These are the words many single young adults dream of saying. I remember longing for the day when I could look into the eyes of the love of my life and utter those perfect two words in front of a crowd of witnesses. It would be such a sacred moment, filled with deep emotion and uncontainable joy.
But my “I do” moment wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. The night before our wedding, gorgeous linens were perfectly draped at the backdrop of the church. Flower arrangements lined each aisle. The wedding dress was pressed, the rings were safely secured, and the wedding party arrived in time from all over the country.
With friends and family in town, we quickly finished our rehearsal, which went off without a hitch. I didn’t really think too much about the details of the ceremony, because to be honest, I had seen more than a dozen weddings in the past few years and pretty much knew the drill. Soon after the rehearsal, we were off to have a good time and celebrate at our rehearsal dinner.
When our wedding day finally arrived, everything happened so quickly that it seemed as though the day was on fast-forward. Before I knew it, I was walking down the aisle toward my sweet teary-eyed husband-to-be and then, moments later, getting ready to finally say “I do.”
As I listened to the pastor recite the beautiful words with which he asked me if I would “take this man to be my beloved husband,” I realized something. I had no idea which hand to place the ring on. His right or my left? Is that the same thing?There I was, in front of a crowd of more than three hundred people, with no idea what to do next.
So I grabbed a hand, and hoping no one would notice, I placed the ring on my beloved husband’s ring finger. But leave it to my loud and rambunctious family to tell it like it is. Sure enough, someone called me out.
“Wrong hand!” came a shout from the crowd, piercing the sacred moment and producing a ripple of chuckles throughout the chapel.
Trying to save the moment, I looked around and shouted back, “Wrong hand … but at least I’ve got the right guy!”
After the laughter subsided, we regained our composure, got the ring on the right (left) hand, and went on with our vows.
Isn’t that the truth when it comes to finding true love? So many things can be right on your wedding day: the perfect decor, the most elegant reception hall, the greatest group of family and friends, the right hand, and even the perfect “I do” moment, but without the right spouse, you’ve got nothing with which to move forward.
If you’re a young, single person, you may be searching for true love. Your desire for marriage may be strong, even feel like a preoccupation that you can’t seem to shake. You might be sick and tired of being single and alone, watching your friends get knocked off, one by one, into the world of love while you feel more and more isolated.
Maybe you found someone you thought was “the one,” only to have your heart broken and your hopes shattered, alone once again. In a world that seems to cater to couples and families, sitting at a table for one is the last place you want to be.
But the ironic thing about finding true love is that it must start at a table for one. In the Church, we’re often told that true love waits, but true love also dates. Dating might look very different for different people—some may take the traditional dating route while others prefer courtship. But in any case, before any significant relationship comes along, you must commit to a series of three stages of dating: inward, outward, and upward. Believe it or not, these stages begin with one very important person you may have overlooked: yourself.
In a world that idolizes relationships, the importance of getting to know yourself has been lost. Not only is it a significant step toward finding happiness, it is also a vital stop along the journey of finding true love. Dating inward is the first stage, the foundation on which every other stage builds.
Of course, finding true love doesn’t stop there; this is only the beginning. True love dates because once you have dated yourself, the next step is dating others. In the course of dating outward, most relationships will be temporary, used only as tools to chisel and polish you.
Dating outward should be seen as a learning process in the search for true love. It involves transparency, timing, communication and healthy boundaries. It is a give-and-take that must never desperately give too much or fearfully give too little. It is a series of choices that lead you closer and closer to true love.
Once you have mastered the art of dating inward and learned from the complexities of dating outward, you’re ready for the last step. Last, but oh so important, is dating upward. Dating upward is the practice of connecting to God, allowing your relationship with him to guide and shape your life.
Many skip over this step in their pursuit of true love, relying on their own definitions and examples of love to guide them. Dating upward proposes that to fully engage in the exchange of love with another human being, you must first experience it within the context of a relationship with God. Dating upward requires committing to your relationship with the designer and creator of true love.
It involves accepting that you are loved by Him, and then learning to reciprocate this love to God and to extend it to others. It means inviting God into the deepest parts of your heart, allowing His definition of love to permeate your life and, in turn, your relationships. True love dates because it is within these three stages of dating that you can find true love — true love for yourself, true love for your future mate, and true love for God.
This excerpt was adapted from Debra Fileta’s new book True Love Dates (Zondervan, 2013) by permission from the author and the publisher. This excerpt was taking from the introduction to True Love Dates. The concepts of dating inward, outward, and upward are expanded upon in detail throughout the book.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.