How the “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” Model Left Women So Emotionally Vulnerable

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Uncategorized | 55 comments

How Friendationships Can Leave Women in Limbo

Just because you’re not going to date doesn’t mean you don’t get your heart broken.

My article yesterday on how Elisabeth Elliot’s courtship with Jim sounds quite toxic and unfair to Elisabeth blew up on Facebook and social media. Most were in agreement that we really need to revisit the book Passion and Purity because what it’s showing to be a healthy relationship is anything but.

As the discussions started happening everywhere, though, there was one theme that emerged that I’d like to comment on a little more. I don’t have time to write a big article this morning because I’m running really late for some interviews, but let me throw this out as food for thought.

So much advice to young people during purity culture told them that they would protect their hearts if they only “courted”–or dated once they were ready to be married.

Until then,  you could have friend groups, but nothing romantic.

But this puts young girls who are really interested in someone at a distinct disadvantage. Let’s say you like someone, and you think they like you back. They text you at all hours. They sit next to you on buses. They grab a meal with you occasionally.

But you have absolutely no idea where you stand. Does he like you back? Does he think you’re just a friend? You don’t know. And because you’re not supposed to date, he never has to tell you what he’s thinking, and you’re not allowed to ask him to define the relationship. So you go on like this, never knowing, and being strung along, sometimes for years.

Here’s how Rebecca’s describing it in the mother-daughter book we’re writing (this is from the chapter on dating):

For many of us, the flawed logic of the “don’t date until you can marry the guy or else you’ll get your heart broken” mantra of the mid 2000s fell apart pretty quickly. The house of cards toppled for me (Rebecca) when I realized that not dating wasn’t sparing me heartache–it was just stopping guys who were flirting with me from making any real commitment. I still got my heart broken, but the guy got off scot free because “Well, we weren’t dating.”

On Twitter, that’s what many young women commented on with regards to Passion & Purity. One woman called these “friendationships.” You feel like you’re in a relationship, because you spend a lot of time together, he shares intimacies, you know him really well, but he’s never actually declared his feelings, and you have nothing to hold him to.

And often these “friendationships” end with no warning, and your heart is just as broken as if you had been dating.

Part of the problem with the model that Elisabeth Elliot was promoting is that women are never allowed to ask men to define the relationship.

A guy can have the benefits of a relationship without ever having to commit to exclusivity, or without ever having to clarify his future plans. She can continue to hope against hope that this relationship will someday go somewhere, but he doesn’t have to actually say anything to assure her of this.

And this is largely a gender based thing! Because women are never allowed to take the lead in relationships or speak up about their affections, but must always make the man go first (Elliot makes a big deal about this in Passion & Purity), there is absolutely nothing she can do when she is being strung along. The guy, on the other hand, is free to start a relationship conversation with the woman. So he’s never as helpless.

What this means is that for women, far more than for men, relationships become about a spiritual wrestling.

She can’t speak up and ask him to define the relationship. She is at the whim of when he texts her; when he wants to see her; what he wants to tell her.

The only thing she can do is pray.

That’s why Passion & Purity is far more a book about a woman wrestling with God about whether or not she trusts him enough than it is about a courtship. It was that lesson that I think Elisabeth Elliot was trying to teach girls–that if you want to be married, you need to make sure you’re completely satisfied with Jesus first.

Dating, then, becomes a test of how much you love Jesus. If you want a successful relationship, you have to “put it on the altar” and sacrifice it. You have to turn it over to God (how many girls have written men’s names on scraps of paper and put them in a basket during an altar call at a retreat, when we’re told to give it all to Him?) You have to relinquish it.

For girls, dating is a praying, begging, relinquishing, spiritual experience far more than it ever is for boys, because girls can’t make anything happen on the relationship front. All we can do is pray. And so that’s what we do, and our journals are full of it all.

And this whole dichotomy allows men to string women along because they never promised anything.

Catherine and Peter Marshall’s relationship had much of the same “stringing along” as Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s. In fact, so many of our revered and idolized couples look the same. He’s a powerful, charismatic man, and she’s enamoured with him, and he loves having a woman hang on his every word, but he’s not going to commit until he absolutely has to. And so he can use her and break her heart again and again and again and it’s still somehow considered Christian.

I’m not sure there’s a way to end this unhealthy dynamic except for women to start speaking up earlier and saying, “you’re either in this or you’re not, and if you’re not, I’m leaving.”

I think that’s what it’s going to take–women exercising boundaries and knowing our worth. But because we’ve overspiritualized relationships so much for women, it’s far more likely that she’ll internalize all of this as a test of her faith rather than as a litmus test for the possible health of any future relationships.

Being strung along, where he has all the benefits of a relationship but none of the responsibilities, is not healthy and is not of Christ.

We need to start calling out “friendationships” for what they are. They aren’t fair to the partner with less power–the partner who isn’t supposed to speak up and ask to define the relationship. They aren’t godly.

