Surviving the Dating World as a Christian
It's a Jungle Out There
If you're a Christian in the dating world, you know how difficult it is. Many of us aren't just looking for that hottie to spend our time with for now. We're ultimately looking for a Godly counterpart and partner for the future. It can seem never ending, moving from first date to first date with one to three month relationships mixed in periodically. It's easy to feel like you have to lower your standards or sacrifice your integrity in order to get any traction. You wait and wait for God to drop just the right person into your life and He seems to be taking forever. You might begin to think that your standards are too high. You wonder if you're just not being reallistic.
How do you keep your desire for companionship and intimacy from pushing you into a relationship that is not good for you? None of us sets out to date and eventually marry the wrong person for us, but it happens all the time. In the absence of "Mr. Right", is "Mr. Right Now" a reasonable substitute? How do you know if someone is not right for you? Dating is complicated, frustrating, and sometimes painful. My goal here is to share a few insights about dating that I learned as I walked through the land of eHarmony and Match.com. Hopefully you'll be encouraged and will find something here that's useful to you on your journey.
An Honest Assessment
Several years ago, my wife of 13 years decided to move on, leaving me and our then 3 year old son. So I instantly became a single dad, working and taking care of him by myself. Eventually, I ended up in the dating world. I decided to jump into the land of Match.com and eHarmony and try the online dating thing. I hadn’t done much dating before my previous marriage. I’m fairly introverted, and I had trouble just putting myself out there and asking women out. Still, I decided to buck up and started putting one foot in front of the other.
I learned a lot about myself going down that road. The first lesson was that the divorce had completely screwed me up relationally in several ways. My first dating relationship taught me that I had abandonment issues and my self confidence had taken a nose dive from its earlier status of “abysmal”. The second date was very nice and I liked her a lot. I took her back to her house, gave her a kiss, got in the car, and drove home completely freaked out (about the kiss). When I got home I began to reprocess the events of the evening. I remembered showering, being unable to spray deodorant because my can was empty, realizing I had more in my gym bag in the car, and deciding to spray myself when I got in the car. So I finished getting dressed, walked to the car, and drove to her house.... Ruh roh. I had spent the entire night without deodorant!!! Eeek!!!
So I did what anyone with abandonment issues and low self confidence would do. I sent her an email apologizing profusely, explaining the situation to her and asking her to please give me one more chance. Yes, I did... The next day when I hadn’t heard from her, I called her on the phone and did it all over again on her voicemail. Three days later, she called to say hi having never heard the voicemail or read the email. It was a great conversation! And once again, I explained what happened. We laughed about it (which I was thankful for) and she explained that she hadn't noticed anything that night and had a great time. After the call, I breathed a sigh of relief. Two days later, I received an email saying that she didn’t feel that we were right for each other. I was shocked!!! We had such a great time on the phone! But then it dawned on me that she had finally read the email and heard the voicemail.
It’s important to deal with your issues. Many of us have been negatively affected by events in our past, but our natural tendency is to bury those things and try to move on as if they never happened. Unfortunately, traumatic events in our lives don’t just cause pain. They also send messages to us subconsciously. In my case, there were messages like “you’re not worth keeping”, “you can’t survive on your own”, “women can’t be trusted”, “God can’t be trusted”, and “women will just up and leave any time without warning”. The thought of this poor woman walking away after date #2 conjured up the feelings from the divorce, as if the two events were the same! It produced a very unhealthy response in me and it was that response that caused her to walk away. Leaving our issues untreated can sabotage relationships we try to start, leaving us alone with even deeper wounds. It can also hurt those around us as the pain we’re suppressing finds other outlets. If you need a counselor, get a counselor. At the end of the day, make sure you heal from your wounds. There are some physical problems that don’t heal on their own and require a visit to the doctor. Emotional wounds are the same way.
Buying or Selling
It’s easy to treat the dating process like we’re trying to make a sale. We just want to be accepted, loved, and appreciated, and it doesn’t matter so much who the buyer is. But this ends up being a terrible approach if we’re actually looking for someone to be with long term. What do we do when we’re buying something? We hunt for exactly the right fit for us. When we’re buying relationally, we’re doing our best to avoid relationships with people who are not what we need. Many of us have seen relationships that were incredibly painful to be around. Others of us have been in those relationships and don’t want to go there again. So what can we do to avoid relationships with people who are not right for us? The first step is to say no to the "Last Train Out" syndrome and decide ahead of time that you are worth it and you are not going to settle.
I understand that Initially we want to have a “let’s just have fun and not over-think it” kind of phase. I think this is a natural phase to be in early on. But eventually the time will come where you are both becoming more emotionally invested. So I ask, how emotionally invested do you want to be with someone you may not be able to be with long term? The longer the relationship, the stronger the attachment and the more painful it is to move on. On the flip side, I don’t think we want to be throwing away perfectly good relationships out of fear of the unknown or fear of commitment. We should strive for a balanced approach that is motivated by wisdom and not fear and anxiety.
So the question is: how compatible are the two of you and does it seem reasonable that a long term relationship could work? If you’re currently in the dating world, have you given much thought to what you’re looking for and what you’re desperately trying to avoid? I’m sure there are things that down the road you would consider to be deal-breakers once you’ve bumped into them. If you’re not compatible and the relationship is not going to last, it’s better to find that out as soon as possible and move on. II actually think it’s very important for both people to be buyers. Each person in the relationship should be responsible for determining how comfortable they are and how well “the shoe fits.” Make a list of wants and dealbreakers and actually make an honest assessment about whether or not this relationship is going to work long term. Then encourage them to do that as well. There could be things that make it not a good fit for them that you will never know about unless they tell you. If they don't take responsibility for their part, it not only invites their own future pain but yours as well.
I know deep down we sometimes just get tired of being alone. But being with the wrong person allows emotional energy to be spent where it shouldn’t be and prevents you from being available when the right person does come along. If we are in a place where we would rather be with the wrong person than be alone, I think that’s a red flag that we’re not ready to date. This attitude probably means that we are unable to be happy and whole on our own and that we require someone to sustain us. This kind of codependent relationship is very unhealthy and will probably not end well. The best thing we can do is spend time on our own and learn to be complete in God and within ourselves.
At the end of the day, a breakup is better than a bad marriage that ends in divorce. The important thing is to not internalize negative messages about yourself when breakups occur. When someone walks away, it doesn’t say anything about you or them. It just says something about the two of you together. Eventually, God will bring someone into your life who is right for you. All we can do is trust Him, follow closely, and walk the path before us.