This journal was written to clarify my viewpoint on dating to a new friend after she and I had spent an hour discussing the topic. Typically, I write better than I speak, and my verbal arguments tend to come out confused, so I thought this was necessary to write and share with her. After reading this again, I think it’s something worth sharing on WordPress, too. Maybe someone will agree with me, even if I have my doubts. 😉
Originally written on June 28, 2013:
At five o’clock this morning, I had woken up from a deep sleep, troubled in part from the reminder that I had eaten pizza a few hours earlier, but also troubled by the realization that some choices I make just don’t work out. In spite of how sure I am that what I choose is the right thing, or the choice that seems best, sometimes it doesn’t work. And it hurts. It is what it is, I often think. Safe response to the letdown. It’s my scapegoat for avoiding the fact that I don’t understand anything that steps beyond the boundaries of normalcy or logic (by what I think is normal or logical). Ego—psh. Many times I don’t understand why my choices are met with stronger opposition than what I expect going into them. Why should I? I don’t make my choices lightly, yet somehow my choices tend to leave me in neutral. And why is that? Why do I take great care in the decisions I make before I make them? Because I believe in what I stand for? Well, yes. Because I don’t like the idea of compromising who I am to fit some societal paradigm that may or may not have the correct thinking? This assumes, of course, that I have the correct thinking and that millions of others don’t, but that sounds like the definition of pompousness to me, and it’s not fair of me to assume that. Honestly, I don’t think I’m wrong, but for them, they may not be wrong, either. Maybe that’s why we have so many different types of people in the world with varying viewpoints. Maybe that’s why certain people are never destined to connect while others gravitate to their like-minded peers like bees to pollen. It’s a complete tangle of questions, understanding, acceptance, ideas, whatever. It is what it is. But is it? Sometimes what we believe in has opposition just because the world can’t be one-sided.
On the topic of dating, relationships, and other confusing things, I never really have a clue how to broach it in discussions because it falls in the same line of philosophy as multiple religions, politics, meat versus vegetarianism, dogs versus cats, and so on, which is to say that it’s entirely subjective and usually controversial, especially if society has one viewpoint about it and I have another. When asked of my perspective, I trust that my words are well received. However, I can see in many cases where perhaps my explanation lacks some keywords, and it often surprises me that I’m challenged on what I feel is a reasonable, logical, and trustworthy viewpoint.
Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics. So, let’s put that into perspective. Misuse of semantics is the atheist’s best weapon against the Bible. He searches for keywords that has a different meaning in ancient Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek and applies it to the modern American meaning, which is generally a corrupt shadow of the original. He isn’t right about it because a misuse of semantics does not change meaning, only the impression of meaning. But he thinks he’s right because it’s all he’s got to defend his argument, and he’s never wrong in his own mind. Doesn’t make him right. He ignores the meaning behind the word. Perhaps that’s why words are important to me: I know that words are so easily taken out of context, or given the wrong meaning. For example: The word love in our society has gone from meaning the combined verses of 1 Corinthians 13 to “My heart thumps for you, therefore I love you.” Maybe for our society, we can accept that as the new definition, but then what do we do with the original one? Nothing in 1 Corinthians 13 has changed relevance. I just think that we as a society don’t want to put forth the effort to maintain the original meaning anymore. We want what’s self-serving, not what’s in others’ best interest. As a product of this generation, I understand it. I’m human, I’m young, and I want what’s self-serving and immediate, too. Loving others is hard. It’s only fun when they love me back. But it’s not right for me to hold back because they’re not willing to reciprocate the action. Jesus never held back from me, and being Christian means to be like Christ. Why should I hold back? Why should I change the meaning of love to apply more to the “What can you do for me today?” attitude when the correct attitude, according to the summarized message of 1 Corinthians 13, is, “How can I show you you’re worth it today?”
To bring these ideas into the context of our discussion:
When I speak of the idea of growing in relationship with a friend, I don’t say that to dismiss the idea of dating, or to suggest that it shouldn’t be an early, or even an immediate part of getting to know someone. Love has to start somewhere, and dating makes that easier. I agree with that. I think where my idea of dating (or simply getting to know someone) is lost in translation with the common thinking—that dating and friendship are mutually exclusive—is that I have an extremely loose interpretation of what dating is. I don’t always know how to explain it, especially in a real-time conversation (this is why I prefer to write my viewpoints down—gives me a chance to organize my thoughts and to present them in a way that makes sense, or in a way that I hope makes sense). And real-time conversations have a knack for making me stop and rethink my viewpoint when the counterpoint is valid, so that makes it even harder to explain. But it doesn’t change the foundation of where I stand or how I view it. And it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t require a traditional dating relationship to get to know someone well enough to make a wise decision about her.
