Students sound off on TMU dating culture

By Libby Powell

One of the first things I heard as a first-time student arriving at TMU was the phrase “Ring by Spring,” tossed around as a half-joking acknowledgement of the trend on campus. Every year, the Week of Welcome (WOW) finds a few freshmen already rushing into relationships in what the students christen “WOW-mances.” Couples multiply over months and years, some budding into serious relationships and engagements, others petering out over time. Jokes and conversations about marriage and dating abound—as do opinions of all kinds.

Having observed both good and bad approaches and outcomes when it comes to dating at TMU, I set out to discover what people really thought about the dating culture. Why is there so much drama and awkwardness connected with relationships? Does Master’s have a “dating culture” and if so, does it make life easier or harder on students?

Matthew Brecheen, a junior at TMU, identifies one of the biggest issues in TMU’s culture: gossip. 

“Everyone sees what they want to see, pretty much. Even if you’re following the right steps, [it] doesn’t mean other people are going to see it that way. A lot of people, when they’re starting dating, they’ll do it… off campus to get rid of that gossip that goes around,” Brecheen says. 

It leads to questions that many students in relationships at TMU wrestle with: Do you base your opinions off of [what others think] or do you separate yourself from dating because of that? Or do you date and then fear that and break it off?

One senior, who has elected to remain anonymous, sees the problem stretch beyond dating to causing rifts in friendships. She observes, “You can’t really make friends with the opposite gender… people see a man and a woman together and automatically think ‘Oh, I wonder how long they’ve been dating!’”

The aftermath is saddening, *anonymous* shares. She’s seen perfectly good friendships made awkward and uncomfortable because of gossip and rumors. In her eyes, TMU dating culture, “Not only makes dating harder, but also makes community harder.”

For others, like sophomore Kevan Ross, the dating culture doesn’t seem to have a huge influence on friendships. 

“It’s very easy just to have other friends of the opposite gender, and honestly not have anyone think anything of it,” Ross says. “It’s pretty neutral until like junior or senior year… that’s when people get desperate.”

In some cases, the results are humorous, if annoying. Bryce Lippen, remembers times when assumptions have made things awkward for him. 

“If people see you talking with a girl one-on-one, it could literally be your cousin and they’d be like, ‘Are you guys a thing?’” he says. “I know that happens with me and my cousin sometimes.”

At the same time, he admits, “There’s no better place to probably find someone… it’s a culture of Christ-centeredness and value for Scripture.”

He’s not the only one that thinks so. Grace Cose, a junior studying kinesiology, appreciates, “how Master’s cares for the students in every way, like in our walk with the Lord, in our academics and also [regarding] our future spouses.”

*Anonymous* sees a danger that some people are “dating just to date because it’s a ‘godly’ campus. It’s just assumed everyone’s saved and it’s okay to date whoever,” when that’s not actually the case. This false conjecture has led to significant hurt in broken relationships and marriages down the road.

Jonathan Balentine, a senior and R.A. in Waldock, recognizes that “one of the biggest benefits of being on campus here and having good, godly friends who are seeking after the Lord themselves… they’re willing to call you out on stuff.” Not everyone may be fully committed to following Christ, but there are a good amount who do.

Sophomore Kim Johanne also recognizes that being at Master’s provides a great deal of accountability, and not only with students: “You have more accountability with the church.”

With a largely Christian campus comes largely “Christian” problems in the dating culture. Many students observe that godly marriage is taught about and emphasized so much at the college, it becomes an idol.

A senior in the English department, Ashilynn Hodsdon has strong opinions when describing the Master’s dating culture.

“Dating is almost expected here,” she says. “So when you’re not, that… feels weird. What’s crazy is that there’s a lot of single people, not everyone’s dating—but it feels like it.”

Hodsdon brings up a unique point that she wishes there would be more teaching on singleness. “In chapel, they always emphasize marriage or sometimes dating. But never singleness.” 

Music major Jasmine Marie-Hale expresses a similar opinion about the focus on marriage and lack of focus on singleness. 

“We hear sermon after sermon on dating and marriage–and they’re great sermons, all of them are so biblical,” Marie-Hale says. “But we come into the school hearing so many dating sermons and we talk and talk and talk about it… and this idea starts to sink into [people’s] minds that if they do not find someone here, they will never find someone.”

