Yesterday was a long day. I am exhausted, and feeling raw, so this post isn’t going to hold back much. I need to vent a little, and I need to process some realizations brought on by yesterday’s crazy conversations. For some reason, every topic that could possibly dredge up my latent insecurity, pain, and foolishness somehow came up all at once in the course of talking with good friends yesterday. And I realized once again how wildly immature I am.
I hate to admit that there are things about my life that I don’t understand — that there are things about my life and myself that I just don’t like. And so, I wrestled with anger, confusion, and emotion yesterday as I made premature and thoughtless pronouncements, waxed eloquent on topics I don’t know anything about, and succumbed to the nausea that I always feel when I don’t want to own up to my immaturity and ignorance.
Among all the confusing conversations and topics in life, for me, for some reason, the topic of dating, singleness, and relationships has always been and continues to be the most disorienting, nauseating, and painfully troubling. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve only dated once, and not for very long, and when I should’ve known better; perhaps I’m just bitter because very, very, very, very (did I say very, cause we’re talking like less than 5 in 25 years), very few guys have ever expressed an interest in me as anything other than a friend; perhaps it’s because I still don’t know exactly what I think about all the intricacies involved in the fuzzy, awkward topic of “just” friendships between males and females … I don’t know what exactly causes such a visceral reaction in my gut, but sometimes (and particularly when I’m already physically and emotionally exhausted, as I was yesterday) I get almost panicky when the subject of dating or crushes or relationships comes up, and I certainly get emotional.
Part of it is that I know that pretty much every other single person in the world is right there with me, in the throes of confusion and pain and hope and hopelessness. Part of it is that opinions on these subjects vary widely — even, or perhaps especially, among Christians. Part of it is that I’d like to be able to condemn other people’s emotional stupidity by adhering myself to some rigid, inflexible relationship protocol. (And part of that is that if or when it happens for me, every fiber of my obsessive compulsive perfectionist being wants it to happen in exactly the right way, whatever that means.)
That last one is the big one. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about what relationships should be. I can pontificate at length on the subject, and on my idealistic expectations for Christian relationships — about how dating is dumb and destructive (which, it certainly can be, but that’s not the point), about how singleness is awesome (which, it is, and every church should have a robust concept of a fulfilled and holy single life), about how the desire for marriage should be submitted to the greater desire for the will of God (which, it should, but that doesn’t make the desire wrong). I want to think I’ve got the relationship thing figured out, and to scoff at the fickle, frantic, fluttery emotionalism of … pretty much everyone else. Love is a soap box for me, and from the high horse of relational maturity, I enjoy looking down in condescending patronizing on the masses of immature wrecks who don’t understand how Christians ought to treat one another.
But yesterday, my pride snapped. A few wise words from a few good friends, and I found my head swirling as if beaten by some blunt object. If I’m being honest, I am an emotional train wreck when it comes to the thought of relationships, just like everyone else. I am deeply insecure, and deeply immature, and I have no idea in heck how this stuff is supposed to work. And anytime I act like I know what I’m talking about, I’m just pretending (I’m just pretentious), shoving the confusion down my throat so it doesn’t get vomited out, exposing me for the lonely, emotional, unprincipled, frightened lunatic that I really am deep down.
I realized a few things about myself, and a few things about relationships, dating, and Christian friendship and love:
1) Part of my intense desire to understand relationships and to have some universal principles to which all relationships should adhere, is that I want to be in control. And there are two areas in my life about which I feel most helpless. One is my pain and my health, which no amount of doctor’s visits, nutritional knowledge, nor personal effort have allowed me to gain control over. The other is, of course, relationships — because, as we all know, whether or not I’ll meet the right person at the right time, whether or not I’ll conduct myself appropriately and Christianly in such a context, whether or not I’ll ever be married … is all completely and utterly outside of my control, and even more so because I am a woman. And this brings me to two related subpoints: a) I don’t trust guys. b) I don’t trust God. Or, to state the two together, I don’t trust God to work in the hearts and minds of the single guys in my life to bring about His purposes for me.
2) The reason I don’t generally trust the single male’s capacity to make reasonable decisions about dating is again twofold: a) I am ridiculously prideful. b) I am ridiculously insecure. On the one hand (I hate to admit this, but I’ll go ahead — no holds barred today, folks), I am deeply and thoroughly convinced that any reasonable, mature, single Christian male should be attracted to me … And I find it utterly bewildering that none of them ever seem to be. Truth be told, I have a very high opinion of myself as wife and mother material. I am compassionate, patient, and wise. I’m not too shabby as a cook and hostess, and I love keeping my home clean and cozy and hospitable. I have a heart for ministry, particularly to the local church body and to the incredible group of friends I’ve found at Mercy. I love kids, and I’m good with them, and I want to have a bunch of them someday. I’m organized and thoughtful and mature. And, let’s admit it, I’m just super cool. I can talk video games, I watch The Walking Dead, I love scary movies, I hang out at City Place, I’m at least somewhat intellectual, and with the exception of not caring about sports one iota, I can generally chill with the “bros” quite comfortably. On the other hand, forget everything I just said! Oh my gosh, I’m a train wreck. I have absolutely no confidence that I will be a good wife or mother. Indeed, I have absolutely no confidence that any guys will ever care enough to find out. Did I say compassionate? Goodness, no, half the time I don’t give a crap about anyone but myself! And wise? Pffft. Bahaha. That’s just plain ridiculous. And, I mean, there’s nothing particularly enticing about me — I’m not at all girly, so you’re not gonna catch me dressing up and batting freshly-mascara-ed eyelashes to get attention. And while I haven’t really ever had significant body image issues, I’m also not delusional. I know I’m not as cute as so-and-so, and not as funny, and not as flirtatious. And I’m not going to try to make myself that way to convince anyone that I’m attractive. On top of that, and more significantly, I am. very. sick. I am not well, and that leaves me emotionally unsteady, physically exhausted, and totally needy about 90% of the time. Nobody wants to deal with THAT mess. And I’m not actually cool at all — actually, I’m a total nerd, and super dorky more often than not. And I’m probably just annoying to pretty much everybody pretty much all the time. I’m childish, I’m manipulative, I’m grumpy, I’m selfish — so, so selfish — I’m silly, I’m flighty, I’m downright sinful, too. I’ve got college/car/credit card debt, so even financially I’m not in an attractive position. I’m irresponsible, insecure, and yes, friends, I am immature. It’s crazy, you see, because I want to condemn single men for not recognizing what an amazing person I am or for crushing instead on “inferior specimens.” But then I also want to condemn other single women for being way more amazing than I am or for being ridiculously shallow in their means of attracting the attention of men. In all of this, I am determining my value by comparisons, and evincing a staunch lack of submission to God’s guidance. I am being idolatrous rather than seeking my satisfaction in God. And isn’t there something somewhere about not judging … because in hastily condemning others for their romantic flaws, I am merely judging myself — making obvious my own lack of trust in God, my own hateful inclinations, and my own self-centered immaturity. AND, I am utterly neglecting the facts that I am indeed valuable, because of God’s love. That I do have strengths, because of God’s grace. That I can experience forgiveness and hope, because of God’s mercy.
3) If you try to impose a strict ideal or set of expectations for healthy relationships onto specific situations, you’re just going to lose sanity, engender discontentment, and get in the way of God’s work in your life and the lives of those around you. Don’t get me wrong — there are certainly rights and wrongs in relationships, as in all things. But Scripture is where you find those principles. I don’t have the privilege of deciding what’s right and what’s not in this arena, making up principles out of thin air. And when I let myself think I’ve got it all figured out, and that I know exactly how every relationship should unfold, I only end up hurting myself or others. You see, God doesn’t impose a strict set of particularities on every life — every Christian must garden, every Christian must go to a Lutheran church, every Christian must sing Psalms a cappella, every Christian must, etc., etc. No, no, no, silly. But He is intimately involved in guiding every particular of every life according to His perfect will. In the same way, He doesn’t bring couples together by some formulaic method, and we have no right to judge the means by which He brings about healthy marriages. Who am I to say that dating is wrong, especially when it’s the means by which most marriages begin these days? Who am I to say that long engagements are stupid? Who am I to say that people can’t meet on the internet? Who am I to say that there’s any one, specific right way? It’s not up to me how these things happen, neither in my life, nor in anyone else’s. God is providentially governing all things, and He is (and ought to be) in control, not me. And, as one of my friends said yesterday in the conversation that sparked this post, “When you finally get there, you won’t care so much about how you got there.” Thus, in dating, as in church, fixed theology, flexible methodology. Instead of focusing on the hows and whys of relationships (Who should become interested first, what should you wear on your first date, should you even date at all, what if you like the wrong person, is there even a right person, how long does it take to “know,” should we just frakkin’ go back to arranged marriages, cause this nonsense is confusing as heck?), we should be seeking Scripture for encouragement when we feel lonely, for a proper understanding of Christ’s love for the church (and thus a proper understanding of what any healthy relationship must be), for conviction and humility that will obliterate our pride and selfishness. We should learn what it truly means to love our single brothers and sisters as friends and fellow-Christians, by sacrificing selfish desires, vain jealousies, and self-assured condescensions. And we should learn patience and trust as we surrender this area of our lives to God’s sovereignty and steadfast faithfulness.
4) WE ARE ALL IMMATURE. This was perhaps my most comforting realization, because it means that I don’t have to pretend that I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t have to be fully mature in order to participate in a healthy relationship, and I shouldn’t expect complete emotional and relational maturity in a potential spouse. Now, I don’t mean that every unmarried person is, by necessity, immature or lacking in any way. On the contrary, I think singleness is a blessing not to be squandered, and I believe that God develops single persons into Christian maturity just as powerfully as He works in the lives of married couples. Though I have many faults, I think I am mature in a number of areas of my life — BUT, dating is NOT one of them. And there’s the distinction. Marriage is the only male/female relationship that reaches its full maturity — and I’m fairly convinced that until we get there, no matter how principled or rational or prepared we think we are, immaturity is our natural inclination in regard to all things related to romance. I’d wager you’d be hard pressed to find any married couple who believes that their relationship began, continued, and culminated in complete maturity and level-headed-ness. In fact, I’d guess that most couples’ stories are far from ideal, fraught with pain, mistakes, and childishness. And to hazard one last hypothesis, I’d say most people would claim that they didn’t really begin to understand what God intended male/female relationships to look like until they began to undergo the maturing process of marriage itself. That is to say, we won’t understand genuine romantic love (for, I believe that there is such a thing, though I do not believe that it exists outside of marital commitment and covenant before God) until we are married. And that’s okay — we’re not supposed to. But we are supposed to learn genuine Christian love, because every individual is called to love his neighbor as himself.
And so, in our confusion and emotional craziness, we should be comforted that we are not alone. When we feel confident and rational, we should be humbled towards the emotional craziness of others by the recognition of our own immaturity. When we are lonely, we should look to the fellowship of our church body, our brothers and sisters in Christ, for edification and community. When we are anxious, we should remember that God is in control, and that He loves us infinitely more than any other human being ever will, and that it is only because of His love that we are able to love and be loved.
It’s all easier said than done, I suppose, but such is life. I, for one, hope I can be a little more honest with myself and about myself from here on out. I am not undesirable or somehow unworthy of a relationship. But I am called to be single right now, for a season, or forever, as God wills. And though I’m not thoroughly childish, selfish, or immature, I confidently and humbly place myself among the ranks of all of us single folks, whose emotions get the better of us more often than not, and whose immaturity and insecurity drive us to our Savior for our hope and happiness, significance and security. Because nothing happens except through Him and by His will, and He is the one who in holiness, wisdom, and power preserves and governs all His creatures, and all their actions. Would that He might grant us patience, sanity, charity, and hope.
And still, I have absolutely NO idea what I’m talking about … haha. But at least talking it out made me feel less crazy. 🙂