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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
February 11, 2014
Navigating the Dating World Well
“Are you happily single, neutrally single, or single not by choice?”
I wasn’t sure I was prepared to answer this insightful question from my friend.
After a minute it all came out. “Neutrally, I guess. I’ve been thinking I would like to get married and have kids, but I’m just not sure how to start the process.” It was the first time I had actually said this out loud, to myself and to someone else.
My friend’s next words changed the way I think about dating relationships. “It’s different for men,” she said. “If they want to be married in a year they can make it happen. Women don’t have that option.”
I considered her words. Though gender stereotypes and expectations have come a long way, it does seem much more acceptable for the man to be the initiator and pursuer in a dating relationship.
That’s the mentality I learned growing up. I’m originally from the Southeast, where it’s still taboo for a woman to take initiative in a relationship. I can’t just walk up to a guy I’m interested in and say “Hey, let’s have dinner and pursue this potential relationship” without being viewed as manipulative and deceitful. It’s nothing a proper Southern woman would do.
But now I find myself 31 and single, and wondering what God wants me to do in this stage of life—how to navigate the process of putting myself out there, finding someone, and being open to starting the rest of my life with him.
Dating Mistakes I’ve Made
I admit it: Dating feels scary to me. I took a ten-year break after doing all the wrong things in high school and college. Here are a few things I don’t want to do again.
1. Make a relationship happen so you can say it happened.
As a high school senior I had not yet had a real boyfriend and was determined not to go to college as one of those girls who had never been in a relationship. So when a guy who was a friend of mine expressed interest, I said sure.
We had nothing in common.
I played the violin, served on Student Council, attended church regularly, and loved AP English. He played football, worked on muscle cars, watched WWE wrestling, and loved engineering.
Soon after graduation I began asking myself why I was dating him. Everything he did seemed to annoy me. We broke up right before we went to college, but I wondered how I could have used my time differently had I not been participating in a silly relationship.
2. Ignore sound advice.
I started my sophomore year in college growing closer to a guy friend. Soon my girlfriends were encouraging me to have the “Defining The Relationship” conversation. I took their advice, and soon he and I were an official couple.
But then things moved fast. Conversations took place about what marriage would look like. I was so caught up in the emotions of the relationship that I didn’t take time to listen to the wise advice my girlfriends were still offering—great questions about the type of relationship that was forming. Instead, I invested everything in the guy and stopped processing with friends at all. Heartache eventually followed.
3. Run from what God may have for you.
After my two stinky dating experiences, and after seeing my parents struggle through most of their marriage, I concluded that God wanted me to be single. I was happy with that (or convinced myself that I was happy with that) and dove into my career and personal ministry after college.
I mentored girls younger than me. I went to India on a missions trip. I gave my money to different Christian organizations and friends serving in missions. I was there for those who needed me. And I felt bad for the women I knew who were waiting for a guy. They didn’t know what they were missing!
But within the past year, God has been changing my view and showing me that a family might be in his plans for me. To reach that point, there are steps I need to take in faith, believing that he will navigate me to what (or who) he has for me.
Dating Practices I’m Embracing
With this recent confession, I’ve begun to investigate healthy ways to navigate potential relationships with the opposite sex. So far, these three things have been helpful.
1. Identify a spiritual mentor who can guide you in the process.
I’ve been praying for a spiritual mentor for a while. God recently brought to mind a former coworker of mine who is single and who has learned a lot from her past relationships. She was also a supportive friend when we worked together. I met with her to see if she would help me navigate my walk with God and incorporate this new journey of relationships in it. She’s currently in a different place than I am in regards to relationships, so I’m praying about whether this is the mentor God has for me or if I’m to seek help from someone else.
2. Be honest about how you feel.
I like to consider myself an open book. If you ask me how I’m feeling, I’ll tell you. But the one thing I’ve had a hard time admitting is my longing for a relationship—and the fact that I might possibly feel ever so slightly ready to pursue one. I’ve realized that it hasn’t been healthy for me, for my friendships, or for my relationship with God to keep longings hidden.
3. Find people you trust, and invite them to participate with you.
I’m not in many places where I could even meet single men. So I’ve invited my church small group, and other friends, to feel free to “introduce” me to their friends. “Introduce” could mean several things: setting me up on a blind date, giving my information out, introducing me to someone at church, inviting me to join a double date, etc.
This feels pretty scary. But these people have a good sense of who I am, have picked out great spouses themselves, and value my friendship. I trust them and the people they'd choose for me.
Walking Forward in Faith
I don’t have all the answers, and I’m sure I’ll identify more dos and don’ts along the way. The best things for me to focus on at the moment are being honest and enjoying the ride God has for me (and maybe someone else?).