Dating: Wonderful + Awful + Everything in Between

11:10 AM

Occasionally, I lose sympathy for whiny single girls. I'm x-teen-years-old and I still don't have a boyfriend! Good. Enjoy it. Enjoy that, ladies. Because I'm 86% sure you'll get one. And when you do, you'll miss your single years. Badly.

I say that because dating is awful. It's wonderful, and it's awful. It's both at the same time. When girls ask me, a veteran of nineteen months, what it's like to date, I want to give two opposite reactions: IT'S SO FREAKIN' HARD. DON'T DO IT. AND It's literally the best thing ever. The best thing. Do it.

Nobody really writes about this awful/wonderful dynamic in dating. I just assumed it was all rainbows and butterflies -- the storm clouds meant something was abnormal about my relationship. (Awful Thing #1: Unnecessary, unceasing stress about whether you should be stressed about your relationship.) I spent most of the rainbow-and-butterflies part of getting to know my boyfriend freaking out over whether God would punish me for a wrong dating decision. Was this a sign we should break up? Was I ignoring the signs? Were the rainbows and butterflies causing me to ignore the signs?

Looking back, I wish I'd just stomped out the storm clouds, stuck to my decision, and enjoyed the ride on Cloud Nine.

Dating is awful because I'm an awful person. I'm a stresser, a planner, a control freak. None of that works well with a living human being's soul. Turns out my boyfriend didn't appreciate my attempts to clean him up into the perfect Christian boyfriend. Not that he complained. It just didn't really foster that spontaneous, gracious aspect of dating -- you know, the one where you just enjoy each other's company. (Awful Thing #2: Don't ever date a control freak. And if you are a control freak, go to Control Freaks Anonymous and be sober for at least six months before attempting romance. Please. For the love of all your hopes and dreams.) A few months into dating, I realized that all our failures to click, agree, get along, etc. were just as much my fault as his. My Dream Dating Experience got shattered because of my personality -- an analytical, moody, Type A girl just does not get the same experience as a more laidback, spontaneous one. I think my boyfriend enjoys dating more than I do simply because he can roll with the punches. Not I. I want to throw the punches. . .if that's a thing.

Another awful phenomenon about dating that nobody ever tells you about is that your life simultaneously becomes a fairytale and a WWIII zone. Beautiful things happen to you that never happened before. Your first kiss. Little love notes stuck in your backpack. Getting literally swept off your feet. A flower stuck behind your ear and sweet nothings to accompany that coronation. You walk around like a princess and cannot imagine life getting any better. At the same time, your life plunges into disaster. You're a crabbier person. You feel stressed all the time. Dreams that once interested you now aggravate you beyond belief. Life becomes boring, joyless, and frustrating. Your relationship with God plummets. Your friendships get wonky. Your life literally feels like it's crashlanded and will explode any second. And the explosion comes when you make the connection that -- no, no, no -- none of these problems occurred until you started dating. Life now becomes more miserable: My friendships, my personal aspirations, my spiritual walk would all be fixed if I went back to the time and the person I was before I started dating. I need to break up. I have to. BUT NEVER EVER.

It's because of mental space. Your mental space is a finite. Falling in love is infinite. It explodes your mental space. It crowds out everything else and takes control over every single emotion. It now becomes a struggle to fit anything else into that mental space: you begin to pray, and he shows up. You begin to write, and he shows up. You begin to plan, and he shows up. Nothing and nobody seems as interesting, wonderful, and worthy of your time as your beloved. (Awful Thing #3: College + dating -- it's terrible. For your studies, that is.) This also means that every little sad thing about your relationship can make you miserable. Being in love is an obsession. It controls all of you in a way that makes you feel helpless and isn't conscientious of other aspects of your life. Paul wasn't kidding when he said he preferred single people to married people for ministry:

But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
1  C O R I N T H I A N S  7  :  3 4

Anxious. Paul knew what he was talking about. 

Fortunately, you grow out of this stage -- you learn to be totally in love when you're with your beloved and put the romance on as wonderful background noise while you're doing other things. It's called maturity. Both my boyfriend and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we discovered that we could still be fascinated with other things and friends without decreasing our affection for each other. Our obsession moved to ordered love. 

The worst thing about dating -- and this is something I really wish I'd known before following my beating heart -- is that it's a manmade relationship stage. I firmly believe that God created only friendship and marriage -- not "going steady," where you live functionally as singles and emotionally as a married couple. The get-to-know-you stage -- that's friendship. The okay-I-know-I-want-to-marry-you -- put a ring on that feeling. It's an awful thing to experience the ups and downs of an intimate relationship without the benefits of marriage. (Awful Thing #4: You're not married.) You fight over the phone. You communicate through texting. (Texting, of all things!) Your desire for closeness becomes a temptation for the big sin of fornication. Your body and your heart get so confused when things that ought to be your greatest joy -- physical affection, being alone, sharing deepest feelings -- become your greatest struggle. The solution? Just get married already. If you can't, put on your oxygen mask and cling to grace, because it's going to be a bumpy descent.

