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.