Who Should I Date? (Notes from the Trenches of Happily Ever After)

who should I date

(Fair warning: this is a longer-than-usual post because it is actually from a talk I did to a college group this week.)

When people hear that my husband and I met on my front door step, I am often asked “was it love at first sight?” The answer is a resounding NO. It took us a couple of hits and misses, and a whole lot of awkward to figure out whether to date. As I’ve said before, he really didn’t seem like my “type”.  However, one thing I learned is that sometimes it’s wise to be open to dating a little beyond the boundaries of what you think your “type” is.

This begs the question: who should I date, then? It’s a question I spent dozens hundreds countless hours thinking about at college.

Dating is the process through which you figure out whether you and this other person are “right” for each other. Admittedly, part of what is so horrid about dating is that 1) we don’t like to mistakes and 2) we like to know the end from the beginning, and so the idea of committing to someone, albeit loosely, when you really don’t know how this is going to work out, is a scary thing.

There is, of course, a prior question, which is “Should I date at all?” My answer is “not necessarily. There is no reason that you have to date, or indeed should date.

But, it is statistically likely that most of you are interested in sex, and statistically likely that most of you will get married – and so unless you come from one of those privileged cultures where people with wisdom and connections and love for you are willing to arrange your marriage – you are probably going to have to do most of the leg work yourself. In other words, you’re going to have to date.

Dating is our cultural norm, the customary vehicle for how we get from one place to another. As a Christian, I believe that dating is a morally neutral thing: it is neither “good” nor “bad”. I think dating is a bit like driving. It’s the way we get from one place to another given where and when we live in history.  You can drive well or you can drive badly. And similarly, you can date well or you can date badly.

So, if you are someone who wants to date well and wisely, this is a collection of my thoughts on who and how to date, from the perspective of someone in the trenches of happily ever after. I use the word trenches advisedly. The view on the horizon is gorgeous, but there are battles to be staged. The company in the bunkers is critical. Sometimes you have to hunker down, but it’s the togetherness that makes the difference.

A curious story about houses…

A few years back, my husband and decided it was probably time for us to start thinking about buying a house. We had a third kid on the way and were now in our late 30s… in other words, even though we didn’t feel like “real adults”, the delusion was starting to wear a little thin. So we started looking for houses. We made a list of the things of things that were important to us in a house: how many bedrooms, where we wanted it to be, and some other values: like it had to have a yard, and we wanted a big enough living are to be able to invite people over. We started browsing properties on the internet, and at some point met up with a realtor who took us to look at a few houses.

A curious thing happened while we were looking at houses. We discovered some things that became more important to us as we looked, and we learned some things we really didn’t like… which we didn’t even know were important to us beforehand. We learned that we’re picky about how living spaces flow into each other, and how removed the kitchen is from the yard.  We didn’t know this was important to us until we’d actually been there.

My point is this: we thought we were looking for houses and evaluating them so we could choose one. But once we started the process, we learned so many new things about OURSELVES. The process turned us into different buyers. It accentuated certain things, and made other things we thought were critical seem less so.

The same can be said of dating. We have this idea that we go into dating in order to “find and evaluate the right person”, but the truth is that dating serves TWO purposes: yes, you get to know more about being in relationship with the other person, but importantly – you are also getting to know YOURSELF.

Who you are BECOMING while you date is as important as who you are date, and who they are becoming.

The first time my Mom met my husband was over a lunch. They chatted  politely for an hour or two before he made his way home. Afterwards, I was all over her: what did you think?? What did you think? My mom said this: “I like him. And I like YOU WITH HIM.”

What an important distinction: to not just like the other person, but the YOU you are with that person.

Two things to write on a post-it: 

There are two implications to realizing that dating is a process of other-person discovery as well as self-discovery.

The first is this: you have permission to break up if your dating journey reveals that this is not a good fit for you. If there are red flags about the direction either of you are growing in together, then it’s okay to walk away. You have permission to break up. Dating involves clarifying and refining who you are and what’s important. You can change direction in the process.

The second is this: remember that just because you have two first class people doesn’t mean you will have a first-class relationship. Sometimes two first class people can have a second-class relationship. I dated a guy for four years in college, which was longer than we probably should have dated. He is a great guy: smart and funny and he loves God – but when we were together we brought some real snark out of each other and it wasn’t healthy or edifying. I think one of the reasons it took us so long to break up is that we felt like we needed to find some critical flaw in the other in order to give us an “excuse” to move on. But the truth was, although I liked him, I didn’t always like Me-With-Him.

Get to the point already: Who should I be dating?

So, it’s okay to date. And it’s okay to break up: you are going to be discovering who you are and who the other person is during this process. But WHAT SHOULD WE BE LOOKING FOR?

This is where the notes from the trenches of married life become helpful. So many of my early conversations about dating were held with people who were in exactly the same boat as me – and all we really had going for us was pooled ignorance. We didn’t even know what questions to ask, nor did we think to ask them of people who had actually survived the dating years and could reflect with the luminous 20/20 vision afforded by hindsight.