The challenge at TMU, Marie-Hale says, is not that marriage is talked about, but that it becomes the main focus of the student. As a woman, it’s like “hearing all the different ways you can be preparing for a man” instead of how students “can be living as a single Christian and… serving in the church as a single Christian.”

This isn’t just a challenge for young women. Luke Cordeiro observes that students cultivate a “culture of pursuit,” that morphs into an urgent hunt for young men to find a godly woman. But, he argues, the Bible refers to a prudent wife as a “gift from God.” If that’s the case, he concludes that young men “should be pursuing the Lord and wanting to be a better spouse ourselves instead of trying to find that perfect one. And then God, if He wants, will bring her to you.”

Unfortunately this search for the right one, according to Riley Whittington, “becomes like a game that can be dangerous.” College men can feel the pressure to pick a wife before graduating, and go about it in a way that’s “not very mature.”

Timmy Sauer describes it as “a lot of cat and mouse” for some, and notes that many want to date, but are afraid to share what they really feel with the person they like, for fear of messing up such a serious deal.

In some cases, it’s more harmless than others. Matthew Shadwell, a senior studying theology and self-proclaimed “singlest person alive,” thinks the issue is how men and women think differently. 

“We don’t pick up on things,” he says. “As a collaborative mind, we understand the concept [women have] signals. Problem is… we don’t know them! So we go, ‘oh maybe that’s a sign!’ And then, three other guys go ‘Naw, I don’t think so…’ or ‘that has to be a sign! She looked at me!’”

Senior Riley Allen recognizes that most people want to have a godly, biblical relationship, and at a certain level have some understanding of what the looks like in theory. “They just don’t know how to get there,” Allen says. “When there are issues, that tends to be where the rubber meets the road.”

Others seem to view the big issue at Master’s as miscommunication, especially when it comes defining a date.

Margie Lozano, a freshman, observes that at Master’s there are different approaches to dating depending on the circles you’re around.

“A lot of people are missing the friendship stage,” she continues. “They go from seeing each other to “I like you!” all of the sudden.” Developing a friendship eliminates isolation and infatuation, which often lead to hard breakups. “I was increasingly surprised when I first came here how similar to middle school it was.”

Finn Erickson thinks people on campus take dating too seriously. “They’re less willing to go on a date just for the heck of it to see what will happen; instead they’ll just shut it down.” 

When asked what he considered a date, he defines it as “just going out and doing something together that you wouldn’t normally do with them. If you call it a date then it’s a date.”

Sophomore Manuel Valenzuela makes the case that people should be able to go on as many dates with people as they can without feeling awkward or weird. “You’re picking who you’re going to raise your children with. That’s a big responsibility, and I think you have to be very thorough with what you look for and make sure they’re vetted.”

Stone Swantek agrees with a caveat: “A date should be defined. The guy should say, ‘This is a date. I’m asking you on a date’  vs. ‘I’d like to get to know you better, let’s go out for coffee.’” The main problem he recognizes is that people treat dates too intentionally when they ought to be authentic. “It should just be conversational. You don’t have to go and do something fun because then you’re building a relationship off of experience and memories rather than what’s actually real,” he says.

Kevan Ross sees it differently. He dislikes “DTR-ing” (determining the relationship) and casually dating to get to know a person, opting for the simpler option that “people should just be friends, and then just become closer friends, and then eventually just ask her out when you’re absolutely sure you want to marry her… I don’t think you should date without seeing marriage in mind as an absolute.”

Shadwell argues that Master’s has an obvious dating culture–and it’s very structured. “The way that I grew up back home is pretty simple: if you like someone, you just go and you ask them… It’s that easy.” It was a shock to him to come to TMU and realize things weren’t so uncomplicated. “Here, it’s like ‘Nonononono. Dear brother, you have to ask for the ‘coffee date,’” which he christens a “pre-date” to determine if you’ll really date.

The opinions on dating culture at TMU are endless and diverse. To some, it might seem overwhelming to see how different they are; to others, entertaining to see what their friends say, and possibly offensive if two different views clash. To me, it was eye-opening.

As I heard the stories of so many at Master’s and journeyed through a variety of thoughts on the subject, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the chance to listen to perspectives different from my own and understand where others are coming from better. 

Ultimately, it made me realize that we’re all just brothers and sisters in Christ, trying to navigate a very specific, somewhat challenging aspect of adulthood. It’s humorous and awkward and hard and painful–but having these conversations is worth it.

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