’ll chime in as well.

1) Strict gender roles: Each gender has their assigned duties and no deviation is acceptable. Men lead. Women follow. Men initiate. Women respond.

First off, there are many places in Scripture where Godly women pursued romantic relationships, did not submit to their husbands and held leadership roles over men.

– Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz (Gasp!)
– Abigail did not submit to her husband’s leadership and took matters into her own hands, which eventually led to her marrying King David. (I Sam 25)
– Esther entered the King’s court uninvited – which had the potential to be an offense punishable by death.

This is just a short list. If you research the topic further, you will find many more encouraging examples.

From what I’ve seen, this teaching leads women to feel that they cannot even show interest in a guy (so how is he supposed to know that you like him?). It leads them to being passive and unable to seize opportunities. They are waiting for a guy to do everything in the relationship, and that is just not normal or healthy.

2) Friendship with the opposite sex is actively discouraged.

Many unsuspecting interns have been confronted for “curbside chatting” during their first week of the internship. “Curbside chatting” is exactly what it sounds like – standing on the curb outside the dorms, innocently chatting with a member of the opposite sex. Although this is clearly in public, in full view of all the dorms, its still considered dangerous behavior and will get you promptly confronted by your leadership and/or peers.

I’ve heard alumni say that they were afraid to even be seen walking on a sidewalk in the same direction as a member of the opposite sex, for fear that they would be confronted.

Its not uncommon for core advisors to ban their core from talking to members of the opposite sex for a period of time (days or weeks) as a “fast.”

For these, and probably many other reasons, real friendship between the sexes is rare at the Honor Academy. If you spend a year (or more) afraid to talk to members of the opposite sex, that mindset doesn’t just disappear when you go back home.

Notice the bottom line for all these behaviors? FEAR. Is that what the Christian life is supposed to be based on?

3) Fear of “Failure”

At the Honor Academy, any romantic relationship that doesn’t work out is considered a failure. In Honor Academy logic, if you break up with someone it obviously wasn’t God’s will, so you should have never dated them in the first place. This brings such an intense pressure that interns begin to feel that they cannot even start a relationship with someone until they are fairly certain that they will marry that person. A little backwards, don’t you think?

Since they can’t actually engage in a relationship with a person in order to see if its a match, they turn to prayer, fasting and their own mystical experiences with God to see who they should marry. While all of those things are important, they are NOT A SUBSTITUTE for real life experience.

You know the most common way that God tells you who to marry? It comes through spending time with the person who will become your spouse.

When a former intern actually does enter a relationship, the stakes are high. If it doesn’t work out and they have to break up, that carries a huge stigma. Even worse, what if you kissed the person? You’ve now “cheated on your future spouse.” You are now damaged goods, you are impure.

Hogwash.

Its no wonder that interns struggle in this area. This is WAY too much pressure to put on a budding relationship!

It is not a sin to date someone, realize over time that it is not a good match and then break up. Its called normal development.
________________________________________________________

Why do you think former interns struggle with having normal, healthy opposite sex friendships and relationships?

213 Comments on "Fear & Shame in Dating"

  1. I remember feeling guilty about listening to the song "Kiss Me" because I was afraid it would invoke some kind of untapped romanticism in me and I'd irrationally want to kiss all the boys. I was also terrified of my peers (non-friends, of course) finding out that I listened to that song for fear of getting confronted. Same goes with the song "ugly day" by FIF.

    I took the "numb your brain/heart to all romantic ideas" approach. When I met my future husband, Chris, who was this amazing artist/poet/romantic emo boy from East Texas, I was super cold and mean to him because he was everything TM/HA said you shouldn't be (heart-on-his-sleeve). Thankfully he stuck around.

  2. I dated post TM and after a year or so, realized it wouldn't work out. I think I knew before that, but I was so terrified of what my TM friends would think, so I tried to force it to work. I saw others getting into these ideal, perfect looking marriages, and I wanted that to be me.

    When I finally had the guts to break it off, it was such a relief, but it was a sick blow to my pride at the same time. I had to face the idea that maybe I had "missed God's voice" because God wouldn't "lead me" into a relationship that wasn't going to end in marriage, right?? So that made me question everything.

    Now I understand God (gasp!) has actually given us free will to choose, and He has also given me the freedom to fail.

  3. I think you're spot on. As usual.

  4. Future Cult Leader | April 21, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply

    TMM made me terrified to date. I'm nearly 30 and still deal with the ramifications of 10 years ago. I'm slowly getting over it – but it did a number on my psyche.

