This isn't my typical post, and I definitely thought long and hard before hitting "publish" on this one. Full disclosure, this post has been sitting in my draft box for close to six months. In many ways, I don’t feel qualified to write a blog post about dating. I come from a broken home. I’ve only been in a serious relationship for a little over a year, and I’ve made countless mistakes along the way. I have more than a handful of character flaws that have reared their ugly heads time and again. Everything from a quick temper and selfishness to jealousy and impatience. So I don’t want it to seem like I’m being preachy or taking for granted where I’ve come from to get to this point. Relationships are hard work. I’ve experienced some of my lowest lows in the past year but also some of my highest highs, and the things I have learned about myself and the growth I have experienced while dating have been beyond anything I could have ever imagined or predicted.
As I was scrolling through Pinterest the other day, I saw a quote that said,
“I remember the times I prayed for the things I have today.”
And it just struck me right then and there. How often is my life just normal to me now when it wasn't always the way it is now. There was a time before my boyfriend. I had a life that was a world apart from him, a world where I didn't even know of his existence on this planet. Weird. And when I was single, I was pretty happy for the most part. I’ve been a pretty independent person my entire life, and sometimes even a little hesitant to let my guard down, especially when it came to guys. But still there was always a desire within me for a relationship. And while I was a happy, pretty fulfilled person, for the longest time, that desire mattered a great deal to me. In some parts of my life that desire consumed me but in different ways throughout different seasons. There would be times of longing where I looked around and saw others happy and wanted that same happiness. There would be times of crushing on guys from afar and romanticizing what wasn't actual reality. There would be times of bitterness where I questioned my path and why it hadn’t worked out for me yet. There would be times of impatience where I tried to approach guys as just a means to an end, looking at every guy as a potential relationship instead of recognizing them for the actual person they were. Then there was disbelief, an almost cynicism that there wasn’t a godly guy left out there that was still single and valued the same things I did but also didn’t have any weird quirks or heavy baggage weighing from his past. Maybe you're like me.
People would tell me, "it will happen when you're not looking," or "God will bring someone along in His timing, I'm certain of it," balanced by the constant prodding of various family and friends on the other end of the spectrum with the classic "are you dating yet?" and "you know you need to put yourself out there for the guys." I was perfectly happy, and then it would just come in waves. I would feel like I was doing something wrong, that I needed to change or be something I wasn't because I was falling behind. Then came the feelings of being not pretty enough, not flirty enough, not aggressive enough, not wild enough. It all became about ME. And that's why it wasn't working. If my relationship over the past year has taught me anything, it's that it's not about me, it never has been. And yet it has everything to do with me, but not in the way I thought. A relationship was never meant to be about pleasing myself. It was always about letting God cultivate my soul through a relationship to become more like His Son. Its purpose was meant to draw out myself in ways I had never seen before and to teach me lessons about where I needed some work. The purpose was the same as every single other thing in my life: refining me for God. And if that's how I thought about it when I was single, I don't think I would have worried about being behind or feeling enough as much because the wait was all part of the process. There was never a time where I was in some weird void. I was always in a stage of a part of the relationship. What I'm getting at is that who I was becoming as a person in my singleness had every bit to do with who I would be in a relationship, the kind of person I would draw to myself once I did actually date seriously, and how I would eventually impact that person with the way I treated him. The importance of that period of "waiting" which really wasn't waiting as much as it was cultivating was monumental.
Looking back on that season of my life, it was so worth the wait and the work. Not settling for less than what God wants is something I hope I will never regret, no matter how long it takes, even if the person I'm with now isn't the final destination for me. I just want to say before I dive in, take heart, because I'm confident if God's given you this desire, He will make it happen. And that's the attitude I had started resigning myself to about one year and four months ago. It all started when I was having a conversation with my dad back in November of 2016. We were catching up, and he asked if there were any guys on the horizon. I responded in the negative, but this time I didn't feel let down, I remember telling my dad something to the effect of, "I have that desire to be married, but I'm okay right now. For the first time in my life, I'm just confidently expecting God to make it happen, but I'm not letting it consume me, and I'm not frantically looking." One month later (down to the exact day), I met my boyfriend. God's sense of humor gets me every time. And it was almost as if God was waiting for me to come to that point. I needed to learn that lesson before I could move on. Only then had I reached the next level of the game, and could unlock new power-ups.
