Friday, May 15, 2020

Ask Aunt Dorcas--Trains, A Rant on Dating, and the Poof

Aunt Dorcas finds that she likes answering questions. It gives her a good excuse to ramble and rant on her favorite subjects. So she will plan to continue these Saturday posts until she uses up all the questions people have submitted, with a break for her son's wedding of course.

These are her conclusions. You may draw your own conclusions with the good mind God gave you.

Today we begin with a fun question:

Q: How many times a day does the train go past your place? My 3 year old loved a story you posted of that.

A: Hey, someone else likes trains! We live about a quarter mile from the main track down the West Coast, so lots of trains go by. The Coast Starlight is a silver Amtrak train that runs from Los Angeles to Seattle. Another passenger train is the Amtrak Cascades, which has a long, sleek, striped look that always reminds me of a garter snake, but it's still pretty.

Then there are lots of freight trains hauling lumber, grain, tanks of unknown liquids, and lots of normal freight cars with mysterious contents.

I'm going to guess that trains pass fifteen times a day, but it could be eight or twenty. We've gotten so used to them that we even sleep through the train horns blowing at night. Then we have guests who look exhausted in the morning because the trains kept them awake, and we think, “Oh yeah. Trains.”

I always enjoy watching trains, but your question made me start noticing them a lot more. 


Q: Should a guy feel super strongly about a relationship before asking her out or is it ok to take the plunge even if he isn't head over heels obsessed?
--Farmer Melvin

A: This merits a short answer, a long answer, and a rant.

Short answer: No, a guy doesn’t need to feel super strongly. Yes, it’s ok to ask even if he isn’t obsessed.

Long answer: Feeling “super strongly” and “head over heels obsessed” before asking a girl out and, presumably, getting to know her well, seems just a bit alarming.

Here’s what seems healthier to me: 

A guy gets to know a girl well enough to be intrigued. He mentions this to the Lord, and asks for guidance, but he doesn’t deem it necessary to pray for a year or two.

He doesn’t send the girl mysterious, half-flirty texts and DMs for 3 months until she finally asks awkwardly what’s going on.

No. He asks the girl out so they can get to know each other better! He makes this clear: he is inviting her to go out for coffee. [We assume the virus is now history and coffee shops are open.]

The girl, being an adult and in tune with the Holy Spirit and maybe a teeny bit aware of the guy before this day, is allowed to say “Yes” or “No” that very day, if she wishes, without praying about it for a week. Or if she wants to wait and pray, that's ok too, as long as she doesn't do it just to sound spiritual, like I did once upon a time.

They meet for coffee, assuming she said Yes.

If the conversation doesn’t lag too badly, and he doesn’t slurp his coffee, we assume they meet again, and again, and before long they have a discussion about Defining the Relationship.

Once they know each other well enough, we hope they fall head over heels in love, get married, and live happily ever after.

The key factors:

Both are adults.
Everyone is honest about their intentions.
The guy takes action rather than dithering for a year or two while she takes on an imaginary Fairy Goddess Angel persona in his head, which no mortal woman can sustain in real life for very long.

Here comes the Rant:

While the guy is creating this fantasy character in his head, the young lady is trying to figure out what he’s thinking and what to do with her life—the inevitable dilemma of the single Mennonite woman. Maybe she kind of likes him and would give him a chance, but nothing is happening except a few odd indecipherable messages, so should she go ahead and pursue college and a career? Because it sure looks like she’ll be supporting herself for the rest of her days.

But then, most Mennonite men don’t go to college and seem to be intimidated by women who do, so that will shrink the pool of potentials that much more.

But she might not get married either way, and does she want to clean houses until she’s 35 and then go to college and pursue a job that will put new tires on the car without anguished budgeting?

I’m assuming that Farmer Melvin is over 25 years old. For him and so many like him, and older, both men and women let me just say: It’s hard. 

This post is not an auction poster for my many single adult kids. Without any help from me, they have experienced enough dating, drama, DMs, discussion, disappointment, meddling, matchmaking and mystery to merit many Sunday dinner discussions, evening chats in the living room, and sisterly confabs upstairs.