The worst I’ve ever felt in a dating relationship was when I was a “friendationship.” My girls will tell you the same thing. It’s awful.

I don’t know how to change it, but I do think we should stop overspiritualizing these types of relationships and calling them out for what they are.


The Great Sex Rescue

Changing the conversation about sex & marriage in the evangelical church.

What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the things that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these messages?

Welcome to the Great Sex Rescue.

How Friendationships Can Leave Women in Emotional Turmoil

What do you think? Have you ever been in a “friendationship”? How did it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


Recent Posts

Want to support our work? You can donate to support our work here:

Good Fruit Faith is an initiative of the Bosko nonprofit. Bosko will provide tax receipts for U.S. donations as the law allows.

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Is Someone Stepping on Your Air Hose?

So many women--and many men as well--honestly feel like the church is hurting them. I do not believe that it is Jesus that is hurting them, but the things that the church teaches, especially around sex and marriage, do cause harm. Our surveys have shown that...

Can Sex Be Hot and Holy at the Same Time?

Can sex be hot and holy at the same time? One of my big picture passions that I want people to understand is that sex is more than just physical--it's supposed to be deeply intimate too. And maybe to understand that, we need to take a step back to see what God thinks...


We welcome your comments and want this to be a place for healthy discussion. Comments that are rude, profane, or abusive will not be allowed. Comments that are unrelated to the current post may be deleted. Comments above 300 words in length are let through at the moderator’s discretion and may be shortened to the first 300 words or deleted. By commenting you are agreeing to the terms outlined in our comment and privacy policy, which you can read in full here!


  1. h

    Wow. I didn’t know women weren’t “allowed” to ask. I always asked eventually, I guess, and assured him that it was completely fine to not be interested in me, but that maybe he could be a little more careful to work on social skills, becoming culturally aware, and not be leading anyone on. Or otherwise, I guarded my heart and kept getting to know other fellas. What about Isaiah saying something about a new thing where a woman will surround a man? Or the woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter and made the point about the dogs being allowed the children’s crumbs, and Jesus saying specifically it was because of her reply, that he would grant her request? All Christians are supposed to be quick to hear and slow to speak… but apparently sometimes Jesus explicitly wanted women to speak up.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly! We need to stop teaching women that it’s a sin to try to ask where the relationship is going (Elisabeth Elliot repeats this a lot; so do other books addressed to young women).

      • Angela

        She needs to get her father or brother to sit the guy down and ask him what his intentions are.
        If she is going to adopt Victorian mores of feminine behavior, then at least go all in on it, and get someone to confront him for you, instead of allowing him to string you along.

        Otherwise, be modern and stand up for yourself. Can we please just label being a doormat and psuedo-matyr a sin and not a virtue? Because it really is. I say this as someone who totally allowed myself to be strung along for 2 years in the ’80’s before Josh Harris was born. By someone “sold out for Jesus!” He insisted we weren’t really dating, but whenever he wanted adoring female companionship, he got it. After I married someone else, he found another girl to string along for years and not marry. Then he was engaged to a gal and strung her along for years of engagement without marriage. Their eventual marriage didn’t last long, big surprise! The Lord actually had me confront him about it after I was married, but he obviously didn’t listen.

    • Anonymous305

      I have no idea how that woman knew that Jesus would help her because if someone called me a dog, I wouldn’t think he had loving motives.

      I hadn’t thought about “waiting on the Lord” as a way of hiding immaturity, but it’s good to be aware of that possibility and watch for it. Of course, church culture applies the same idea to solving problems after marriage…

      • CMT

        Anon, Jesus did not compare the woman to a dog. If I recall the story correctly, she was asking him to heal her child. He responded that he was sent to the Jews. She, a non Jew, clapped back, “Even dogs get the crumbs that fall off the table.” Essentially saying, cmon, don’t pretend there isn’t enough miracle juice to go around. Jesus responded by agreeing to heal her kid, saying that her answer showed her faith.

      • Maria Bernadette

        Elsewhere, Jesus that the Father in heaven provides for the birds. And just like he provides for the birds, he’ll provide for us.

        Was Jesus calling people birds? It sounded to me like he was comparing Situation A to Situation B. God provides for birds. God provides for humans. The focus should be on the fact that God provides, not that one situation has birds in it and the other has humans in it.

        No one bats an eye lash over the bird analogy, because we don’t commonly use the word “bird” as an insult. But what if we did, like how in our culture we use the word “dog” as an insult? Wouldn’t people readily assume that Jesus was really thinking that people are all bird-brained? Even though he didn’t actually say that?

        He never called her a dog. In a culture where dog is not an insult, I don’t think people would have assumed that he was thinking of her as one just because of an analogy like that.