  5. I wanted to stand up and shout my agreement with your point #3 here- I COMPLETELY dealt with this after TM, and i think it made my breakup about 3 million times harder than it needed to be. Ugh.

    But I'll have to say that i did not deal with point #2 while at HA hardly at all, besides the random, isolated confronting by interns. I actually felt that the HA encouraged healthy opposite-sex friendships for me, and for a few years after my time at HA, I stayed really close with a few of my guy friends.

  6. I agree with Lisa Marie, my break up before I started dating my husband felt like the end of the world. When you are convinced that the person has to be your future spouse and then realize it's not working it is devastating. This guy and I had 2 years of friendship and praying and waiting and fasting and council etc etc before we finally made it official. When it didn't work out it felt like the most terrible failure imaginable. After that I had no idea how I was supposed to proceed- the courting formula had let me down and I felt lost.

    Happily, I met my beloved husband who shows me every day how to shake of stupid bondage and walk in freedom (there were some rough moments, poor guy). He was basically like, "Hey, we like spending time together. Let's date." 🙂 We've been together for 8 years now.

  7. littlegraygirl | April 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply

    I also had some really good guy friends while I was at the HA. Yes, I occasionally got confronted for hanging out with a guy (usually by someone who didn't even know me that well) but I knew I wasn't doing anything wrong, so I didn't really care. One guy, though, got weird for a while because we started sharing our backgrounds with each other. He said "I think we should back off; we're getting too close". This was news to me, because I wasn't developing feelings for him at all, nor did anything we shared with one another strike me as inappropriate. *shrug* So I guess there was a little weirdness, but it didn't keep me from having guy friends. I do think that as a whole, however, the HA does foster unnatural, unhealthy relationships between the genders. But I think that has more to do with the fact that girls are expected to bake for their brother cores and all the horrible things they tell men and women about what it means to be a man or a woman. 🙁

  8. who confronts Ron/Heath/Dave?

  9. Ha, I bet a young lady could even do it!

    Not so darn easy to believe that while immersed in the fishbowl though…..

  10. Luckily I was a free thinker even at the HA, and even though I had a very close guy friend there I never got confronted. Mainly because my ACA (not sure what the equivalent is now) also had a close guy friend her first year and got confronted ALL the time so she was determined to not be crazy like that. God Bless her.

    At the same time, I was one of those model people who "dated God" as a teenager and intended to "court", have my first kiss at the altar, etc. I never had a boyfriend before the HA, but I rebelled just 6 months later and got into a relationship VERY quickly. I beat myself up for months that I "wasted" my first kiss.

    Relationships were a struggle mainly because I over analyzed and spiritualized everything. Actually, when I met my wonderful husband (of 7 years that I can't imagine life without), at first I didn't think it was "right". We didn't have "the same calling" he wasn't a "world changer" (gasp, he had never been on a missions trip!). It was "love at first sight" (no such thing, or it's evil), he loved the Lord and we had so much in common it was uncanny.

    When I finally stopped beating myself that I loved him and admitted to God that I wanted to marry him, then I had TOTAL peace.

    See, what I've learned since then is evangelicals and especially Teen Mania WAY overspiritualize the seeking a mate process. There is actually nowhere in the Bible where someone "prayed about who to marry", or jumped through all these hoops spiritually. They just simply got married. The real power of marriage as a picture of Christ and the church is a daily laying down of self to the person you have committed to for life. It's not about finding "the one" or making up some rules about courtship.

    Also, my Mom is full of wisdom and cut through a lot of bunk for me really fast. I once had started dating a guy (a couple years after the HA) and was telling her about it and said, "but I don't want to be led by my emotions". She said "why not? God gave us emotions". DUH! God created us body, mind and spirit. We need to trust our gut more, trust the emotions He gave us more. They are NOT evil. It's can only be dangerous to call something God created evil.

  11. gracemakesfree | April 26, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Reply

    Nicole (or Nicole's Mom) hit the nail right on the head!! God GAVE us emotions for a reason!!! And it's not to bury them.

  12. During my year (02-03), our "brother core" sucked. They never really hung out with us. About half way through the year I remember their CA spoke to us one night while our CA spoke his core. All I remember from what he said was something about how during his undergrad year he avoided females at all cost so that he could focus on male friendships and his relationship with God. He never said it plainly, but I assumed from this that he had told his core to do the same. I'm pretty sure that's why they acted like we were all lepers the whole year. Totally ridiculous.

