Thursday, April 28, 2016

Dating Debunked

This is the sequel to the blog post Singlehood Debunked. Some people found that blog post depressing. I have only one thing to say to that: "HAHAHAHA." Some people found it encouraging and related to it well, mission accomplished! Now I'm going to talk about dating, because Christians are weird about dating. Now you are thinking, "Yes but, Christians are just weird," and my response would be: "This is true..." Previously just the idea of dating made me cringe with it's awkwardness and vulnerability. Oh wait, nothing has changed. I'm sure there are people out there who aren't awkward on first dates, but I don't know them and have no desire to unless they can teach me their secret, ninja ways. Who are these mysterious people? Where do they live? What do they do? No one knows. But they probably live in those tiny houses the environmentalist in us thinks are cool but only 0.01% of the population can actually live in and maintain their sanity. That's why they like dating. It gets them out of their tiny house.

For many years I wallowed in self-pity over my lack of dates. I developed serious insecurities and was convinced something was wrong with me. Ok so a lot of things are wrong with me, but I mean something that made me undesirable. It didn't matter how much my family or friends loved me, I was convinced the opposite sex was simply repelled by my presence. God saved me from a lot of heartache, but there was a lot of pain along the way and a lot of needless night-time tears, because as everyone knows night-time is when your bedroom becomes a glass box of emotions where insecurities run rampant and logic and reason sit back and laugh... at you. I share this because I know feeling undesirable is a huge struggle for a lot of single women and men, and something dating can do is affirm that you are in fact desirable, that you are just as worthy of love as anyone else, even if it doesn't work out, and that you should not settle for less. For me, dating has only confirmed again and again that insecurities are often untrue, unattractive and unnecessary. So throw them away.

This is why I believe that dating in the right way - and this is the key - is really, really good for us. It is a growing experience and growing can be painful. "Leave me as I am!" I say. "Improve me? Impossible! I'm way too stubborn for that!" I mentioned the book, Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud in my previous blog post and I also mentioned that my mom gave me this book after a previous breakup as if she was cryptically trying to say something. Just what she was trying to say no one will ever know. I'm mentioning this book again because it was incredibly helpful to know where I had gone wrong in my previous relationships and how to deal with future ones. There is one chapter on physical boundaries, but like every Christian-camp kid I have an encyclopedic knowledge of physical boundaries drilled into me from camp sex-talk nights. What I did not know enough about was emotional boundaries and how incredibly important they are, and this I feel is something we are missing in society as a whole. How many abusive relationships could be avoided before Stockholm Syndrome sets in, if women, and men, knew how to set emotional boundaries? If we only knew how to recognize those crucial red flags, so much unnecessary pain could be avoided. However, I still believe that physical boundaries are the number one most important part of a relationship, because whether you like it or not, sex is intrinsically linked to your emotions - to your very soul - and makes all the emotional boundaries that inevitably get crossed once you have already crossed the physical ones, ten times more intense.

This book encourages dating and debunks the belief that many Christians have that dating is a bad thing or something to be avoided. It taught me what characteristics in a date are okay and what are not and how to deal with someone who is has unhealthy boundaries. For example someone who might very well be kind and loving but who lies to get out of things, or someone who is manipulative or self-centred and maybe doesn't even realize it, how to tell that person in a loving way that their behaviour is not okay and that they either need to make some changes or I will have no choice but to humiliate them in public by pantsing them... Um, sorry, I mean, I'll have no choice but to move on. Why? Because I respect myself and the person too much to continue in an unhealthy relationship, because not addressing the issues someone has that are hurting you means not giving them the chance to grow, and because staying in that relationship if they refuse to grow is actually doing that person, and you, a disservice.