I won’t always have the answer the first day I meet her. But that’s why I talk to her. I may end up with just a friend, and I’m perfectly fine with that. But I don’t want her to think that I have to be just a friend because I choose to get to know her through means alternative to traditional Friday-night dating. I think connections are connections regardless of environment, and while I like the “dating” environment plenty well—there is a mystique about taking someone out to dance, getting her there in a limousine or something cooler than a Honda Civic, and lavishing her with flowers and compliments, for example—I don’t think it should be the only (or even necessarily the first) connection point for deciding whether someone is worth my heart. I typically know if someone’s worth my heart just from spending the time talking to her, even if I’m talking to her in the middle of a crowded bus station. It’s not the ideal environment, but I’m still getting to know her and appreciate her, so what’s the big deal? I don’t think dating is the answer for deciding my mate. I think it makes choosing her more fun, but I don’t think it’s the most important part of the relationship. I think what’s important is that she and I connect, that she and I understand each other, that she and I can work well together (which traditional dating, by the way, rarely explores), that she and I can accept each others’ faults (something else that traditional dating fails to consider early on), and that we can be comfortable with each other. I definitely think attraction separates friends from lovers, but I don’t think eventual lovers should avoid also being friends. Eventually romance will wane. I’m not blind to that reality. What’s left has to be solid. In time, physical attraction will also wane. Age trumps beauty generally, and a successful relationship will outlast that. This is no excuse for me to date or get to know a woman I’m not attracted to, because age is not a factor for me today. Women my age still have their looks, and I’m thankful for that. But, what remains when those looks finally fade? I still have to trust and love the choice I had made in case I live long enough to see her (and myself) reach that point of elderliness.
Obviously, this doesn’t contradict anything we had talked about. Friendship through dating happens, and it has to happen if the relationship moves into a marriage and that marriage is to have a chance at success. However, I think the mistake here, and the mistake in common societal thinking, is in the definition of what dating is, and in some cases, what it’s for. If it’s about taking a woman out to dinner and a movie, and then kissing her goodnight, well, that’s great and all, and I certainly have no problem with that. But, if the difference in deciding between whether she’s just a friend or a potential match becomes limited by just those dates (or lack thereof), and excludes all the other forms of connections—the times serving with her, helping her through a crisis or celebrating her victories (and vice versa), meeting her for coffee after a hard day’s work when you know her friends will be there, too, or sharing a laugh because some kid just sprayed me with a garden hose when I wasn’t paying attention—I think that’s all included in the package deal—then I don’t think we’re making a wise or an informed decision about our mates. I may not always call it dating because I don’t want to pressure her with expectations, or convince her that it’s okay to be anyone but her natural self, but all interactions with her add up in my viewpoint, and I pay attention to each one. I agree that the difference between a friend and a lover is attraction, but that’s the only difference I can agree to. The most effective thing a traditional date provides in the beginning, in my opinion, is an environment that expects romance without knowing who I’m romancing, and as I said, I’m not ready to romance a stranger. That is not who I am, nor do I think I should be required to change that in order to find what I’m looking for. If I can’t get to know her in a natural, healthy, truthful way, then she’s not someone I’m gonna trust with my heart, now or down the road. I may still like her. I may still want to make it work. But it will always feel forced to me. And I will always question what will happen when beauty and romance fades. A friend, I won’t have to question. I already know my answer. I’ll continue to stick beside her because I wouldn’t want any other. I trust her. I love her. It was my choice the moment I recognized who she was—the real her, not the photo-shopped version of her that I got to know in the beginning through all of those lavish, limousine-filled dates, or those dates that had the misfortune of starting with a Honda.
