“So, why did you think it was a good idea to date him in the first place?”
I paused, not knowing how to answer. It was the day after Valentine’s Day, and I was on national radio, talking about my less-than-stellar love life. Awesome.
I had a feeling that anything I would say would somehow be used against me, not in a court of law, but at some family gathering in the future. I could just imagine my grandmother shaking her head. She was probably the only one listening to the broadcast anyway.
Let’s just say it’s humbling to admit that you have horrible taste in men.
“Don’t worry, Caitlin,” the host said. “Sometimes, that just happens.”
But I knew the truth. I had simply chosen to tune out the warning signs.
After picking up a copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, I had become enchanted with the concept of story and personal narrative. The book was influential in my decision to pack everything up in my convertible and move to Texas. I wanted to break out of “boring” and encourage others, along with myself, to live good stories.
So I started to do things simply because they would “make a good story.”
Let me be clear: I believe that choosing adventure is a good thing. But willfully ignoring warning signs along the road is stupid. Looking back at some of the stunts I pulled and situations I got myself in, I’m ashamed. My insecurity and immaturity were working overtime.
It’s not that I didn’t know better. I did. I was just pretending to be color blind.
Remember playing “Red Light, Green Light” as a kid? You know the game. The rules were simple. When whoever was “it” yelled “green light,” you and a massive hoard of children would rush toward them. “Red light” was a command to stop. If you were caught moving, you were disqualified from the game. Every once in awhile, “yellow light” was shouted and everyone had to proceed with caution. Everything mimicked the traffic rules adults were supposed to abide by.
It turns out, dating can be a lot like a giant game of “Red Light, Green Light.”
Red flags and deal-breakers
Many of us start dating with a mental checklist for our future spouse. And as Christians, we’re encouraged to hold out for saints—for someone who is clean-cut, lives upright and has strong standards.
Yet when we see something in our date that doesn’t line up with our ideal, we quickly dub it a “red flag” or a “deal-breaker.” It could be a moral failing, a complicated past, an annoying quirk or even just an issue of “compatibility.”
But which of these are really deal-breakers?
First of all, someone’s past is not automatically a red flag—not if they’ve repented and taken steps to change. If you believe in the forgiveness of Christ, you no longer have any ground to hold someone’s past against them.
As my friend Ray says, grace is scandalous, and to view relationships in a Christlike lens, we have to look at others with scandalous grace. He says that a healthy relationship, in the end, boils down to “Do you love Jesus?” and “Can we love Jesus together?” I think he’s onto something.
You will marry a sinner with a past. Guaranteed. Get over it. Your spouse will be marrying one, too. It’s what they do with their past and how they love Jesus now that matters most.
Yet there are real red flags to watch out for, and God outlines a few of these in the Bible. These warnings are not to restrict or frustrate you, but to protect you. He wants the best for you, even if you don’t always realize it. That’s why He warns against marrying someone who doesn’t share your faith (2 Corinthians 6:14-17), a person with an anger problem (Proverbs 22:24) and anyone who embraces an active lifestyle of sin. Things like compulsive lying, infidelity, abusive behavior and addictions have no place in a healthy relationship and should never be ignored.
You can’t do life with someone you fundamentally disagree with—nor would it be healthy.
Proceed with caution
I hate yellow lights when I’m driving and when I’m dating. Yellow lights are warning signs, telling you to slow down and prepare for what is coming up ahead.
When you’re faced with a yellow light, you have to make a decision. It’s important to see them for what they are: a chance to take stock of your surroundings and see just how committed you are to moving forward or halting to a stop altogether. Dealing with such a decision in dating can be emotionally draining, but it’s just what you have to do.
If something in your relationship is making you uncomfortable, investigate why. Instead of just running away, look at it in the face. Often the issues we run away from are the ones we fear the most. Ask yourself why you are afraid. Ask yourself if you’re in a healthy situation or not.
Unfortunately, the Bible only has so many pages, and there are many life issues it’s silent on altogether. There is no special expansion pack that outlines out your entire life. That’s where faith comes in. God tells us to have faith like a child. There’s nothing wrong with climbing up in God’s lap and asking Him questions.
Relationships are scary and messy. As you see the signs to proceed with caution, seek the Lord. He will give you the discernment and the courage to do what’s necessary, whether it’s pulling to a stop or moving forward.
The ultimate red flag
One of the hardest lessons I had to learn this past year was that I came with my own set of warning lights. Sometimes, I’m the problem.
My own tangled mess of pride, insecurity and pet sins can be as much of a problem as those of the man sitting across the table from me.
My radio interview was a wake-up call for me. It’s funny how being honest brings things into sharp focus. Instead of looking for a good story, I’m looking for wholeness in my own life. I’m learning to draw lines and fill the gaps in my own soul with Jesus instead of trying to fill them with more dating stories with handsome strangers.
Most of all, I’ve learned that healthy relationships don’t actually start with a mental wish list of what you want in another person—or even calling out red flags in their life when you see them. It starts with taking a good, hard look at yourself, your own sin and your Savior. Because if you require your date to abide by a set of standards, you need to first live by them yourself.
Caitlin Muir is a coffee snob from Portland who finally found her home in Austin, Texas. When she's not daydreaming adventures, she's living one or writing about past ones at www.caitlinmuir.com.