Instead, we had pooled ignorance, and I confess that the majority of the conversation I had or heard about marriage relationships before I got married had to do with two topics: 1) sex, and 2) who gets to lead and who has to submit. These were the two things that most everyone was talking about when it came to marriage.

Then I got married and within a few months, we hit a bumpy patch and I remember my husband holing up in his office with his computer to escape the stress while I sat in our bedroom sobbing into my pillow and dramatically resigning myself to be miserable forever. I remember opening up my bible and flipping through all of the marriage passages I could think of to try and find some counsel: I read Ephesians 5 and Jesus’ words on marriage in Matthew 18 and Colossians 3’s instructions to married folk. I did not feel particularly helped.

But at some point my eyes flicked to the verses just above those addressed to married people in Colossians 3, and there – in a passage not particularly about marriage – I found the most helpful relationship advice possible.

In verses 12-17, the apostle Paul writes this:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This was GOLD. Be kind, compassionate, humble. Remember who you are. Be PATIENT with one another’s weaknesses. Forgive. Love. Remember you are called to peace. Encourage one another. Practice thankfulness.

This right here in Colossians is a relationship gold nugget, preserved for over 2000 years, but also – you’ll be glad to hear – recently backed up by science.

An article in the Atlantic from November last year entitled “Masters of Love” detailed the work of two psychologists and marriage experts. One of these was Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After. The other was John Gottman, who has studied thousands of married couples over the years in his “love lab”, where he and his researchers have invited couples to spend a weekend together under observation.

Over the years these guys have studied what the single biggest indicators of relational success are in a marriage: regardless of age, socio-economic status, religious affiliation, age gap or the number of shared interests.

Are you ready? Here they are: the two biggest indicators for relationship success, as “discovered” by science: kindness and generosity.

To which the Bible says a very polite: “I told you so.”

Why is this important?

This is important because it means that far from figuring out sexual compatibility (and I’ll have more to say on that in a minute), or shared interests or who gets to make decisions and how – the biggest benchmarks for relational success are in fact the QUALITY OF HOW YOU TREAT PEOPLE DAY TO DAY.

And friends, this is VERY good news for dating.

It is very good news because you don’t need to be married to find out whether you’ve got what it takes to work. And it’s good news because you don’t have to wait until you’re married, or even until you’re dating, in order to be preparing well for the most successful relationships.

Dating and marriage is a micro-study in the broader subject of healthy Christian living, and what this means for dating is that we have the tools already not just to start evaluating others, but also to evaluate ourselves and the quality of our interactions with someone.

On the day we got married, my husband made a speech and, in his typical understated way, this is what he had to say of me and our marriage. He said “I realized long ago that asking “is this the right person for me?” is not the right question to be asking. The right question is “am I willing to become the right person for them?”) We had dated for long enough for him to decide that he wanted to commit to the journey of being the right person for me, and I had dated him for long enough to know that I wanted to commit to the journey of being the right person for him.

So…. (“At last!”, you say, “insert drumroll here!”)…. if this is what both Science and Scripture say about having healthy long-term relationships…

Here are some things to  consider when you’re asking “who should I date?” (keeping in mind that these are the same questions which someone should be asking of you as to whether you’re dateable….)

  • is this person kind, and growing in kindness? How do they treat their friends? How do they talk to their family when they’re with them, and how do they talk about their family when they’re away from them? How do they treat the ‘lowly’ people – like restaurant servers and janitors and those they aren’t trying to impress?
  • How do they handle anger? Are they able to express anger appropriately? It’s important to know how to talk about the things that make you angry, instead of stuffing feelings and silently seething, or does their room have a bunch of punch holes in the wall? Can they handle hanger? There’s healthy anger and there’s unhealthy anger – do they know the difference? And, if they are wronged, are they able to forgive and move past it?
  • How does this person handle conflict? Colossians 3 calls us to be able to let the peace of Christ rule. Are you the kind of person who wants to be right, even if it’s at the expense of your relationship? You can be right about an issue, and still handle it in all the wrong ways… so look at how this person handles conflict, because this is GUARANTEED to come up in your relationship. Super important: date someone who knows how to apologize. I’m serious.
  • Does this person know WHO they are and WHOSE they are? Colossians 3:12 starts out by saying “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved… put on compassion, kindness and humility.” Friends, this is SO important. Knowing that your identity is found in belonging to God and being WILDLY, RECKLESSLY, UNCONDITIONALLY loved by him is crucial for healthy relationships… or else, we begin to try and find our identity and affirmation in how loved and respected the other person makes us “feel”. No person, no matter how wonderful, can fill this deep, deep need we have to be unconditionally loved and belong. This is a God-shaped hole, and we need to be people and date people who let God fill the God-shaped hole – and then we supplement and complement that.
  • In the same vein as that, is this a person I can GROW together in the Christian life with? Colossians 3:16 says this: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. At a very basic level: is this someone with whom the message of Christ can dwell between you richly, and with whom you can share God’s wisdom and encouragement and instruction? Colossians 3 is about the basic bedrock for good relationships, and our marriage relationships should at least meet this standard.
  • Is this person aware of (and patient with) weakness? Here is a striking thing about Colossians 3:13 – it doesn’t say “fix one another with all your wonderful suggestions”, it says “bear with one another”. In other words, it acknowledges that there is always going to be  sin pressure points, or weaknesses in us, which are going to rub against other people. No matter how long you are married and no matter how many great communication skills you have – you NEVER will outwit, outsmart or outmaneuver sin. You will ALWAYS have weaknesses, and your partner will ALWAYS have weaknesses. The question is: do you know what they are? And are you willing to bear with each other? Yes, we hope for growth and maturity and sanctification… and that does happen. But those fault lines in my soul will be there until the day I see Jesus face to face, and only then will I be perfect… and you know what? That’s the day that my marriage ends because “Death will have parted us”. So. All of that to say – date with an awareness of and a grace towards both your own and someone else’s weakness.
  • Can this person be faithful? Are they faithful to do what they say, faithful to keep a confidence, and faithful with their (and your) sexuality.

