I've read some books on dating, and since I've grown up in church, I've heard plenty there as well. However, almost every single book or person I've heard speak about dating has in no way addressed the step one of actually dating. Oh, they'll go on and on about whether a guy is right for you or how you should act as a couple, but they never once answered an important question: What if I'm a nerd? What if I have no one to choose from, set boundaries with, or ask important questions? How do I go from single to actually reaching the step where I need to deal with those issues?
I know women are supposed to be the responders, but when there's no one to respond to, the point is null.
I'm nearing 30, and I've only had one boyfriend. This lasted a year, and eight months of it were spent with him being deployed. Our relationship was plagued by the fact that I simply don't know how to date or to be relational. The relationship ended on fairly reasonable terms, and it was clear we didn't match. But at the same time, I feel like the whole thing was two steps backward, and I'm even less sure about how to date now.
Guys don't speak to me, and basically every single guy at my church is the sort that is so "respectful" that I can't help but feel inferior to them. It's like they automatically have me set at a distance, and there's no point to even trying around them. I don't know if it's the church atmosphere or if I'm really that awkward. So what I'm asking is this: When I am utterly without prospects, how do I make myself attractive? If the goal is to simply get dates, then what is the means by which to do so?
Thank you for writing and for asking three provocative questions: 1) How does one learn how to be relational? 2) In the absence of prospects, how does one make oneself attractive? 3) If the goal is to simply get dates then what is the means by which to do so?
I'll take that last question first and hopefully set your mind at ease: Dating is not the goal; marriage is. And not just any sort of marriage. An Ephesians 5, sacrificially-loving, God-honoring marriage. Why is this good news? Because it takes the pressure off you to act the way the world around you says you should. It de-emphasizes your externals, minimizing attraction and putting the focus on what matters most: your trust in Christ and your relational and spiritual maturity. That's also good news because those things are developed first and foundationally not in a dating setting, but in a family setting as well as in the body of Christ, the church.
Singles who never (or rarely) date are not doomed to never marry, nor are they prohibited from developing the skills needed to form a good marriage. The goal for the believing man and woman is not, according to Scripture, simply to get dates, but rather, to discern if the one you're dating is a candidate for spouse.
This leads us to your first question: How do you learn to be relational? From birth we are relational beings. Being made in the image of our triune God, we long for and learn from and thrive in relationships. From the first time we see our mother's glance as she cradles and nurses and nurtures us as a newborn babe, through loving interactions with brothers, sisters and father, we are learning from our earliest stage of life how to relate with other people. We were not made to live in isolation, both because we have much to gain and much to give.
The classic love chapter (1 Corinthians 13) reveals that what we mistakenly think of as a feeling is in fact active. Love is a verb. God made us to live in families where love is given and received. And it is here that we learn the fundamentals for forming strong families of our own one day.
This is how it's supposed to be. Though we know from the brokenness all around us that what the Bible says about sin is true (Genesis 3). How things were meant to be is most assuredly not how they are. Often the place that is supposed to be marked most by love — the family — is where love's absence is most painfully felt. This is why Christ's first coming — His death on the cross and resurrection — is such good news (especially as we try to live as relational beings). He came to make a way for us to be restored to the way God made us to be. But not only that, He made a way for us to be restored to Him — our perfectly loving Father.
While our human families let us down (and they will, in varying degrees — they are human!), our heavenly Father never will. In Christ we can learn how to love even as He transforms us and makes us, one degree at a time, more like Him. When family members are saved, they are transformed. But even if your family doesn't believe in Christ, remember He has not left you, or any of us, alone. He has sent the Holy Spirit to be our helper. And Jesus is the head of the church, the body. It is here, in a biblical church, where the Gospel is preached, that we grow in relational and spiritual maturity. It is here where we may learn what it means to love: to lay our lives down and serve one another, to give from what we have and receive help in times of need. By design, the best way to prepare for Christian marriage is to be actively involved in a biblical church.
It's then, as you grow in godliness, learn how to love, serve sacrificially and be transformed by the Holy Spirit's work in your life, that you may rightly turn to the issue of making yourself attractive, knowing that it is primarily an issue of the heart. Peter helpfully reminds us what matters most:
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).
This is not to say externals don't matter. They do. God made us with eyes to see and a desire for beauty to look at. But looks are not primary. How you look is not all-important, regardless of what our culture says. Tend to your appearance. Dress tastefully and modestly. Present yourself with attention to hygiene and beauty. And if you feel inadequate to do so, ask a good friend, a godly woman you trust, to help you. This is a practical example of how we can serve one another in the body of Christ. But don't fret if you feel you don't meet the standard of perfection set by glossy magazines (much of what passes for beauty in our culture is an illusion — remember that Dove soap "transformation" commercial?).
I can hear the pain and frustration in your voice as I read your letter, and I know well the shame of feeling inadequate and wondering if any man would ever single me out as worthy to pursue for marriage. I felt all that during the years of waiting, wondering if my singleness would ever end. Thanks be to God, He has not left us alone. Single believers are not doomed to isolation, and getting married is not a requirement for admittance to the family of God.
You can start this very day pouring yourself into the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ, learning from them how to relate in a family, and trusting God's provision for you at this moment is in the relationships He has provided for you (or will provide) in a Gospel-centered church.
The best encouragement and advice I can give you in the waiting is the same advice my mom used to give me when I would call her in frustration and tears because of my loneliness and discouragement over still being single: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
The kingdom is most simply defined as "God's people, in God's place, under God's rule." Till Christ comes again, that place is the church. And it is there that He provides the help we need to grow through serving; to take up our cross and follow Him; to die to the world and live to Christ. It is there that we learn best what it means to be married, knowing as believers that marriage is infinitely more than a romance between two people. It is in God's wisdom and mystery, a picture of Christ's relationship with His bride, the church.
May He guide you as you embrace all He is for you in Christ.
Copyright 2013 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.