I am not free to tell any of it. I hope they appreciate that I am sitting on dozens of stories that are like squirming cats, scratching to get away, but I sit tight and don’t let them go. 

So this isn't an advertisement. But it's still about my adult kids, because they have made me aware of many other single Mennonites and of trends in that demographic.

If you’ve seen the new Little Women movie, you might remember the part where Amy explains that marriage is mostly an economic arrangement. I would add that it’s also a social/relational structure. If you follow Biblical values, it’s also the only means of sexual intimacy and babies.

So dating and marriage are about dreamy things like Romance and Finding the One, but mostly they’re about forming a partnership, economically and relationally, for the long-term benefit of both partners and the next generations.

Of course it’s crucial that you choose wisely who you will share a bed, budget, and babies with. But the process has been tragically complicated by years of focusing only on the Deep Weighty Decisions and Discerning God’s Will. It hasn't been ok, somehow, to be plain and practical about it.

I was about 19 when I was chatting with my friend Heidi’s mom, Noah-Lizzie. We covered the local gossip, including the fact that “Glen Hostetler” had gone on a date with “Velma Yoder.”
“Glen is different from his brothers!” Lizzie said.
“How so?” I wondered.
Er macht sich rum!” she pronounced, which means, literally, he makes himself around, or, he gets things done!

I thought, “Lizzie! How Amish of you!”

Well. I am now as practical and Amish as it’s possible to be. Bring on the discussion, strategy, matchmaking, plain language, and making yourself around.

In practical terms of finding a suitable mate, younger people have it easier. There are many more options in place to facilitate meeting and matching.

Some meet in high school, date as soon as they’re old enough, and get married. I can think of three such couples who were my kids’ classmates.

Others, not being too tied down to jobs or college, spend a winter in Bible school and meet someone there. My older kids’ friends and cousins who didn’t meet their future mate in high school often met at Bible school or a similar venue, such as the Shenandoah Music Camp or voluntary service. If you’re from a faraway place like Oregon, Bible schools and such do a good job of introducing young people to each other.

But let’s say someone meets a special person at Bible school, and they start dating, but after a year it doesn’t work out. Or no match is made.

Our Mennonite young person gets older. They start college or a business or a job that doesn’t allow flitting off for weeks at a time.

The potential meetings of potential mates dwindle in number.

Think of the Corona virus, since that is on all of our minds. If we are all out there meeting and mingling, the chance of the virus getting transferred is exponentially greater than if we’re all hunkered down, hardly seeing anyone outside of our tiny family circles.

Every Mennonite community seems to have a few unmarried people who are not right for each other but would be just fine for a compatible soul a few states away. Sometimes the compatible people actually live in the same community but go to different churches and socialize in different circles.

There are so few good, acceptable ways for them to meet and get acquainted well enough to make an informed decision about a relationship.

If they’re active online, they can get to know each other in a limited and heavily curated way. The rules are a bit fuzzy as to what’s really ok as they open the gates of friending/following, liking/commenting, and finally messaging.  Is it ok for a girl to follow a guy if it’s a private account? Can she message him, or, in the current lingo, slide into his DMs? Is it inappropriate if the guy comments on her posts all the time but never tries to get to know her by other means?

Online interaction can be a segue to real life interaction and even romance, as illustrated by my friend Luci. Ivan began following her blog, then commenting, and finally emailing. Then he declared his intentions and pursued a real life relationship. They are now married.

It keeps coming back to these:

Real life.
Supportive community.
Doing something.

Apparently, this isn’t only a Mennonite phenomenon. Our son Matt tells of attending Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and seeing dozens of other young men there, all with the same slightly desperate look that he recognized from having had the same look. If you want a nice Christian girl, you go to church, right? Isn’t that the best place to look? Capitol Hill Baptist even had an impressive written policy advocating Christian courtship and marriage.