However, not being taught about emotional boundaries until now, combined with being a total relationship newb, I got into some deep waters a while ago in some of my (thankfully) short-lived relationships with guys who found it was all too easy to manipulate me. Previous to this I thought I was this smart, strong, independent woman like Erin Brockovich minus the biker man. I was convinced I was pretty much immune to manipulation. Shocker! Being strong in your opinions on free-range eggs and pointing out the idiots who don't wear helmets when they ride their bike does not mean you know a single thing when it comes to relationships. Turns out when you combine an easy-going personality, desperation for love on top of desperation from circumstances (like the constant fear of losing your job, not being able to find a room-mate and chronic fatigue), you are quite, quite easily manipulated by possibly well-meaning men with a lot of momma issues. Stir all this up in a big pot of crazy and you get a ticket to Italy after only a month of dating, plans to move in together despite being against your morals and a terrified family who holds your passport hostage in a desperate attempt to keep you from being murdered - and that's not all! - proceeds to take you to a pretend "going away party" which is actually an emergency confrontation with your entire family, your pastor and his wife. No big deal. It happens to the best of us, right? WRONG! How much of this could have been avoided if I had read Boundaries in Dating? I would like to think a whole lot. Why would I like to think this? Because I hope it can be prevented in others, particularly vulnerable women - which, it turns out, you can be without knowing it. The good news is that those disastrous relationships and that book have now basically made me an expert in emotional boundaries. Wanna know what boundaries of yours are being crossed? Ask Faith! She's experienced them all! So if you are currently dating, or want to be dating, or are married or even if you have any platonic relationships with live people whatsoever (so... basically everyone on the planet except some well-educated nuns and misanthropes) you should read this book.

Let me just go ahead and debunk some of the things I have heard other well-meaning Christians say. I have heard it said that you need to be perfectly content with yourself as a single person before God is going to bring you your future spouse. Bologna, I say! And I don't mind saying it. I will say it again, Bologna! But that's mostly because it's a great word and no one knows how to spell it or what the meat is made of. I don't think God is that predictable or that ungracious: He doesn't wait for us to be perfect before giving us gifts - example, Jesus. God gives good gifts to His children, not His perfect children. They do not exist. They lasted like five minutes in the Garden of Eden with one freaking rule. However it wasn't until I truly grew in my relationship with Christ, devoting time to study His word and spending time with Him in prayer, putting His kingdom first before my own desires, and desiring a relationship with Him more than anything else, that I was no longer consumed by my desire for an earthly companion. But this does not mean this desire went away. It means my priorities changed.

Of course we all know that the more content you are as a single person, the happier you will be as a single person. Imagine that! But that applies to all stages of your life and learning to be truly content is a life-long process. As children we wish we were older, when we get old we wish we were younger, the single wish they were married, the married wish they were single, parents look back on their days without children and just... cry (I'm assuming) and all of us wish we made a little bit more money, and then a little more, and a little more after that. The only answer to this problem is Jesus and your relationship with Him. It is true that you will be more or less attractive to the opposite sex depending on how content you are, but the truth will always come out eventually: we are all desperate for love. Just make sure you hide that desperation for at least the first few dates. If it doesn't go away, maybe hide it until marriage... or you know, forever. (Just saying.) I know from experience that most of that love can only be satisfied by knowing the love of Jesus. But God made us with a desire for romantic love and I do not believe God withholds this from us just because we are not yet as content as He wants us to be on our own. Nowhere in the Bible will you find this (example, all the idiots in the Bible with spouses). There may be other reasons why you are still single: a) because there actually is something wrong with you that you need to work on (awkward), or b) you haven't met the right person, or c) for some reason being single is either for your benefit or for God's glory. But if you do meet the right person, it will always be at the right time, because God's timing is perfect. And yes God can use on-line dating. On-line dating is not somehow inexplicably exempt from God's control.

In my experience, some things in life are best learned as a single person, some things are best, and possibly, only, learned in a relationship. But be sure of this: God will use whatever circumstance you are in to help you grow. And be even more sure of this: whatever circumstance you are in, it is part of God's plan for your imperfect, short, little life that is so incomprehensibly important to Him. Because He made you and loves you. You will, however, never be perfect. So if you are waiting to be perfect or to have a perfect relationship with God before you start dating, I have some bad news for you, according to Jesus there is no marriage in heaven...