  2. Heather

    I’m really glad you’re calling out the issues with what Jim Elliot did. I’ve been wondering why people thought his behavior toward Elizabeth was a good example, for a long time. And I remember she made a big deal about how young men shouldn’t say “I love you” without being able to follow it up immediately with a proposal. And I think thats a good warning in some ways. But that ignores the many, many other ways available for being selfish, sucking up lots of adoring attention, and leading people on. One thing that would have helped me in navigating this is more of a spotlight on awesome Christian women filled with joy and energy, who spent lots or all of their lives not married, especially missionary women. There are lots of them, but I didn’t get to interact with many, when I was wrestling with all this… staying single seemed like a weird thing that was mostly for the nuns in The Sound of Music. I’m wondering if you or Rebecca would start interviewing some, and signal boosting their testimonies of how God doesn’t need to bring each woman a man, in order to bring joy? I feel like knowing more of these women and their testimonies has made my marriage a lot healthier, bc it makes my marriage less about accommodating my husband’s whims, and more about seeking God together without fear or idolizing the marriage.

    • Heather

      My husband was interested in marrying me for at least 5 years before I really got serious about marrying him. I felt a huge responsibility to explicitly and verbally encourage him to keep getting to know other women during that time, because I knew there would be people confronting me for not being a “good Christian sister” and being unloving, if I didn’t. I don’t sense the same level of expectation and speaking truth in love in churches, toward single men. I feel like there’s so much need for men to take responsibility for shepherding younger men in developing emotional maturity and learning caring behaviors.

      • J Murphy

        This is the dating culture I grew up in and a large part of the reason why I’m still single at 42. It’s been man after man who was unwilling to commit to anything.

    • Laura

      That’s an excellent idea Heather!

      We need to hear more testimonies from single women who are serving the Lord. Several years ago, I wrote Living Single Today which is a testimony of having been single a long time and trying to honor God while waiting for Him to bring me the right man. However, I have changed my perspective on that a bit. I no longer care about waiting for the right man because I have other things I want to do with my time as a single person. Those are the testimonies we need to hear because marriage is often idolized.

  3. Kara

    Oh my goodness- this describes my early relationship with my husband! In high school neither of us wanted to date, but we liked each other since junior year. He asked me to proms and homecomings and we would hang out in groups all the time. It was confusing! We had decided to go to the same college, so in the summer after high school graduation I asked if we could have a “define the friendship” talk since it seemed like he liked me too- but because of the books I had read in high school I didn’t know if that was okay! I felt like I needed to talk to my mom and a female youth worker at church and my mentor to get “permission” to have a DTR… lol

  4. Elissa

    While I agree that this issue is most likely to affect women, this totally happened to my husband with the first relationship he tried to pursue! He talked to this girl and her dad about being interested in starting a relationship with her, and she then proceeded to string him along for more than a YEAR before giving him a straight answer. He put his life on hold for her for months, coming over most weekends to hang out or help her dad out with stuff, and all the time he couldn’t really check in on the state of the relationship because she was still “thinking and praying about it.” Finally one day he got in his car after spending a day with her and found a “dear John” letter on the dashboard! This happened several years before he and I even got to know each other, and he still was seriously messed up emotionally from it. So yes, mostly a problem for women, but “friendationships” can most certainly affect and hurt guys, too.

  5. Jane Eyre

    “Being strung along, where he has all the benefits of a relationship but none of the responsibilities, is not healthy and is not of Christ.”

    Ironically, if the subject were premarital sex (a woman sleeping with him and hoping he will someday put a ring on it, or moving in together hoping engagement will follow), the exact same words apply. Literally the exact same words.

    • Wild Honey

      I had the same thought! This is so frustrating. This is the EXACT kind of thing we warn teenage girls about happening in “the world” as to why they shouldn’t have premarital sex. This is the same thing, but with the sex removed. Doesn’t suddenly make it ok.

  6. Laura

    I think someone on here has been reading my old diaries from my slightly younger days. When I got divorced 19 years ago and rededicated my life to the Lord, I wanted to do dating/relationships God’s way. I found “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” on my teenage cousin’s shelf and she let me borrow it. Since it was a “Christian” book, I thought I should take all this advice to heart but I really couldn’t because I was 26 and living on my own. I wasn’t going to insist that my parents get involved in my dating life. While I believe Joshua Harris had good intentions when he wrote this book, it over-spiritualized the concept of dating which turned into years of waiting on my part. I believed I should never accept a date with a man unless I was attracted to him or thought of him as a potential husband.

    Part of the reason I did not date for 15 years after my divorce was due to purity culture and thinking this was God’s way. Since the Bible never talked about dating and marriages were arranged in those days, I believed that these Christian authors who wrote about dating must have heard special revelation from God about how to do this whole dating thing. As Christians and humans, we all want to find a guaranteed formula to do things right. We don’t want to experience heartbreak after heartbreak. After my divorce, I did not want to make the same mistakes again, but I believe I made the mistake of hardly trying because I was so afraid of getting hurt again and I also did not want to disappoint God in my dating life.