{Now, this is the part where I want to digress and talk about sex for a minute. A few weeks before I got married, someone I dearly love and trust pulled me aside and told me that one thing I really needed to do before marrying was to test whether we were sexually compatible. I love her still, but on this issue she was dead wrong. Here’s why:

  • Having sex with the person you are dating hinders your discovery process about all the other things you are trying to figure out. Once you start getting naked physically, you stop talking, or at least you slow down significantly on the journey of getting to know one another. It defeats one of the main goals of dating – testing character, and building relationship, while adding a whole bunch of other confusing dynamics. Instead of going on a date thinking “we’re getting to know each other”, you’re wondering how the evening is going to end.
  • Secondly, having sex when you’re dating tells you very little, if anything, about what the quality of your long term sexual compatibility will be. Honestly – ask some married folk you trust –  were the first 20, or 50, or even 100 times they had sex a good indicator of the quality of their sex life now? I’m willing to bet not. Sex is not about bodies doing something biological. Sex is primarily about PEOPLE doing something spiritual with their bodies. It involves the whole person, not just biology. So all that to say, having sex while you’re dating is actually going to tell you VERY little about your sexual compatibility, which depends so much more on your established intimacy in other areas.
  • Thirdly, God says it’s a bad idea. And since he created it and wrote the blue print for it, we should probably trust the designer’s manual. You know how when you get an electrical appliance it has a sheet which says stuff like “do not immerse this appliance in water?” Because they know how things can explode if you use them incorrectly? There are consequences to using good things in stupid ways. Sex is a hot stuff appliance, but it really shouldn’t be dunked into dating waters. (I have some more thoughts on this here, if you’re curious. Also, that post has funny pictures.)
  • Lastly, and this is on the point of faithfulness – I want to suggest that while dating is a terrible time to test sexual compatibility, it is a KEY time to test sexual integrity. People who are in control of their own sexuality are the ones who are free to enjoy it. Out of controlness might seem fun at first, but it can get scary and dangerous quickly. Key factors in long term sexual health are the questions of how well you steward and express your own sexual desires: learning to respect your partner, to be able to say no to lust, to control your own appetites – these things are CRUCIAL in marriage.

It is worth spending some time thinking about what you are learning about your own and your partner’s sexual responsibility in dating: learn what is actually lying beneath your sexual drive – Sexuality is so much more than a primal physical urge. is it a desire to be in control? To be satisfied? To be found attractive? To be close? How do YOU handle these things? And how does the person you are dating handle these things?

Furthermore: I have some gender-specific things to say on this issue when you are in the dating phase.

To the women: be wise about the fact that more often than not, what drives our desire to get sexual with a person is not so much that we desire THEM, but that we desire their desire of us. We want to move physically closer to people who have moved emotionally closer to us and make us feel safe and wanted and beautiful. This is important to know about yourself, and it’s important to develop responsibility over those feelings. Don’t egg guys on because you love the feeling of being desired and attractive to someone. Be careful of that. (Men who are reading this paragraph – this is what it means for you: know that for women, physical desire is often about wanting to feel wanted, more than it is about sex.)

To the men:  this is what I need to say to you: the #1 way you can screw up your sexual future is by being involved in porn.  I have been around long enough to see the terrific damage it does to people’s sexual relationships in the long run. So, a key way you can be a guy worth dating from a girl’s point of view is to handle your sexuality well in this area. (Women who are reading this paragraph – obviously this would be a really awkward thing to ask someone outright about, so this is where it’s important to be dating someone who has healthy, accountable relationships with other Christian guys. Because you don’t want to date someone who has an out of control porn problem.)

To men and women alike – date someone who is being FAITHFUL and responsible in handling their sexuality. It’s your best bet at sexual satisfaction and enjoyment in the long run.

