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Our mud huts

Why do we stick with dating traditions that break our hearts?

Our mud huts


If you had a system that yielded poor results every time you used it, how long would it take for you to chuck that system? 

The traditional Maasai windowless mud-and-dung hut, with its poor ventilation, has for who knows how long been the cause of respiratory infections and eye irritations in adults and children of the tribe. So why have these Kenyans 50 miles south of Nairobi continued generation after generation to design their shelters like that? I don’t know. Tradition? No one thought of a better idea?

A Korean medical doctor I knew told me in the 1990s that he and a team went there to treat eye, nose, and throat ailments, and they tried to persuade the townsfolk to drill a hole in the tops of their huts to let the smoke of their biomass fires escape. I wonder how he made out.

My brother once met a fisherman in Oregon who mentioned casually that he throws up every time he goes out on his boat. “Why in the world are you a fisherman?” my brother asked. “Because my father and my grandfather were fishermen.”

Now that’s a more complicated matter, I guess. Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

But if you can possibly conceive of a way to alleviate suffering where suffering is not necessary, I say let’s do it. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, let’s not be insane.

I’m writing from fresh pain after a romantic breakup. Not my own, but it brings back all of mine in a rush of hot memory of breakups long past. And as I think about it, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had them—either as the dumper or the dumped. Not my husband, not my grown children, not my parents, not my friends. In fact, if you can come up with a single exception (excluding eunuchs who are eunuchs for the kingdom of God), scribble his name on the back of a $20 bill and mail to this address. I’ll interview him for his secret.

What’s wrong with this dating tradition we have? Why does this failed custom feel like the American version of the mud-and-dung hut folly? The Maasai are so used to incurring smoke-related retinal disease, nobody thinks it a big deal to have the walking blind among them. Westerners are so used to incurring courtship-related psychological crippling, nobody thinks it’s a big deal to have walking broken people among them. It’s a rite of passage, we think. Grandpa did it, we think. Well, Grandpa Kioko probably died of chronic bronchitis too. 

I doubt God intended this. Did He really want as a prelude to marriage all these serial heartbreaks? This depressing custom of giving little pieces of our heart to one, and then another? Of defiling ourselves a little bit with one, and then another? “Take another little piece of my heart, now baby” (Janis Joplin). 

And of course the longer you “go out” with a person, the more it feels like marriage, so the more the breakup feels like divorce. Which it rather is, because for months now you’ve been telling him you love him, and sharing your most personal fears and traumatic childhood episodes.

The worst comes after the breakup, when it dawns on you that a breakup ends not only the dating relationship but the whole relationship. You promised to stay friends, but it was wishful thinking. Now the irony is that when you feel like a movie and popcorn, there are any number of third-tier friends you can phone, but the one person you cannot phone is the person you were closest to until last week. 

And the Bible is silent. 

Well, with one exception. There was a certain servant who set out on a long journey looking for a bride for his master Abraham’s son Isaac. And what did that servant do—arrange a date with a few interesting prospects? Consider some candidates’ dowries? No, he prayed to the God of all wisdom to show him the girl. And He did.

Radical and untraditional as it seems, I think, young man, young woman, you would do far worse than start praying the same.


  • AlanE
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 01:35 pm

    We stick with traditions that break our hearts because change is among the most difficult of things known to mankind. And perhaps especially so change on any kind of large scale. :-)

    But, my experience mirrors yours. As does the experience of so many people I know. Worse still, we have a massive issue with divorce. The divorce problem isn't just a dating problem, of course, but it's also hard to dissociate the two.


  • brightnsalty
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 02:23 pm

    So what if a young person prays diligently, a likely person comes along, they get to know them, share their heart as wisely as possible, but it still doesn't work out? Or what do you say to the person that prays diligently but no potential mate crosses their path for years? Both happen all the time, and for lots of reasons. I agree that leading yourself or others on is foolish, but the main advice I see in this article seems to boil down to "share your heart less and pray more," and that sounds a bit simplistic. 

  • RC
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 02:31 pm

    Many think they can have a great marriage by finding a soul mate. The problem is that to qualify, the soul mate has to act and think exactly like their possible spouse thinks they should, but in reality, no human being like that exists, only robots. So dating becomes an endless disappointment.

    When my wife and I helped in our marriage ministry we were told to have everybody draw a small circle on the floor, then each person stepped into their own circle. If they wanted to get their marriage fixed, all they had to do was work on everybody in their circle (which was only them).  No one discovers that they have married the-right-person, until they discover that they need to, be-the-right-person.  When they expressed confusion over how to be-the-right-person we guided them to the best example, which of course is Jesus!