It looked great on paper, but it didn’t work in real life. There was no opportunity for singles to meet and talk and get to know each other. Sunday school classes don’t allow for relaxed conversation. After church, there was time for only furtive glances before everyone dispersed and got back on the Metro.

This is what I propose [ha ha]. We all need to get involved. This requires a community solution.

I’m not saying we should all be deliberately matchmaking, although a few Christians have that spiritual gift, such as Jenny’s employer Don Smith, who matched Paul’s sister Rosie and her husband Phil, plus a few other couples.

Mostly, we should be making it easy for singles to meet and get to know each other. I know of numerous grateful couples who got a nudge at the top of the hill from a parent or friend, who then let go of the sled and let the couple steer it to the bottom on their own.

Of course, my favorite example is Matt and his fiancee Phoebe.

Matt said there were a number of widows at Capitol Hill. He thought it would be a great idea to ordain a few Deaconesses of Matchmaking among those widows. They could regularly invite a variety of singles over for food and games. People could get to know each other in a comfortable homey atmosphere. Even if no matches resulted, these young people, almost all far from home, could get a bit of mothering and socializing.

Most of us with a home and a living room or kitchen can invite people over. A group of older singles, at times, or a variety, since people living on their own often miss out on interaction with children and grandparents. The goal should be hospitality and helping.

Once upon a time, Anne Smucker invited half a dozen teachers from Mennonite schools in the valley to her house for dinner. She said later she wasn’t matchmaking, but before everyone left the table, her son Paul thanked her for the dinner, and a certain young lady took note of it. That evening the same young lady dropped a scoop of ice cream in her lap and calmly picked it up and put it into her bowl, which Paul didn’t notice, but things worked out anyhow.

But what about overt matchmaking? The word from the singles I know is: Ask. Don’t assume.
It’s easy: “How would you feel about me setting up a blind date for you?”
“I’d like to have you and the new teacher over for dinner, to get to know each other. Are you ok with that?”
They can say Yes or No or Tell Me More—what a concept!

Years ago, I wrote that a bunch of us moms should get together and bake whoopie pies. You know those chocolate sandwich cookies? You bake a whole bunch of them, then match them up, two by two, with a nice swoosh of gooey frosting in between.

Some cookies come out of the oven looking uniform and perfect. Those are easy to match up and are the first to go into the Tupperware happily glued together until death do them part. But others are too big or too small, or oddly shaped, or too flat.

It takes a bit of work to find a good match for those. But it can be done.

In the last year, a few people have quietly mentioned to me that a Mennonite moms' matchmaking group on facebook would be a good idea. Matt even offered to do the spreadsheet work for it. Singles could send in a profile and the moderator moms could verify the details through one of our nieces or friends from the same community. Then we could have a Zoom meeting and frost some whoopie pies, so to speak.

Do I need to pray about this for a year or two? Or should I follow my own advice and take action?

Back to Farmer Melvin: brave action is better than fearful dithering, no matter how much you spiritualize the hesitation.

Remember: Real life. A supportive community. Taking action.

Go for it, Farmer Melvin.

That's what I think.

Q: How do you get your hair to "puff" out like that on the top? I like it.

A: This made me laugh because puffs are kind of out of fashion. 

I wash my hair and brush it out. Then, while it's still wet, I put a little bloop of hair gel on my hands and rub it in around the front of my head. 

I comb it straight back, then I lay one hand on top of my head and slide it forward, forming a poof in front. I clip it in place and repeat the process on the sides.

When it's almost dry but not quite, I put it up into a bun, take out the clips around the front, and comb it all into place, hoping it behaves.

