My favorite nickname is JHarmony, an ode to my unrelenting capacity to talk about relationships.
Some might call me obsessed. But actually it’s not dating or being in a relationship that I’m obsessed with. It’s how we navigate this area of our lives.
Whenever I’m discipling young leaders or speaking to young adults, it’s not long before we talk relationships. The conversations are candid, even raw. We talk about dreams and disappointments, failure and frustration, hopes and heartache.
But the most vulnerable part of the conversation is where, starting with my own broken story and many mistakes, we dare to face a few inconvenient truths about what truly shapes how they navigate relationships.
Relationships dominated the conversations, prayers and hopes of my twenties. I got married at 29, but my actual turning point happened years earlier when I realized that it was time to stop ranting and whining about the lack of single men in our church and, regardless of the pain, face a few difficult truths about what shaped my attitudes and approach to relationships.
It was breaking and it was a breakthrough. It was tears, sadness, prayer and listening to wise counsel. It was letting go and surrendering my life to Jesus again. It was, eventually, freedom.
And did I also mention that it was really difficult to face the truth of how I navigated relationships? Perhaps you can relate to my approach:
We Date to Hide Our Hurt and Insecurities and Feel Worth Something
The truth is that you can live a significant, fulfilled life—with significant, fulfilling relationships—without a significant other (After all, Jesus our saviour and example for everyday life never married).
Still, it was a truth I had to fight to believe in my heart and live in my life. I felt that if I wasn’t dating, it meant I wasn’t chosen. If I wasn’t chosen when it seemed that everyone else was, surely something was wrong with me. Maybe I wasn’t thin enough. Maybe I was too strong, too loud, too black?
My questions triggered past experiences and deeply rooted insecurities and my singleness confirmed my worthlessness. Wounded by theses fears and lies, I idolized relationships and resented others for having the answer to my prayer. I couldn’t see the beauty and purpose in the life I already had.
We Think Life Will Really Begin on Our Wedding Day
I had unhealthily placed my value and security in whether I was dating. I’d also incorrectly aligned my calling and potential with my marital status. I’d unhelpfully put certain areas of my life on hold because that was for “when I got married.”
I think I was scared that if I continued making decisions about my life, I might miss something out on important—like a husband. Better sit still and wait … and wait.
I see this a lot. People who won’t plan that big vacation. They don’t go for that promotion. They won’t commit to a faith community or engage with a call and vocation. They won’t deal with their debts, hoping marriage will fix it (a fantasy spouse is not a financial plan. Get some debt advice). Somewhere deep inside, they believe life begins when they meet their spouse.
Your life is happening now; choose to live it now. That’s what you’re actually missing out on.
We Allow Ourselves to Get Into Ambiguous, Unhealthy Relationships
There’s this girl I used to know—let’s call her Betty Back Up. She was deeply involved with a guy. They shared their lives with each other. When they hung out in groups, somehow there was an unspoken code that they would be hanging out together at the end of the night. There was a unique connection, a chemistry. But there wasn’t a title, a definition of their relationship. Still, Betty wouldn’t, even couldn’t, date anyone else. She was already committed.
Until that guy publicly declared his interest in another woman and started dating her.
Betty felt humiliated and used. She felt all the pain of a breakup but had to grieve it privately. Finally, it dawned on her. Betty was the simply the back up plan, a friend with emotional benefits. I —I mean she—felt angry and bitter. Then she realized that she’d done exactly the same thing with other guys. In the search for Mr. Right, she’d conveniently enjoyed the affections and attention of Mr. Right Now, knowing she’d no intention of ever getting together with him. He just made her feel good for while.
Ever been there? Are you there right now?
We Focus on Finding the ‘Perfect’ Person
Fresh from a breakup or back up, I carefully selected the kind of guy who was right for me. His age, his height, his spiritual maturity. His style, his family, his music taste. His life and calling. He would be proactive and committed. He was amazing. Everybody would think so. And he would be worthy of the annoying lengthy wait I was enduring. Furthermore, I’d never be hurt like I was before; I’d not wonder where I stood again. I prayed fervently.
Is it bad to write a list, to know what you want?
For me, I realized that in a bid to “guard my heart” from future hurt, I’d constructed a potent fantasy filtered through my longings. This idol ideal would redeem the painful past (I forgot that Jesus could do that if I let Him!).
My list was a stylish spiritual superhero. Let’s hope when he made his list, he fervently prayed for a woman with a broken childhood, a rapidly slowing metabolism, and postpartum depression after their second child. No? Awkward.
One day, a blond, mountain biking, engineer, five years younger than me asked me out on a date. I’m glad I ignored my list and said yes. It turned out I’d met the love of my life, a fab husband and a brilliant father to our kids.
What shapes how you navigate dating and relationships?
What do you need to do about it?
Jo Saxton is a director of 3DM, an organization that trains churches and Christian leaders to do discipleship and mission in an increasingly post-Christian world. Jo is a popular speaker throughout the United States and England and the author of three books. She loves her husband and two daughters to pieces and lives in Southern California.