I don’t know if that confirms or clarifies what we had talked about, but that’s essentially my viewpoint. In an organic conversation, it’s inevitable that I won’t get to address certain points, and this is one of those topics that I think it’s important that I’m able to share as much as I can. I’ve had other friends question why I wouldn’t just ask a girl out the moment I meet her. They all think I’m dooming myself for wanting to build a friendship first. I could be wrong, but my impression throughout our conversation last night was that you agree with them. That saddens me in a way, because it reminds me that my viewpoints aren’t shared by the mass of that gender that I want to attract, yet, I know that forsaking a friends-first policy would mean forsaking who I am as a man who trusts and wants to be trusted. It would also mean forsaking my faith in a God who can arrange a relationship however He sees fit, formulas not included, and if He wants to grow a friendship into romance, I think it’s really unfair to all parties involved if one of the members doesn’t want to take the chance because the other is “just a friend.” That’s been the source of my relational frustrations over the years. I’ve had numbers of women tell me I’m a handsome, decent, caring guy, and yet none of them was willing to do anything about that. Those words are empty to me as a result. Why encourage me with something they won’t (not can’t) deliver on? It’s disheartening. I wrestle with God because He knows the women who would not ignore my qualities or usher me into that “friends zone” I hate so much. The fact that He hasn’t introduced me to such a woman makes me wonder if such a woman even exists. It’s no way to live, to know that what I value most about a relationship is the one thing I have to rush or discard completely if I want that relationship to become permanent. I can’t do that. It isn’t fair to me, or to the person I care about. Maybe my ego is wounded. Maybe because I know I’m worth the effort and the time, and even the romance—I’m positive I have a gear that no one has dared to discover and would be pleasantly surprised by had they given it a chance—I am perpetually disappointed by how easy it is for others to shoo the consideration under the rug because I’m just a friend. Yes, I’m a friend, a friend who has a whole lot more to offer than what they allow. And, I get that awkwardness is part of the equation. I just think the awkwardness exists because her heart refuses to see the truth, the beauty, the integrity, and the faith of what stands before her eyes. I think she refuses to see it because she thinks dating has to come first, and it’s strictly for the romance, and that it fits entirely in a stereotypical design of dinners, dancing, and whatever else invites warm feelings to foster. I’d rather not fall for that thinking. I think dating is just a cherry on an already beautiful cake that’s built with trust, hope, care, wisdom, understanding, affection, connection, and love—all the things that the best friendships are made of. Who cares if it happens immediately or in time? It shouldn’t happen before a time when it’s best, or when both people are ready to share the journey with each other and recognize the possibility that maybe they were even made for each other. If I am made by God’s design for the companionship of a friend He puts into my life, and she cannot see it because she believes that friends and lovers are mutually exclusive, then hasn’t one avenue of God’s will been squandered?
My firm opinion is that any friendship can transition to a romance (and a prosperous and faithful one, mind you) if those other ingredients (trust, hope, care, etc.) are present and accepted. Where friendship cannot transition well into romance is if one party is resistant to it (whether it’s a sense of awkwardness or straight-up fear of losing a friend), or if the attraction is missing (and I hope it’s because it was always missing and not because it went missing), or if the friendship isn’t really a friendship. It’s my belief that if a friendship dies because romance was given a chance, then that friendship was destined to die in time anyway. You said yourself that you’ve lost male friends to marriage. That is the inevitable ending to many friendships for you, for me, and for all of us. When men and men, or women and women are friends, there are no romantic boundaries to contend with (unless you have the most awkward friendship imaginable), so you don’t have to worry about losing them to other men or women, ideally. When men and women are friends, then you eventually have to contend with their boyfriends or girlfriends, their husbands or wives, and that can put a strain on the friendship and an end to the growth. It happens all the time, so that outcome is inevitable. For all the work we put into maintaining (and growing) an opposite-sex friendship, we still eventually come to a natural fade when one enters a romance with another person and the hints of jealousy and distrust (from the dating camp) begins to rise. Friendships can still exist in those conditions, but it’s a lot like trying to grow an apple out of season in the heart of a wasteland. It struggles, and probably doesn’t look so great when the season reaches its end. Romance, in my opinion, gives that friendship not only an added kick, but it keeps it in the right season all the time, and if you should marry that person, then only death can take that friendship away. I don’t understand why anyone would reject that.
It’s too much philosophy for early in the morning, and now I wish I was back in bed. But the ideas behind what we discussed really leaves me jaded about our approaches to romance, and I couldn’t really sleep thinking that I would consistently waste away my hopes for a companion, and ultimately a family, because I refuse to give in to an ideal that I don’t believe in. And it’s worse to think that the ideal I don’t believe in is driven entirely by semantics, and that most of the people I care about and would love to have as a permanent part of my life are so limited by it, and that they are so determined to keep my hands tied because they are so limited by it. It sucks, and I hate it.
