Previous articles in this series explored Lancaster Bible College’s dating culture from the perspective of male students and female students. However, properly understanding the dating culture can be difficult for an insider. Students who are dating or facing the pressures of dating can sometimes misinterpret the environment to be better or worse than reality. Therefore, professors and staff members can offer helpful perspective when considering the dating culture at LBC.
Esther Zimmerman, a professor in the Women in Ministry Leadership major, said she views the dating culture at LBC as involving a lot of pressure. She observes students often feel panicked if they do not find a Christian guy or girl because they believe opportunity will decrease dramatically after college.
Aaron Brown, the associate chair of the Church and Ministry Leadership department, agreed there is pressure involved when dating at a Bible college. Brown explained he also attended a Bible college for his undergrad. He sees many similarities between LBC’s culture and that of other Bible colleges he has visited.
“This is less about LBC itself and more about young twenty-somethings going to Bible colleges have these things in common,” Brown said.
Dr. Ed Scheuerman, director of the Intercultural Studies major, agreed that LBC has a dating culture similar to many other colleges.
“Students at LBC have a value of feeling LBC culture is unique,” Scheuerman said. He added, “A lot of the dating scene is common for any college at this stage of life…. (When you have) guys and gals at this stage of life… looking for a potential future spouse, you’re bound to have these dynamics. (It is) not just because of LBC, but LBC accentuates some of these dynamics.”
Melinda Clark, former director of community life at LBC*, also agreed the emphasis on dating is not unique at LBC.
“I think that in any college setting, because you have so many people so very interested in dating someone, that there’s going to be magnified focus on dating,” Clark said.
However, Clark added there are some unique elements due to LBC’s Christian culture.
“Because so many people are expecting to find a spouse at Bible college, there is a hyper awareness of dating at LBC,” Clark said. “(This is just) like a lot of Bible colleges, but definitely no less true of LBC.”
She added, “Hoping to date before you leave LBC is not a bad hope, but it blows things out of proportion sometimes. It doesn’t allow you to relax and enjoy friendships or consider friendships as a possibility (instead) of dating.”
Zimmerman agreed the hyper-focus on dating for marriage can add unneeded pressure.
“There’s the sense that ‘the person I date could be the person I am going to marry,’ which is true,” Zimmerman said. “But it can be quite hard to have a non-pressured season of getting to know a person when either the person involved or people looking on have really high expectations.”
In contrast, Brown said he appreciates that LBC students do not want to fall into the secular model of hook-up culture. However, he agreed an overemphasis on marriage can lead to unhealthiness.
“It is healthy when the other person isn’t (viewed as) just a disposable thing I use for a weekend to feel good,” Brown said. He added, “Where it can get unhealthy is when it becomes obsessive. (For example,) being fixated on interactions with the opposite sex where they only exist to evaluate whether (the person) is a marriage partner or not.”
He continued, “In reaction to what we see as a cheap view of dating in our culture, we swing the pendulum to the other side to an almost neurotic obsession with (dating). (We’re) consumed by the gravity of it, forgetting how to relate to another person as a human being.”
Scheuerman agreed there are good and bad elements.
“LBC has a small college feel… and it is an excellent opportunity for accountability and comradery,” he said. “But the downside is everyone is in everyone’s business as it leads to dating.”
Scheuerman explained he eats meals in the dining hall and observes the social stigmas put on conversations across genders. He said he feels bad students cannot sit in a booth without everyone around them assuming they will get married.
“(Students) can’t even have a conversation without that happening,” he said.
Brown blamed some of this on the church’s over-emphasis on marriage and the family.
“In the church we elevate marriage and the family as very valuable things, and family is really significant,” Brown said. “(But if you) go to church and hear all the pastor’s illustrations relate to marriage and the family, and you are single, you can feel like… you’re not part of the community.”
Zimmerman said she wishes students would wait for a while before dating at college.
“There’s this perceived pressure to pair up quickly,” she said, “and I think when you do that you can… cut off your ability to get to know a wide variety of people.”
Zimmerman told the example of a student who made a decision not to date for her entire freshman year and instead decided to just get to know people. Zimmerman said the student ironically met someone at orientation and become close friends, but she told him she was not dating for her first year. The guy said okay, and they waited to date until sophomore year. They are now married.
Zimmerman said both students agreed in retrospect that a period of being friends and figuring themselves out was beneficial rather than jumping immediately into a relationship.
Clark said a key element to relieving pressure is for students to give themselves and each other the space to engage in friendships.
“I would love for students to give themselves and others the space to explore friendships without wondering if this is someone you are going to date,” she said. “Oh, you sat with someone in chapel? Who cares. Shut down the gossip train.”
*Clark’s interview took place while she was still director of community life at LBC.