Crazy, Stupid, Christian Love: On the myth of dating a Christian
I don’t know how this notion/myth/understanding that dating a Christian was the right thing to do, entered my psyche. Perhaps it was a combination of all the things you hear growing up in Christian circles about dating someone ‘equally yoked.’ Maybe it was based on experiences I had dating guys who didn’t get the whole church thing. Or maybe it was arriving at a particular space in my own faith and call to ministry that led me to want to be with someone who wanted to be a partner in ministry–not just a cheerleader or someone who said I support you, but I don’t really do that.
Dating a Christian [or fill in the blank for whatever practice you align with] doesn’t make relationships any easier. And let’s be clear: I’m not talking about dating for the sake of converting someone to your beliefs. It doesn’t mean your arguments will be less frequent or that you’ll agree on the things you think you might: where to go to church together, weekly commitments you make, the physical and emotional risks you are willing to take. After all, being a Christian doesn’t preclude one from the very basic instinctual responses any person might offer in a relationship. We are human, after all.
Though I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a pretty popular read well into my dating years, I didn’t read it. So the traditional Christian notions of viewing love, purity [they really mean virginity. I don't know why they don't just say it], and singleness from “God’s perspective” [as one reviewer put it] didn’t impact me. What mattered more to me when I dated someone were the ways we engaged, responded and respected one another intellectually, emotionally and physically. I cared about what my family thought about the person I was dating, because I’m sure they had their own notions of who was right for me [which I know now is probably a result of my ENFP-ness]. And with each person I dated I speculated: could I spend the rest of my life with this person? Not just the next five or ten years, but until we’re old and grey. And that’s not too absurd an idea, right? You get to a point where you’re done with school for the time being, career is falling into place and you’re ready to settle down.
So for a gal who’s got a pretty good grasp of reality and goals, of spirituality and sometimes has her head in the clouds, what is dating supposed to look like? When things are good, they’re great. No arguing that. But what about those rough patches when hurtful, unloving words are said that you can’t take back? When enough grace has been extended [is there such a thing?] and you’re tired. When do you know when to call it quits? How do you know when it’s communication you need to work on, or if it’s a chronic problem? Or if it’s just a matter of personalities clashing rather than a deeper incompatibility? How do you know when to hang on because it’s going to get better, or to just resign peacefully knowing that it just isn’t going to happen.
After my last relationship, I had settled on the idea that I was called to a life of being single. And I was ok with that. It was fulfilling enough for me to enjoy the relationships I had with friends and family and my commitments to work and ministry. And then I met someone who in many ways had those things that I deeply wanted in other relationships: similar views on the importance and priority of family; love of learning; the desire to stick with Church despite of and in spite of all the things it was getting wrong; wanderlust that paralleled mine and most importantly for me, love for God and neighbor. So imagine my joy when after lots of long and short conversations and the exchange of life stories, we started dating. Things moved in the ways that things move when you feel you’ve met your match; your partner. But as with many relationships [I dare not say all], the honeymoon is over and personalities and preferences and expectations are revealed. And sometimes those aren’t always pleasant. We realize that we are flawed and that our own desires for perfection and fulfillment prevent us from being an equal and equitable partner in the relationship. Or perhaps our inability to communicate those desires for fulfillment land us in that same boat. And so after one or two re-starts, you wonder what this Christian dating thing is supposed to look like and whether or not you’re the reason for all the complexity [I've kind of decided that I am].
Or maybe it’s not even a Christian thing. It’s just a relationship thing.
Being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from the craziness of being in relationship with another person. But maybe you’re able to have a bit more grace with which to respond to those bumps in the road, as my friend says:
@SophiaSPU yes very much so. Grace etc affect how you deal with those complexities. It just doesn’t prevent them from happening
— Shawn Foles (@sfoles) May 16, 2012
My hope? That dating a Christian means that we both envelop one another in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That our happiness and fulfillment aren’t solely wrapped up in the other person, because they are not the source of light and love–only channels of it. And when we have stopped being a vessel through which love flows, then we are a mirror to each other to remind us. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always have those traits ready to dispense, but I want to. And I want a partner who will coax that out of me. And I hope for a partner who will sit and work through those times when it seems like we’re both at our wit’s end, not run when things don’t go as planned.
Relationships are messy and sometimes the more affinity you have with one another, including religious practices, the more intense it gets.
I’ve probably lost most of you by now, but for those who are still reading, thanks for hanging in there. When a friend asked what pushed me to write this, I told him it was personal experience. We write what we know. Or think we know. Or want to know, in this case.
And so all I can do is pray this prayer as I breathe in peace [inhale] and breathe out whatever I think I know about the way things are supposed to work:
Surprise us with your joy, O Lord, and let it resound in all we do. Amen.