(Phew! Take a deep breath! Serious part is over… now, back to Colossians and the things to think about in dating…)

  • Is this person thankful? Do they practice thankfulness both in big and small ways? Colossians 3:17 talks about a habit of gratitude, giving thanks in all circumstances. Date someone who practices saying thank you: to God and to others. Be someone who practices saying thank you: to God and to others. It’s the gateway to joy.
  • And finally, friends, date someone who loves Jesus. Really. That is your single best indicator that they will be someone who loves YOU well.

So what?So where does this leave us? I think it leaves us with two distinct take aways. The first is this: culture’s wisdom on “getting a guy” or “Getting a girl” is just really terrible advice. Almost all of it is focused on enhancing physical attraction: be bigger, be smaller, be smilier, be more ripped, be bustier, be more confident etc. And it puts tremendous pressure on us to pour all our energy into these things that have little or no correlation to dating – which is actually about figuring out whether you can DO LIFE with this person. You marry someone to LIVE with them, not to look good in instagram vacation shots.

Rather, dating well means dating someone who is becoming a person you trust and respect, and with whom you can partner to live for God for the rest of your life. And it means discovering more about yourself so that YOU can become more that person.

At this stage of my life I know people of all races, all weights and heights and BMI’s, of all professions who are happily married and unhappily married… and this is what I want to say in light of all this: what someone LOOKS like is an almost IRRELEVANT indicator of whether you should date them.

So, maybe consider dating with a bit more of an open mind. You don’t have to know all the answers about where this is going when you start… you just need to know enough about this person to think that you might want to know them a bit better.

Date to get to know yourself.

Date to get to know whether this person is kind and generous.

Date to see if you can talk about fun things as well as hard things in a way that is gracious.

Date to learn about sexual responsibility.

Date, and give yourself the freedom to break it off as you learn more: remember, two first class people can still have a second class relationship. So work on being a first class person, and as you date – ask the community around you not just if they like the person you’re dating, but if they like the YOU you are becoming in the process.

Colossians 3 is GOOD NEWS for dating, because we learn that marriage relationships, like dating relationships and friendships and family relationships… all depend on the quality of how we treat each other. There is no mystical “x factor” you have to worry about finding as a mystery ingredient to the perfect marriage. Rather: it’s the stuff we already know and appreciate about others, and it’s stuff that is do-able and know-able in every day.

So date, friends. Be kind, be generous, and date.

 

 

Pick of the Clicks 01/17/2015

Pick of the Clicks

First up, a little PSA for all us NT Wright fans: the man himself is hosting a free online course, starting March 2015. Click here for details :-)

Loved this brilliant advice from Neil Gaiman on how to be a writer. Brilliant.

Get ready to think hard (and stand up and cheer) for Chris Smith’s article Design Should Matter to Christians. He writes:

The design and form of our work bears witness to what we believe, just as much as the content of the work.

I had a complete “Oh my goodness, ME TOO!” moment reading Rachel Marie Stone’s post On taking communion: why it’s okay to make crunching noises.

For nearly a quarter of a century,I have been trying to eat the bread without doing the thing that eating typically requires, which is to say: CHEWING.

Danielle Ayer Jones’ reflection Am I Beautiful? is a fantastic read for moms of girls (and women in general).

And this, from Mandy Len Catron, is FASCINATING: To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This. Can you make any two people fall in love by staring into one another’s eyes? Is love something we ‘fall’ into, or something we can choose? Seriously. Fascinating.

Dorothy Greco is hosting an excellent series on her blog called “An Invitation to Listen”, and has asked African American writers to share their experience of what it’s like to live in the US. Pay attention to this series. This week, I deeply appreciated Austin Channing Brown’s post on the Top 10 Conversation Deflectors. I am guilty of having deflected this way, and I can’t do better (or be better) if I’m not aware. Such good stuff.

Oh, Beth Moore (or mama Beth, as many of my friends call her) – I so love her heart and call to action in It’s Hunting Season for Heretics.

Jefferson Bethke nailed it with this video: Porn – Human Trafficking at Your Fingertips. (Please share)

 

Wouldn’t high school chemistry have been more memorable if we had teaching aids like this:

From me this week:

Over at Start Marriage Right, a piece for engaged (or soon to be) couples – on why to opt for a wedding rather than eloping: 3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Elope.

Then, I have a piece over at RELEVANT magazine where I got to interview Natalie Grant: How to Turn the Tide in the War on Human Trafficking. However, SO MANY THINGS went wrong in the getting this article published that it deserved a story of its own: That Time I Interviewed a Celebrity. IT’s kind of a funny story, really.

Also on the blog this week:

Love Ninjas – a tribute to those secret agents of love who slipped in and out of our home and lavished us with their mad care-taking skills this week, and…

…most read this week, the first “Ask Me” post of the year: Can Married People be friends with people of the opposite sex? (And speaking of Ask me questions, if you have a question… send it along here!)

