Ever since I was young, going to church is all I’ve known. There have been times in my life when I’d attend church up to three times a week. That wasn’t compulsory; I genuinely enjoyed being in church and having a relationship with God, both of which are still important to me now as an adult.
Though I’ve always had a strong belief in God, I make it a practice to frequently question what my faith means to me. It was (and still is) crucial for me to know why I believe what I believe. As I’ve got older, I’ve continued to question the role that faith plays in my life. Now that I’m in my mid 20s, I’m thinking more about my relationships. I’ve not been in an 'official' relationship yet and I think my faith has been part of the reason why.
When it comes to dating, religion has always played a huge role. In my house – like in most typical African households – dating wasn’t spoken about at all. My church spoke about sex but not about dating or how to date, which meant I had to figure out for myself what the dating world was like. I knew sex before marriage was a sin but the lines of the dating world were all a bit blurry.
When I was a teenager, online sermons took off. I started to see churches use social media as a way of sharing messages about God. A lot of these videos were aimed towards young people and they often spoke about the same topic: relationships. This was perfect for me as I was able to get all of my relationship questions answered. It was via an online sermon that I first heard the phrase 'dating to marry' or dating with the intention to get married. At the right age, with the right mindset, dating to marry isn’t necessarily a bad idea but when I first heard it at 15, I became fixated on finding a husband.
Oriana Jemide, a 24-year-old fine artist from London, shares my experience. She first heard about dating to marry through a sermon at around the same age I did and believes that social media amplified the concept. Oriana says: "Where it may have been taught in a few Christian circles or among Christians, social media gave it, like, a megaphone. This was now the standard for Christian dating."
After watching several of these sermons, I decided that I didn’t want to date seriously until I knew I had found my husband. For someone with some experience who knows what they're looking for, this isn’t a totally terrible way to look at things. But as a teenager, it made dating extremely complicated. Though I told myself I wouldn’t date anyone 'seriously', I did still try and date. The idea that I should be looking for a husband added a huge amount of pressure, not only on myself but on my teenage crushes, too. Asking yourself, How do I know if this person is the one? sucks the fun and giddiness out of teen dating and, as I got older, I subconsciously began to attract people who I knew I wouldn’t take seriously. This meant I dated guys who weren’t ready for a relationship and who often strung me along. I wanted to get into something serious but didn’t think there was much point so I just ended up in situationships. At the time, I thought the mental toll of those situationships didn’t affect me but now it's clear they made me anxious when dating other people. Looking back, I was conflicted: I wanted to date casually but I felt like it was a waste of time.
Oriana says that dating to marry made her obsessed with marriage and the future. "I still find myself doing this thing where, when I'm meeting someone for the first time, I’m asking myself, What would it feel like being married to them? I go through my mental checklist and ask myself if I think they’re marriage material." On a first date, she says, "I’m essentially already imagining myself being married to that person."
Mo Chunks is a 25-year-old media producer from West Sussex who feels like the idea of dating to marry made her overthink everything about relationships and dating. "You're not relaxed [on dates] because you’re seeing them more as a husband than a person," she says. However, like me, she doesn’t necessarily believe that dating to marry is a bad concept. "Once you’re more relaxed as a person, it’s good as it helps you decipher what type of person you like and it can help you reject what you don’t like."
The turning point for me was when I started to question why I was so focused on finding the 'right' person. Marriage is something I desire but I don’t want to get married until my late 20s; as a result, I've spent years avoiding commitment as I didn’t want to get into a relationship that didn’t lead to marriage. I knew it would make me feel as though I'd fallen short. When I look at my friends who date for fun or without expectation, dating seems so easy. Even when a relationship hasn’t worked out for them, they’ve been able to move on and find other suitable partners. Meanwhile I’ve spent years dating to marry when that wasn’t even what I wanted to do. I feel like I've wasted time and energy trying to turn unserious candidates into marriage potential.
When Oriana’s last relationship ended, this is exactly how she felt. "I was in a serious relationship which lasted about three years. I thought we would get married and when we didn’t, I remember feeling like I had failed." Oriana stayed in the relationship longer than she knew she should. "I knew the relationship wasn't right but I continued to attempt to make things work because it felt like a do-or-die affair."
For myself, I’m trying to learn that it's okay to focus on being in the present and have fun. I still want to find the right person and get married but all in due time. I’m learning to take the pressure off myself and the people I’m dating. I feel much freer knowing I’m dating to get to know someone – and myself – rather than trying to get to a final destination. I only wish I had felt this way when I was younger. If I could speak to my 21-year-old self I’d tell her to have fun and not to take men or dating too seriously.
Oriana and Mo have also changed the way they approach dating. Oriana says she no longer obsesses about a relationship 'going somewhere' and allows herself to connect with someone in the early stages. She adds: "I’ve started to kind of see [a relationship] as a friendship. [I treat it] like you're making friends with someone."
Mo is now in a relationship and says that when she met her boyfriend, she was also focused more on developing a friendship rather than marriage. "Now that I don’t overthink as much and I’ve relaxed more, I’m able to have great sustaining relationships."
For younger women who might have fixated on marriage, Mo's advice is to remember that life isn’t that serious and to focus on having fun. "I'll just say 'Be open! Don't overthink!' and also, like, don't be closed-minded to things. I think another thing that a lot of women don't want to hear in church is that God doesn't owe you a relationship. Sometimes it isn’t about how good or bad you are, it could just be the wrong time."