[Photo Courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists]
Silver Spring, Maryland, United States | Nicole Dominguez

Over the years, there has been an evolution in the perception and application of dating and marriage both within and outside of Christian spheres. Without realizing it, the secular prioritization of romantic relationships has superseded relationships with God, self, and peers. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Throughout the Bible, our creator recognizes and encourages meaningful relationships because it is within our design. Oliver confirms, “We all have in common whether married or single, divorced, widowed, separated, we all have in common this deep-seated desire to be in an intimate relationship.” The power of this intimacy is remarkable in its ability to transform and provide safety, however, Oliver continues “This need that we have to be connected is really something that God placed within us, but since the beginning of time this is something that Satan has been trying to destroy.”

This form of destruction comes in Satan’s age-old tactic of substitution. Rather than focusing on healthy relationships with God, ourselves, and good friends, romantic relationships and marriage are placed as the pinnacle. For many, fostering a fulfilling relationship in God is a means to an end, not the end in and of itself. The relationship with God is the due you must pay to earn the ultimate reward of marriage. “Where we're mirroring the culture, society puts a period there.” Says Oliver, “For the person of faith, that's not where the period goes. We all desire to be in an intimate relationship with the triune God.” In the exaltation of dating and marriage, we begin to see it as a right. Not only this, but its status as the ideal removes the deeper work and commitment required in authentic love. 

As the only married woman on the panel and a professional marriage and family counselor, Oliver holds the trump card in experience. She recognizes the wonders and the work required to maintain a healthy marriage, saying, “There are great rewards and it can be beautiful, but it's difficult.” The success of a romantic relationship is not solely dependent on love, but on shared beliefs, constant communication, and the active choice to commit to the relationship once the blush of affection begins to fluctuate. People change. It is a symptom of growth and time. When grace is extended to partners in both platonic and romantic relationships in light of this reality, there is a greater chance for growth. 

Yet what about the singles? Stymiest discusses and celebrates the “de-stigmatization of singlehood” which has allowed a new generation of women and men to embrace singlehood as a state of being rather than a punishment or pitstop to marriage. This dismantles the aforementioned notion of marriage as a right. The beauty of life in Christ is that we were not created to be defined by our relationship status but by our identity in God. This is the only identification that matters, and when it is viewed as such, any other classification is obsolete to the point of insignificant.

“Once you know your standards, once you know your value, once you know your identity, you then actually come to have the same grace for yourself and extend that to the other person.”

“There's an element of, absolutely go to God and find your worth in Him, but ultimately God actually uses people to model His love.”

“He uses people and we ultimately heal in relationship. And it's not just a relationship with God, it's a relationship with people, it's a relationship even through dating and marriage. So this idea of having to fix yourself before you're ready is, I think, a bit of a fallacy.”

It is the relationship with God that informs every other relationship in our life