    So here I am at 45, and finally realizing that accepting a date does not mean it has to lead to marriage. I did enter a relationship four years ago and it almost led to marriage, but we decided to remain friends. Another issue I found in purity culture was the belief that men and women cannot be friends. Not true at all. I have male friends, which I was afraid to have for years because what if one of us had feelings for the other and it was not mutual?

    Bottom line: There is no one-size-fits-all formula on how to date.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      There really isn’t such a formula, Laura! I’m so moved by what you’ve been through. I’m sorry for the heartache.

    • Lori Maybery

      Haha. My husband played this game for a while, as did the fellow before him. I was fresh out of the world, though, and had no other friends! The first one ended because of the second (my husband). His game playing made it a bit easier because I asked him if we were just friends or more? When he responded that we were just friends I told him that was “good because I’m seeing another guy” his face fell and he expressed sorrow.
      I called my husband on his vacillating between staying “single for the Lord” and marriage and (long story short) said we were parting ways and he proposed that night. We were married 6 days later.
      That was 40 + years ago.

      Also, what a forward woman Naomi was, Ya?

      • Lori Mayberry

        Or, Ruth, rather.
        A bit of an aggressive team by E.E. standards, they were!

  7. Kristen

    Oh. My. Goodness.

    Thank you, Sheila, for putting words to what happened to me years ago!

    This type of dating model, where the girl isn’t allowed to question the guy in terms of defining the relationship, is EXACTLY how I got my heart shattered. For years I ignored my intuition and my friends (which were both telling me that my ex was not into me), because I had been taught that if I just had enough faith and patience, my ex would change, grow up, and want to commit to me. Spoiler alert: he never did.

    And while I’m so glad that it never worked out for us, I do regret the years of my youth that I wasted on a guy who had no intention of ever committing to me. This is why I despise purity culture and it’s bizarre teachings. I have no problem with people choosing who wait until marriage for sex, but all of purity culture’s extra trappings stole so much from me.

    • Kristen

      *choosing to

      • Jenna

        I was in a few friendashionships in high school. I definitely got my heart broken in every single one and I felt like all the responsibility for the relationship was on me. I actually refer to one of those guys as my ex because, even though we didn’t officially date, he has been super weird around me after I broke things off 7 years ago. Everyone in authority around us ignored the fact that he was 17 and I was 14 because the relationship was never official. I wish someone had talked to me about ending the relationship so much sooner because it would have saved me so much shame and heartache.

      • Kristen

        Hi, Jenna,

        I say the exact same thing about my “ex”: we never were official because I was never allowed to ask him to define the relationship, but when you’re with someone in a quasi-romantic context like that for several years, I think the term is justified. Plus, it just makes it easier to refer to him as my ex whenever I decide to share about my past with new people.

        I’m so sorry for what you went through, too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Kristen. I watch this happen to people I loved, too. It really was sad.

  8. Meghan

    Ahhhhhh yes I experienced this all throughout college and my young 20s! I had a lot of wonderful male friends, and I’d get crushes on them because they’re awesome, but I’d never tell them because I believed that wasn’t my role. I’d just stew and stew until I inevitably realized that the dude I was crushing on at the time was an excellent friend but wouldn’t make a good boyfriend for me due to personality or whatever. This went on for years.

    The last straw was when a guy I knew and enjoyed talking to, but wasn’t like my BFF or anything, asked me out to dinner. Alone. And then was completely weirded out that I thought we were on a date!

    I signed up for eHarmony that very same night. I was 25 and completely fed up with the nebulous “oh are we friends or are we maybe gonna date” dance and wanted a space where the entire point was find someone to date. Met my husband there. We’ve been married 5 years.

  9. Katydid

    I was married the time the book came out and the huge courtship, no physical contact (and even father-led betrothal) fads came about. However, I was still affected by them because I felt like I did something wrong in how I dated my husband, and that any marriage problems I had were a form of consequential punishment for not doing it “God’s way.” Lots of guilt and shame.

    I would watch the idealized videos and read the testimonial articles put out by fundamentalist groups and cry. If only I did it God’s way…..

    But, now, I see so many of these girls, now coming towards middle aged, unmarried. Or they are divorced and revovering from abuse trauma. Or they are sickly. Or they are like Anna Duggar. Or, in a better scenario, they married a more mainstream christian man, and are happily married career women wearing pants and keeping their former life (parents) at arm’s length. I don’t know of very many who are still adhereing to that way if life and are happy. A few, but not many.

    • Curly Sue

      I found the book IKDG as an adult. I became a Christian in college and my family was not Christian, so I was looking for guidance on dating “the right way.” I ended up not going on a date for 10 years and would still be single at 52 if it weren’t for a Christian counselor I was seeing (in a professional capacity) in my 30’s. During one session, I mentioned that I hadn’t dated for several years. He looked shocked and asked me why. I mentioned the book, at which point he shook his head vehemently and said, “Look, it’s okay to date!”

