Wake Up, Singles

As the title suggests, this post is about how to endure against the tilt-a-whirl of the Christian dating scene. It was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend, who voiced her frustrations stemming from her latest encounter with the opposite sex. Our discussion made me realize that her story and this topic is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s quite common in the Christian circle. So, I’m writing this partially to appease her.

But I’m also writing this because I haven’t been good at this romance thing either. This post is, in a weird way, a pep talk to myself to risk and to dare more in the dating realm. So, take from these words what you can. After all, I’m no expert on the subject, and I speak mainly from my own experience.

(There, that’s my full disclosure.)

Frankly, Christians need to be more open towards getting to know the opposite sex. I think guys shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out to coffee if they want to know them better, and girls should be more willing to accept dates–even if his hair is shaggy or he acts a little awkward sometimes.

I say this knowing full well that I’ve been guilty of not practicing what I’ve preached. After a couple failed relationships and several false starts, I was hesitant to dive deep into the dating pool. In my experiences, it seemed as though girls weren’t willing to explore it further or I lost interest and ended up hurting them. Nothing in-between, nothing steady. I thought I was no good at it. I almost kissed dating goodbye.

What ended up happening was that I started armchair dating. If finding a mate is like looking to buy a house, then I was effectively camping outside different properties wondering, “What’s behind the door?” I was trying to figure out if I wanted to buy a house without looking inside. I was imagining who she was or how she should be without really exploring or learning about her in person. I began to sit back and wait until I thought I had come across someone who had that perfect combination of beauty, personality, humor, spirituality, intelligence, vision, direction, motivation and passion (I’ll admit, my standards are a bit high). In my mind, she would come as a package, ready and open for someone like me to possess and there’d be no working at it. And she’d also see what an amazing catch I was (if truth hurts, there’s always delusion). So I waited, and waited. As you can imagine, no one came around.

A couple of my friends had to wake me up. They showed me that I was subtly maneuvering to control all my variables, that I was trying to make clean and orderly a process that is inherently messy. I had to come to understand and accept that there are inherent risks involved in dating. I was putting myself out there to possibly get hurt or disappointed. But so are those who agreed to date me. I cannot do their job for them–to guard their heart if they aren’t willing to protect it themselves–nor could I guarantee myself a painless, rejection-free process. But this is what it means to date in the real. The only other option was to remain in the realm of safe, imagined hypotheticals. To quote C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”

So readers, here’s the application. I encourage you to be more open to knowing the opposite sex. This isn’t about lowering your standards (although some of you might need to do that), it’s about lowering your barrier of entry. Sometimes we set the bar so high that no real person would ever reach it. I’m not saying you should settle. Don’t settle. But just recognize that a lot of what you’re looking for in another person cannot be found in one interaction or on a first date. You need to allow yourself room for things to develop. Be patient.

Also, I should add that the process isn’t as important as the person. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for dates or you’re looking to be arranged. Whatever you do, just be intentional and treat others with respect. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll both know, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

But don’t live in the clouds. This is not where spouses are found, nor where the deep roots of relational knowing are developed. Be willing to attend the open house. Knock. Get inside. See for yourself.

Best wishes to you in your journey of risk and vulnerability, and God willing, love.

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it’s not me…

it’s you.

it’s the fact that you will never be pretty enough. even if you are a model. because i will always find someone with a nicer smile or better skin or more defined cheekbones.

or smart enough. there she is with more knowledge, more understanding, more student loans. she can take the conversation to new depths while your feet are still planted on the shore.

and i like the way this other girl tosses her hair and does her makeup and laughs at my jokes. you don’t always laugh at my jokes. by the way, she happens to bake better snicker doodles, too. (the trick is to add more butter.)

i will come across someone who’s more patient, more kind, more understanding. who knows, maybe we would even have better chemistry. and babies.

all these other girls get me. they get me. why can’t you?

because it’s not like i ever get awkward or lose my train of thought or fumble around for clever lines. i never lose my temper or get out of line or think inappropriate things whether you are or aren’t in the room.

i don’t try to mask my insecurities with nice clothes or smart remarks. i never worry about my money or how i’m going to provide for a family or where i’ll end up in three years. i always obey the bible perfectly and follow through on my every word and never talk bad about others.

no, it’s not me, really. i’m perfect. isn’t it obvious?

Love the Broken Record

Clementine: Joel, I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to make them alive, but I’m just a f-cked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.
Joel: I remember that speech really well.
Clementine: I had you pegged, didn’t I?
Joel: You had the whole human race pegged.
Clementine: Probably.
Joel: I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.

I write about the ideals of love often in my blog. You read through enough of my entries and perhaps you get to thinking that I believe love is perfect. That love goes without struggle. That love is the answer.

Well, I am here to make some things clear.

I understand that this sort of love is not reality. I realize that for many of us, our idea of love has been soured and tainted from previous experiences. For some of us, it is as much about letting go of our past as it is about looking to lay hold of our future. We cannot imagine what a good love story is because we’ve only experienced tragedy in our vain attempts.

What pierces us so much, a movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–in particular, this exchange between Joel and Clementine–is that it captures the grounding reality of love. It is the reminder that romance is every bit as bitter as it is sweet. It knows by touch that all roses come with sharp, painful thorns. It warns us about being cautious even as we look for that one in six billion.

Love hurts. I don’t think there is any other way to put it.

For those of us who’ve been through this sort of hell, we know this. We’ve been vulnerable before. We’ve entrusted our hearts to another, only to have it dashed and broken into a thousand little pieces. We’ve been lied to, mistreated, and abandoned without reason. When we experience heartbreak, there is that part of us that shuts up, that refrains from allowing ourselves to ever be susceptible again. Instead, we resort to the very dregs of cynicism, a jaded perception that love isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and isn’t worth our time or effort.

