Jane: When I moved away from home, I was both terrified and excited at the thought of dating. Now, living away from home has helped me realise that it’s a good thing to do and that it’s really just about getting to know people. I still haven’t figured out how to date a friend, though. It’s quite easy to go online and meet a stranger, but I still haven’t figured out how to transition a friendship to a date!
Isobel: Are you dating anyone right now?
Jane: No, I’m not actively seeing anyone at the moment. Well, I was seeing this guy, and we’ve ended it for a bit because I wasn’t sure if I really liked him ‘that way.’ And it’s funny: after I ended it, I kind of expected a massive relief, and I wanted to be free of it all – and maybe it was just me being nostalgic, but afterwards, I thought that maybe I’d made a mistake. I wondered if I’d just panicked and ended things out of fear. When we first dated, he was new to London, and I just felt like it was quite unstable. So I ended it, and he was quite heartbroken, I think. It went from 100 to zero. He’s quite passionate, and from the go was really excited about it.
Isobel: Which can be quite overwhelming. When I started dating my now-fiancé, I thought some of the things that he was saying, even on our first date, were quite full-on. I’m trying to remember them now, but he was quite sure that he wanted us to be together, right from that first date, and I was trying to reel that back in. He’d repeat something really specific from our first-ever conversation, and I’d be like: “I don’t even remember that! And this is just coffee by the way!” *panicface* I feel like I was a bit harsh about that now, looking back. I totally didn’t need to freak out like that!
Jane: But the funny thing is, that often we think we want those displays of strong interest right from the start. Then when it happens we’re like: “It’s not the right timing! Am I ready for this?! Is this healthy?! Aren’t you being a bit weird?!”
Isobel: It can be scary, because what’s the line between healthy and unhealthy interest? That can be hard to discern. I’ve had situations before, and I know many of my friends have too, where the other person’s really keen, but it’s not been from a good place and it’s taken me a while and a bit of pain, to figure that out. So it freaked me out when I experienced it again, until I realised it was completely different.
Jane: So when I was back home, and I finally got to talk with my mentor and leaders of my home church, I kind of assumed everyone would say that I’d done the right thing. But they were all saying: “It seems you need to pray about this more, you don’t seem sure about this.” I mean, I’m from this background where we pray about everything for ages and where people often choose a very careful approach to courtship and marriage.
I feel like I’m more of a free spirit and generally really enjoy living in a different world now. But recently, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. I realised that I need more of an umbrella of safety; that I need to let people who want the best for me speak into my life. So after those conversations, I decided to pray about it more, but without putting too much pressure on it. And he’s away at the moment, so we’re taking this time to think and pray about it, and not have too much contact. But the thing is, I always see potential in people and in relationships.
Isobel: Potential is the worst! I can’t let go of potential!
Jane: It’s just so beautiful. I do feel like I genuinely can find something beautiful in every person.
Isobel: That’s lovely – but not helpful in dating sometimes! Because dating, the way we do it now – it feels like it requires you to have a more definitive idea of what you do and don’t what, so if you’re someone who’s always meeting people and being like: “I love this about you! I love that about you!” I don’t know – it’s sad to say, but it’s hard to make that work. And that open-mindedness sometimes makes you more ready to tolerate the less positive qualities, because you can see past those to the better ones.
Jane: In a way, that makes you hopefully better in marriage right? And I’m quite flexible, I adapt a lot as well – dating for me in the last year has been a lot about trying to figure out what works for me and what doesn’t. There are obvious things, like I’ve been on this overtly Christian dating site for a bit – right now I’m not on it because I have been finding online dating more disappointing than anything else – and I met up with one guy who wasn’t sure about what exactly he believed. Now I know that if there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s my faith. It’s what I breathe. And what I’ve found out, is that just because you’re both saying you’re a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re in the same place. It’s finding someone who matches your passions and values.
Isobel: Yeah, I dated one guy for about five months a couple of years ago, and I would say that he had a different perception of faith to me. He was a Christian, but to him, faith was more of a cultural thing. That doesn’t really work for me, but it took me ages to figure out why I felt like we weren’t on the same page, and ages trying to wean myself off the feeling of being a judgmental person because of that, in order to make a decision about our relationship. But actually, I wasn’t saying: “You need to be like this”, I was just defining what I wanted. And I wanted someone who didn’t think it was crazy to drop everything and go somewhere because that was what they felt God wanted them to do; whereas he came from a theology where he wasn’t sure that God even speaks to people. So, pretty different! But yeah, I found that whole thing difficult, and it made me feel like a judgy judger.
Jane: I’ve realised that it’s not loving to anyone if I don’t know what’s good for me, what’s fine by me. And it’s also important to realise that the kind of people you should date aren’t always the kind of people you’re friends with. As a friend, I’m happy to hang out with loads of different people with so many different opinions, but this is your future. I think having good judgment is important in relationships.