      Shortly after that, I began dating the man who would become my husband. We have been married almost 15 years.

      • Laura

        Curly Sue,

        I read IKDG when I was divorced at 26 and I rarely dated for almost 15 years because I thought I should only date someone I was attracted to and considered marriage material. Now, in my 40’s I have done more dating than I ever did in my late 20’s and 30’s. God has a great sense of humor! I used to think that if I didn’t find anyone by the time I was 40, I would not find anyone at all. Well, since I was 40 and now I’m 45, I had been engaged (which didn’t lead to marriage, but we’re still friends), had an almost relationship with a male friend (he turned out to be toxic) and recently started casually dating a younger man I know from work.

  10. Karen

    This totally happened to me. And Here is the thing that frustrated me the most about it was how it ended and the mixed messages women get in Christian culture. So I said on more than one occasion we were dating without dating. But he would make sure to say on occasion that we were just friends and even would tell me about a girl he was interested in. I even gave him the swift kick he needed to ask one girl out. That one fizzled out pretty quickly. But I also kept hearing about how guys and girls can’t be friends because no guy would spend so much time with a girl he is not interested in. And here we were going to a Broadway show together, going out after church every week, often staying until well past close just talking. So was he interested or not. And then one day out of the blue, he just we can’t go out after church anymore. No explanation, no reason given, just we can’t do this anymore. Nothing, until he announced on FB that he was dating another girl in church that had graduated from college about the time he told me we couldn’t go out after church anymore. That is what hurt the most. Like if he had just told me, hey I’m interested in so and so I want to see if anything is there, I would have been like, yeah sure, and went on my merry way, but to drop me and then not tell me makes me wonder if we were even friends or if something else was going on. Especially considering I told him when I got engaged while he was gone, which may have been a good time for him to finally tell me he was dating so and so since it came out on FB like 2 weeks later anyways.

  11. Anon

    It’s not just a Christian problem – I know so many non Christian women who are ‘oh, he texted this…does that mean he likes me?’ or ‘he told me six months ago that he would propose soon – I’m going crazy waiting. How much longer do you think I’ll have to wait?’ and I’m like ‘just ASK him!!!’ It’s so weird.

    I have mixed feelings about the ‘don’t date until you’re ready for marriage’ thing – I have a lot of friends who started serious dating at 14 or 15 and went through a lot of heartbreak when they split up. Whereas my friends who started dating later were more cautious about getting too involved before they felt there was a potential long-term future in the relationship, so they didn’t seem to suffer from so many traumatic breakups. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be prescriptive about it, but if a young person wants to wait until late teens before dating, I think they might be saving themselves a lot of misery.

    I also think it can be quite helpful to socialize mostly in groups – it certainly saved me from a number of poor relationships, since it gave me the chance to get to know guys in a social setting before going on a date. Quite often, the way they behaved in a group situation was enough to wipe them off the potential date list!

    My biggest dating bugbear is the way that marrying the first person you date is held up as the ideal in some Christian circles though. I remember feeling I must be a terrible Christian when I split up with my first boyfriend (even though he was a constant liar and had some serious mental health issues, threatening to kill himself if I didn’t promise to stay with him!). I do wonder how many girls ended up marrying bad husbands because they felt that pressure to ‘make your first date your only date’.

    I guess that like everything, it’s a bad idea to make something that works for a few people into a rule that everyone must follow!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Anon, one of the really interesting data points we’re finding in our survey of what women experienced as teens is that THERE IS NO FORMULA THAT WORKS FOR ALL MEASURES. It’s actually really interesting. If you look at the four possiblities in the dating vs. allowed to date (not allowed to date but did; not allowed to date and didn’t; allowed to date and did; allowed to date but didn’t), some positive outcomes come from pretty much all of them, and some negative from pretty much all of them. There’s one that looks the healthiest, kind of, depending on how you measure it, but it’s not clear cut, because there simply isn’t a formula.

      We need to be teaching wisdom instead.

      As for it not being a Christian problem, I find it interesting how extreme purity culture ends up mirroring the issues of hookup culture, because both discourage commitment and relationship and both put women at a disadvantage, in general. Just an interesting observation. Kind of like how the pornographic view of women overlaps with the extreme evangelical view of women–that we’re temptresses and primarily sexual objects who exist to be used as men please.

      • Anon

        “We need to be teaching wisdom instead.”

        Yes to this!

        I had friends who were banned from dating until a certain age and others who were pushed into it. My parents encouraged me very strongly that I shouldn’t date anyone who didn’t share my faith and shouldn’t mess around with a guy’s feelings, but they gave me reasons for that which made sense to me and they left it up to me as to when I wanted to start dating. I decided I didn’t want to until I turned 18 (I’d seen enough of friends dropping grades at school because they were devastated when a short-term relationship ended, and I reckoned I could well leave that alone until I’d finished my education!), but I know if I had, they would have been supportive as long as the guy was someone who was safe to be around.

