My journey navigating the Christian dating world
Let me preface this post by saying that this tale happened before I was married to my wonderful husband, A-Aron, whom I love to bits!
Ok, so you may be wondering why in the world I would be sharing a post about dating?
I’ve always been pretty passionate about the subject and while I see hope in a slowly growing new vulnerability move in the church, it is still an area that has caused SO much hurt and SO much confusion in people’s lives that I feel my story should be shared to maybe encourage people who feel they’re alone. Also, this is my little corner of the internet so I guess I’m sharing about it because I can.
While this is in NO WAY a prescription to what people should do, I hope it’ll bring freedom to a few people who may be battling with the same things I did. So, brace yourself. Here goes nothing…
By the time I got seriously saved, when I was 16, I had never had a boyfriend and my “wild life” before Jesus consisted of kissing 3 boys. Things were so quiet in that area of my life that, I’m pretty sure my grandmother might have questioned if I was attracted to the opposite sex at all, bless her. In fact, I remember at one stage, she was so concerned with the lack of activity in that area that she started taking matters into her own hands and started to notice her neighbor’s children and grandchildren, to see if there was a pool for me to explore. There wasn’t… sorry gran.
You see, when I got serious with God, the whole concept of waiting for your husband, and “kissing dating goodbye” was all the rage! I, together with my church friends, read all the books, wrote letters to my future husband and made a list of qualities he should have. Those would vary from character traits, to physical traits and even personal preferences.
Thank goodness for my mother who drew the line at courtship. What is courtship? you may ask. It is basically going back to medieval times when a suitor would speak to the father of his intended lady and ask him to pursue an “intentional friendship” with her. (I mean, that’s an oxymoron if I ever saw one. What friendship is not intentional?!) Anyways, that meant that they were never to have any physical contact other than potentially holding hands and could only spend time together in the presence of a chaperone. This friendship would magically transform into an engagement and subsequent marriage (I was told).
While our friends would argue with their parents to let them date, my mother did the opposite. I still remember how exasperated she was when she found out our church was in favor of the courtship approach and passionately (=Italian style loudly) announced to me and my sister the minute we got back home that “in this household, we don’t do courtship. In this household we date!”
She knew that that kind of environment, when things aren’t clearly defined, and people are not exactly sure where they stand, created a huge gap for VERY messed up, unhealthy friendships with the opposite sex. Thanks mom! Add it to the mix that our role as ladies was that of the passive damsels in distress, who had to wait patiently in our tower for a Knight to come rescue us, and you have created the perfect storm.
But me, being me and going through my “holier than thou rebellion” (a time I believed I knew better than my parents what being godly meant) I fell prey right into the middle of the storm. It didn’t occur to me, at the time, to question the status quo. I was a fairly young Christian and I totally believed that to have a godly marriage, the only way was to accept the role bestowed upon me and I should probably take up knitting to complete the full picture of a helpless dame.
Around that same time, I was starting to take on a leadership role in our youth group and the pressure I felt from myself to be a good Christian and a good example to my peers made sure I not only operated in that environment, but actually encouraged it to our young people.
I confess, it’s not like I was beating boys with a stick… Turns out girls who lead, or are strong, or are outspoken in their opinions in any way, shape or form, are way too intimidating for medieval times… knitting indeed, would have been a better plan… but still… While those things certainly didn’t help my case with attracting THE one, I’m pretty sure my baggy tops and pants (used to “protect” my brothers in Christ from temptation) were not a helpful factor either.
The truth is, I was so desperately searching for approval of the opposite sex (due to past hurts not dealt with) that I didn’t have the maturity or self-esteem to give a voice to my feelings or to confront the unhealthy friendships that stemmed from that environment. It would take 10 years, moving countries, a bit of therapy and a lot of tears to finally move on from past hurts and start to find freedom.
During that season, God started working in my heart big time!
One of the first things He told me to do was to get rid those letters together with THE LIST for my future husband. Gasp! But Lord, it was the “God thing to do”, I said. I just felt Him showing me that I had built such an impossible image in my head of what a husband should be like, and the only thing that would match it would have been a robot.
I remember one night, I was alone in my flat, while my younger sister was out with her boyfriend. I was so tired of feeling so single and having to just accept my fate and “prayerfully wait” for God to send this stranger across my path that I agreed that it was time to let go of the whole idea of THE one. I took the small box with the letters in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, and set it on fire in our outside brick makeshift barbecue area. I was just DONE.
As I stared into the little pile of ashes, I thought to myself “Well, I guess I have no other choice now but to trust that You have the best for me. Even if my idea of what is best for myself is different from Yours. Even if it means not ever getting married. I trust that my life will be just as full, because You’ll make it full!” That was SO scary! I wondered if it might have been the wine talking… It wasn’t. From that moment on I was so fed up, that I meant every word.
While I did mean those words, it still was a daily battle to make them stick. Some days it was easy peasy, others required a glass of wine, some chocolate and an empowering song about how I didn’t need no man to save me! haha
The next step after dealing with past hurts happened about a year and a half after the ceremonial burning of the letters… I felt God challenging me to start voicing my feelings, and boy, that was a toughie.
If you know me, I am a words of affirmation person. I want people to like me. It is just my nature. The worst thing in the world that could ever happen to me was to feel the sting of rejection. I thought it was going to kill me. No joke. I thought I would physically feel so much pain from it that I would waste away in my bed if I ever encountered it. Kinda like when Padmé died from a broken heart in Star Wars. So, to avoid such horror, I had never truly been open about my feelings to anyone. Vulnerability was not an option. And here was God, asking me to do the exact thing I did not want to.
I have to say that it took essentially a week of sleepless nights, a very good friend to challenge me on it and pretty much a whole bottle of wine to finally gather the courage to tell a guy friend I had feelings for him. And the worst part was that I knew he did not feel the same way about me. I would try to reason with God. “Lord, this is a pointless exercise. I know he doesn’t have feelings for me. So, what is the point?” while I didn’t receive an “audible voice” kind of response, I just knew it that I had to come clean about where I was at.
I am glad to report that I, indeed, survived the rejection, and I am most grateful for it. Firstly, because the guy was extremely gentle and did not treat me like a freak. Secondly because it was like this monster that I had built up in my mind was nothing but a big shadow over a little chihuahua.
It’s not like I totally loved being rejected. Nope, it still sucked, but I was still standing and the impossible ceiling I was so afraid of, was finally broken.
So, after a few weeks of overcoming the rejection sting, I felt God saying I needed to put myself out there more. This time, though, it was different because I felt God saying I needed to go on dates. Here I was, a 28-year-old who had never been on a date before in her life trying to figure out how the heck I am supposed to get myself be asked to go on a date.
It might sound simple to you, but the task at hand would require nothing short of a miracle. In a Christian context, putting myself out there meant having more dinner parties, going to all church socials, letting friends know that I was keen to meet their single friends and praying and longing. All things I was well known to, all very much taking that same passive approach and all with a zero percent success rate in my experience.
When the Christian environment puts SO much pressure on marriage and on finding THE one, that makes for a very sterile environment where guys are way too afraid to ask girls out on a date, and if they, do it basically means they’re planning a wedding. People are SO afraid to make mistakes and put themselves out there that they end up playing mind games with each other and having “intentional friendships!!”.
So, I decided to take a different approach and expand my search to online dating, as the lines were clearly defined… everyone was in that platform to date. Not to have “intentional friendships”.
Around that same time, Tinder was beginning to explode in Cape Town and I felt God saying I should join it and go on dates.
“But, Lord, it’s a non-Christian dating app…”
“Do it but be honest about what you are looking for and define your boundaries very clearly.” I felt Him say.
So, there I was, profile picture selected, bio description with something to the effect of “Chocolate, cheese and wine. Christian girl looking to meet new people.” ready to start swiping.
While there were sleaze balls who only wanted a hookup, I did meet some interesting guys and went on a few really fun dates… but the important aspect was that I finally was figuring out my boundaries and learning what I really wanted out of a relationship.
I realized that how I felt and was treated was more important to me than being with the “perfect guy”. I went out with a few guys who came fairly close to the description on THE LIST and realized I actually did not like those guys at all. They were way too intense and serious for me. I needed someone kind, chill, funny who spoke fluent sarcasm.
Very few of those dates had a follow up one, and that was totally ok, because it was the season for me to put myself out there and meet people.
At the end of that year I felt God saying, that the Tinder thing was not something I was supposed to carry on to the new year, and so I deleted it. I was not afraid anymore of what the future would look like. I knew who I was, Whose I was and what I wanted. And whether I would get married or not was of little consequence to the fulfilled life I knew God had for me!
Now, that was the journey I needed to take.
It was the unconventional path God had to take me through to get me ready for the next season in my life.
Would I advise everyone to go on Tinder? Probably not.
Would I advise them to face their fears and risk being vulnerable? Absolutely.
Turns out, there is very little growth without vulnerability, and vulnerability is one of the most powerful things in the world.