After years of single life in New York City, Dawn Eden knows how to study the crowd at a social event.
She knows how to let her gaze wander from man to man, while a voice in her head whispers, "That one's handsome," "That one's with someone," "That one's too old," "That one's got a wedding ring," "That one looks too interested in the man he's speaking to."
Eden heard that voice a lot during her years as a rock-music writer, back when she knew the music scene, knew the hot musicians and knew the score -- in every sense of that word. Then she converted to Christianity and her beliefs about love and marriage turned upside down.
The irony, said Eden, is that many clergy seem to think it would be a good thing if singles kept playing the spot-the-hot-date game in church.
"I am not an expert in church singles groups because I am not a connoisseur of them," said Eden, author of a controversial book entitled "The Thrill of the Chaste." The title betrays her work as an award-winning tabloid headline writer, as does the book's pushy subtitle, "Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On."
While doing online research into the Christian singles scene, Eden found a New York group that was promoting an "Extreme Charity Pub Crawl." Then there was the ski-retreat invitation that told young believers to prepare for fellowship in the hot tub.
This isn't what singles need from churches at Valentine's Day or any other day, said Eden, 38, who currently works as an editor at the New York Daily News.
"My church life got so much better the minute I stopped trying to look for someone to date at Mass," she said. "I mean, it isn't a good thing if people learn to look each other over at church the same way they look each other over in a bar."
This is not the kind of woman whose work usually shows up on shelves in Christian bookstores.
Dawn Eden Goldstein was reading the Bible by the time she was in second grade, witchcraft books by fifth grade, had her bat mitzvah at 13 and wandered into agnosticism shortly thereafter. Later, her encyclopedic knowledge of '60s pop landed her a steady stream of jobs writing album liner notes and magazine profiles.
Then, in 1996, a rocker introduced her to the books of the Christian apologist and journalist G.K. Chesterton. It took time for Eden's grasp of the New Testament to trump her knowledge of the Kama Sutra, but one thing led to another and she eventually became a modest, chaste, but hip Roman Catholic.
Changing her lifestyle was hard, she writes in her book, because she "had dutifully followed the Cosmo rule, which is also the Sex and the City rule and really the Universal Single-Person Rule in our secular age: 'Sex should push the relationship.' This rule can also be expressed as, 'We'll talk about it in bed.' "
The logic of this doctrine convinces many women that men can be forced into lasting commitments "through the persuasive force of your physical affection. It forces you to follow a set of Darwinian social rules -- dressing and acting a certain way to outperform other women competing for mates." In the end, said Eden, she realized that her strutting self-confidence wasn't real and that "you can't transform a pair of $14.99 Fayva slingbacks into a pair of $600 Manolo stilettos with a mere coat of paint."
If church leaders truly want to reach out to women and men who are looking for an alternative to that lifestyle, said Eden, they must realize that the last thing single adults need is a singles ministry that turns "your church basement into a sort of 'Animal House' with crosses."
What congregations should do is rally single adults around worship, prayer, books, the arts and service to others, she said. Then friendships and relationships can develop out of activities that strengthen the faith of those that choose to participate.
"You really don't have to dumb things down for us," said Eden. "There are plenty of ways for single adults to get less church if that is what they really want. Why not talk to some of your young adults and ask them what they really want. They may want more church -- more faith -- not less."