Mitchell in the article we’ve been poking at over the last two weeks, suggests that another reason why we’re not dating is that we don’t really know how to date as Christians. I think this is VERY true, but I would go farther. Not only do we suck at dating, we also really suck at figuring out how to ask each other FOR a date in the first place.
In many ways, traditional gender roles are still very much alive and well in the Orthodox Church, and this definitely affects the dating realm. While in other groups, it’s perfectly acceptable for women to ask out a guy they’re interested in, it is decidedly not so within the Orthodox realm, or so I’ve seen. There also seems to be a much stronger tendency to keep your interests in other people secret, on both sides—which means that two people who really want to date each other don’t—because they can’t figure out if the other person is interested in them or not. (I speak from experience here; this was a situation at Holy Cross for me. Apparently there was someone I liked for a while, but who also liked me at the same time…and neither of us did anything about it, since we couldn’t figure out that the other person was interested or not) Let me just say first of all that it’s okay, ladies, to ask us out. We won’t think you’re forward and reject you. If we like you, we’ll be relieved and of course say yes! Yes, it’s not traditionalist in form, but the fact is, us guys are stupid. We don’t know that you like us and we can’t tell, because we’re not terribly good at that stuff. If you’re going to sit and wait for us to ask you out all the time, it might not happen.
It helps to be okay talking to women. As I’ve said before, they’re really not as scary as they seem, I promise. When I was in seminary, I had a bit of a reputation as a flirt (which horribly amused me, actually), mostly because I found it easier to talk to women in general. So many other guys were so timid about talking to women, or viewed it as something that you only do when you’re interested in marrying a particular person; to them, talking to a woman was apparently the first step of courtship. Which is a ridiculous idea, and I’ve said as much in the past. But I do feel that it was a lack of confidence in that situation that was also a HUGE key in keeping people from talking to one another, especially when it came to the men of Holy Cross talking to the women. They were also often scared of judgment from their peers.
(or in one case, there was a girl that pretty much EVERY GUY WHO WAS SINGLE had a crush on, and simply to keep the social status quo, it was an unspoken agreement that nobody would date her, or even ask her out, lest it cause anarchy and upset the social balance among the guys. Yes, I’m being serious here. This was a reason. Admittedly, not creating anarchy is a better reason than some, but I seriously doubt it would have ended with the social fabric of Holy Cross being destroyed.)
So, in essence, guys are (mostly) choosing not to ask out women we like because of fear of rejection and judgment by our peers. The latter is an especially stupid reason, because what matters more is what your priest thinks, and what you think, than your friends. But we Orthodox men also generally suck at interpersonal discussions and interactions with women, and I’m still not entirely sure why this is the case. Instead, we choose text, facebook, emails, message systems on dating websites, and instant messenger. Even I’m guilty of this—the last person I asked in person for a date was….at least three years ago. (But this may also simply be an artificial construct, considering the isolated nature of most of us—a subject for the future)
Yes, it is easier to ask someone out over facebook, or over text message, but it’s not the right or proper way to do things, I feel. (Admittedly, sometimes you have to do it over the phone, simply because we are so widely spaced. But you can always use skype with a webcam.) You need to do these things ideally face to face, if only because it’s easier to read context into the answers they give. Body language, as I’ve mentioned before, is a big deal. Which I’m not good at–asking someone out is pretty freaking terrifying.
And the fact is, women, especially those who are brilliant and with strong faith can also be a bit intimidating for us. This is because, frankly, some of us feel that we’re not good enough for you. So instead, many of us sit back on the sidelines and simply watch, or choose people that intimidate us less, and we end up more unhappy than otherwise. Which is our fault. We’re too afraid to talk to you, because rejection is mildly terrifying, and we feel you’ll reject us. So we sit, and choose instead to ask you out over text or email, because we can separate ourselves from the reaction in a manner which is much easier than interpersonal relations. (Not a terribly good thing)
But Mitchell does hit it on the nose in one key aspect. Orthodox Dating IS weird, compared to secular dating. (And while I do feel that casual dating is a great way to practice interactions and how to communicate with people, it does get exhausting after a while when you know that all the endings available are generally not the ones you want.) I’ve always felt awkward dating my fellow Orthodox, and mostly it’s because I feel like I’m being judged to a higher standard—which IS something that Mitchell points out. We’re generally not looking for a “Mrs. or Mr. Right now.” So we’re forced to judge by a higher standard, and we’re terrified of being rejected as having no marriageability also—just like most of the Orthodox women I know. (I remember when I was judged to not be marriageable yet by someone I was dating. It was not a terribly great day, let me assure you, and it can severely bruise the ego. Course, instead of starting to fix those issues, I ended up starting to date someone who was not Orthodox at all, because that sort of reaction always works out really well.) You see, for most Orthodox Men, not being marriageable means not being datable either, and there really is no way to have one without the other, and you can imagine how this might terrify us.
The fact is, we want to be married just as much as most Orthodox women do. But it is also a fact that men do feel, I think more pressure to be absolutely perfect, super-pious, super fun, super-beardy, super manly, and super perfect. I think there’s this underlying expectation amongst most of my peers is that we believe that all women think a good Orthodox Man must be EXACTLY like the all the jokes in the Eastern Orthodox Ryan Gosling meme. Which is why I hate that meme so very much. It makes me feel like I will never be a good enough Orthodox gentleman to marry a fellow Orthodox woman, and I suspect I’m not alone in this fear.
There, I finally said it. I hate that meme, and now you can all hate me for it in return. 😛