Our romantic lives have a unique way of exposing us – our vulnerabilities, our flaws, the things we hold most precious, the frailties in our ability to love – in ways that other types of relationships just don’t. If you think too hard about this, it’s actually quite scary and easy to see why no one would move forward at all!
The problem is, that’s not how we’re designed. We are made for relationships.
I came of age in a time when an evangelical book called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” taught that there is one right way to pursue relationships: courtship with the sole intent of marriage. I’ve seen people use this mentality as a wonderful excuse to get comfortable in their fear of romance, never trying anything and therefore never learning anything either, or simply blaming “dating” when they did try something and it didn’t work. I myself felt afraid that I would be doing something wrong by dating without knowing for certain that it would or could end in marriage, or that I would be deemed frivolous for this desire. This caused me to live a relatively risk-free existence and, consequently, one where I was always alone.
Then 2013 was the scariest year of my life. But surviving challenged me to determine my priorities. I made an important decision: Fear is not allowed to dictate my life! I committed to taking more risks and I dove in headfirst. This worked out great for my career; with romantic relationships, however, I was on shakier ground.
Having not experienced much in the past, I really felt my lack of relationship knowledge. Someone hurt me, and I hurt someone. One thing I discovered is that things surface in romantic relationships that you won’t learn in regular friendships or community. So I decided I would go on 100 dates to learn – about men, about myself, about love and its process. I’m chronicling my adventures and conclusions on a blog called, 100 Dates.
Some wonder if I’m cheapening dating. My mother worried that maybe I was using people until she read what I wrote about the dates and understood my heart. I believe that in my execution, I’m (imperfectly) demonstrating value. My intent is to engage each man in an honest way. To me, devaluing a man looks like immediately trying to turn him into a husband, because that’s just filling a blank without regard for who he is. Yet, I am searching for a partner, so there is no bait and switch. My expectation is that I will grow closer to the woman I need to be for my future partner; my hope is that maybe I’ll meet him.
I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned so far in hopes that you’ll find it encouraging:
Dating is okay! It’s time to stop feeling guilty. Sometimes women get stuck because we don’t feel our role is to pursue, but we don’t know what else to do. A big part of our role is intentionally making it known that we are open and available, whether through apps or asking friends for set-ups or any other means. In this way, we can be active without taking the masculine role.
It gets easier! Dating has ups and downs, but as an overall trend, my nervousness has diminished significantly.
Everyone has something valuable to teach if we’re willing to pay attention.
Dating has given me a stronger sense of my own boundaries and the confidence to uphold them. And I’m learning to trust myself more. Our guts and instincts are designed to protect us and are different from fear.
Rejection can be okay. I have experienced it without feeling devastated or questioning my own worth. Rejecting someone else is also okay, so long as we do it in a way that is both honest and kind.
Dating is allowed to be fun! Sometimes fun creates a pathway to connect. While it takes time to develop a relationship and to truly know someone, there’s often joy in simply being present with another person.
Through this process, I’ve started to identify what doesn’t work for me, and I’m learning to see it more quickly and deal with it more graciously than I have in the past.
It’s helpful to let go of the idea of soul mates or any equivalent notion. Whether right or wrong, this concept absolves us from our responsibility in two ways – one, it encourages passivity in the search (and then we are left wondering why nothing ever happens), and two, it lets us avoid doing the work required of an actual relationship. We can blame “it’s not meant to be” for anything that doesn’t work instead of examining our own shortcomings. This robs us of an opportunity to grow.
Heartache is a real possibility, and these things aren’t comfortable. But they are good.
Somewhere between “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and Tinder rendezvous is healthy dating. Healthy dating is research that reveals who we are and what we’re looking for, which helps us to identify it when it comes along. But, just because it’s healthy doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, because it’s healthy, it will stretch you — it involves courage, risking, and surrendering control. Heartache is a real possibility, and these things aren’t comfortable. But they are good. While I can’t promise you a particular outcome, the one thing I know is that we have the power to transform our dating into something healthy and beautiful.
What are your thoughts on dating? How has it stretched or challenged you in a healthy way?
Images via Michelle Madsen