That’s, of course, the full uncut version of my thoughts on the matter. I think some things you’d agree with. Many, I’m pretty sure, you won’t agree with. And that’s fine. I think what works for you works for you, and what works for me works for me. Granted, it appears to me that dating philosophy is actually a joke wrapped in an onion, considering we’re both still single in spite of our die-hard relational beliefs. In the end, I think knowing whether something is truly working really comes down to whether or not we trust God to provide the right man or woman for us, and whether we have the eyes, ears, nose (in my case), and heart to realize it.
In regard to application:
If God introduces me to a woman and I grow to love her and believe in her over time, for whatever reason I’m inspired to do so, then I will grow to love her and believe in her and not apologize for wanting to be her friend first, because she’s loved and believed in, and that means she’s important, cared for, appreciated, and absolutely beautiful in my eyes. Why should she feel awkward about being loved by someone decent and kind, especially if she and I would never know each other, or even about each other, if God had not been loving and creative enough to put us in the same room with each other in the first place? God puts people together; it’s up to us to decide what to do with it. We don’t always move in wisdom. But sometimes we do. We’re human. We’re stupid. We don’t have it all figured out. God does. Can we trust Him to do what He knows is best for us? Most of us can, but don’t. Sometimes we take days, weeks, months, or years to catch up to the realization of what great things He has put before us. I’ve struggled with that for years. So have you. So have so many of us. It’s a running theme of our own inability to see the truth for what it is. We see only what we’re comfortable with seeing. And that is severely limiting. I don’t give a crap about what makes me feel awkward. I have my lines (I told you about one of them), and I won’t cross those. But to deny an entire body of possibilities because the definition of a hundred-year-old word isn’t perfectly fulfilled seems limiting, and maybe even destructive, to me, and I don’t know why so many people are in favor of following it with such conviction, or that so few reject the limitation it causes. A great woman is a great woman. Friend or lover, she’s a great woman, and if I grow to love her in time (doesn’t usually take me long if she’s that great, but I have had my late discoveries, so it’s not terribly unusual), I don’t want to be denied her love because we didn’t get to know each other through official, notarized, signed and copied dates in the first week. Discovering that she has a sick sense of humor when that neighbor’s kid splashes me in the pants with a garden hose is a good enough addition to the layers and layers of connection I discover in her, to know her for who she really is, and to love her for who she is. That’s far more valuable to me than either of us dressing to impress the other, or putting on that dating face that may or may not be true. For me, traditional dating is nothing more than an additional way to get to know her. I am not limited to it, nor do I think it’s best to limit myself to it, nor do I feel it’s necessary to make dating the jumping off point of a relationship. If anything, it gives her an avenue to hide her true self, and that makes me uncomfortable. So, that’s the value of building a friendship first in my eyes. It isn’t me rejecting the dating lifestyle. It’s me including her into my life in the most natural way available. If I can’t do that, then she’s not worth going after. It hurts my feelings that that ends up applying to pretty much every unattached woman I meet.
Oh, and just because we’re friends, it doesn’t mean she can’t kiss me if she wants. What single man doesn’t want to be kissed by a pretty girl? Just saying. Friendship is a word. Dating is a word. What matters to me is the connection. If it’s there, then she’s got a great chance. She just has to want it, and she has to believe it can work. I’m saying it can work. I don’t give up on anyone I believe in easily, and I’ve already promised God that whomever He does bring my way, I’ll love her unconditionally, and I’ll love her well, and I will never throw her back into the sea. She’ll have to throw herself back out there if that’s what she wants. I think I’m a gracious and romantic enough person to make heading back out there undesirable. And let’s be honest, I’ve waited far too long to discover that great woman to want to throw her back. I thank God for any woman who can see that and trust Him about me. It’s certainly the evidence that He sees my heart and cares about my desire for the best there is.
Here I am still waiting to find out if a nice girl out there will give my love a chance. I’m still waiting. One day I hope the wait pays off. I care too much about making a marriage work in a society filled with broken marriages to waste any valuable resource available to get me and the woman of my dreams to that place of understanding and acceptance. Isn’t that ultimately why we want to grow connections with the opposite sex in the first place? To fulfill the hope that maybe we can make the present and the future work beautifully? Why bother if our goal is simply to have fun and feel good for a season? There will always be plenty of men and women who are readily available for shallow, aimless, purposeless connection. I could go out and date any one of those ladies today if I had wanted to.
Okay, I’m done. Any questions? Just kidding. I think I’ve said plenty. So, there you go. Next time the topic comes up, you’ll have a better understanding of my foundational viewpoint. I know there were so many topics and details thrown around last night that it was difficult to sense any grounding on the matter. I hope this grounds it better.
Enjoy your day.