My perspective on why young adult church culture has become increasingly gender segregated, and a challenge to cease the over analysis.
On any given weekend if I’m looking for a companion to share coffee, make dinner, or go hiking, I have roughly a dozen friends in the greater Sacramento area I can text. If conversation counts as companionship, and I include my long distance friends, that adds at least another 10 people I could call at random for a chat. This is a solid sized group for me, but the detail I forgot to mention, is that 98% of them, are female.
With my male acquaintances, we don’t use phone numbers as a medium of connection, we use facebook messenger. It’s neither due to unfriendliness nor lack of social skills, but rather an unspoken rule that’s in play. Because obtaining a phone number from a member of the opposite sex, is like crossing an invisible line, exposing oneself to rejection and providing opportunity for assumption of romantic interest. Unfortunately something as simple grabbing contact information, can give a gateway to a slew of psychotic follow-up questions that look something like this: If they asked for my number is this a real date? If it is a date, does that mean they’re interested? If we drink lattes together, does that mean I can’t drink french press with the other guy anymore? If he saw my friend last week, will she be upset with me? Is this mocha ultimately leading to marriage? Both parties are aware of it, and it’s no wonder the ratio of contacts in my iphone is 9:1 .
This phenomenon is not rare, and I know I’m not alone in my lack of phone numbers, at least among the introverts. But consistent with my curious nature, I still ask why. Why must we resort to pressure, pretense, or avoidance, as though they are the only three options? And I think the answer is more complex than the digits we don’t have. After talking with a number of friends from varied young adult church locations, I arrived at a generalized conclusion, that there are two, subtle yet powerful underlying fears that serve to segregate single men and women.
Fear of unrequited love. You’re interested in someone. Or at least you’re intrigued to get to know them more. But unaware of whether the feelings are mutual, fear of rejection keeps you at a distance. Unwilling to risk the friendship, you institute a holding pattern until more evidence presents some certainty.
Fear of rejecting another person. Maybe you’ve chatted with someone a few times, but for whatever reason, the chemistry or romantic interest just isn’t there. Afraid to lead them on by simple gestures of kindness, and squirming at the thought of rejecting another or possibly hurting their feelings, you choose to avoid them altogether.
Always close but never crossing, parallel paths
Each of these concerns does hold a hint validity, but not enough to justify the rampant human labeling movement. Oh, I almost forgot the third alternative, equally as weird, of pre-proclaiming platonic feelings across the board for everyone. Like really, no one here has ever crossed your mind?… I doubt it. Anyway, if single young adult men and women collectively continue along these parallel tracks, always close but never crossing, nothing disastrous would happen. After-all, facebook tells me everyone has enough companionship’s to last them a multitude of weekends. However, we will certainly miss out on something of value if we exclude 50% of the population from our friend groups.
And I know this because of my family. When my sisters and I gather together we could easily spend entire days and nights, literally, just talking. We bleed the secrets of our souls, mull over the mundane, explore every nuance of each encountered situation, and analyzing our past, present and future. We talk, laugh and share until there are no more ways of phrasing an existing feelings, or until the words run out, which as far as I’m aware of, has not yet happened.
But my brothers are different creatures… and I love that. I have three biological brothers; two older, one younger, and one awesome brother in-law, Jesse. We exchanging far less words in terms of volume, but our relationships are marked by a simplicity in shared activities, and a mutually respected, unspoken closeness. Unlike my emotional x-rays sisters, my brothers cannot read minds. But actually, overtime I’ve grown thankful for this. If I need honest advice, I can ask. If I say I’m fine, they trust I’m fine. If I need help, they’ll show up eager and willing. First born of the family, Steve, gets excited about trail runs with head lamps followed by large quantities of coffee. He captivates the entire family with his hilarious stories, and willingly offers his banking expertise to his less knowledgeable siblings. Next up Peter, has coached me through many different areas of life: Sales jobs, dating, and kickball techniques, to name a few. But he also never turns down an invitation for indian food or goal setting sessions when I’m in town. Johnny, the deepest thinker and most technologically savvy of the bunch, brings the heat to dinner table with his controversial perspectives, never afraid to rock the boat. He devours my omelets without question of caloric content, and can always be counted on to build a roaring fire on any camping trip.
My brothers are undeniably a blessing. But for the bulk of the year we reside in separate geographic locations. And I miss them. Not only that, but I miss the delightful differences that men bring to the scene of a situation. I’m starved for balance. Except I won’t cast blame on the world of men for not being present in my life as friends. Due to past experiences and previous misgivings of the perils of close coed companions, unless you were married to one of my friends, or uninterested in women entirely, I kept you at a safe and cordial distance. But recently I realized something. 1st John 4 commands us to love our brother AND our sister, not just our sisters. So now I find myself asking…“Oh brother where art thou?”
Finally, wisdom has started to take root. Indeed, there lies a problem with immediately zoning people as “friend” or “spouse material.” We stop listening to their story, and start evaluating them against our preexisting rubric of where they measure up or fall short. This feeds into self-consciousness, kills organic growth, and keeps us asking the wrong types of questions. But we need each other. We need to get our church culture coed, because life is coed.
Besides, I enjoy a good chai, but I just I can’t handle an eternity of women’s tea parties.
If I could start a movement, I would institute a one month suspension policy. Suspension of all listed expectations, rubrics, judgment, DTRs, competition, jealousy, fake excuses, pressure to play hard to get, conundrums over second dates, text timing rules and instead… just be interested in people, as people, not as assets to attain.
If you’re intrigued about getting suspended with me, here are the following guidelines. When talking with a person, any person, ask yourself this question: if we were of the same gender, would I ask for their number? If the answer is yes, then go for it, regardless of current attraction or preconceived notions. Men, invite some ladies on your group camping trips every once in awhile. And ladies, it’s possible that the men feel excluded by our constant tea parties. If your interest ignites into attraction, you can figure that out later. But for now, I have a feeling, that whether or not the mocha means marriage, there are many untapped potential friendships that would blossom beautifully if we just stopped calculating. As a side note, suspension of judgement is not a call to throw away common sense; please continue to use discretion on emotional and physical boundaries. Secondly, this is not a secret ploy to get everyone hitched. But rather, this is an address of the elephant in the room, and a challenge to bridge a gap that’s begging to be crossed.
The Challenge Begins. Alas, if this resonated with you in any way, please share it. Then go ahead and find those people you were always curious about. Seriously. Grab some digits, hear some stories, listen to perspectives, hike, discuss, debate, create, study simultaneously, drink coffee (gasp one on one even), co-labor together. And stop status analyzing. Just for a month.
Ready Set Go!