I am date phobic. I’ll just put that out there right away. To me, dating is this murky abyss I must pass through if I ever want to cross over into the land called marriage. Marriage? Yes, please. Dating? Yikes.
I’ve never been attracted to the whole uncertainty of the thing. I’m not a natural risk taker. And, as a highly emotional person who gets easily attached to other humans, dating is a huge risk.
Senior year of college, I remember telling my mom the romantic scene was “a barren desert.” It’s no fun looking around and thinking that, but at least it’s a comfortable, familiar place to be. Much scarier is when I actually meet a guy and start thinking something could possibly actually happen with him––because then I turn into this irrational crazy person who is all jittery and ridiculous.
Rational decisions can be scary to make, much less hazily defined emotional ones. However, dating or even just being open to dating, can be an act of faith. It’s uncomfortable and scary for many of us to put ourselves out there because the risks of pain, heartbreak, and disillusionment are real. But the point of life isn’t to be in control––not if you’re living a life of faith.
It’s all part of the adventure, right?
Like most people, I’ve gotten burned in the past. I’ve lowered my defenses only to get punched in the gut. I’ve put myself out there and been met with rejection. I’ve chosen honesty and sincerity and received the opposite.
But looking back, I don’t regret any of the times I’ve chosen to be honest about my heart, because in those scary moments, I saw who I really was: a person of sincerity, integrity, and kindness. I don’t regret the risks, even the ones that led to rejection, because through those experiences I learned how strong and bold I am. Rejection has even set me free––from endless one-sided crushes, from tying my worth to another person’s perception of me, and from irrational fears that I will be devastated if things don’t work out.
In the scariest, riskiest moments, you learn how brave you are. And getting up and trying again is one of the most courageous acts of all.
Moving Forward: In Romance and in Life
It’s not just romance, it’s life. Life is painful sometimes. It’s hard. But that doesn’t mean we should give up. There is a way forward. It might not be easy, but it’s there.
Here is the wisdom I have learned from my journey thus far:
1. Process your feelings.
Often we skip this step. We experience something unpleasant and simply cover it over instead of taking a look at why it felt so bad. But learning to face what’s inside of you––the good, the bad, and the ugly––will enable you to live on another level of peace, clarity, and confidence.
A friend recently said I was scared of dating, and I was immediately offended. Was he trying to say it was my fault I was still single? How dare he!
But later I realized he was right––I was scared. Maybe not all the time. Maybe not deathly afraid. But in that moment, considering a fresh possibility (i.e. RISK), I was.
Only when I acknowledged my fear was I able to let go of it.
It’s not fun to find things like jealousy or bitterness in your heart, but if you never recognize their existence, they will stay hidden indefinitely, festering and wreaking havoc on your insides. Take time to process the past. Ask yourself why you are desperate to get married, or are scared of falling for someone. Examine why you are offended by certain comments or avoid certain situations. Allow God to speak into these things. You might be surprised by what He says.
2. Forgive the idiots who hurt you in the past.
Good first step: Stop referring to them as idiots.
I know that forgiveness is the last thing they deserve, but that’s exactly the point––forgiveness is the cancelling of a debt. They may have wronged you, but if you hold onto that wrong, you are the one who will end up rotting inside.
And it’s not just the ex’s (or “friends” who technically never became “more” but crushed your heart anyways) you need to forgive. You also need to forgive yourself. And the friends who gave you bad advice. And probably your mom or your dad or whoever poorly modeled romance for you or made you feel like you were less than the highly valuable and beautiful person that you are.
I highly encourage you to forgive any and everyone who comes to mind as you’re reading this. I know it’s not easy––it’s one of the hardest choices you could ever make. But it is a choice, and it’s for your good.
You don’t have to ever talk to the person again, but if you can’t wish them well in the most basic sense, you haven’t forgiven them yet.
I find it helpful to recognize the humanity of the other person––the hurts, insecurities, and ignorance that probably led them to make poor choices. I find it helpful to remember the magnitude of grace that has been shown to me. And, I try to think of at least one reason I am thankful for knowing that person. That’s a challenging exercise, but it usually brings me unexpected peace.
3. Hang out with real married couples.
This will help you stop idealizing marriage with a quickness.
Just kidding. (But not really.)
Hang out with mature, wise people in general. People who will affirm who you are and challenge you to take steps into uncomfortable places. (These people also come in handy when you get caught up in the rollercoaster emotions of a fresh infatuation and need someone to speak sense into you. Definitely a wise relational investment.)
4. Go on more dates.
We get hurt by people, but we also get healing through people. Sometimes it’s refreshing to simply go on a nice date with a nice person, even if it doesn’t necessarily lead to anything. It can restore your belief in the decency of people, in the decency of the opposite gender, in your ability to handle yourself in a potentially awkward situation.
Don’t give up. If the opportunity presents itself, go on a date.
5. Listen for God’s voice.
God knows more than anyone else what you need. In any given moment, His advice is going to be the most precise and on point. Of course, there is the little matter of discerning what He is saying, so test what you hear, but ultimately, developing this skill is more important than anything else.
Several years ago, I made a decision that, just as in every other area of my life, I would move by God’s voice in the area of romance. When He told me to move, I would move. When He told me to wait, I would wait.
Sometimes He has given me very specific instructions. He has told me to pray into my marriage when I didn’t feel like praying. He has told me to step out when I was scared to. He has told me to DO NOTHING when I have desperately wanted to take situations into my own hands. And sometimes, He has told me it’s up to me.
Then, of course, there’s all the time He simply spends comforting, consoling, and reassuring me. If the only fruit of my romantic struggles is the intimacy I’ve built with God over the years, the struggles were well worth it. Ultimately, His love and approval is what my heart craves, and when I find it, when I really come to that place of knowing deep down that I have His love––all my emotional problems are solved.
Holding Onto Hope
Holding onto hope is not easy. It takes strength, in romance and in life. But I encourage you to hold onto hope. Whether you are single or married, whatever you’ve been through––return to your stronghold, O prisoner of hope!
Hope in the possibility of marriage. Hope in the goodness of life as a single. Hope in the beauty of marriage, even if it doesn’t end up happening for you. Hope in the goodness of God. Hope in the value of all you have learned thus far and the value of what’s to come.
Focus on what’s in front of you, live the fulness of what you have now, follow God’s leading into what’s next. And no matter what happens, don’t lose your wonder at what He is capable of.
Are you a fan of dating? Have you given up on it? What gives you hope through the process? How has God stretched or challenged you through being single or through dating? Add your thoughts to the conversation below!
***This is segment 3 of the 3-part series Still Single. If you missed part 1, you can click here: Still Single: The Struggle and The Journey. For part 2, click here: Still Single: The Lies That We Believe.***