Beyond ‘Looking’ Desperate
Desperation in dating can lead us to understand our greater source of desperation and in turn redeem our whole approach to dating.
Do you worry that you’ll never end up in a good marriage if you come across as desperate?
You’re not alone.
A Google search offers lots of coaching on this topic. For example, here are some nuggets from wikiHow in its post, “How to Avoid Looking Desperate“:
- Don’t lie.
- Don’t try too hard.
- Don’t stalk him/her; it’s a bit creepy.
- If that person clearly doesn’t like you then turn your attention to someone else.
- Try to look busy all the time.
- Don’t text more than twice.
- Know it’s not the end of the world if he/she doesn’t like you.
This isn’t bad as advice goes, but maybe you shouldn’t waste your time trying to avoid looking desperate. Maybe the best thing you can do is admit that you are desperate.
For all your independence and self-sufficiency, you can’t make it on your own. For all your cool aloofness, you know a life filled with isolation and superficial relationships is not a meaningful life.
But I’m talking about a bigger problem than desperation in dating or relationships. The desperation we all face ultimately affects dating and relationships, but it’s much greater.
I’m talking about the desperate need we have for a Savior.
Even the most confident person among us is desperately lost without the Gospel. The most carefree and complacent people we know are in serious need of a Savior.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We were born with a sinful nature that makes us rebels against God, and we are without hope outside of His mercy.
In a sermon that’s now over 25 years old, John Piper says we are “in desperate need of a great Savior.” Referencing Matthew 23:27, Piper says, “You can have your life squeaky clean on the outside and still be dead on the inside.” He continues, “We need a Savior not just to cap off our good deeds, not just to forgive our sins. We need a Savior because we are spiritually dead and helpless without him, no matter how good we look on the outside.”
Even when sinners confess and are reconciled to God through the blood of Christ, we are, as the old hymn says, “Prone to wander…prone to leave the God [we] love.” We are all left to say with the psalmist, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need” (Psalm 79:8). We are in great need of a Savior to redeem us and assure us of eternal life; and even as we follow Christ, we remain desperate for Him to sustain and change us through His grace.
This daily desperation for the Savior’s grace reaches to every corner of our lives. Not surprisingly, it surfaces in how we date, relate and marry. It’s connected to how we see and engage relationships and in how those relationships turn out.
It’s in God’s mercy, however, that He often lets us reach a point of desperation in dating as a means to understand our greater source of desperation. And it’s also His mercy that can bring the power of the Gospel to save our souls, and then in turn to extend His redemptive purposes back to our dating, relating and paths to marriage. Let’s look at three distinct ways this happens.
1. We depend on our own effort and understanding.
Marie Forleo knows a little something about our nature. It’s evident in her best-selling dating book, Make Every Man Want You: How to Be So Irresistible You’ll Barely Keep from Dating Yourself! And so does Logan Edwards as you can see in his book Secrets of the A Game: How to Meet and Attract Women Anywhere, Anyplace, Anytime. What they know is that we as humans are confident that we can figure dating and relationships out and then do the right things to get what we want. We believe we can get inside the head of the opposite sex. We can learn how the system works, get our look right, say the right things, make the right moves and then make what we want happen.
This is our nature about many things — about our education, our work, our hobbies, our home improvement, you name it. We place great confidence in our ability to figure things out and then make the effort to accomplish our goals.
As we go through life, we face challenges that begin to test this confidence: illness, accidents, financial troubles, aging and others. Trying to engage in and then navigate through a romantic relationship, however, may be one of the most common. Even with the “wisdom” of Forleo and Edwards to guide us, attraction, romantic love and meaningful relationships are still filled with great mystery and challenge. They have a way of pushing us to the end of our understanding and abilities.
And there we find the grace of God. In our helplessness, we are reminded that we are created and are dependent upon our Creator. We can’t save ourselves.
It’s liberating to reach the end of ourselves — to discover the limits of our strength and understanding and then humble ourselves before an all-powerful, all-wise God. “[B]y grace you have been saved through faith,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
When we understand that faith alone saves us and we learn to depend on the strength and wisdom God gives us, we grow less likely to strive in other areas of life. We trust Jesus when He says:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:31-33).
In our path to marriage, we realize we have a role to play — to be faithful, to be pure and so forth — but we know we are not limited to our own strength and understanding. We don’t have to strive in desperation and feel completely responsible for making it happen. We can trust a sovereign God as we seek first His kingdom.
2. We manage our image.
Even when we realize there are limits to our strength and understanding, we tend to work on making ourselves look as good as possible. Just ask hiring departments and PR agencies about what lengths people will go. We exaggerate our strengths and camouflage our weaknesses. We do it in our social media management and to impressive degrees on dating sites.
Managing your image, however, gets harder when you seek to grow deeper in relationship with someone. As you feel the tug to know and be known, to stop hiding and to experience unconditional love, it can push you to the end of being a PR agent for yourself.
Here again, relationships reveal something that’s true of all of life. We ultimately want to stop the striving that goes with managing our image. We want to be our true selves and still experience the kind of love popular songs promise — one that goes to the ends of the earth.
The apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Romans a love that actually goes to those lengths:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38 ESV).
The most amazing thing about this love is that it comes from the one person who knows just how unlovable we are. Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
The saving love of God for us transforms how we see and love others. Paul continues, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV).
Beyond trying to present a perfect image so someone will love us, we rest in being deeply loved by God and then seeking to reflect that love to others — including our future spouse.
3. We secretly hope for a person who can save us.
It’s the person who doesn’t know God that expects so much of romantic love. Charlotte Allen explains this in a recent Wall Street Journal book review:
When God died — that is, when Western intellectuals and artists of the 18th and 19th centuries began finding themselves unable to believe in the Christianity of their forebears or its deity — the idea took hold that in selfless love for another person one could find the same absolute intensity of feeling, capacity for moral regeneration and conviction of one’s own immortality that had been previously associated with the love of God.
Simon May, a philosophy professor at the University of London’s Birkbeck College and the author of ‘Love: A History,’ describes this phenomenon, peculiar to modernity, as the ‘divinization of human love.’ In the Western imagination, he says, ‘love came to play God’ — that is, the belief in the power of love supplanted religion as ‘our ultimate source of meaning and happiness, and of power over suffering and disappointment.’
Too often we have to be disappointed by someone romantically before we understand how vulnerable we are to seeking our ultimate purpose, fulfillment and meaning outside of God.
We are desperate if we continue to seek our salvation outside of Christ. As the apostle Peter preached, “[T]here is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV).
If we truly believe another person is not the ultimate source of our meaning and happiness, then we are free to enjoy companionship without illusions. We can enjoy the glimpses of grace we find in relationships with people who we know are fallen as we are and also desperate for a Savior.
The Gospel changes everything. It’s not a means to an end for enjoyable dating or for finding a great spouse, but Jesus’ intervention into our desperate lives reaches us where we are. It saves us from the desperation that lingers even when we try to hide it. Only He can save us from striving in our own strength and understanding, from trying to exaggerate our strengths and camouflage our weaknesses so someone will love us, or from looking for another person to be our “ultimate source of meaning and happiness.”
If you’re worried about looking desperate in dating, by all means don’t text marriage proposals to someone you just met and don’t stalk people at church potlucks. But don’t waste too much time worrying about looking desperate, and instead, let the true nature of your desperation lead you to God’s grace.
Copyright 2011 Steve Watters. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Steve Watters is the vice president of communications at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where he is also a student. Steve and his wife, Candice, were the founders of Boundless, and Steve served as the director of young adults at Focus on the Family for several years before leaving for seminary.