WHAT DO you do as a Christian when you are approached with unwanted romantic interests? Recently I received a letter from a Christian woman asking advice on dating and marriage. The letter included the following:
This summer an attractive man at my church fell in love with me. I have never really liked him and now he wants my hand in marriage. The problem is, I didn’t know how to say no without hurting his feelings. Pastor Bill, what is the Christian way to handle this situation. I am very confused.—Stacy.
“CAN I get to know you better?” Have you ever had a man ask you that question? As a woman, you may have felt happy and flattered—even thrilled! On the other hand, you may have also felt so confused that you didn’t know what to say in reply.
When someone expresses romantic interest in you, it can unleash a wide range of emotions. This is especially true if you are old enough to get married and are thus in a position to respond to such attention. Even so, much of how you react will be influenced by who is asking the question. If he is an emotionally mature and Christian person and you find yourself attracted to him, your answer may be easy. What, though, if he clearly does not meet your expectations? Or what if, in spite of being a handsome and mature Christian, you are simply not interested in him?
Consider, too, the situation of any woman who has dated someone for a while but has come to the realization that she does not want to spend the rest of her life with him. Instead of breaking things off, she continues going out with him. How can you break it off with someone you like?
When You Are Not Interested Romantically
Back in patriarchal times, people apparently married individuals whom their parents chose. (Genesis 24:2-4) In Western lands most Christians are free to pick their own marriage mate. The Bible has one stipulation—that a Christian marry “only in the Lord.”—1 Corinthians 7:39.
Does this mean that you should marry any fellow believer who expresses interest in you or whom you have dated for a short while? Well, consider the Bible example of a young woman from the Middle Eastern village of Shunem. Solomon, her king, saw her and fell deeply in love with her. When he tried to pursue her, however, the young girl not only rejected him but also pleaded with the court women who waited on the king:
[He said] I charge you, O you daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field [which are free to follow their own instincts] that you not try to stir up or awaken [my] love until it pleases. (Song of Solomon 2:7)
This wise maiden did not want others to try to pressure her into being swayed by emotion. She was simply not interested in Solomon romantically, for she was in love with a humble shepherd.
This teaches an important lesson for those considering marriage today: You cannot have romantic love for just anyone. So even after dating someone for a while, a woman might find that she is not interested in him romantically. Perhaps her feelings are based on some observable weakness in the other person’s character. Or maybe she does not find herself attracted to him. It would be foolish to ignore such feelings. Merely ignoring them may not make them go away.
Why It’s Hard to Say No
Still, turning a man down may be easier said than done. Like Stacy, mentioned at the outset, you may be afraid of hurting him. Granted, we should be sensitive to the feelings of others. The Bible encourages Christians to ‘clothe’ themselves with the tender affections of compassion and to treat others as they would like to be treated. (Colossians 3:12; Matthew 7:12) Does this mean, though, that you should carry on a pretense simply so that you do not disappoint or hurt someone? Sooner or later he will no doubt find out how you really feel, and your failing to be honest and postponing the moment of reckoning will only add to the pain. Even worse would be your marrying the young man simply because you feel sorry for him. Pity or charity is a poor foundation on which to build a marriage.
Perhaps, though, you are wrestling with the thought, ‘If I don’t marry him, I may not have a second chance.’ As an article in Teen magazine put it, a girl might reason:
He’s not ‘the one,’ but at least he’s someone—and you really don’t want to be alone.
Admittedly, the longing for companionship is strong. Properly satisfying this desire, however, means more than having just anyone by your side. It involves finding someone whom you can truly love and who is capable of fulfilling God’s Scriptural responsibilities of marriage. (Ephesians 5:33) So do not be quick to settle for a mate! Many have come to regret marrying hastily.
Finally, some may continue dating even when it is clear that a young man has serious flaws. ‘If I give him a little more time,’ they reason, ‘he may change.’ Is this really sensible? After all, poor habits and patterns of behavior are often strongly entrenched and extremely difficult to change. And even if he makes some sudden and dramatic changes, can you really be sure that these changes are permanent? In one such situation, a young woman wrote to me stating that she had wisely decided to break things off with a young man when she realized that they did not share the same goals.
It was hard, she admits, because I was physically attracted to him. But I knew it was the right thing to do.
Handle With Care
Admittedly, turning someone down is no easy task. Like a package with a delicate item inside, the situation must be handled with care. Here are a few suggestions that might prove helpful.
Discuss the matter with your family, pastor or with another mature person in your church. They might be able to help you determine if your expectations are perhaps a bit unrealistic.
Be clear and direct. Leave no room for doubt in his mind as to how you feel. Simply saying “No thanks” will discourage most would-be suitors. If necessary, state your refusal in stronger terms, such as, “I’m sorry, but I’m really not interested.” Be careful not to give the impression that you might change your mind with a little more persistence on his part. Making it clear that you have no romantic feelings for him should prevent any confusion and make it easier for him to get over his disappointment.
Balance honesty with tactfulness. Proverbs 12:18 states:
There are those who speak rashly, like the piercing of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
While being forthright is important, the Bible says that our utterances must be with graciousness, “seasoned with salt.”—Colossians 4:6.
Stick to your decision. Well-intentioned friends, who likely know little of the reasons behind your decision, may pressure you to give the relationship another chance. But ultimately you have to live with your decision—not your well-meaning friends.
Act in harmony with your words. Formerly the two of you may have been good friends, and it is only natural to wish that things could go back to the way they were. But usually that is neither practical nor possible. His feelings for you have become romantic. Is it realistic to think that he can simply ignore those feelings and pretend that nothing has happened? So while it is obviously better for you to treat each other cordially, regularly talking on the phone or spending a lot of time together in social situations will likely only fuel his misery. It could amount to toying with his emotions, and that would not be kind on your part.
The apostle Paul urged Christians to “express the truth” with one another. (Ephesians 4:25) Doing so may be hard, but it may help you both to move on with your lives. —William Lucas