[Ashlyn is a 28 year old single girl who also happens to be a counselor in the clinical health field.]
Would it be weird if I compared dating to going to the dentist? The anticipation of a nice teeth cleaning to show off those pearly whites, with maybe a little eye wink thrown in there…. Only to also fear the idea of having a cavity, or some weird gum disease that is incurable and all your teeth will have to be pulled out. Okay, granted that might be a little extreme. But, people. Dating can totally evoke the same emotional rollercoaster.
It took me about 24 years to realize I was in desperate need of a Savior (I’m now 28). So, I’ve had most of my life to experience and understand dating from the complete opposite spectrum I see and understand it now. Not that I’ve had tons of dating experience, but enough to realize what works and what definitely does not. Just for the record, dating someone who is more hot and cold than the Katy Perry song does not work.
As I reflect on the funny, awkward, heartbreaking, weird, sweet experiences I’ve had. Here are some things I’ve learned.
1. Christians are strongly encouraged to seek wise counsel throughout their relationship.
I like this one. I remember in my BC days (the term I affectionately use for 'Before Christ), when I was interested in a fella, I would rely on my pals for advice and insight. The only thing was, they were my age and had absolutely no idea what they were doing either, so the advising was typically really bad. “What does your heart say? Follow that.” “I know he has a girlfriend, but maybe you’re the one he’s meant for.” “He’s just playing hard to get.” Girls, dudes usually don’t play hard to get; they may just not be that into you.
In the Christian culture, we are encouraged to seek wise counsel from older, married people. This is great because I know I can easily get wrapped in emotion and make excuses for behavior. Having someone who has been down this road be like “Girl. He might say he likes you, but according to his Instagram feed, he likes a lot of other girls – especially the ones in their bathing suits, posing seductively, and showing cleavage.” Womp womp. The best part of seeking counsel from married, Christian folks is that it’s rooted in something. Reflecting on past counsel in my BC days, it seemed like most of the guidance I received wasn’t rooted in much, maybe failed past relationships. The key focus for Christian counsel in relationships is wisdom - not assumptions, not manipulation, but wisdom provided by the designer of all things.
2. Boundaries are vital in Christian relationships (or are supposed to be).
I remember during my high school and undergrad years, I was highly encouraged to experiment with different men to figure out what I liked and didn’t like. Granted, at those points in my life, I was incredibly awkward around men that I fancied, which didn’t leave much opportunity to experiment (which I think was such a gift from God, LOL). But, serious physical and emotional boundaries were very thin or nonexistent. I was encouraged to play games, manipulate, never show weakness, make myself desirable, but almost impossible to get. I am exhausted just writing that. I remember hearing countless times, “Ashlyn, how are you going to know if you want to buy the truck if you don’t test drive it first?”
Okay, comparing sex to a moving vehicle is even worse than my dentist metaphor. However, I will humor this and retaliate with “No one is going to buy the ice cream truck if you’re handing out the popsicles for free.” BAM.
As a Christian, I’ve learned the deep importance of physical and emotional boundaries in a dating relationship. I know that waiting to have physical intimacy with my future husband isn’t to make me miserable (it’s hard, I know), but it’s for my good. Do you know what makes me miserable? Having sex or “hooking up” in a relationship that ends a week, month, or year later.
I know the argument of sexual liberation and freedom and yadda yadda. I have been down that road. I was a pretty radical, free feminist in college. I get it. But seriously, it’s shallow, stupid, and wreaks havoc on a person’s soul. I know that might be a little harsh, but Christians and non-Christians have often agreed on the detriment of boundless relationships.
I have counseled more women and men than I’d like to admit through their sufferings of failed relationships done outside of the design of God. The scars are awful. And the thing is, the design was written thousands of years ago before the forefathers of psychology were around. I remember in my mental health counseling grad program before I was a Christian, I learned more about the human condition from my Bible than I did my text book.
And let me also point out: I was fairly opposed to Christianity to begin with.
So, it’s not like I was trying to prove the Bible’s accuracy of the human heart and relationships. It was just straight up truth.
3. Christian relationships have a central focus.
“Ashlyn, just have fun with it! It’s not like you’re going to marry the guy.”
“Labels put too much pressure on things.”
“Stay in it until something else comes along.”
I could keep going, but I remember hearing these words dance around my little, precious, developing frontal lobe (the part of the brain that processes reasoning, higher levels of cognition, etc.). I had grown up believing relationships were about me - making me happy, completing me, filling me up, giving me worth and identity. The central focus was having a life that I desired and getting it from that other person. So, when things went wrong, my world crumbled. Not only did I lose that person, but I lost my everything else, and then add in the physical intimacy component and you’d get the recipe to see my ugly cry… a lot. I’m not saying every non-Christian relationship is doomed, because I’ve seen couples married 50+ years who aren’t Christians. However, I do question if those relationships were as full as they could be, as full as the Songs of Solomon proclaim, as ferocious as Jesus’ insane love for His bride, the church.
And then it happened. I realized that my relationships aren’t about me.
Jesus taught that this life isn’t really about me either. I know. I might as well just run into oncoming traffic now. Kidding….
But Christians are taught that the central focus of a man and woman coming together is to glorify God; make His name great and known; love each other selflessly and recklessly; make your relationship a ministry to the world; reflect His image and great love. I KNOW. Isn’t that nuts? In a weird way though, taking the focus off myself and thinking about how I can love, encourage, and build the other person up is so freeing. And we get to be in ministry together?? What? You mean, our relationship is more than getting married (which is the purpose of dating), buying a house, poppin’ out a few kids, and going on vacation? Our relationship has an eternal value? Again, cray cray…. And pretty cool.
So about that dentist visit. Granted, my hope for the emotional experience of dating is a bit more thrilling than a teeth cleaning, but much less nerve-wracking than a crazy gum disease. I’ve learned that it really doesn’t need to be as complicating as it’s made out to be sometimes. Christians don’t need to over-spiritualize things, but definitely not under-spiritualize either. Wise counsel, solid boundaries, and a clear focus are all good, helpful attributes to pursuing a healthy relationship. Like Solomon, I have searched and given myself over to so much less than what God has for me, and it really is chasing vanity and always leads to folly. Proverbs even says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”
I think something most folks can agree on is that we’re a bunch of broken, messy people in desperate need of a Savior. I also think it comes down to what that savior actually is to someone. But, regardless, let’s be real people. I know very well at the end of the day, all we really want to do is close our bedroom doors, turn the speaks on high, and belt out the latest #TSwift song to bring comfort to our dating lives
…. Or maybe that’s just me.