I have heard from Christians that they will only date someone if they intend to marry that person. It's just funny, 'cause, you know, the point of dating is to find out if that's the person you want to marry. If you don't date you will probably end up marrying an out-of-work hippy who thinks patchouli oil is an acceptable deodorant replacement because you didn't date anyone else in order to figure out what you want in the first place. Nobody will ever be perfect, but it is true that the person you choose to marry almost exclusively determines the happiness quota for your entire life. So choose wisely my friend.

Finally, I have heard it said that you should be friends first before dating someone. Unfortunately friends first often just means super-duper confusing first and disappointing second. Whereas, if you understand that the purpose of dating is simply to get to know someone to see if you want to be in a relationship with them, the intentions are so much clearer. There is this thing with Christians called a DTR talk. DTR means "Define the Relationship" and it is encouraged that friends of the opposite sex make their intentions clear. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, it's a really good thing, but if people would just do what they used to do twenty years ago and go on a date, then... you wouldn't need to have this conversation. Girls wouldn't sit at home pining away, thinking, "I wonder if he likes me." Instead their really smart-but-harsh friends could just smack them across the face and say, "No you idiot, or else he would have asked you on a date." It's that simple. And if people went on more dates then maybe emotional boundaries would be more talked about. We wouldn't be such relationship babies, thrown into these intense relationships where suddenly everything seems like a life or death situation: "If I say no to him, he'll die!" or "If she doesn't hear me say I love you every 24 hours she'll go into anaphylactic shock!"

Unless there are some extenuating circumstances, if you are interested in the person then ask them out. And start changing the idea that dating someone instantly locks you in on a terrifying roller-coaster of impending doom, *ahem,* I mean marriage. Go on dates and start figuring out what you want in a spouse; you know, that person you're supposed to spend the rest of your life with. Take it slow. Don't settle. Have high standards and let yourself figure out which standards aren't actually important after all (usually ones involving appearances) and which ones are (usually ones involving personality and beliefs). Demand high standards from the person you're dating, and if they're good standards, heck, try to live up to them! But most importantly set boundaries and stick to them. Don't let yourself be manipulated - girls, and guys, need to learn how to say no to a lot more than just sex. And for goodness sakes, don't be unequally yoked! Find someone who believes the same life-changing and life-giving things you do. Dating has confirmed for me again and again that I would never be satisfied in a relationship with a man who has not made Jesus number one in his life. This goes for anything that is important and life-changing for you. Dating someone who does not believe the life-changing things that you do is possible, but God has told us not to be unequally yoked for a reason: because it is for our benefit. Just like saving yourself for marriage is. Just like staying away from sin is. Just like being close to Jesus is.

If you feel like you have things you need to work on first before being in a relationship, then go work on yourself, but never, ever let someone you are dating make you feel like you are too much or too little. God made you and you are just enough. Unless of course, you're referring to those particular faults that we all have and constantly need to work on - like being so lazy you will watch the same horrible channel on TV rather than try and find the remote. The beauty of it is, dating will help you learn these things about yourself - the good and the bad - and you will grow and it will be painful, and yes it may end in heartache, but it will be wonderful too.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Cog-mitive Ther-py" or Keepin' It Real

My last blog post didn't get the reception I wanted. First of all, nobody read it (other than my mom). Second of all, those who did read it (my mom) said they were concerned because my last few blog posts make me sound depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic, instead of revealing my positive, loving, bubbly, amazing, wonderful, fantastic personality. Ahem, sorry, I got a little carried away there. Well mom, I have some unfortunate news for you... I AM depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic. I am also positive, loving and bubbly (we'll stop there). Enter the world of a happy depressive. What a dichotomy I am! Just imagine the war going on in my personality every day, a fierce battle of good versus evil! It goes something like this, "Remember, just be positive." And then, "But I don't wanna!" It's really sophisticated. The problem is, what I choose to write about is usually issues I am dealing with that I know other people are too, in the hopes that together we don't feel so alone. It often requires me to dig deep into my depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic bucket of sorrows.

So as a nice change, I'm going to try writing about happy things only...