I have enough questions for at least three more posts, but if you want to add to my stash, email me at


  1. I so enjoy your writing. Reading about being an older Christian single made me think back on a Christian Single’s Conference that I attended. A presenter said “Don’t blame the church, they don’t know what to do with you.” LOL
    (I think I was in my late twenties at the time.) Living in a small town it can be hard to meet people, and after this virus has settled down, I like your idea of creating safe spaces for single people to meet. As for me, I prayed, and let God lead my life...with joy, tears, and sometimes kicking and screaming when it came to Christian dating. I met my husband when I was 40. (A nice good biblical number LOL) We got married 2 years later. I have now been married 5 years this July. Waiting for God to write your marriage story looks a lot different than the way the world wants to write marriage stories. I had to learn to be content and happy on my own, and not compare my life to anyone else’s. Also, I had to be OK with being on my own. I still believe that a person can live a quality, amazing, and Godly life without being married. I happen to have a lot of single friends who are doing this right now. Thank you so much for writing your post. ❤️

    1. Thanks for sharing your story.
      I think if you don't learn to be content and happy as a single, you might not be happy when married either.
      I do feel that, historically and culturally, the large numbers of singles in the American Christian world are an anomaly. Individually, you can't change the trends and facts. Collectively, maybe we can.

  2. As the Luci mentioned in this post, I can testify that it pays to be open to possibility. My first thought when Ivan asked me to date was "Never. I don't even know you." Thanks to my dad, I gave it a chance. And Ivan is absolutely perfect for me! One thing older singles have going for them is you know yourself so much better at 30 than you do at 18 or 20.You know what you like and who you like and what you can live with. I would not go as far as Amy March to say marriage is mostly an economic arrangement! But you have to consider the practical things for sure. Love thrives when body, soul, and spirit are cared for.

    1. I love this, Luci. I think that's a great point that at 30 you know yourself better than at 20, and maybe have wiser reasons for choosing whether and whom.

  3. Like a lot of things in life, there are no neat formulas in finding a spouse. Some women's stories are about surrendering their desires, and then God brought them a husband; mine was more about embracing my desires, and then God brought me a husband. I believe some women need to go where men are; in my case, I went where men weren't, and God dropped him in my lap (not quite literally); a third option is matchmaking. I think God can work through any of these avenues.

    Even though I would have welcomed marriage, my single years were rich in many ways. Seeking out the spiritual and philosophical underpinnings of a meaningful single life was something I took seriously during those years. On a humourous note, I did have one experience with matchmaking. Goyce, a family friend known for his practical jokes, asked one day if he could set my roommate, Marcy, and I up with blind dates at a meal at his house. We agreed. We arrived, believing it was real. I had been game, but also felt awkward. We were then each presented with...... a plate! On each plate were pressed dates, carved in the shape of a man; no eyes had been added, of course...

    1. LOL on the story of the blind date!
      I like how you pursued meaningfulness in your single years.
      As I told Amy S. a few comments up the page, I think if you don't learn to be content and happy as a single, you might not be very happy when married either.

  4. I like the Ask Aunt Dorcas series. My hair will occassionally do a "voluntary" puff on it's own sometimes. Lol
    Drives me crazy sometimes but I've gotten used to it now.

    1. funny! And I envy people who have a bit of a natural puff in their hair.

  5. This was really interesting as I have three adult children who are single (another one is also single but has a serious girlfriend). Two are sons and one is a daughter. One of the sons rants about how girls take one look at him and decide he's not worth their time. Yes, he's not drop-dead, movie star handsome, but he's good looking and if you got to know him, you'd find he's a gem with a kind heart, hard working, frugal, funny, and all-around great young man. He gets discouraged because he's turned down regularly. I keep praying that when this pandemic madness ends he can get back to the church young adult group and meet just the right person. The other son doesn't have any trouble meeting girls interested in him, but has trouble with their superficiality. He doesn't attend church, which is, as I tell him, where the "deeper" girls are. Our poor daughter is stuck in a place where there are literally no single men her age that share her faith. She's tried a few online dating sites but has not gotten any responses. She'd love to marry and have a family, but that doesn't seem to be God's plan for her just yet. Oh it's hard watching our children and wishing we could wave a magic wand and produce a wonderful companion for them. We have to be patient and trust in the Lord's timing. Thanks for sharing your rant. I can totally understand all the frustration.

    1. No wonder you do a lot of praying! That sounds hard.

  6. I keep this quote in my Bible: "Rebekah was able to meet God's divine appointment for her life because she was faithfully carrying our her current obligations." ML