Isobel: Going back to what you were saying earlier: before I got engaged, I knew that the capacity I had for seeing potential in people would serve me well in marriage, but it served me really poorly in dating. It’s really weird. I feel like it can be such a gift to bring into a relationship, but in dating, that open-mindedness can be like this horrible curse! But I would say, if you can hold onto that in the face of those difficulties, hold onto that positivity and open-mindedness, then that will be rewarded. But it does come at the cost of some hurt.
Jane: Yeah, I feel like in dating you kind of have to be objective even when you’re really not.
Isobel: Maybe those people who are naturally objective, they may get through dating without as many scars, but I wonder if they might be ruling out people for really stupid reasons, and end up not doing themselves any favours in the end, because they’re being so ridiculously picky. I feel like some people come to dating like: “Ok, this is what I want. NEXT!” It’s so consumeristic. If you don’t meet that criteria, you’re toast.
Jane: And if you ARE warm-hearted, you can also attract a certain kind of person. It’s happened so much in my life that I’ve really liked someone, but they’ve not liked me back. Maybe they’ve had these boxes and I haven’t ticked them, and that’s ok. But then on the other hand, I’ve been that person maybe for somebody else, and I’ve been like: “Ok, I really didn’t see that coming!” Sometimes I think if you’re caring and kind, you can attract some quite fragile people.
Isobel: Yeah, and that sensitivity can be fantastic. Or there could be a lot of brokenness there, and maybe they’re looking more for a counsellor than a girlfriend. Sometimes I think what happens is someone who’s quite unhappy sees a happy person, and they’re like: “Oooh I want some of that!” and they end up being a bit of a drain. And I’m talking about romantic relationships here, not helping someone in need, or being there for a friend. But I’ve definitely experienced the relationships where someone’s just draining you of energy, honestly. I’ve had two really bad relationships, where I’ve felt completely drained of happiness by the end. It’s a yucky feeling.
Jane: That’s really true. I’ve experienced that as well. And that’s really hard. But the flip side is that sometimes I love being needed.
Isobel: Do you think it’s a bit of a rescuer thing?
Jane: Oh yeah. Totally.
Isobel: Been there, done that!
Jane: But now, this guy that I was seeing – I’ve seen him again recently, and he’s come such a long way. So again, that potential thing: it rears its head.
Isobel: But he’s come a long way without you – that’s interesting.
Jane: Oh yeah. Good point! I think I need to learn to put up some boundaries for myself.
Isobel: It’s hard to do. But it was only once I got myself out of that headspace that I started to experience better relationships.
Jane: How did you do that?
Isobel: That’s a really good question. I think part of it was, going back and unpacking why I was attracted to, or why I allowed myself to get into relationships with people who were… difficult, to put it lightly. I think a lot of the time when we do that, it’s something about wanting to feel needed. I hate to use this word, but in some ways, it’s about getting some power. I wouldn’t have said I was a person who seeks power in relationships overtly, but maybe I do subconsciously. And maybe one of the ways that this gets displayed is by being with someone who I think needs me.
So I started be more assertive, to have better boundaries. If you’re more confident that you’re able to survive in the world, to have conflict and be ok, you don’t need to be reassured that you’re powerful. You’re more likely to be with someone who’s more compatible. And I think you’re less likely to get sucked into something negative. That’s something that I’ve worked quite hard on, and it’s not easy, but I feel like it’s a way of unlocking that pattern.
Jane: I think sometimes things come back to the fear of rejection. If you don’t feel like you have power, there’s always the possibility of someone not needing you, of them walking away.
Isobel: You’re right, I think a lot of it is that – you make yourself indispensable, so they’ll stay. Which is a horrible way to see it, but maybe that’s what it is. Sorry, did I just open this can of worms?
Jane: I’ve actually just been talking with one of my church leaders about this! I’ve been questioning my motives a bit more – but it’s a long journey, because that behaviour is so ingrained.
Isobel: I remember hearing that you’re in a room for 10 seconds or something and you’ve already taught everybody how to behave toward you.
Jane: Oh man.
Isobel: I know! I think people pick up on things, on a subconscious level. And what I found was, the more assertive I became, the guys who were interested in me changed too, and I changed in terms of what I liked. And that was hugely reassuring and helpful, even though it’s an ongoing thing. But there are some immediate, encouraging changes like that. All the crazy guys started gravitating towards other people, instead of to me! It was interesting, how boundaries start to impact that sort of thing. That’s what’s happened to me, anyway.
Jane: The whole dating thing is so fascinating because it gets to the heart of who you are. That’s why it’s so messy and so painful. But if you let it, I think it can bring a lot of good change. And I think it was you who actually once said to me, how all your dating experiences have helped you become who you are.
Isobel: It’s a bit like a mirror. It’s like iron sharpening iron. I’m running out of analogies. I think especially now, it’s more of a dog-eat-dog style of dating, but I think that while we can’t change that entire culture necessarily, we can change our response. We can still learn something, and let it shape us for the better. I’m not sure I managed to do that perfectly when I was dating, but I tried to let the dating game refine me in a good way.