  13. I didn't date before HA and now after being out of HA for almost 10 years I still have never had a relationship and never even experienced my first kiss. I still find it very hard to initiate conversations with guys.

  14. Some people make dating such a bad thing and they wonder why girls grow up to be lesbians. Go figure.

  15. Sisterlisa, umm, what? Lesbians date.

  16. Shelley – I remember several guys at the HA who took this stance and were not nice about it. They gave my guy friends a hard time for hanging out with women. They also treated women like pariahs. It was very uncomfortable. Some of those guys still float around in my life from time-to-time and although they are married now and outside of the HA, I still keep my distance because of the way they treated me back then. To be blunt, they were assholes and all of the women who were at the HA during their time deserve an apology from them.

  17. First off, I want to say that I am so sorry for all of you who have struggled to interact with the opposite sex since leaving the HA. Know that you are not alone. I was on probation for getting too close with a guy, and I definitely have struggled with relationships since then. I think that it's really good to recognize where some of our ideas about opposite sex relationship have come from, but it's not good to dwell on them. Yes, I'm not happy with hurt that I have faced because of some of my interactions at the HA…BUT, God is faithful. Yes, we all have hurt and pain, but what will we do about it? What can we learn from this, and how can we choose to move on? Please don't let this dictate your life from now on. Fight for your freedom.

  18. My brother core was unbelievable. The most wonderful group of men I have ever met. Our family core did EVERYTHING together, and our CA's encouraged us to develop solid friendships with each other. The result was that we for real thought of each other as brothers and sisters. And I don't mean "brother in Christ/sister in Christ"… I mean real family. I remember having big long discussions where we all fantasized about a future where we all live close and our kids call us Aunt and Uncle… Of course this obviously didn't end up happening, but that's okay because we knew we weren't making actual plans.

    My point is, I had absolutely NO fear or hesitation in seeking wisdom from a male perspective about different things because I was so comfortable with my brother core. I wasn't super-duper close with absolutely all of them of course, but they always made themselves available if I (or my core-mates) needed to talk about anything at all. We don't talk very often now, but when we do see each other, it's exactly like it was while we were at the HA, at least with the one's I was closest with. I'm unbelievably grateful that our CA's promoted this togetherness, because my TM experience was absolutely awesome because of it. We of course followed the rules of the HA on opposite gender conduct, but we didn't adhere to the legalistic garbage that individuals would try to force on us. My family core was the best. <3

  19. Anon @ 12:05
    I'm in the same boat as you. My brother core encouraged so much healing in my life from past relationships. I still love and adore my brothers for being such godly examples and good intentioned friends.
    My sympathies to Shelley and others who weren't as lucky. I pray that you receive the healing God has planned for you!

    As i don't fully agree with a majority of RA's posts (irrelevant) I would like to thank all of you for your input. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Teen Mania but am also very aware that now is the time to take all that I learned with a grain of salt. Distinguish what was God from what was Man and so on.
    the comments on this thread have addressed the biggest problem (and so far, the only) i have had since leaving HA, which is how incredibly awkward i get around guys my age. granted, i don't think i will ever get back into the dating scene, but i do feel a significant amount of peace simply from reading about all of the happy marriages that were anti-TM-formula. 😀

    I know God has great plans for me (Jer 29:11) and that includes my future husband, in my opinion. whether he has already been hand selected and set aside for me, or if it will be a matter of my free will in choosing, I'm done over spiritualizing the matter and will simply live to glorify God.

  20. Women are expected to be aloof, cold, and uninterested in real life men. Women who smile are often seen as immodest, impure, and unladylike, especially when they smile at men. It's no wonder women lust over men they see in the media rather than show interest in real life men.

    When a former intern actually does enter a relationship, the stakes are high. If it doesn't work out and they have to break up, that carries a huge stigma. Even worse, what if you kissed the person? You've now "cheated on your future spouse." You are now damaged goods, you are impure.

    This is important for women. If she dates many men at once without sex, she is considered to be unfaithful like she's cheated on her future husband and impure.

  21. Even Christians always make people afraid of dating, especially non-believers who don't share their beliefs, thinking that they are bad and sinful, even when dating is supposed to be enjoyable but Christians tend to take that away by putting restrictions on who you should date, who you should not date, what you should do, what you shouldn't do, etc. that even the most devout, humble ones are really afraid of it.

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