Feelings < Choices
Relationships feel good. Done the right way, they can literally be so life-giving, it's insane. So much of your happiness can rise (and fall) on the shoulders of one person, and that's amazing and terrifying all at the same time. It's so easy to let that dictate your mood, but the problem with feelings is that they can be deceiving, and they rarely last in the same form over a long period of time. Cultivating a friendship through deliberate choices was the best thing we did even if I was impatient at some points along the way. Slow and steady truly does win the race. Here's the thing about waiting. A lot of us feel the strain of it intensely when we aren't dating. We think that once we find "that person", we won't have to wait anymore. But waiting doesn't just magically stop once you start dating. We're always waiting. At the beginning of the relationship, I waited impatiently for the DTR or the "I Like You" talk or when he would ask me to be his girlfriend. Now my waiting looks a little different. My eyes are turned more toward future stability, the prospect of marriage, waiting for the day long-distance is no longer a thing. And it is so easy for me to fall back into those same traps I experienced while single. When will it happen? Am I measuring up? Are we behind? It's still hard to focus on cultivation rather than empty waiting and biding the time. Going with emotion is easy, letting the wind take you wherever it wants is simple, effortless. But grounding ourselves firmly with two feet planted walking deliberately step-by-step through the wind blowing in the opposite direction is a little trickier. Actually it's infinitely more difficult. And you're bound to get knocked down, pushed back a few feet, and even confused as to why you're still walking against the wind when it'd be easier to just float with it. Cultivation takes some walking against the wind.
Embrace the Lows
I had a view, like I'm sure many of us do that relationships move in a linear fashion. I had an idea, like many other areas of my life, that if I worked hard enough, I could make anything work the way I wanted it to work. That relationships should continue in a steady upward climb until you get married, or if that upward climb isn't happening the way it should, you break up. But it isn't so black and white. We crave the clear cut lines, we want to know if something will work out before we invest a lot into it. This goes for homework, cooking, exercising, and practically anything else we do in life. We like to have a certain amount of certainty, and the stakes are even higher when it comes to placing your heart in someone else's hands for safe-keeping. We want to know we're safe and that we can trust in what we're doing. But here's what I know now. Relationships look a lot more like this:
That's why they say don't rush. I mean what if you got married at that first dot? You'd be in for a rude awakening wouldn't you! But what if you broke up at that second dot? Well, you might have missed out on an amazing relationship that just required some work and perseverance. And contrary to what we want to believe inside our souls, this graph is normal. In fact, from what I've read, if the above graph doesn't ring a bell with your relationship (maybe not so dramatic in highs and lows, but you get the general idea), you should be extra cautious. Maybe that freaks you out, but for me, learning that was a comfort! Not every low was a crisis. Yeah, the hard times suck, yeah doubts creep in every now and again, but that is why you date. It's not an unconditional commitment. You can back out anytime, and you want to have these ups and downs, especially the downs, now when you can sort through them without the added burden of stressing to make a marriage work or feeling trapped after discovering something you didn't "sign up for" because it never came up when you were dating. Lows are great! They show you the true core of your relationship and whether or not it has the strength to withstand difficulty, both of which are super important things if you're planning on being with this person for life. On the same token, grace is more important than perfection. Oftentimes the desire for perfection stems from a fear of insecurity. Perfection is worry-free, predictable, linear in most respects. It is easily measurable with perfect straight lines, but insisting on perfection denies the work Jesus did on the cross to redeem our failures and mistakes and turn them into something beautiful. The lows definitely give richer meaning to the highs that follow. Progress isn't linear.
In church last month, we had a sermon about apathy. Our pastor put up a chart on the screen that categorized our life activities into three categories: Good, Bad, and It Depends.
The point he was trying to make was that we have a pretty easy time categorizing good and bad things. We obviously don't condone murder, but we do typically encourage things like being a good parent or citizen, for example. However, we place a lot of emphasis on just steering clear from the bad that we forget about the middle category. We think neutral things like social media consumption, television and internet usage, eating habits, etc. are pretty neutral, but in actuality we should approach it from an "it depends" perspective. Each situation is different, and in order to determine whether something is good or bad is subjective based on our personal motivations and specific circumstances. Those things could be bad given the right context or consumption pattern.
