I hesitate to share this 1, because I am angry. It’s usually not a great idea to share things written in frustration and 2, it’s very personal. But I am going to share because I believe the lesson has implication beyond just my situation.
On and off for 10 years I have been part of the world of online dating. I’ve met some nice people, had a couple relationships, encountered some interesting people and received some hilarious emails. I do face book posts that I call “adventures in online dating” where I share some of the more humorous messages I receive. I view the online format as a way to connect with those that you would not meet otherwise in daily life. To be honest, I hate it. Hate might not even be a strong enough word. So why do I continue to put myself voluntarily through something that I so strongly dislike? In short, because it develops something in me that would otherwise remain undeveloped. It serves as a gym, so to speak, to develop, use and train muscles that would otherwise remain atrophied.
By nature I am an introvert, and on the shy side as well. It is NEVER fun to me to meet someone for the first time. In fact, it makes me more anxious than I can even describe. I am ashamed to admit that I have cancelled first meetings more times than I can count because the anxiety overwhelms me. No doubt the poor guys pick up on this anxiousness and believe me, it makes for a very long and awkward meeting. I’m guessing you are cringing even reading this! To be honest, lately I have had a series of bad first meetings (I don’t call them dates but refer to them as meet-and-greets J) A couple were completely my fault as I just wasn’t able to push past the anxiousness. A couple were simply because we weren’t a good fit. I have to say that this has been frustrating, discouraging and makes me want to give up hope. Now before you feel sorry for me and try to fix me up with your great uncle once removed, let me tell you why I am ok with that.
Ten minutes into the last meet and greet I had, I knew that we were not going to be a match. For a variety of reasons. Later, when the guy launched into an animated, detailed description of his new cooking gadget, I knew I was in trouble. His passion for food and cooking was evident. He joyfully described what he would cook and what spices he used and how cooking was his favorite thing to do on a winter day. I tried hard not to let my eyes glaze over or my face to reflect the fact that I couldn’t have cared less about his cooking. What I ended up saying was that I would rather scrub a toilet than cook! Probably not the best thing to say but it is the truth. I explained that I was not even close to being a foodie and I actually didn’t care anything about food or cooking. Again, the absolute truth. Before I had left the parking lot I received a text saying that he didn’t think we were compatible. I agreed. The thing is, this is still a rejection of sorts. And it is soooo easy to walk away and think “what is wrong with me?” Most women would be thrilled to have a guy who wanted to cook for them. They would be thrilled to have a guy who wanted to try out new restaurants because it means she wouldn’t have to mess with dinner! It is so easy to walk away from an encounter where you are not chosen and feel like it is your fault. Because you are somehow wrong or not normal. To think thoughts like- if I only talked less. If I only asked more questions. If I would have only not said this or that. What we are really saying when we think like this is: if only I hadn’t been myself. Let that sink in for a minute. If I hadn’t been true to who I am, maybe ______ would have liked me. If I hadn’t said what really represents me, maybe I would have had a second date.
I did feel like this for a few minutes. Then I questioned myself. Was it wrong or bad not to love food? No, it isn’t. Is not being a foodie a character flaw or going against God in some way? No, it’s not. Does saying that I am the furthest thing from a foodie that you will find accurately represent who I am? Yes it does. This awkward encounter was a bit of a turning point for me though. Food was really important to this guy and he wanted to share that passion with someone he dated. Perfectly acceptable and understandable. Food is not important to me but some other things are and he didn’t share those things. Instead of viewing it as me being somehow wrong or rejected (he’s good and normal, I’m not) I viewed it as we just weren’t right for each other. No one was bad or wrong, just not a match. My “self” muscle is indeed developing! See, there is no shame in being true to yourself. If fact, this is what God wants for us. If God knit us together in our mother’s womb and we are fearfully and wonderfully made, then he certainly knows what he created. And it is telling that he didn’t create us all alike. Even though we have some commonalities, we are all different creations. Hair color, eye color, skin color, height, personality, likes and dislikes set us apart from each other.
Part of growing and maturing is learning what makes you tick. What you like and dislike. What you enjoy and what you can’t stand. Too many of us have molded ourselves into a shape that we were never supposed to take. Our parents may have pushed us to play soccer when we really loved to dance. We may have studied one subject when we would have preferred to go another direction. People want us to act a certain way so we do it to keep peace within a relationship. We eat food we hate because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It is possible for us to lose who we really are in the process of life. Part of my journey over the last 10 years has been getting a handle on what makes me me. Coming to accept what I like and what I don’t. What I want in relationships (and not just dating relationships). Learning that it is ok to say what is important to me and what is not. Learning to be genuine with myself and then with others. This is authentic relationship- when we know who we really are and that is what we offer to others.