Thanks for reading and sharing! You make this blog a fun place to be :-)

 

 

That Time I Interviewed a Celebrity

That Time I Interviewed Natalie Grant

It’s kind of a funny story, really.

I have an article up at RELEVANT magazine today, and so many things went WRONG in the writing of this piece that the backstory became a story of its own.

So, let me back up. In November I did a blog series to raise awareness, money and hope about sex trafficking: the #ACourageousOne project. One of the things I highlighted was a film that I had just seen the premiere to, In Plain Sight: a hopeful and illuminating documentary on the issue. Many, many people read and shared the posts that week, but I was still wondering how else I could spread the word about trafficking more widely.

So, I pitched an article idea to the biggest magazine I could think of – RELEVANT. The editor wrote back and said that while the angle I had suggested wouldn’t quite work for them, if I could arrange an interview with super-famous and multiple-award-winner Natalie Grant, who co-produced the film, they’d run it. I got in touch with the executive producer, David Trotter, who put me in touch with NG’s “people”…

Christmas was upon us, and it took a while to get an interview set up. We finally found an amenable day, and I excitedly emailed the RELEVANT editor to say I’d have the article to her within 3 days of the interview. But then, things got complicated.

First, the day of the interview came and went and the phone didn’t ring. We had to reschedule.

Then, the next day, I got pneumonia and my sewer line at home backed up. Also, my husband was about to leave for a 6 day out-of-state business trip. Meanwhile, I called in emergency plumbing services. The news was bad: we would need a new main sewer line. Think dollars. Lots and lots and lots of dollars.

Picture this, then: the following morning, I had settled my boys in front of the TV while I put on my rainboots and stood in my front yard, literally ankle-deep in crap, while I watched the plumber snake a fancy poop-cam down the line to show me the rotten innards of our pipes. And of course, at that exact moment, my phone rang. 

It was Natalie’s manager. And she had Natalie in her office, available for just 15 minutes for an interview. Wheezing (pneumonia, remember?), I gave the plumber an apologetic nod and said words I never thought I’d say to a super-famous person on first-meeting: “I’m sorry. I’m going to have to call you back…”

Seriously.

Five minutes later I called back and tried not to cough too much while I chatted to the talented, smart, kind and passionate Natalie Grant. She has kids and poop pipes at home too, and could not have been more understanding. And moreover, she too is devoting her time and energy to fighting trafficking. Far from being an “unreachable celebrity”, we were instantly on the same page.

The weekend flew by. I was solo parenting for the weekend and had a ton of work to do for the Pastor Search Team. Still sick, I had  love ninja after love ninja rally around with support and care. Sunday night came, and I emailed the editor: “Sorry,” I wrote, “my interview was delayed by 2 days and I have pneumonia. But I’ll have it to you by Wednesday. Promise.”

She wrote back: “Perfect. I was planning to run it Friday.”

On Tuesday night, I tucked the kids into bed and settled down at my computer. I transcribed the interviews, reviewed my notes and wrote the best interview I could. I finished just before midnight, saved the file and closed the application, before clicking over to my email to send it to the editor. I composed my message and then tried to attach the file: VANISHED.

Not in the trash. Not in the “spotlight” section. Not under recent documents. Not in keyword searches. Not in autosave or auto recover.

I started to cry. My computer had mysteriously lost files before, but my super-husband had managed to scout them out of the recesses of its inner matrix. Now, he was cross-country, and I had promised the article in a few hours. I got to bed at 2am, defeated.

Wednesday was spent moping and trying to find help. In between final sessions at his conference and layovers in airports, my sweet hubby tried to text his tech support. But to no avail. I posted a pitiful message on Facebook: “I think I am going to have to give up writing altogether on account of being too stupid to deal with computers.”

Wednesday came and went. My husband’s plane was delayed, but he finally walked in the door at 1:34am. Punching his magic abracadabra into my computer, he forced it to yield its treasure: there, under the file name I had chosen, he retrieved my folder. “I could kiss you!” I cried, and then I did (Don’t let anyone tell you super geeky can’t be super sexy.)

At 1:36am I wrote an email to the editor and attached the file. Exhausted and relieved, I collapsed into bed.

Thursday came and went, but by late afternoon I was surprised I hadn’t heard from the editor. I checked my email again… only to realize that the email I had written was still sitting in the drafts folder! It had never sent!

Let me just say that I’m not one who is quick to cry spiritual warfare.. but honestly – you would think that someone out there really didn’t want this piece published, wouldn’t you?

It was already after close of business day when I FINALLY sent the piece successfully to the patient and kind editor on Thursday afternoon. And, whiz that she is, she still got it up on the Friday as she had planned. Here it is, in case you were wondering: How to Turn the Tide in the War on Human Trafficking.

Perseverance, friends. We can make a difference.

Can Married People Be Friends With The Opposite Sex?

Can married people be friends with

Dear Bronwyn,

My marriage had been through a rough year and we’ve become emotionally distant. My husband developed a friendship with a female coworker which I initially was comfortable  with, as he has good  informal friendships with most of his female colleagues.

