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We’re just talking

One of the unique opportunities I have had in attending seminary, after ten years of marriage, is discipling young men who are single or dating. One of the disadvantages, however, is not being current on the lingo.

This struck me in a recent conversation with a friend who told me he had gone out several times with a young lady and was uncertain about the status of the relationship. Curious, I asked him if he was planning on continuing to date this girl.

“You misunderstand,” he said, “we aren’t dating — we’re just talking.”

“Talking?” I replied, a little confused, “you mean like we’re talking right now.”

“No,” he explained, “we’re at the stage of a relationship just before dating. It’s called talking.”

Dumbfounded and feeling a little old and disconnected, I decided to investigate this new pre-dating phenomenon. “Talking,” I discovered, is a widely accepted stage in current guy/girl relationships wherein a young man and a young woman get to know each other without better defining the relationship. This isn’t even a real stage of the relationship; it’s a pre-stage. They’re not just friends; they’re not really dating or pursuing marriage; they’re “talking.”

After these conversations, I was left with the question: Do we really need another stage in relationships that are directed toward marriage?

Shirking Responsibility

Our culture suffers from a large number of males wallowing around in quasi-manhood for many years. Boys used to grow up, get a job, and move out of the house. But we have inserted this chain of life stages from adolescence, to the college years, to early career, and so on — all of which permit young men to put off growing up, taking responsibility, and generally acting like a man.

This new phase of pre-dating called “talking” is like adolescence for relationships: an unnecessary stage in the relationship allowing young men to avoid taking responsibility and acting like men. It prevents the man from having to be clear about his intentions to pursue or end the relationship. If he wants to stop “talking,” he simply walks away, leaving behind a confused, and potentially wounded, young lady.

John Piper[1] defines biblical masculinity as, “a sense of benevolent responsibility to lead, provide for and protect women in ways appropriate to a man’s differing relationships.” It is the responsibility of the man to take a leadership role in relationships, to be forthright, honest, and clear about his intentions. This “talking” phase normalizes relationship without responsibility; closeness without clarity; cultural manhood, not biblical manhood.

The young ladies I’ve spoken to share this frustration. They are left in a state of relational limbo, where they are unsure of the young man’s intentions and the purpose of the relationship. They are stuck going on non-dates with guys who are scared to date.

In their defense, guys tell me they are afraid to ask a lady out because she might immediately assume he wants to marry her. I understand the concern, but that does not change the need for character — it makes it all the more necessary.

Intentionality Is a Way to Serve Sisters in Christ

First, you should ask girls out that you see as potential wives. Second, when you don’t see her as a potential wife any longer, explain yourself and then stop asking her out. Third, throughout the relationship be clear, upfront, and honest about your intentions. If you just want to get to know her better, tell her so. If you see this relationship turning into something more serious, tell her that too. If you think she’s a great girl but don’t want to pursue the relationship further, tell her! That’s the kind of “talking” that should characterize the relationship.

If things don’t work out, and if you’ve acted like a true man, you’ve gotten to know a sister in Christ better and helped prepare her to meet her future husband. If things do work out, congratulations, you’re married. Those are the only two options for a man of God.

If you are a young man intimidated by the prospect of intentionally pursuing a young woman as a wife, seek the Lord in fervent prayer. Search your heart and your intentions to ensure they are grounded in the gospel and informed by Scripture. With your conscience clear before the Lord and your heart and mind shaped by His word, stand confident in the care of your heavenly Father (and hers) and speak boldly to your sister in Christ. Our God is a God of truth, and your sister in Christ deserves to know the truth from you.

If you are a young lady stuck with a guy who isn’t interested in pursuing you but expects your prolonged time and attention as he “talks” to you, ask yourself if this is the type of indecisive boy-man you want to follow for the rest of your life. It is impossible to follow someone who will not lead. Find a man who will treat you as a sister in the Lord deserves to be treated: with honesty, integrity, and clarity.

It’s time to kiss “talking” goodbye. Our brothers and sisters in Christ deserve better than this.


[1] Piper, John. What’s the Difference?: Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Books), 23.