Learning these things about myself has given me a new understanding of God as well. If you are a Christian, you have a relationship with God. He works in us and desires to touch others through us. Not us as in simply humanity, but us as in us personally. God’s desire is to use our specific bents, gifts, personalities, passions, and attributes to affect the world around us. But imagine how difficult that would be to do if we are always working against our true self. If we apologize for who we are or what we like or we cave in every time we are criticized for our passion or personality. If we constantly second guess our choices and wonder if we should have said let’s have Italian instead of saying you want Mexican food. It’s mighty hard for God to “use” us to affect those around us if we don’t have an understanding of who we are as individuals and through Him. We need both. Opposition will come and if we don’t have a knowledge and belief of who we are and what we are about, any push will cause collapse.
For me, online dating has been the format that God has used to develop this sense of self in me. Though this process I have gotten to know myself well enough to know what is important to me in a dating relationship. It wasn’t always this way though. In the beginning, I didn’t have my voice yet and anytime I received push back, I caved. I have to admit that I wasn’t very successful in being true to myself. Through the process of responding to messages, meeting people, and being forced to either stand or fall, I began to develop my muscle in this area. It is far easier for me to never encounter people, rather than have to be firm in who I am. When you are alone, you don’t have to defend what you eat for dinner, what you watch on tv or what time you go to bed. You do not have to defend your choices because no one is questioning you about them. This touches something very deep within me. If you are not typical in some way or another, you will be questioned and possibly pushed or made fun of. We see in many aspects of our world. If someone is not physically perfect, has a disability, strong values, beliefs or morals, or is different in some way, you can guarantee they will face some type of pushback for it. When this happens, our choices are to cave in on ourselves, collapse, doubt, find fault with ourselves, or stand firm (but yet flexible) in who we are. Because the world consists of people, we will encounter people who push against us and question us. We can either isolate ourselves so we don’t feel uncomfortable or we can develop our “self” muscle. Online dating has been the gym to develop those muscles for me.
Yesterday I received an unsolicited email from a guy who said that I had him right up to the part where I said that “grammar and punctuation matter” (yes I said this in my profile because, well, they do!). He then went on to question why I would limit who God could use to show love and while I may be smart, I am not wise. He continued to chastise me saying that I think I know what I want but God knows what I need and I am restricting Gods work. Wow. Unfortunately, I am used to emails that are rude, criticizing, argumentative, and even berating, because some people cannot accept a polite no thank you and want to argue about why what is important to me matters. I’ve learned what is important to me in a dating relationship and I am strong enough now to stand by this. But unsolicited chastisement that implies I am somehow missing God was another matter. After some self-checking, I decided to write back. The victory for me in this was that I was angry. Sounds strange doesn’t it? I tend to get upset about things but rarely get angry. This time I was angry. For this guy, who know absolutely nothing about me, to assume that I had not even considered God in the dating process was arrogant. Years of conversations between God and I regarding the dating process have taken place. Years! To assume that just because I have “filters”, so to speak, for a romantic relationship somehow limits God is preposterous. I wrote back an email saying as much. Then blocked him! My voice is developing, my sense of self is developing, my ability to know I’m ok with God and stand firm where he has me is developing. I don’t know how much longer God will have me in the gym of online dating, but I do know that it is serving a purpose in my life.
I don’t share this God Thought to vent about online dating. I share it to put forth the idea that although we may be a God follower, we can still have areas of weakness in our lives. Under developed muscles if you will. These areas of weakness will look different for each of us. It could be that your “no muscle” is weak. You simply can’t tell anyone no. Or say no to food. Or no to doing things that you don’t want to do or aren’t in your best interest. Maybe it’s the ability to control the tongue and what comes out of your mouth. Maybe, like me, it is the ability to voice your thoughts or stand up for yourself.
Quite possibly you have found yourself in situations and wondered why you are there. Or still there, if it has been for a period of time. You are doing everything right yet you are still in a frustrating situation. I encourage you to consider that maybe God has allowed you to be in certain situations because they serve as a workout for you. Quite possibly, you are developing muscles that otherwise would remain undeveloped, and quite frankly, useless.
I can’t honestly say that understanding God’s purpose in dating for me has made everything easier. It’s not. At all. But having the understanding of why I am there allows me to work with the process rather than against it. And that is definitely easier.
If you find yourself in God’s gym of some type, hang in with it. Don’t quit, keep pushing. Growth is always a beautiful thing.