I was recently reading an article from PsychAlive.org which discusses a few reasons why people who are seeking relationships remain single, and while most of the reasons they discuss are worthy of further discussion, the final reason they give resonated with me. Dating according to rules seems to be a very good thing because, as anyone knows who has become emotionally attached, it’s very hard to think clearly and make sound choices when you’re neck deep in love. Establishing a standard ahead of time – some unmoving beacon we can look to for reference – is usually more of a necessity than just a good idea. It helps us remain true to our convictions, principles, and expectations.
But recently, I’ve been thinking about how my own ‘rulebook’ has developed over the years, as well as how it has constrained me in my dating life. I must admit that many of the ‘rules’ I currently follow or have followed in the past have come from rather unfounded sources.
As a Christian, the largest and most complex ‘rulebook’ that has influenced me is my religious convictions. Biblical models of love, marriage, and commitment have shaped much of the man I am today, and I don’t regret following these models. But today’s Church has twisted Biblical models into religious opinions that really have no basis in Scripture. Most Christians today dream of the perfect ‘Isaac and Rebekah’ scenario because it echoes Christ’s relationship to the Church. But there are many other examples of relationship scenarios which equally gained God’s blessing. Consider the story of Ruth and how she aggressively pursued Boaz, even to the point of laying down and spending a night of non-sexual sleep alone with him in his barn. (Imagine if a girl in today’s Church did something like that!) Today’s Christians insist that marriage must be a deified picture of Christ and the Church or it has failed its purpose. Paul himself said otherwise, that the purpose of marriage is as an outlet for uncontrollable desire and passion (see I Co. 7).
Living by religious principles and convictions is one thing. Living by some clergyman’s, Sunday School teacher’s, or mentor’s personal ideas on dating is something very different. One of the worst relationships I’ve ever had was a result of what my church at the time thought was best. Not only did it cause me nearly unbearable heartbreak, but it also costed me the love of another girl who loved me very much. I let the church make my decision for me, and it costed me dearly.
Texting rules, conversation rules, etiquette rules, flirting rules, signaling rules – Searching the Internet for ‘how to’ in dating yields countless pages and endless hours of reading to those wishing to attract/interact with a potential date partner. There are rules to send certain messages, and rules to decode those messages. There are rules to attract someone of a certain group, and there are rules to create any of seemingly infinite images. This ‘If you want to /fill in the blank/, then /fill in the blank/’ mentality is enough to drive a single person mad.
I’m a rather independent guy, but I have tried a few of the culturally prescribed methods over the years. Unfortunately, I know too many others who practically live by them. I’ve seen calls that were never made because they ‘make me seem needy.’ I’ve seen love that was never expressed because ‘it’s too early in the relationship.’ I’ve seen third dates that never happen because ‘the third date means sex.’ But who made those rules? Who says they’re the right way to interact? Mostly, it’s a bunch of people who have failed at dating.
This is the one where I generally take flak when discussing relationships. After all, aren’t our friends just trying to do what’s best for us? Perhaps (though studies have shown that there is a great deal of ‘friendly competition’ among girl friends, see this video), but having good intentions doesn’t mean they have the best solutions. In fact, friends in our circles usually have no more experience or wisdom in a given area than we do. Nevertheless, our friends often heavily influence our dating choices, sometimes even causing us to do something contrary to what we would choose to do on our own.
Again, perhaps it’s my independent nature. But after letting other people influence my choices during the early part of my dating life, I decided to apply some logic. I hate to just disregard a friend’s thoughts because that wouldn’t be very friendly. But logic now demands that I weigh friends’ advice against their own performance record. Have they shown a history of making good dating choices? Have they demonstrated success in the type of relationship I would like to have? Have they tested alternative approaches to relationships to confirm that what they’re telling me is the better of several methods? Since they are not me, are their methods compatible with my personality and character? Our friends may love us and want to help us in our choices, but more often than not, we are better equipped to determine our own path. We certainly will be the one to walk it.
And finally, the bane of the ‘forever alone’ – experience. We get hurt. Then we heal and get hurt again. And again. Every time, we build new walls to keep from being hurt in the same ways. We eventually find ourselves walled into a dungeon of our own making, convinced that the world will only hurt us, fearing to ever come out to feel the sunlight.
I struggle a lot with this form of ‘rulebook’ because I’ve been hurt many times. Once I’ve been hurt in a certain way, I make a ‘rule’ to avoid being hurt like that again. Sometimes, those rules don’t really make any sense. For example, I made a rule years ago that I would not become involved with a girl if she was part of a sorority. I had some bad experiences with sorority girls when I was in college, experiences in which I had a huge target on my back as a trophy since I was (and am) considered to be an ‘untouchable.’ Any time a sorority girl would show interest in me, I’d never know if she was really interested in me, if she was just trying to prove something to her ‘sisters,’ if she’d been commissioned to get me to date her as an initiation, or numerous other reasons that had nothing to do with really being interested in me as a person. I solved the problem by slamming the door on any girl who was in a sorority – any sorority – no questions asked. Reason told me that there were good girls in sororities, but my bad experiences with a few caused me to adopt a ‘rule’ that kept me from searching out those potentially good relationships.
For the past few years, I’ve been reevaluating my ‘rulebooks’ and trying to break out of the rules that aren’t well-founded. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s just the nature of personal growth. I’d like to encourage my readers to do the same. Don’t compromise your principles, but don’t wall yourself into a prison of rules that will condemn you to singleness the rest of your life. Let’s do this.