Not a Prize: The Language of Pursuit in Dating

(Many thanks to Emily Maynard, Antonia Terrazas, and Preston Yancey for the discussion that led to this post)

My brothers and me with Aladdin and Jasmine in Disney World.

My brothers and me with Aladdin and Jasmine in Disney World.

If you follow me on twitter (and please do, even though I tweet a lot!), you know that I'm actively dating right now. In the past 20 months, I've had my first boyfriend, got dumped, gone out on multiple dates with other guys, kissed a few of them, been stood up, canceled dates, had dates cancel, joined meet up groups (and gotten hit on because I was the only single woman there, subsequently leaving said meet up groups) and shamelessly flirted my way into more than one movie-based make out session.

All that say, I have had a year and a half of "yeah, sure!," agreeing to many dates to see what was out there, to meet new people in this new city, to try and make a connection. I've done everything short of speed-dating and signing up for Christian Mingle. I'm what you might call "actively looking."

But, in the process, I have also refused to let my career or my education fall to the side - I have a Master's degree, I've traveled a lot, and I've got a book contract. The fact that I am looking does not detract from the fact that I am living life to the fullest while I am single. Marriage, for me, is not a prize, it is not a crown jewel, it is not something I can call into existence by being "good enough" or "having the right interest." The very language I use to discuss marriage is at odds with much of the way the Christian world discusses it.

I have heard, since I hit puberty, of pursuit, of chase, of tracking down a spouse. The very language we use to describe a relationship of marriage, especially within the Christian world, is often quite violent. John Eldredge takes of men pursuing women, of true manliness being caught up in rescuing a damsel in distress. And his wife, Stasi, discusses the flip side of that coin in the book Captivating, how it is our duty as women to be rescued.

Gary Thomas, on Ally Vesterfelt's blog this week, attempts to redeem some of that language by - I'm guessing this is the intended meaning - giving women license to pursue. He talks of pursuing a spouse as one would a job, putting as much effort into it as one would a post-college job or even a college degree. He also brings forward shopping analogies, talking about how shopping for a spouse and shopping for the right dress are similar.

But all of that still buys into the pursuit and prize, hunter and hunted language. And that very language is problematic. That language sets up marriage as a race, with a spouse, a partner bound to you for life, as your prize. It praises the value of marriage but functions to commodify it in the same breath. If I do the right work, I'll get a man as a prize - it doesn't matter which man, just a man.

I don't like that metaphor. I don't like that language. In the words of Jasmine, one of my favorite Disney princesses: "I am not a prize to be won!" When we turn marriage into a pursuit, into a life goal, into an achievement, a stepping stone to happiness, we set ourselves up for objectification of our spouse, for a poor understanding of what a life together means, and for many, many problems. Because when you're pursuing a spouse, it doesn't matter who it is as long as it is a spouse.

I'm not here for that. I'm not dating around for that. I'm looking, but I'm not looking in pursuit of some prize. I'm not interested in being married simply for the sake of being married.

I don't think it's idolatry to say that I would like to be married. I also don't think we should swing the pendulum the other direction and uproot ourselves and our lives in pursuit of an ethereal other that we don't even know how to find them or even, really, what we're looking for. We can actively look without pursuing blindly; we can date around without shame; and we can be still and know that time will come when and if it is supposed to.

In the meantime, I am not some prize for some dudebro looking for a knighthood. I'm just a person, enjoying my life, hoping that one day, I'll have a partner - the right partner - to join me.