As the year went on the communication increased. At the end of last year I realised that he had a very deep emotional connection to her, and that I was threatened by this friendship. His belief is that if a friendship is beneficial to his wellbeing and helps him to be a better person then it should be encouraged, and I guess I am in jealous wife space now: any cross-gender friendship feels threatening now.

I need a biblical perspective. What is a godly view of cross-gender friendships, and how should they be approached within the context of marriage?

 

– Worried Wife

 

Dear WW,

I’m sorry to hear things have been tough. Marriage IS hard. So hard. And yes, there are seasons which are better than others, but when you realize you’re getting distant and there are obstacles between you then it’s important to be brave and talk about those things.

I don’t know that there is one “biblical” perspective on male-female friendships when you are married: this is a wisdom-and-love issue, to be sorted out contextually, rather than a right-and-wrong issue. For sure, mature adulthood calls us to be in healthy relationships with both men and women around us – at work, socially, and in worship. I have men I consider friends, and my husband has women he considers friends. But, as you already know, not all friendships are equal.

The guideline in Scripture for healthy relationships across gender lines that comes to mind is that from 1 Timothy 5:2 – ““Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”

As mature believers, we are called to have relationships with both men and women – but we need to make SURE these remain brother and sister like in their tone and purity. I would say that the category of “friend” is unhelpful. The question is: are we behaving as siblings would?

That being said – one of the primary “mirrors” we have for how well we are regulating our relationships is our spouse’s perspective. If you, as a wife, feel that your husband’s emotional attachment to you is waning and his attachment to another woman is growing, my guess is that you are feeling alarm bells for a reason. And, I would think, that as a husband who is called to SACRIFICIALLY love his wife, that he should be willing to adjust his relationships accordingly. This is not to say that as spouses we are at the whim of our spouses’ insecurities, but surely part of our calling in covenant love is to do EVERYTHING we can to love our spouse as best we can? Sensitivity to their hurts and needs is part of that.

For a husband to say “this friendship is beneficial to my wellbeing and helps me to be a better person” is an UNTRUE statement if that friendship is, in fact, making him a less attentive husband. The issue is less that he’s emotionally close to this friend (and defensive of it!), but that he’s less concerned about the growing emotional distance with you.

I don’t think it is fair or wise to just say that you are in “jealous wife space” and should learn to deal with this insecurity. If you are jealous, it is with a godly jealousy for your husband’s affection. It is right that we should want the attention and confidences of our spouse.

Furthermore, I think there is some naivety involved here on the part of people who think that building emotional intimacy with someone is not a threat to their marriage. I personally believe that for many women, feeling emotionally close to someone a powerfully electric call to intimacy. I think that for many women, having a guy share their deep feelings with them has the same effect on them as it might for a woman to brush her breasts up against a guy: it GETS THEIR ATTENTION. (I have many more thoughts on this topic, but I won’t get too deeply into it here.) For this reason, I think wise husbands and wives need to be as careful about sharing emotions with people as they are careful about not flirting sexily with others. Both can be very dangerous catalysts.

So what to do?

I think it’s more important to communicate “I want to be closer to you!” than “I don’t want you to be close to her.” But it is also fair to say “When you spend time with this friend, I feel insecure.” (better than “you make me feel insecure”)

A friend of mine tells me that whenever she and her husband find they are having a breakdown in communication, it helps them to both take an honest look at how they are feeling. She says that, without fail, if they start a conversation where she identifies how she’s not feeling loved by his specific behaviors, and he identifies how he’s not feeling respected by her specific behaviors – it helps them not only get to the root of why they are feeling disconnected but also immediately identifies specific practical steps to address. I haven’t test-driven this tactic, but I pass it on because it might be helpful to ask “How could I make you feel more respected right now?”, and then think about ways you can think of that he could affirm his love and emotionally reconnect with you.

I know many people who have found marriage counseling a really helpful tool to get them chatting about their marriages in healthy ways. In fact, when we spent a few weeks in marriage counseling last year after hitting a wall, I was STUNNED at how many healthy, long-time married couples said “we did marriage counseling! it was SO HELPFUL!”. It totally shattered my view that counseling was only for times of crisis, and actually was a really great tool for people whose marriages were healthy-and-still-facing-real-life-problems. I hope that speaking to a trusted therapist is an option that might be open to you.

Ultimately, the more secure the two of you feel with each other, the less of a temptation it will be to share emotional intimacy with others outside your marriage in an unhealthy way.

And, of course, I’ll pray. Your marriage is worth praying over, crying over, fighting for and celebrating.

Love,

Bronwyn

Got a Question? Write to me at the Ask Me Anything page, and I’ll do my best to get back to you in a timely fashion. 

Love Ninjas

 

love ninjasI almost didn’t recognize her.