I think we often do the same in relationships. We think about what we for sure want and what we for sure don't want when looking for someone to date. (Which is necessary and helpful!) Yet we fail to really consider the gray areas. How do they spend their time? What do they enjoy doing? How often do they look at Instagram/play video games/watch TV? How do they fill their free time? Sounds silly, but neglecting to think about that middle category leads us onto one of two paths. Either we excuse behavior we wouldn't normally accept because that person is "pretty good" in other more black and white aspects of their life and we downplay gray areas we really shouldn't be ignoring, or we strictly adhere to our set way of thinking about what our ideal person should look, act, and be like that we lose sight of giving grace to others for doing things a little bit differently than we do or lacking to make room for inevitable human mistake.
Either extreme isn't helpful. Just because someone is "good" doesn't mean they are good for you or even that they're on the right track spiritually. Conversely, just because someone may have done "bad" in the past or makes mistakes in the present does not mean they are bad or that they haven't experienced growth since then or currently. (Obviously prayer, common sense judgment, and advice from multiple wise friends and counselors is essential in determining whether or not the person is truly suitable to be pursued in light of the circumstances.) Look at the gray. Observe the areas that aren't so black and white to determine their true character because these are the areas that don't always have an easy "right" answer. You'll learn a lot about them by how they act in those areas because a lot of life is lived in the gray.
Need isn't a bad word
Many of us I'm sure have cringed at a couple of star-crossed, infatuated lovers who profess how much they need the other person or can't live without them. If you're anything like me, there would always be a cynical bone in my body that would think, "Wow, that's kind of presumptuous of them. What if they broke up? I mean they are an individual person. That's silly. They don't need anyone." And then when people like that do break up, you wonder how could they have been so wrong about their feelings? Their words start losing value. They seemed so sure, and then months, weeks, or even days later, those emotions seemed to disappear into thin air. And then you continue to think (because thinking to yourself is fun), "I don't need to do that. I don't need to need anyone. That's just unhealthy."
We associate need with weakness. And words have also cheapened our view of need in a very real way. But, here's what I think. Need is the single greatest quality to look for in another human, romantic relationship or otherwise. Find yourself a guy/girl that recognizes their need... for something bigger, for God, for others, for love, their need for authority, discipline, perseverance, and find someone who recognizes their need for you. Need is a true sign of humility. And the humble person finds great favor with God. No, I'm not saying an unhealthy type of child-like need for you to coddle them or someone that just keeps you around to make themselves feel better and tries to fill every void in their life with you and you alone, but a person who recognizes their zealous and healthy pursuit of you as filling a God-ordained need that can only be met in a satisfying and committed relationship with the opposite sex. (And I'm not saying all of us will get married, but it is in God's will for most). And not only that but also someone who is in tune with giving to meet your needs. That's the sign of true love. They've got your back. My uncle explained it to me this way. Imagine two sticks propped up against one another. Lean too much, and if one stick falls, the other does too, but lean just enough on the other, and you still stand your ground and can pick up the pieces if need be.
In the first scenario, the focus is inward, into the relationship itself. In the second, the relationship is focused upward, on the Lord with closeness to each other as a result of the focus on God. But the key here is that need isn't a bad word. You do need someone else for a relationship to work, and dependency is something that you can get better at and need to cultivate for any real transparency and vulnerability to ever take place.
Highlight Reels Mean Little
Just a quick note, but an important one. We all know the couple that seemed hot and super into each other all over Instagram one minute and broken up the next. That being said, take social media with a grain of salt. Just because someone has a cute cuddly picture on their feed does not mean that everything in their relationship is perfect. In fact, the opposite may very well be the case. You never know what's going on in the inner lives of people, so the comparison game is never healthy. In the end, it really does not matter how adorable your pictures and captions are if your relationship is in shambles. If your relationship is going well, you'll probably be out there actually investing in it too, not just posting about it. Avoid comparison at all costs.
It seems this post was a lot more of a jumbled compilation of my thoughts rather than a coherent multi-point applicable post, but if you're curious about reading more on dating (even if you're not currently in a relationship it's seriously never too early to start!), I'll include my list of books I've either read or bought and hope to read soon on dating, marriage, and relationships:
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
Psalm 145:15-16 (ESV)
I love travel and adventure. I love seeing things from new perspectives. I love to find good food in exciting places. And I love making moments last for as long as possible.
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