        One of my friends had a dad who was very controlling, expected any potential boyfriend to go through an intensive grilling and imposed strict rules on any date, specifying where they went, how long for, what she could wear etc, etc, etc. Sadly, she ended up rebelling, started dating a local ‘tough guy’ (lying to her parents about extra classes at school to cover up she was meeting him) and ended up getting pregnant by him at 16. I so wished her parents had taught her HOW to date instead of just imposing a load of external controls.

    • A2bbethany

      I prayed for that, but it was because of the 1st ever interested guy, and our interestingly awkward 1st date, that I found my husband!
      I decided that I needed to push a little bit more, intentionally looking online, rather than only waiting for God to work a Miracle. I explored multiple dating sites, and was bluntly husband shopping. And with an expectation of not being successful for a long time. We were a 99% match on okcupid, and because of their questionnaires, I already knew everything important before we talked.(love that so much!)

      I recommend all dating couples to make a single profile just for the questionnaire part! Literally every aspect of life and 500+ questions. And if you are hunting on the site, they recommend people based on how much percentage of the questions were answered the same/similar. (Literally the 1st question to look at is saving sex for marriage. that weeds it way down! But don’t completely dismiss them if they don’t either)

  12. A2bbethany

    I just naively assumed that heart break must be something else than being sad about someone not being the one. Because I realized fairly quickly, literally nothing can stop that! That’s one thing I did notice, but I assumed That they must be meaning something more deep than a simple “boy-sadness”. Because I had already had that from afar, many times. And I hadn’t learned to even talk to boys (conversationally) until 15.

  13. Lora

    I have experienced what the blog describes growing up in the late 90’s and having been a part of IKDG movement.

    I did find friend-lationships bewildering and have had a rash of them over 20 years or prolonged, unmarried singleness.

    I don’t think the woman was told she could not ask about a DTR. I think it is that we were never taught how —or when —to initiate one.

    Now that I am in my 40’s, (unfortunately, still never married) I have gotten very comfortable with forcing a DTR. But, I had to ask for and even pay for coaching to learn how to do it.

    I think the bigger issue and question is why so many men—especially middle age Christian men, continue to remain ambiguous and ambivalent towards female friends. This is very off-putting.

    I am not bashing men. However, brothers need to give clarity in a reasonable time frame or get out of her life before she has to push him out of it.

    It is incredibly difficult to feel safe with a man who vacillates continuously, much less respect one who uses her because the opportunity presented itself.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree that’s a huge issue, too. Why do so many men like relationships that are ambiguous? I think they get benefits without having to commit, really.

  14. Jessica

    This is an issue yet needs clarifying. How does this differ from men who expect women owe them a relationship or sex for their friendship, AKA bemoaning the friend zone?
    I think this advice apply sometimes for both genders; I know someone who harassed her crush into admitting his affections, which felt like an invasion of his privacy. If I had done that while my husband and I were just crushing, I think it would have been controlling and scared him off. But when he suddenly made his interest obvious (hanging out with me every spare minute like we were a couple and showering compliments), I had no problem sitting him down and telling him I’m not going to date someone without dating them! I thought I was supposed to be passive but I didn’t have a problem with doing this because the difference was it was the elephant in the room. I felt if I waited I would be stuck in limbo as to what we were, which is not the normal wondering if your crush likes you back mind games. I think he was relieved I broke the ice so we could speak honestly, and we began officially dating a couple months later.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Jessica,

      The difference in the dynamics is that in evangelical Christianity, girls have been taught it’s a sin to try to define the relationship, because that would be taking the lead. This is explicitly taught in books aimed at young women (like Passion & Purity, And the bride Wore White, Lies Young Women Believe, etc.). So while it’s awkward for everyone, and guys can feel strung along too, the difference is that guys are allowed to initiate the conversation. Girls are told they’d be making Jesus sad if they did. So it becomes a distinctly spiritual wrestling with girls that it doesn’t for boys.

      Now, if you dont’ grow up in that kind of religious community, then this wouldn’t affect you. But for many, many girls it really did.

      • h

        Sheila, I thought of this in rereading the Facebook thread, I’m bringing it here bc I’m interested if you have thoughts about it. It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but I actually got a lot of my dating confidence from the book The Rules in the 90’s. I hated some of that book, but the thing I think they got right was for people to make up their minds to become the best they can be, and have confidence that the right relationship doesn’t need chasing or fishing for. And I think that’s reflected in 1 Cor 7 where it talks about chasing God, not chasing romance or a spouse. That book suggests never accepting Saturday night plans later than Wednesday. I didn’t accept that as an ironclad rule, but I used it as a principle. If I sensed chemistry between myself and a guy, I tried to allow him to get to know me, but I was pretty careful that he see that I had a full life already without him in it, and that I wasnt hanging around to be anybody’s “safety date” or consolation prize. Sometimes I was careful to say, “I think we have a lot in common and a lot of fun, but I need to know I’m not just an afterthought if you want to get to know me as potentially more than a friend.” Sheila, what do you think about preparing Christian girls to feel comfortable saying something like that?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I actually think that’s not a bad idea. I remember “The Rules” too!