It was only after she had silently slipped out the front door, after I headed downstairs and found a sparkly kitchen and two dozen cupcakes frosted and ready for my son’s birthday party, after my eye fell on the chicken noodle soup waiting for me in the fridge… it was only then that I realized.

Realized that I’d been targeted by a love ninja.

Ninjas are those covert warriors, operating in stealth with a dizzying array of skills. They are concealed by the shadows, but slip out just at the crucial moment to stun the enemy and complete the mission. By day, they’re unrecognizable. But when things get heated, there’s a sudden flurry of activity and only when you are just catching your breath and realizing you’ve been rescued and that your hero is slipping, unnoticed, into the background again – and then you know that this could not have been anything other than the work of a ninja.

Love ninjas are like that. They look like regular people during the day: moms and friends and coworkers and coworshippers. They are people with bills and cares and kids and to-do lists. But when the going gets tough, and tough enough that we know we need to ask for help, the love ninjas sneak in.

Turns out, I am surrounded by a community of love ninjas.

Quietly, quietly, a stream of ninjas have slipped in and out my house during the past week. They have chopped vegetables and left dinner on the stove. They have sat on the floor and played LEGO. They have invited my kids over to paint their clubhouse. They have changed diapers and changed plans. They have ordered supplies on Amazon and have them delivered ninja-speed to the front door. They have dropped off burgers, and flowers. They have wiped counters and brows and icky-sticky hands.  They have picked up kids and picked up medicine. They have finished the shopping and wrapping of gifts for my own kids’ birthday. They have mad cupcake frosting skills.

They perform the miraculous. They save the day. 

And then, quietly, they slip back into the shadows.

I see you, love ninjas. You’re everywhere. And there’s nothing that makes a scary world sweeter than knowing there are love ninjas in disguise all around.

Pick of the Clicks 01/10/2015

 

I am not usually one to share recipes, but THIS got my attention: Toasted Marshmallow Shot Glasses. I mean, seriously. How can you resist?

marshmallow-shot-glasses-recipe-5455

I only got around to reading Eric Metaxas’ piece Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God in the Wall Street Journal this week. It is stellar. Read it.

I get asked questions about vocation and following one’s passion from time to time, both in real life and here on the blog, and I loved Mike Rowe’s (of Dirty Jobs fame) response on this issue: 

Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.

If you’ve ever wondered what you can do to be memorable and successful in this life, you will appreciate this GEM of a post from Morning Story and Dilbert: The Charles Shulz Philosophy. I loved this.

Aimee Byrd’s reflections on the story of a Missing Woman who Unwittingly Joins a Search Party Looking For Herself is fantastic. (yes, seriously. that happened.)

For the love of Jen Hatmaker, read her most wonderful post about New Years’ and The Thing About Being More Awesome

New Year’s feeds into my dark side, and I feel the pressure toward AWESOMENESS. Maybe this year I will live up to the hype. Maybe this year I will be THE MOST AWESOME author and THE MOST AWESOME mom and the MOST AWESOME WIFE AND PASTOR-TYPE AND FRIEND AND SCHOOL VOLUNTEER AND CULTURAL ANALYST AND RACIAL RECONCILER AND TV GIRL AND BOOK PROMOTER AND BLOGGER AND PERSON OF INTEREST AND INSTAGRAMER!

So instead of being awesome, resolve this year to live in the now: to drink the good wine, wear the special perfume, use the fancy hand cream, and, as Shauna Niequist brilliantly puts it: Burn the Candles, because:

Gifts are to be loved, to be burned, to be eaten and used up completely, reminders that someone loves us, that someone thought of us.

Katherine Willis Pershey’s post A Long Obedience on marriage and other covenants is profound and beautiful. She writes:

It is strange to think of a particular person as the person with whom I did not have an affair. There are, in fact, many people with whom I have not had an affair. Billions. I have never slept with the mailman, or kissed my ex-boyfriend, or flirted with a stranger (at least not on purpose—sometimes I can’t contain my natural charm). Since I’ve never been unfaithful to my husband, there are a remarkable number of people with whom I have not committed adultery.

and,

Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise: fidelity can be sexy. Very sexy.

(Also loved KWP’s post What I Learned From My (Spectacular Failure of a) Whole30 this week.)

This collection of photographs which capture the truth about being a parent is so funny. And so true. And sad. And hilarious.

I laughed out loud watching Nicole Kidman interviewed on Jimmy Fallon this week. So funny. Just because people are beautiful or famous does NOT mean they don’t make spectacularly every-day relationship blunders :-) (My favorite part: “What?! What??!!! What??!”) Dating disasters belong to EVERYONE.

This is your dose of Christian Funny for the week (especially if you have visited a church where there is a “countdown” to the worship service):

On the blog this week:

An Audience of Two (what I learned about friendship when something truly terrible happened to my dishwasher),

What eHarmony Taught Me about Finding a Pastor

And, finding a new wave of readers thanks to a pinterest/facebook spark – the top post this week was One Little Word That Radically Changed My Prayers 

What caught your eye this week? I love recommendations!

