This post is primarily intended for people who are dating and engaged, for those who are single and considering marriage, and for those who are wondering whether the old Christian clichés about dating and relationships actually ring true in practice.
A lot of my friends whom I met in college have just got engaged. I swell with pride every time I see the notification pop up on Facebook and can be filled with so much joy to see something so beautiful that I shed a tear, but it’s always followed by pensiveness about my own situation. Myself, I’ve just come out of a dating relationship. It was a good relationship based on understanding and forgiveness, and I was sad to leave it, and we parted as good friends who had just realised that, for now, a forever-promise wasn’t God’s best for either of us. It was a wrench to say no to that relationship when there were things that seemed to be totally right about it. But it taught me a lot, and without revealing any identities or specific details, I want to share that here for those who might benefit from it. Call it part of the healing process.
I have read a lot of dating articles from Christian web mags and evangelists. While my beau and I were dating, some people had told me that these were idealistic, unrealistic, repression-inducing, and a whole host of other negative things. But now I’ve come out the other side, I’ve learned a lot through my experience that affirms what the web mags and evangelists actually said. For instance, if I’d taken their advice better and gone easy on the emotional and spiritual intimacy side of things, then agreeing with what we understood to be God’s leading that now was the wrong time for us to enter marriage would not have been such a hard call to make, and ‘moving on’ would not seem as unthinkable as it does right now.
Here I’ve written a list of other, more positive things I discovered from the experience. Please note however that this is entirely subjective. I can’t speak for all women and nor do I intend to. I’m just speaking as myself, littlecloudsong, and if my experiences resonate with anyone else, I’ll be really glad.
- That there is a happy medium between too much makeup and no makeup.
- That looks aren’t everything – but aren’t nothing either.
- That being bought or recommended things by him that were more traditionally ‘feminine’ than my own self-conceived sense of identity told me I was, made me feel validated, affirmed and beautiful inside rather than offended or misunderstood. Those things said to me, “You are worthy of your biology; you are a prize among women and I cherish your womanliness, and I want to adorn you so that everyone will look at you and recognise that, on my account.”
- That kissing felt good, but sharing, understanding and forgiving each other felt much better – and what’s more, these things felt ‘better’ in a healthy, fulfilling, bond-strengthening way, rather than ‘good’ in the way a mayonnaise-drenched, heart attack-inducing cheeseburger tastes.
- That purity enhanced the dating relationship rather than detracting from it. While there was no forever-commitment (or, while the level of emotional vulnerability you can afford to show someone who’s promised they’ll dutifully love you forever and never leave you was lacking), the physical stuff actually acted more as a substitute for understanding, empathy, respect and other-centredness, rather than as an enhancer of these things.
- That my dressing modestly helped him not to be so distracted by my body that he couldn’t see my heart – and that that really matters to a guy who loves you for who you are and wants to win your heart for your heart’s sake.
- That men have emotional lives and relational goals too.
- That women can really, really hurt men in ways that society as a whole doesn’t advertise.
- That admitting when we’d wronged each other, straight after we’d wronged each other, was foundational to mutual understanding and intimacy.
- That the joy of being completely forgiven, whole-heartedly accepted and unconditionally welcomed back after I’ve just cleared my closet of a load of relational skeletons and laid them all at his feet, is one of the most breath-taking experiences in the world.
- That enthusing together about how awesome Christ is, is electric.
- That praying for each other regularly is really enriching.
- That mature, already-married Christians are an invaluable source of relationship advice and solidarity – even better than Christian websites, because they can personally smile and reassure you and pray for you, and they can give advice that’s appropriate to your situation and culture.
- That trusting him and submitting to his lead did not equate to willing abuse on myself – especially since he prayed every day that Christ would help him to crucify his selfishness, and his actions, concerns and prayer requests showed that he really meant it.
I guess this whole post will affect different people differently. Am I implying that it can be good to impose gender stereotypes on people, when I say that I much preferred to be bought things that were more traditionally ‘feminine’ than were the feminine-going-on-androgynous fashions that sat more in line with how I felt about myself? Am I advocating unequal power relationships and the subjugation of women when I talk about submitting to him – and make out that that was a good thing? When I talk about ‘modest dress’, could a person read patriarchal overtones into that, or say of me that I’m condoning the denial of women’s self-expressive freedoms? Well, these are things that I expect some people might have questions about. However, my personal appeal to you if you fall into that category is this: please have a little patience and think about it a while. We loved this way deliberately, and what we had was beautiful, or else I wouldn’t be writing about it in this way. These are only reflections on my own experiences after all. The truth be known, I’m still feeling fragile, I’m not in the mood for debate, and – in the quiet of my private thoughts that tend to spill out into the blogosphere under a fairly opaque alias every once in a while – I’m still grieving about having lost something so rare and so beautiful.