Puppies are nice. I like them. They lick me and I don't mind. Other people are like, "Hey, stop licking me, that's gross!" but I'm like, "Hey, thanks! That's a little bit gross but mostly cute and I like it." So that's nice. Puppies will love you even if you feel unlovable. Puppies were actually the first hippies and started the hippy movement in the 60's but they are so under-represented that they never got the credit they deserve.

Kittens are also nice... sometimes. But they have these little claws that are like razor-needle-scissors and they won't hesitate to use them no matter how much you love them. They are not very particular in who they use them on either (in whom they use them on? On whom they use them on? Who they use what on? Who's using what, now? How? Why? Let's move on). They will scratch your eyes out if they want. But don't let it hurt your feelings because they don't mean it, even if you know they secretly laugh behind your back about it.

Also, I love babies. My brother had one, which was really nice of him, cause of how much he knows I love babies. His name is Ewan, like "you-won" (which we did), not like "E-won" which is cool because it sounds like something from Star Wars, but unfortunately not his name. God made Ewan extra-special cute (I'm not kidding, he is extra-special cute) just to make me happy because He knows I can get depressed, lonely and slightly pathetic sometimes. So gee, thanks. I like him. I like him a lot. All I want to do is visit him so I can squish him and be as physically close to him as I possibly can. Some day my nephew is going to sing to me, "Don't stand so, don't stand so, don't stand so close to me," but in the mean time he can't talk. He can't even get away. He physically isn't even capable of crawling himself to safety. He is mine, all mine, MWAHAHAHAHA! Actually he's my brother and sister-in-law's, but you get the idea. I'm quite attached. Being an aunt is amazing because you can finally kiss a baby as much as you want without feeling like any minute now the mom is going to charge you with molesting their child.

I also like ice-cream but I'm allergic. I found out I'm even allergic to goat's milk ice-cream, so that little victory of finding a delicious alternative to real ice-cream died about as quickly as a fading star AKA a fiery ball of gas (like me when I eat it). Turns out I'm not lactose-intolerant to cow's milk (the allergy I have to dairy is like a hay fever allergy), instead I'm lactose-intolerant to goat's milk. It's like when I found out at an early age that I'm not just allergic to the milk in chocolate - my favourite food on the planet (is chocolate a food? Or is candy a separate category? What if the chocolate has almonds in it? Then does it count? So many questions...) - I'm also allergic to the very cocoa itself. And wheat. And potatoes. And rice. I would die in Italy, Ireland and China. Some people might think God hates me... Oh gosh I never thought about it that way...

This happy-writing thing isn't working.

You see, I could write about only happy things, but writing about only happy things gets boring after a while and usually doesn't do a lot of good. I mean, if you really want me to, I could write about my nephew for a very, very long time. For instance, he likes to growl like a little bear, all the time, and sometimes, if you're lucky, he makes pterodactyl sounds which is just really cool of him, also really smart considering he's only seven months old. Cause, like, how does he even know what a pterodactyl sounds like? I mean sure, nobody does, cause they're prehistoric creatures and all, but the point is he is pretty much a paleontologist. He even flaps his chubby little arms around a lot like he is preparing to fly, and I just don't have the heart to break it to him yet that this will never happen. He will never fly. That kind of news can really mess up a kid's dreams of being a pterodactyl. Also, the spelling.

But I suppose happy things do make us feel better, and positive thinking is incredibly important to making positive changes. It's called Cognitive Therapy, say it with me now, "Cog-mitive Ther-py," and my mom loves to tell me about it. Maybe, for once I should listen to her. She is usually right. Someone with depression will automatically think negative thoughts and their view of the world can become so distorted that they don't even recognize the truth when it stares them in the face. It can affect their very memories, so that a depressed person remembers events differently - as negatively impacting them even if it was them who negatively impacted others. Scary. But there is a solution! Cognitive Therapy was created by a woman named Judith Beck. She said, "It's not the power of positive thinking. It's the power of realistic thinking. People find that when they think more realistically, they usually feel better." And let's face it, nobody wants to be around a negative person. We all have these people in our lives and we try hard to avoid them. It goes like this:

Negative Nancy: "Ugh, I had such a bad day. Everyone was so annoying at work. One lady told me all about her daughter's conjunctivitis, and I'm like shut up. So wanna hang out?"
Positive Pearl: "Sorry I'm actually kind of busy."
Nancy: "Of course you are, you're always busy! Nobody takes the time to do real things anymore, probably because they're addicted to their phones. I can't stand people who are always on their phones! I mean get a life!"
Pearl: "Yeah, I hear you. Maybe Mediocre Melissa is free. She's a nice girl."
Nancy: "Seriously? She's the worst. Oh man even talking about her gave me a headache. Do you have Tylenol?"
Pearl: "Sorry no."
Nancy: "Ugh, of course not. I think I'm getting a cold. It's probably a virus. It's probably conjunctivitis from that lady's daughter. She probably passed it on to me as the spit particles from her annoying conversation floated on the air particles to my mouth. Ew. Gross. I hate air particles. I hate breathing other people's air. Especially on buses. That's why I will never take the bus. My mom could be dying and I would not even take the bus to go see her in the hospital. So what are you doing this weekend?"
Pearl: "Oh... things. You know. Maybe go for a run."
Nancy: "I HATE running. I don't understand people who exercise."
Pearl: "Haha... right. So what about you?"
Nancy: "Let me just check the schedule on my phone. Oh look, nothing. I'll probably just sit on the couch and watch TV by myself because I have no friends. Everyone's too busy for me."
Pearl: "Haha... well, it's been great but... My cat... is... calling me."


And I certainly do not want to be one of those people. But being positive in a legitimately negative situation is just plain obnoxious. It usually goes like this:

Normal Norman: "I have cancer."
Obnoxiously Positive Olivia: "Don't say that! You need to think positively! You are fighting cancer."
NN: "Ok, I'm fighting cancer. I've been meaning to tell you but didn't want to upset you."
OPO: "I'm really sorry but I'm so proud of you for not giving in to it. You know there are lot of naturopathic-herbalistic-hippyistic remedies I can send you. Like asparagus. Just, like, eat five pounds of asparagus a day and your body doesn't know what to do with all this asparagus so it like poops out the cancer cells with the asparagus. It's science. The only downside is you have green poop."
NN: "Can't wait to try that, thanks."
OPO: "Have you tried meditation? Maybe you can think the cancer away."
NN: "I don't think so."
OPO: "See, there's your problem right there."
NN: "Also, my dog died."
OPO: "Maybe you should have fed him more asparagus."
NN: "I hate you. Our friendship is over."
OPO: "That's just the cancer talking."

You don't want to know what Norman said next.

I like that Cognitive Therapy isn't just about being positive, it's about changing your thoughts from negative to realistic, which can be hard to do. Negative thinking usually has a grain of truth in it, but it's exaggerated to the point where the problem seems overwhelming and unsolvable, and instead of working on it, you give up. If you look at something realistically, the problem becomes manageable, whereas if you only think of it positively, you ignore the problem altogether. They've done studies and found cognitive therapy doesn't just help people with situational depression, it can actually work as well as antidepressants, even in severe cases. I would say I was sceptical of these findings, but that would seem negative.

You see children, it is important to be real, not just positive. So here I am, keepin' it real. And life is hard - something I wanted to shout at the dude in front of me in the line-up at Rock the Shores as he said, "Why do people complain so much and say life is so hard. Life is great!" My guess is he still lives at home, his mom still does his laundry, he doesn't have depression, his best friend Norman isn't dying of cancer and he isn't living in poverty, but I could be wrong. Yet as hard as life is, you can't take it too seriously or it gets a big ego and starts sending you lemons, like anybody was ever happy to receive lemons. People say, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," as if there were any other options. You can't get a job with lemons, unless your job is making or selling lemonade, which is not very profitable. You could maybe make lemon squares, but you need other ingredients so let's just hope life throws you some flour and baking powder too. You could try trading lemons for other things, like Pokemon cards, but unless your friend has scurvy he will probably be like, "Why would I ever want lemons?" and he might punch you in the face so be careful. Those are about your only options when it comes to lemons... This has been a great conversation. Let's keep it real again sometime.

Faith'sbook, out.