What eHarmony taught me about finding a Pastor

What eHarmony taught me about finding a pastor

The first time I went on eHarmony, I thought it was terrific fun. Sure, I’d heard about online dating sites before, but this was the first time I got to see how it worked, and with a glass of wine in hand and a friend by my side, I was giddy.

This had a lot to do with the fact that it was my friend who actually signing up, while I was playing the role of typist and cheerleader. I already had nearly a decade of marriage and three kids under my belt: online options didn’t exist when I last waded through the awkward dating waters. So this: living vicariously through my friend, was really fun. For me.

She, on the other hand, was a tightly wound ball of nervous possibilities.

We spent the evening scrolling through the “matches”. She had already answered hundreds of questions to get to that point, building an online profile of her values and interests. The suggested matches (all in the 90th percentile or above) had weeded out the guys two decades too old/young, too sports-mad, too sex-mad, too-far-away and too-crazy-in-politics. Also, no hunting fans.

We scrolled through the options. A few were instant ‘no’s’, but mostly there were kind smiles and promising descriptions. She particularly liked the profile of one guy, pictured with two dogs. She liked the description, but wasn’t sure about the dogs. Did this mean he was pet crazy? Or like the guy version of a crazy cat lady? 

Of course not, I assured her. It shows he already knows how to show love, responsibility and care.

She “winked” back at his profile. Giggling, we gulped our wine.

**********

A few months ago, I was asked to serve on a team to help find a new Senior Pastor for our church. It took us a few months to get our bearings, but by the time we had posted the job description online I was already cracking eHarmony jokes in my head.

The process felt a whole lot like online dating: here we were, trying to figure out how to describe ourselves as a church. Who were we? What was important to us? If this prospective pastor hadn’t met us or been to our city, how could we describe what really made us tic? How could we be honest as well as appealing? It took us a couple of weeks to craft our church ‘selfie’ before we posted.

Pretty soon, applications began rolling in: many more than I had imagined there would be. The variety in the applicants was incredible: all Christian guys, all ‘eligible’, but so varied in their backgrounds that it was dizzying at times.

We read every word of every application. I, for one, found myself deeply grateful for a snapshot into the rich textures in God’s Kingdom. All these guys were loved by God, gifted by God, called by God and had a place in His Kingdom. And for some of them, I found myself reading their application and saying the same thing my friend and I had said to a few faces on that screen: “You are the perfect guy…. for someone else.”

But there were others whose profiles caught our attention. Those we wanted to get to know a little more, to ask some more questions. We emailed them back: “winking”, if you like. Some (not all), wrote back. One had taken another position (Oops, too late.) Another was withdrawing his candidacy.

It goes both ways, you know. We both have to like each other.

We wrote back again, this time with more questions. The answers revealed a little more about whether we felt like this would be a good fit, and so the pool gets a little smaller.

The next step is meeting face-to-face: a first date, if you will. We’ll ask a lot of questions, show them around town. At some point, it would be nice to meet their family and friends – you know, the people who have known them for much longer.

And, if all goes well, at the end of this we will be in a relationship. A spiritually significant, in-it-for-the-long-haul, we’re-entrusting-our-hearts-to-you bona fide relationship.

**********

I read the story of the prophet Samuel anointing King David to my kids recently. Knowing that one of Jesse’s sons was appointed to the role, Samuel made the trek to Bethlehem to anoint Israel’s next king. Samuel was impressed with Jesse’s firstborn: a tall, handsome young man, an obvious candidate.

“Not him,” whispered the Lord, “Don’t look at his profile pic or stats, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees things differently than you: man looks at the outer wrapping, but the Lord looks on the inner heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, some liberties taken)

The tension of a search committee, and of an earnest heart looking to date online, is that we so desperately want the man that God wants: the person whose heart is in the right place. But we do not have spiritual x-ray vision: we have online questionnaires, and profiles and pictures, and the opportunity to talk and filter, talk and filter, talk and filter… all the time desperately praying that God would weave His wise threads into the fabric of conversation. 

Asking for as much advice and help as we can, and praying as we go – we walk into the darkness, arms outstretched, fully committed with every step. Trusting. Knowing that there is no perfect person at the end of this search, but that somehow, God can be trusted to guard us and lead us to the place that he has prepared (Exodus 23:20).

Stilted and unspiritual as the internet may seem as a place to forge intimate relationships, we trust that God is sovereign over the world wide web, too. He can speak through donkeys, make large fish swallow-and-spit runaways, raise dead people from the grave, and so, Lord Almighty, – surely we trust He can introduce people through the internet.

********

It was my great honor to stand beside my friend a year later, decked out in David’s Bridal finery, as she pledged her love, faithfulness and honor til death parts ‘em to her new husband.

There were 12 in the Bridal Party.

And two dogs, in case you were wondering.

Photo credit: Eileen McFall/ Sunshine Haze (Flickr Creative Commons)/ edited by Bronwyn Lea