  • MamaC
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 04:25 pm

    Dating in my parents' day (the 1930's) was seemingly a much more casual get-acquainted arrangement. It was not seen as "going steady" until quite a number of dates had taken place. Fast-forward to the 70's and if you were seen "hanging out" with the same person of the opposite sex frequently, the assumption was that you were "going together" and no one else would ask you out.

    The other difference in the 70's (and this, I think, speaks to the frequency of broken hearts) was the common practice of physical involvement (not so much sexual intercourse as is reported today, although there was some of that, but kissing and "making out"). I think young people of my generation underestimated the emotional bond that physical intimacy of any kind incurs and the resulting trauma of losing a piece of your heart when the relationship ends.

    As for our "mud huts," it seems the problem could be resolved by adding ventilation. In other words,we don't have to abandon the whole structure; we need to encourage our own offspring to get acquainted with others in a more-casual, less-expectations atmosphere and teach them that physical intimacy has lasting repercussions.

  • LH
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 04:28 pm

    Heartbreak differs from physical ailments from the mud huts because it provides experiences that shape us and galvinize our resolve to remain faithful to our eventual spouse through the hard times and to love them despite their flaws.

  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 04:45 pm

    An idea.... my wife and I of 23 years and 5 children decided not to kiss until our wedding day.  We have encouraged our 5 yet unmarried children to do the same as it helped alleviate many temptations and allowed us to learn about each other during our engagement with our eyes wide open, no clouded physical issues.  Another pleasent side affect was, when we did finally kiss at our wedding, over 300 people were shouting, whistling and hollering like we had just won a superbowl.  We've whatched this event with our children, retelling the story from time to time.  Many have said they want to do the same thing.  We pray they do.

  • BosLarJazz's picture
    Posted: Tue, 06/18/2019 08:16 pm

    When I was an undergrad, I developed a school boy crush on a young woman. The first such crush I'd had since Jr. high school. I couldn't for the life of me identify qualities about her that I admired and I barely knew her. I understood this was infatuation - pure and simple. She went away to visit family for a brief time and I fed her cat. I, for some strange reason, asked my pastor if it was okay to leave a flower in a bud vase at her place with a note that said, "missed you." He asked me, "do you want her to fall in love with you and are you prepared to marry her if she does? I replied, no - nowhere near ready. He said, "then don't do it. You'll never guess how many young women in our church call me and complain about guys who do romantic gestures only to change their mind a month later." I followed his advice. In fact when I did start dating someone, I made a point to avoid physicality and to focus on casual outings and talking. My wife and I spent a great deal of time getting to know one another through walking and talking and didn't kiss until our engagement quickly had a date already set. It was such a different and refreshing way to go about constructing a relationship, especially in light of the fact I was 21 when I came to faith in Christ and had to rethink so much of my life as I had previously lived it. We are still married 30 years and 5 kiddos later and looking forward to more years. My mud and dung hut not only got ventilation through faith in Christ, but got windows to let the light in too.

  • MamaC
    Posted: Thu, 06/20/2019 09:48 am

    I love your story! That's exactly the kind of dating relationship I would recommend: walking and talking and limited physical involvement. I especially appreciated that you asked your pastor for advice, were honest with him about your intentions, and followed his advice. Thanks so much for sharing your success story!

  • CM
    Posted: Wed, 06/19/2019 01:19 am

    By all tangible measures, the dating system is a horrible means of choosing a mate.  If we had parents who were truly interested in the best for their children, arranged marriages would be superior.  However, the system in South Sudan is even worse because the welfare of the child (particularly the girl) is not the primary consideration.  Abraham and Sarah were most concerned about a wife for Isaac who would love him and support him in his love of God.  Perhaps if our children truly sensed that our concern was primarily for their welfare and eternal good we could help them more.  

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sun, 06/23/2019 10:59 pm

    I do not think that there is any real prescription for this.  Each relationship is different.  But we might alleviate the problem somewhat by treating singleness as a normal part of life, not a curse.

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 06/24/2019 06:52 am

    I remember a quote. "Boys play at love to get sex and girls play at sex to get love".  Very different expectaions for different sexes.  Dating, as it has evolved causes all these opposing expectations to jell into heartbreak.  Failure to follow Biblical guidelines (not rules but respect) for contact during courtship (we often use the Hollywood guidelines) makes for many breakups and a feeling of being disrespected from both sides.