          When I think of my own life, often these “friendationships” grew out of true friendships, though. I think “The Rules” work well if you’re just talking about acquaintances. When you’re talking about a best friend that you’re easy with and you see all the time that then translates into something more by surprise it’s a little trickier. But I think that, overall, we need to teach our young people how to navigate this better, which includes girls learning not to appear desperate and taking whatever scraps come their way.

          The difference between my girls’ relationships with their now husbands, and my relationship with my husband, and prior “friendationships” was quite astounding, and it was because the men took it seriously from the beginning.

      • Jessica

        Yes I grew up in very evangelical- Debi Pearl was one of my favourite authors! Embarrassing. So my community completely believed he had to lead- heck I insisted he send me the relationship change request on Facebook rather then the other way around because ’leading.’ 😂 That’s my point, even in as hierarchical a culture I was in no one saw it as leading for me to question his intentions. However if I was trying to start a relationship, THAT would have been leading.

      • Lindsay

        Sheila, I’m resurrecting this comment with some additional perspective. There seems to be nuance between a DTR that move a relationship forward vs the “DTR” that Jessica had.

        Growing up in the IKDG situation, I actually /would/ have felt okay telling a guy to back down. I wouldn’t have seen it as “defining the [dating] relationship” – I would have seen it as shutting one down. For some reason, that would feel okay to me because I wouldn’t have been “starting” the relationship.

        “Where do we stand” wasn’t okay to ask because it meant “taking a lead” and yet “we don’t stand THERE” (reducing expectations) would have been mostly* considered fine.

        Then again, maybe what Jessica did was more “pulling a Ruth” and saying “I don’t do relationships this way – step up or step away.” In which case it’s highly gutsy compared to what I was talking about!


        *I would have had the very unique problem of feeling judged by people for “not giving a good Christian guy a chance.” So this isnl where the “give anyone a chance no matter your preferences as long as they’re a Christian guy” part of purity culture came in for me. What a weird balance to try to strike!

  15. Emmy

    This friendationship business makes me think of Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austin. How Mr Willoughby deals with Marianne. I wonder if you have read the novel or seen any of the movie adaptations.

    Really worth reading, a fantastic book!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! It’s exactly Willoughby and Marianne. Exactly. She felt he had promised, but he actually never had.

  16. Dorthea

    I’m coming to this conversation bit late but what jumped out to me while reading this post and the one about the Eliot’s is how obvious it is that Jim was not interested in Elisabeth! When someone is interested in you it’s obvious! You don’t have to chase them down or feel like you’re being strung along.
    You know.
    If you’re left feeling confused or especially in Elisabeth Eliot’s case where Jim wouldn’t spend time with her, wrote her infrequently, wouldn’t touch her, moved to another country and then she kept following him, I’m sorry but he’s just not into you and it’s time to move on with your life. You’ll have a much better one without him!

  17. Hope

    This is interesting, and I did hear a lot of the letting the man take the lead type of evangelical Christian talk. However, a true balance certainly needs to be in place.

    Interestingly enough, my husband did define the relationship. After one serious getting to know you talk, I was told I could either continue getting to know him in a relationship or not at all. I let him know that I just wanted to be friends. He didn’t want any more friends.

    So we dated. When I did decide I didn’t want to date him anymore (after about 5mos), I was told I was unable to love, I was using him, I was just in love with someone else and wasn’t being honest with him. He told me that he loved me, and, in subtle ways, expressed to me like it was almost like no one else would love me like he did.

    So, I believed I was worthless without him. I believed I just needed to be a more loving person. Love was a decision, right? That’s what he told me. I wanted to do what was right. So I decided. (Nevermind that absolutely none of the accusations laid out were true.)

    This type of male headship defining relationship led to premarital oral sex for him of which I did enter into willingly, but asked to put the brakes on–willingly admitting that I struggled with desires, too, but knew I didn’t want to dishonor God or our relationship by continuing with physically jumping beyond the limits before marital commitment was agreed upon. However, no fear, he defined the relationship and led the way. He didn’t feel it did dishonor our relationship since it was what he wanted, and he didn’t feel it dishonored God since he decided he was marrying me. The only way it would have dishonored God is if he didn’t marry me. So the sneaky oral sex that made him feel great, but made me feel worse continued. But I was made to please him, right?! The kicker is that I did long for a great sexual relationship someday with my spouse.
    The problem is that his complete disregard for respecting me, his lack of leadership in self-control after heartfelt requests to him, and his subtle selfishness that made him look like he was the best thing that would ever happen to me have been detrimental to our marriage.

