Four lessons that transformed my understanding of dating, marriage and love
There's no denying what you already know: Dating is hard. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, exhausting and discouraging. From the heights of anticipation, it can send you to the depths of despair. At times, dating can make you feel like a different person. Unstable, needy and obsessive.
Dating can be especially trying if you're not simply doing it to have fun, but to get married. Every suitor is a potential husband, and every woman is a possible wife — not to mention father or mother of your future children.
The High Stakes of Dating
Dating to get married isn't trivial. It's no exaggeration to say that outside of following Christ, who you choose to marry is the most important decision of your life. More than anything else, it will dictate your future happiness and success. In large part, it will determine who you become and the life you lead.
With this perspective, it's easy to consider anything less than a ring on the finger a failure. But this zero-sum mentality leaves us in a precarious position, since, according to this definition, dating is always unsuccessful — until the one time it's not.
That's not to say dating anyone other than your future spouse isn't worthwhile.
For most of us, though, all we see while dating is one failure after another. He breaks up with you, or you end things with him; she crushes your heart, or you devastate her dreams.
What's a person to do? Perhaps more relevant, how are you as a Christian to act if you believe God has called you to marriage? Should you give up the dating game entirely and accept perpetual singleness until God brings that special person into your life? Or double-down and immerse yourself even deeper into every relationship in hopes of chancing upon your future spouse?
Perhaps there's another route, a pathway between hopelessness and franticness. A mindset that recognizes the benefits of dating, while also acknowledging the drawbacks.
A String of Broken Relationships
I found myself asking these questions not too long ago. After a string of unsuccessful relationships, I realized I couldn't continue dating in the same way.
It was too hard, too painful, too exhausting.
For years I had been obsessed with finding my wife. Every girl I dated I subjected to a rigorous evaluation in an effort to determine whether she was my soulmate — the woman God wanted me to marry — and could fulfill my deepest needs.
Was she pretty enough? Funny enough? Spiritual enough? Smart enough? Engaging enough? Healthy enough? Fit enough? Romantic enough? Emotional enough? Stable enough?
Even after answering these questions satisfactorily, I never really stopped asking them. They continued circling my mind, driven by an unrelenting fear that I hadn't covered every contingency; I hadn't considered this quality or that characteristic, this angle or that lighting.
As you might imagine, no girl measured up — the truth is, no one ever could. Even if someone cleared the bar one day, I found myself consumed with doubt the next day. And there was always the possibility I might not meet her standards.
Then the unthinkable happened: A woman I truly cared for broke my heart. Devastated, I told God I never again wanted to date, even if it meant a lifetime of singleness.Devastated, I told God I never again wanted to date, even if it meant a lifetime of singleness.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you too have dated for years without success. Maybe you've obsessed about finding a spouse. Maybe you've lost someone you cared for. Maybe you've ended a relationship because the other person didn't measure up. Maybe you've even given up dating.
If so, I get it. I've been there. Dating is hard. Fortunately, God had other plans for me — and I believe He has other plans for you, too. Instead of holding me to my promise to never date again, God taught me four important lessons that transformed my understanding of dating, marriage and love.
Lesson One: Abandon the search for your soulmate.
Perhaps like me, you too grew up believing God preordained one person for you to marry. And while I still hold to this belief, some of us take it a step further. We figure our future spouse is our soulmate — a perfect match who will satisfy our every desire, the one person who will finally make us whole.
Not only is this idea unbiblical, it ends up placing too much pressure on us to find a spouse. If there's one perfect person we're destined to marry, we'd better get it right. We'd better make extra sure they measure up.
The problem is, there's no such thing as perfection, nor is there one person who can entirely satisfy us. Although God created us with needs only a spouse can meet (Genesis 2:18), He did not intend for us to find completion in another person. That's God's role — and our deepest needs won't be met until we finally see Him face to face (1 John 3:2).
We're mistaken, then, to expect a soulmate. We place too much pressure on ourselves to find someone who doesn't exist, and we ignore God's plan for marriage. Coming to these realizations required evaluating where I found my ultimate fulfillment and, eventually, discarding the idea that another person could make me whole. In short, I had to abandon my search for a soulmate.
After reaching this point, I decided to ask someone else out. This time would be different, though. This time I wanted to date the right way.
Lesson Two: Pursue a person instead of a concept.
Here's what I mean by dating the right way. Rather than focus on the end-goal of marriage, I set my sights on getting to know the other person. I learned about her story and priorities, quirks and sense of humor, passions and interests, faith and family. The result, as you might expect, was incredible.
No longer consumed with figuring out whether I would one day marry this woman, I finally had space to enjoy dating her and discovering what made her tick. I could allow the relationship to develop naturally, free from internal pressures and anxieties. In that context, I began learning whether we were compatible and could ultimately go the distance.
In other words, I began pursuing a person instead of a concept.
And you know what happened? That relationship quickly ended. Not because either of us failed to clear the bar, but because we weren't right for each other. Our personalities didn't gel, and we wanted different things from life.
Lesson Three: Evaluate the relationship, not a list of qualities.
I'll be honest, though. I still wanted to get married. That desire didn't disappear. And I still struggled to keep myself from sizing up dating prospects.
The difference is, I no longer gave those judgments much weight, whereas before they were everything. If a girl didn't seem to measure up in one area or another, I noted it — but unlike before, I didn't freak out.
To be clear, I didn't discard every standard for who I'd date. The other person had to love God and be beautiful in my eyes, both inside and out. In exchange for the seemingly endless list of qualities, though, I evaluated the relationship itself as we got to know one another.
Did we feel comfortable together? Were we honest with each other? Could we open our hearts, exposing our hurts and wounds? Could we have fun together? Did we know how to disagree in a healthy way? Did we want similar things out of life? Were we committed to pursuing wholeness together?
Instead of the "perfect" spouse, now I wanted to find a person with whom I enjoyed sharing life.
I couldn't have guessed what would happen next.
Lesson Four: Focus on the journey without losing sight of the destination.
At the time, I had a coworker who although beautiful, didn't seem like a perfect match for me. Yet I found her both attractive and interesting, so I decided to dismiss my concerns and ask her out.
Much to my surprise, our first date was not only enjoyable, but comfortable — something I rarely experienced while dating. So we went on a second date, and a third date, and a fourth date ... until after a month of dating, we decided to date exclusively.
Faster than anticipated, our relationship developed into the most serious I had ever been in. We hung out with friends and had fun together. We shared our deepest hurts and fears. We opened up about our hopes and dreams. We argued and resolved conflict. We exchanged ideas and stories from our past. We went to church together and discussed faith. We met each other's family and talked about our future.
Over time, we reached a point where we couldn't imagine life apart. Not because we satisfied the other's every dream. The truth is, we didn't. But because we loved each other in our brokenness.
That didn't mean I was quite ready to buy a ring, though. We still had a journey to travel before getting married. There were issues we had to work through and lessons we both needed to learn. But we knew where we were heading — toward marriage. And that seemed reason enough to continue dating.
I'm glad we kept at it, as is my wife. Because when we finally decided to get married, it wasn't to fulfill some ambition (although it's something we both wanted). Marriage was the natural progression of our relationship. We loved each other, sensed God drawing us together, and wanted to live life with one another. That's why we got married.
Really, that's the only reason anyone should get married. Not because marriage is the fulfillment of some personal goal or life plan, but because God is calling you to love another person as Christ loves us — sacrificially and unconditionally.
Copyright 2015 Paul Perkins. All rights reserved.