Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ditching my Dread of Dating: How I'm Learning to Not be My Own Worst Enemy

For much of my adult life I've run in circles with a very favorable male-female ratio. In college I was on a track team with three guys for every one girl. A few years after college I enrolled in seminary where I am one of seven girls in a program of 100 guys.

You would think I'd have gotten good at the whole dating thing along the way.

But I didn't.

Instead I got good at hocking loogies, cracking jokes and throwing a frisbee.

It's always been easier for me to be pals with guys. The prospect of anything more has historically gotten me tangled up in my thoughts about our romantic and marriage potential: Do we have similar interests? Are we too similar? How similar is too similar? Why am I so nervous? Is it him? Or is it me? Why am I not nervous anymore? Shouldn't I be? Am I laughing too much? Does he think I'm too intense? Did I remember to floss this morning?

Not surprisingly, right about the time my anxiety and insecurity paralyze me, I get really bad at dating.

My initial solution to my dating ineptitude was to not do it. This worked for years. As time passed, though, I realized it would be pretty hard to jump straight from friendship to marriage, and I wanted to get married—so maybe I should date?

I gave it shot.

And I was still horrible at it. Still stifled by insecurity. Still suffering the paralysis of analysis.

Eventually I met a couple guys who weren't deterred by my dating awkwardness and stuck with me through my initial anxiety and uneasiness. And then one by one, none of the relationships turned into marriage.

Those broken relationships were disappointing and painful, but I learned a lot from them.

I learned about tennis and crossfit, wine and chocolate, showing a man respect, and resolving conflict.

I learned that effective communication is way harder than anyone ever told me, and that words must always be married to actions to mean anything.

Most importantly, those relationships changed me.

They forced me to confront a lot of my fears, needs and baggage. They showed me the darkest parts of my soul, and encouraged me to open myself to the Light of the world who eradicates our fears, satisfies our deepest needs, and carries our baggage for us.

These relationships taught me about Jesus, the Lover of our souls, and gradually prepared me to see him face to face. I can't help but think that the men I dated were also changed for good as a result of our dating relationship.

Last year I broke off my engagement a month before my fiance and I were to be married (read more here and here). It hurt more than anything has ever hurt.

But even in the turbulent wake of the break-up, I rested in my confidence that God's plan all along was to use my relationship with my former fiance to shape each of our souls.

Marriage was not his goal for me last year. Marriage is never his goal for his children. Holiness is. Sometimes the Potter uses marriage as a tool to shape the clay; sometimes singleness is his tool of choice. Either way, he always uses relationships to accomplish his good work in each of us.

My shift in thinking about marriage—not as a goal but as a grace God uses to make us holy—has prompted a shift in the way I view the guys I go on dates with.

I am less prone to anxiously analyze our marriage potential. Instead, I have begun to view "him and me" as people who could help each other on this journey toward heaven, with or without a resulting marriage.

Because this journey is sometimes hard and lonely, and always meaningless without other people to spur us up over the rocky terrain and down into the daunting valleys.

This journey is where we meet God—sometimes in the still quiet, sometimes in the eyes of men and women.

And this journey is where we become like God, often in an intimate huddle with other souls.

This new perspective has changed the way I feel and act around men.

It's made it easier for me to be myself with them outside of frisbee-throwing, joke-cracking situations. I'm more confident to share my story, to let myself be known.

I'm not as distracted by anxious analysis and I can enjoy the things my new male friends have to offer. I find myself hungry to hear their stories, to learn of their "soul adventures," as author Frank Lambauch calls them.

These men have marvelous stories that spotlight the redemptive work of God, and renew my hope that the same God is working redemptively through my life. Their run-ins with God's grace have made many of them wise and intentional, and their input in my life has made it much richer.

© by scj

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