The last awful thing I'll say about dating is that for many of us, it occurs during other life transitions -- graduating high school, moving out, going to college, starting a full-time job. In other words, we start dating during prime maturation time. Fortunately, a solid dating relationship functions the same as marriage: as a heavy duty sanctification tool. Nothing brings out the worst in you like rubbing souls with another (different) person. (Who knew that making the one you love cry gives off such an exhilarating feeling of power? I mean, what kind of sick person does that? Oh. Wait. Me?) Harnessing dating's potency requires incredible strength, maturity, and love -- something people rarely possess going into a relationship. 

And that's why it's awful. And wonderful. And you should do it, and you shouldn't romanticize it, and you should enjoy it. Because it's love. Love is hard. It's brutally self-sacrificial. It's a 24/7 hands-on job. It's also the Thing God Is. It's so, so beautiful. We were created for it. Be grateful for whatever season God placed you in -- you'll need the lessons you've learned in one season to do the hard work of love in the next. 

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8 impressions

  1. Such a beautifully raw and honest post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think it is healthy to read things like this, articles that are not bitter towards love but are realistic. I loved what you said at the verye end about love being self-sacrificial. That is a hard truth many people don't care to talk about.

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  2. I like your perspective and hearing your honest thoughts helps, too. The second-to-last paragraph is great.

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  3. Yup. :-P
    I thought it was just me!

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  4. I enjoyed reading this, but it is one of the few posts of yours that I really couldn't relate to, surprisingly enough!

    One reason I could not relate is, while I went on an occasional date, I was not in a serious, long-term, romantic relationship until the end of my senior year in college, so, more maturity for me and fewer things competing for all my attention.

    Another difference is, while in some ways I am a control freak, I found myself happy -- nay, relieved -- to turn the reins over to my man and just relax for once. :-)

    However, I think the biggest difference, the one that made dating for me 95% rainbows and butterflies, is regarding awful thing #4. I know what I say will not have any impact on your decisions, nor should it, but I really think you are setting up an obstacle for yourself that does not need to be there. You say God created friendship and marriage, not "going steady" and you say you live emotionally as a married couple. If you are truly committed to your boy. If you know in your heart that you will marry him in the eyes of the church and the government eventually. If all these things are true, then, in essence, you are married. You even say your relationship functions the same as marriage as a sanctification tool. Given all that, I don't understand how sex can still be such a big sin. Why would a ceremony created by man make any difference to God? I don't believe in casual sex outside a committed relationship. And if you are not ready to have sex then definitely don't do it, but it sounds to me like you are letting the technicality of a fancy dress and a signed piece of paper cause you unhappiness and put added strain on your relationship. I know it is not that simple. I think reading this just made me very, very grateful I didn't have to worry about considering premarital sex a sin on top of all the other complexities of navigating a serious relationship!

    Good luck!

    Adele

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  5. This is such an excellent question and point. I'm pretty sure every "good Christian kid" in a serious relationship has guiltily thought this. ;) I'm going to delay answering you until later today when I can write a post about it. I've been wanting to write about this, but wanted to wait until the right time. I don't know if this is the right time, but it does seem opportune now that you've brought it up. :)

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  6. This post was really helpful for me when I was moping about not being in a relationship and not having much hope for one, either. It's always helpful to remember that no matter where we are in life we will not be satisfied unless we're looking to God. Thanks!

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  7. Bailey, Bailey, I have no idea if you'll ever see this comment, but I have to leave it anyway ... I read this post just over a year ago and didn't understand it at all, because I had never been in a legit relationship at that time; and I thought it was all melodramatic nonsense ... I thought I would never allow myself to become so twitterpated and obsessed.

    Oh. My.

    A year later, I find myself in the only thing worse than a dating relationship, which is a hanging-out-multiple-times-a-week-and-doing-everything-dating-couples-do-except-officially-dating relationship; and I UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU MEAN. I understand. Oh, how could I be so arrogant and blind? I do ever so much more worrying, overanalyzing, obsessing, anxious shivering, crying, and snapping at my family than I ever dreamed I would. All my pride in my independence has crumbled to bits and a word or a look from him can turn a sunny day dark or a dark day sunny.

    I understand. And I am so, so very sorry that I was ever condescending to you.

    I love you. Happy engagement. Hope you've been doing just peachy!!!

    ~ Vicki

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    1. This made my day! Welcome to the crazy crowd. ;) <3

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