JD Gunter is a student and staff member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Before coming to seminary, he served in various church leadership positions in addition to spending fifteen years in the automotive and finance industries. He and his wife Tiffany have been married ten years, have two children, and are active members at Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

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  1. Keith Bridges's Gravatar Keith Bridges
    January 16, 2014    

    I recently facilitated the Stepping Up bible study with 7 great men of God from my church. The series was awesome and the discussion that took place was invaluable. I’ve been married to the same wonderful lady for nearly 27 years but those years were not without difficulty. I wish I had been presented this material before I even met my wife. I believe we would have avoided a great deal of struggle and experienced much more happiness had I led our family according to God’s plan. My take is that it’s never too late to get it right. Young men, take this information and intentionally and with vigor put it into action in your life.

    • Scott Williams's Gravatar Scott Williams
      January 16, 2014    

      We’re all in process in our marriages, parenting and lives. Thanks, Keith, for coming alongside men who aren’t as far along in the process as you. My guess is that us older guys have something to learn from the younger ones, too. Anything we at FamilyLife can do to help you help others, just let us know.

  2. January 16, 2014    

    While I agree in theory here I have my own experience that makes me empathize with why young guys do this.
    After 9 years of marriage I was told I was not needed anymore. The divorce papers delivered to me punctuated that point.

    Speaking specifically of the church, which is the implied venue of this story, I’ve found myself watching couples in church… Or the lack thereof. I see women attend with only the kids in tow; no husband to be seen. Some wear wedding rings, some do not. Then there are the couples who sit in the pews or seats as if their partner almost does not exist. Their body language speaks volumes; they appear to not even like the person they’re sitting next to. The couple who actually appears to like and enjoy their spouse is rare in the churches I’ve attended.
    We see this. We also see how men are belittled by culture and even in the church by our pastors and the subtle and not-so-subtle messages that get laughed off as a good ribbing.

    I once thought I may want to pursue remarriage if I could meet someone I was attracted to, but have opted against it because the risks involved in “manning up” are just too great when you factor in how disposable we are as men these days.

    I thought maybe the church could encourage me to view marriage differently, but I don’t see it.
    You wonder why young guys continue to test the waters by “just talking.” Maybe they’ve seen how men are treated as disposable dorks by the culture and witnessed an unwillingness by the Christian church to argue against that premise or encourage women to actually respect the men around them.

    It doesn’t help when the pastor preaches on the 101 ways we can serve our wives on Mothers Day then a month later told to “man up” when Fathers Day rolls by, rather than hear a message on how a little respect in our direction could go a long way.

    The little jokes told in church at our expense certainly don’t help.

    I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

    • Scott Williams's Gravatar Scott Williams
      January 21, 2014    

      Thanks for your honesty, Todd. Yours is the story of far too many men these days. Your observations about the culture and the church are poignant. I realize this post didn’t minister to your needs, much like the seeming out-of-balance messages to men in the church on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but we hope other Stepping Up posts might encourage and equip you as a man.

      It grieves us to hear of your heartache and frustration, but don’t lose heart. It’s certainly understandable (even wise) to be cautious, but don’t allow the sting of past hurts and the ongoing sensitive admonitions to make you shy away from becoming everything God desires for you to be as a man. Allow His Spirit to convince you of His truth and respond to that alone.

  3. Hunter's Gravatar Hunter
    February 17, 2014    

    I read the post but Todd’s comment resonated with me the most. With the massive liability & cost for men to marry these days, I don’t blame men at all for having apprehension. Men know inherently that marring the wrong woman can put them on a glide path to their destruction. THAT’S what men fear, more than marriage itself. Men don’t want to draw from a poisoned well, and widespread divorce, even in the body of Christ, has poisoned it.

    Then looking at the women with their senses of entitlement, baggage from previous relationships, and being just simply uninspiring (women have to bring that inspiration to the relationship/marriage table if they ever want a man to pursue them), there was only one path to take: Go MGTOW and kiss women & dating goodbye. I think of Proverbs 21:19 and more importantly, I Corinthians 7:1,27 & 32.

    To sum up, based on observation and experience, with what’s going on in relationships & marriages today, stepping out is better than stepping up.

  1. We’re just talking - on January 15, 2014 at 8:33 pm

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