I had a long conversation with a good friend who shared some of her cynicism. She is a couple years into her recovery after a long relationship that ended in heartbreak. She says she’s ready for marriage, but not necessarily for a relationship. She wants something that is perhaps convenient, steady, comfortable. How exhausting it is to have to, in a sense, start all over. And what if that fails again? There are no guarantees in love. I get it, I’ve been through it before.

The paradox of love could not be captured more powerfully than in the movie’s exchange. Clementine reminds him that she is not an ideal. She is not the perfect answer for a man. Joel knows this. Yet, in a way he cannot help but long for her, an ineffable something within that hopes beyond all reason that she can cure him.

What many of us fail to understand is that love is not complete. What I mean by that is, love from another human being can never truly fulfill us. It won’t make us happy because people are imperfect. It is impossible to demand from an imperfect person something that will make you perfectly happy. Simple logic. Love, in this sense, will always be lacking.

Love also demands sacrifice, patience, devotion and self-denial. Those are hard words. Take those words individually and I bet you think more of discipline than love. But I would dare to argue that love is every bit as much science and math as it is free-verse poetry.

Yet, love rocks. Love makes you feel things, do things, say things that don’t always make sense. Joel hoped she could save him because that’s what love makes you do.

All this to say: love is neither for the cynics nor the idealists. Love is for those who want to learn what it means to risk, hurt, and die to self for something greater. It is a weapon that can bring mass destruction; it is also the fuel that could drive one to greater heights of understanding and appreciation.

There just needs to be a balance. There is a rightful place onstage for love, but it does not sit on the pedestal. It is not God. It is hard, it can hurt, but it hopes. And it is certainly something worth fighting for.

Dating is Like a Zoo

My best friend Peter rolled by my place last night. He strolled in with his fancy button-up and meticulously styled hair, leaving an exotic trail of cologne with every step he took. How well he was put together was often an indication of whether girls were involved earlier in the evening. That evening, he left no doubt.

He stopped by to measure the trunk space of my dad’s 4-Runner. He had recently set his sights on a new hardtop cover for his white S2k, and he was in need of a car big enough to carry the piece from one place to another. Not wanting to add precious miles to his lovely S2k, he was intent on borrowing my dad’s car. If all else failed, he was even willing to rent a minivan–just anything but add precious miles to his lovely S2k.

Peter lined his measuring tape closely from one side of the trunk to the other, down to the exact centimeter. That was him–always detailed, very exact. “It’s just who I am,” he would say. “That’s how God wired me.” We determined that the fit was possible, though it would be a tight squeeze. Peter said he would return home to research some more; for now, it had settled the matter.

As we sat at the edge, legs dangling from the trunk, we started to talk about life. Though it is hard for most men, it is not unusual for him to bear his soul. Peter was that sort of fish where you’d throw in your hook and he’d bring down your boat. Whether it meant life or death, he was never afraid to bite. The thing with Peter is, you never know how you feel about yourself when he is talking. Sometimes, it can be like reading a deep novel, discovering something amazing; other times I feel like I’m the only sane person in the room. Because of his early life struggles and experiences, he understands things about life that most people his age do not. In a sense, he is a man before his time. But that is who he is–extremely passionate, intelligent, unorthodox, and at times hard to comprehend. Either brilliant or insane.

As we sat there in the trunk, I couldn’t help but feel a bit awkward. Being shirtless didn’t help. We talked for a good half hour before heading back inside. We naturally progressed onto the topic of women and relationships. We were both poor shots in this department–he couldn’t catch ’em and I couldn’t keep ’em. Eventually, I relayed to him my fear of marrying wrong and one day waking up to discover that she has changed completely. Peter paused for a beat.

“You know, dating is like a zoo,” he said.

Like a zoo? I gave him my usual what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about glance before he continued.

“When you go to the zoo, you see a lot of animals, right? Polar bears, penguins, whatever. They act all nice, cute, cuddly…because they are tamed. But these animals aren’t from there. They were captured from the wild, right? They were raised in their natural habitats before they were brought in and trained to act a certain way. That’s like dating. You are taking two people from their natural elements and you’re telling them to act a certain way to attract the opposite sex. But once they are married, once they are comfortable, they revert to their habits, to who they really are. Sure, some of that is ugly, even scary. Penguins can be very mean out in the wild. Oh–but when they love, they love.

I thought about it briefly; I thought I was onto something brilliant. “So…you’re talking about penguin sex?” Peter gave me the you-idiot face.

“No, listen. Have you ever seen March of the Penguins?” I nodded, faintly recalling Morgan Freeman’s smooth narration as black-coated animals froze their tails off. “You know how the Mom leaves while the Dad is caring for the egg? The penguins return after being months apart, and they try to find each other. In the mass of thousands, they call out to each other. The Mom and Dad can locate the voice of the other because it’s unique. They know each other specially, and he knows she’s the one.”

“But I thought I had found the one,” I said.

“Did you love her like Christ loved the church?”

Damn, if you put it that way … I guess we both knew the answer.

“That’s love. With all her faults. You see them, but your love is willing to cover them. Of course, there will be changes–we all change. But God will protect you two from the poachers,” he paused. “When you see her, when you connect with her, when you know her–you’ll know it.”

It was well into the early morning. Before he left, Peter thanked me for listening to his “crazy stories, his crazy life.” But none of it seemed crazy at all. Love, for all its whims and woes, finally started to make sense.

There are nights when I struggle to make sense of it all. On nights like these, God likes to deliver bricks. He’s saying, build on what you know.