    Pornography that existed since before he met me, but never told me about until after the third time that I found it has only further pushed our marriage to its limits.

    So, I’m not so sure I would have minded more friends groups and more of a friendship time to safely know what kind of person he was without the heavy commitment of a relationship over me.

    But hey, at least he completely defined the relationship for me!

    Just some perspective.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry, Hope. That sounds like such a toxic relationship.

      Do you have a licensed counselor to talk to about all of this? And to help you figure out what to do?

      I’d also say that the problem doesn’t seem to be that he defined the relationship, but instead that he became very controlling. That is always wrong, and I’m so sorry you went through that.

  18. Rowena

    So I am 100% in a friendationship right now and it is this exact situation; almost. He has said a big reason why he doesn’t want to date (me) is because he doesn’t want to be obligated or feel tied down to anything right now. He also doesn’t want anything to happen that could ruin the friendship. He also has this thing where he doesn’t think very highly of himself and therefore that no one should ever be with him, while still wanting a family someday but only wanting to date one person. He knows I like him, we’ve talked about it and this is still where we are at. We get along so well, but all these things (and probably more) are holding him back from stepping into relationship. idk what to do anymore.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Rowena, at some point you just need to decide if you’re comfortable with it going on like this forever, or if you want more. And at some point, it may be worth it to walk away. Tell him either step up to the plate, or he loses you. I don’t know when that is, and I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do right now. But I do think at some point, you just need to decide what you’re worth. If you’re comfortable just being friends and losing out on the chance of a relationship with anyone else, then things can stay as they are. But if it won’t work with him, then it may be that you want to let yourself heal and then try with someone else. But you can’t make him change. You can only decide what you will and won’t put up with.

  19. Lynne

    This is such an important conversation! When I was 20 there was a guy who was 24ish and who I had only known a few weeks. I knew he had a crush on me, but I didn’t want to be in a relationship right then. My heart had been broken by a guy who had lied about who he was. Dumb lies, but still, I was following the courtship “I kissed dating goodbye” model so being friends until the courtship which would then lead right into marriage was the plan. Honestly, the point was to protect ones heart, but it was so much more painful to not know and be told not to “lead” and all that.
    So the guy that had only known me a few weeks calls my dad to ask to “court” me but tells my dad also NOT TO TELL ME! My dad never told me! So this guy who had previously been a friend and been kind was suddenly very attentive for 3 days. I thought that was weird, but he was nice and we had fun hanging out. After the three days he just cancels a plan and then avoids me. I had no idea what was going on. At one point he took me aside and told me this story about one time when he called a girls father to ask to court her and then changed his mind.
    Meanwhile, my Dad (at a distance because I was in a different city at that point for a few months) was calling and interviewing this guys friends and family and so on (because my dad thought he should be like an interviewer) — when I got back home after the 3 or so months my mom says something about how happy she is for me, but how she wasn’t supposed to tell, but she was going to say something anyway. WHAT THE HECK! It took me a bit to put the puzzle pieces and time line together. The person that guy was talking about and regretting was ME! He was weirdly attentive for 3 days because he “courted” me for 3 days and then decided against me. I was never given a choice by any of them and my heart was hurt even without me knowing what was going on because a person who I thought was a friend suddenly dumped me. Then it was painful to realize how many other people knew what was going on (as my dad had been calling around) and when I tried to set my parents straight that that guy wasn’t interested in me any more my dad said, “a young man wouldn’t call a father without being really serious. Just wait, some day he will contact you again.” I pictured what that would be like and I did NOT want that! You mean a guy who ignores me for years and can’t even be a mediocre friend will some day call up to marry me? NO thanks!!!
    The whole thing was hurtful and embarassing and hurtful again. I wish at the time that I could have felt free to follow my instincts and just ask the guy, “What is going on? Who are you walking about? Why were you nice and now being all weird?” Or even just be given the oportunity to say for myself if I wanted to court him! I would have wanted to just be friends right then. That is all. I didn’t know what I thought about him besides that he was nice and somewhat handsome and had an annoying laugh but a nice singing voice. But, gee, how painful is it to be rejected when you didn’t even know you were being considered? Like, I wasn’t even worth getting to know for more than a few days? Or whatever he saw so quickly was so off? Yet it wasn’t ever about what I might want. I was the object and the one to receive rather than someone to be considered and respected.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Lynne, what a story! You’re right. You were completely misused by everyone there. You never were given a choice. That’s really wrong. Women are people, and we should be consulted over things that affect our feelings and our future. I hope that your parents understand that now.

  20. Rogue

    Best advice is DTR from the get go, but dont take yourselves too seriously. My first relationship was done more IKDG style. The next one a LDR friendationship (she was on the greyace spectrum, which she only discovered while we were together) So yeah, we finally after several years agreed to mutually end things and are trying to stay ONLY friends, but after finding that very hard because of differing political views…


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *