Sunday, April 02, 2006

No Perfect Love

As I look ahead to what I might write next, one idea that keep percolating is Getting to I Do After Mom and Dad Said I Don't. Navigating the Christian dating scene is hard enough, but when you throw in the insecurities and fears that come from trying to create that which you haven't experienced at home, it's tempting to give up on the whole thing.

A friend of mine from college, Camerin Courtney, is becoming a bit of an expert on the topic of Christian dating. She's the editor of ChristianityToday.com's Singles channel and the author of two books about being a Christian single.

Her newest book, The UnGuide to Dating, was co-written with Todd Hertz. Regardless of our family background, Christian singles today seem to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to find the "perfect" match. Online dating only increases our consumer mentality when it comes to dating, because if one person doesn't perfectly match up, if we ever have a doubt, we can keep browsing. And while there is great wisdom in seeking a spouse with great qualities, we have to remember that no one is perfect. Over the long haul, a solid marriage tends to be more about our choices than our chemistry, more about living our faith in love, than reacting to our feelings, more about being holy than happy. Marriage is two imperfect people learning to perfect their love by relying on the One who is love perfectly personified.

The excerpt below really hit home:

Not That Puzzling
by Todd Hertz
March 29, 2006

I remember once sitting in a car with my girlfriend at the time. All of a sudden, I got very annoyed. I'm not even sure what bugged me. But at the time, I decided it was her. I was bored and irritated—and I jumped to the conclusion it was her fault. I began to wonder right then whether I even wanted to be in this relationship. All because of a slight fluttering of negative emotion.

The thing is, this wasn't like a second or third date. This wasn't merely a dating potential I was considering. We'd been a couple for a while. I cared for her deeply. She was encouraging and challenging, attractive and brilliant, fun and sincere. She was passionate about the Lord and her job. We'd had instant chemistry: Not only did we feel at home with each other on the first date and discovered many common interests, but we quickly developed mutual respect, admiration, and trust. And we'd talked seriously and frankly about our future. In fact, I'd been praying intensely about this relationship because I was pretty sure she'd be the woman I'd eventually marry.

But even with that solid foundation—and several assurances of God's blessings—I easily became concerned about a fleeting and uncommon negative emotion. In fact, not only was this annoyance not a regular thing, I think that night may have been the first bit of irritation I'd felt while with her. But yet, my mind lent this emotion way too much credit and significance. As I stared out the window, I thought, If this were my future wife, surely I wouldn't be annoyed right now. I'd be pleased and content with her all the time! This feeling must mean something. God must be telling me there's something wrong here.

This wasn't the first relationship in which I had thoughts like this. And I knew it was dangerous. It's kind of like that old Friends episode where Chandler realizes he chronically breaks up with women for small, trivial excuses—like the fact that the woman's head is too big. His deeper problem was a fear of commitment. Mine was the opposite: I desperately wanted a commitment, but I wanted the perfect commitment.

My faulty logic was partly because I expected the Hollywood lie of the perfect romance where everything is rosy all the time. A second part of the problem was my assumption God would provide me with a wife who exactly matched all my specifications. I also expected he'd lead me to that perfect woman with huge neon signs, an easy path, and no doubts. Consequently I had silly expectations of God, the women I dated, and the feelings I'd experience when I found the "right" one. Therefore, every little thing that happened during a normal relationship—including the inevitable off moments and disagreements—sent my head spinning. I assumed every fleeting thought and emotion were signs from God. I'm bored talking to her on the phone right now? Surely, if this were my wife-to-be I'd want to talk for hours every night!

In a way, it's almost as if I was putting together a jigsaw puzzle and had one final space to fill—but many, many extra pieces in the box. Eagerly, I searched for that right piece. And instead of just trying them in the empty space, I held each one up for detailed analysis. Looking it over inch by inch, I checked the shape and size, and I tried to interpret the look, the markings, and the color—all to be sure it was indeed the one to even try in the space.

After freaking out that night, I had three important conversations. First, I told my girlfriend what was going on in my head. I believe open conversation and transparency are key to any healthy relationship. Second, I talked to my accountability partner to get the married male perspective. Third, and most importantly, I talked vulnerably with God. I realized from the three conversations that my hang-up, first and foremost, was fear. I wasn't afraid of marriage. I wasn't afraid of commitment. I was afraid I'd choose incorrectly. I was afraid I'd be wrong about the one I married. And thus, I was overly concerned about the choosing.

My prayer times also helped me realize my psycho puzzle search was keeping me from ever being content. I was just expecting too much—from myself, from God, and from the women I dated. My standards were too high. Of course, I'm not saying we should settle for just anyone—but I wasn't being realistic. By putting so much weight on every little quality of a woman—and by looking so hard for God's signs and the specific qualities I wanted—I could always find something that signaled this wasn't the right piece of the puzzle.

I also realized emotions can't always be trusted. Of course, emotions do speak to us in great ways. Regular happiness, secure comfort, or constant annoyance really do say a lot about the person creating those feelings in us. And God often speaks through how we feel. But momentary annoyance or anger or boredom isn't going to always "mean" something. Not only are emotions fleeting and unreliable, but love isn't immune from those things. My accountability partner at the time asked me, "Do you think I never get angry or annoyed with my wife? Sometimes, you'll be miserable."

What made a real difference in my mindset—and that specific dating relationship especially—was my fourth realization. While I was too busy investigating whether this was the "right" puzzle piece, I forgot that love isn't a puzzle at all. It's not a search for one perfect piece or else all is lost. Instead, it's a mixture of following God's will, finding compatibility, and—the part I forgot—choosing to commit. Dating isn't about finding what you think may be the "right" puzzle piece and then holding your breath through the vows to see if you picked right. It's about choosing well (with an eye to compatibility, chemistry, and God's guidance) and then committing to make it work. Love says, "I'm gonna stick with this even if I'm angry at you. Even if I hate you right now. Even if I'm miserable. Even if I'm bored hanging out with you. I choose to love you."

With that realization, I felt tremendous freedom. No longer was I bound by infrequent emotions or what I thought was the "right" one or not. Now, I could listen wholeheartedly to God, realistically evaluate my compatibility with my girlfriend, and work to make our relationship the puzzle piece that fits.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in finding material discussing adult children of divorce on the mission field. If 40% of all adults between the ages of 18-40 come from broken homes, I can only wonder how this might affect the future of American missions. I also wonder how this might affect team relationships: What can those who come from intact families and broken families learn from one another?

Also, I wonder if perhaps single adult children of divorce who pursue missions (trying to build a life through service to God) find that their parents' divorce comes back to haunt them as they are adjusting to a new culture in much the same way that ACOD's experience it when considering their own future marriages. Could the fact that so many adults are from broken homes be a reason as to why its increasingly harder to recruit people committed to career missions?

These thoughts just popped into my mind when I read to bit about what you were considering for future writing material.

TP headed to dark Europe

Jen said...

Wow...I can't say I've found any research that specific before. I can tell you that ACODs typically have a few barriers to overcome when it comes to relationships in general, especially as it relates to conflict solution (we've learned how to fight more than to forgive) and loving unconditionally (we've observed that there are limits to giving and receiving love).

Ironically, when I first became a Christian, I wanted to become a missionary, a Bible translator with Wycliffe. I had no desire to marry because I had no idea how to make a marriage work. I thought mission work woul be a good way to redeem my fear. But ultimately, I don't think God's best is to serve Him as we're running FROM something.

From the emails and conversations I've had with ACODs, I see my most effective mission field here--talking to churches and other groups, encouraging singles and couples toward healthy, lasting marriages.

Peace to your heart as you follow God's call.

partygirljessica said...

my take on online dating is that it gives me very wide options. it's a good way to start meeting peopl. i mean, someone has to start somewhere right? my friends say it's pathetic at first, but after getting them signed up at webdate they're just grateful they did.