I can remember it well. From the moment we left the pub to return to our campus in the damp evening air, hardly a word was spoken. I tried to look straight ahead, hoping somehow that it would make the journey that little bit quicker, but I couldn’t help but let my eyes drift towards the girl I had just left heartbroken. I wanted to catch a sign that she was OK.
I didn’t get it.
You see, for the past few hours, in a very warm British pub, we had been discussing the more icy subject of ‘us’. It didn’t end well. I had doubts and felt unable continue with the relationship we were beginning to step into.
As you can probably imagine, this was one very awkward walk.
This happened seven years ago and fortunately we have both been able to move on and remain friends. The memory of what happened still hovers, though, making me very cautious in my approach towards dating. To avoid the potential for another awkward walk home, to not be the cause or recipient of such hurt, I have to see a good degree of certainty that things will turn out better before I can begin to entertain the idea of going on a date.
And yet, whilst a cautious approach has much merit when it comes to relationships, I have recently wondered if I am being too cautious, looking for signs of certainty that I’ll likely never find.
I often had this naive and romanticised belief that the first girl I date would be the last. Why should I expect anything different when God is involved? Since that fantasy flew into the distant sky that autumn night seven years ago, I’ve started to see things differently. Perhaps the second girl I go on a date with will not be the last, but that’s OK and doesn’t mean God hasn’t been involved.
It can be tantalisingly hard to know the extent to which we should pursue someone. Our minds can be a mishmash of what may happen – the fear of rejection, the awkwardness, the heartache of a break-up, the guilt of leading on. Consequently, we want certainty, when instead we have to embrace both certainty and uncertainty.
To embrace certainty means being faithful to what we feel and wise in light of what we know of ourselves and the other person, as well as our faith; whilst embracing uncertainty involves acknowledging that the journey may lead to the walk down the aisle (steady!) or perhaps an awkward walk home.
Sadly, we often can’t see what the next conversation or date or month will bring, so in the meantime we need to let go of the fears that can linger heavily – together with the expectations often placed by ourselves, friends, family, society, and the church – and be faithful to each step the journey takes us on.
I have frequently looked back on my own journey into the world of dating and wondered what I would do differently. There were things I could have done better, but telling her that I liked her in the first place was not one of them. At that moment, it felt like the right thing to do. I couldn’t bottle it in any longer. And for the brief time we dated, it was really good, with moments to cherish rather than regret.
I believe we should pray that God would lead us to the right person. For those of us who are single, our next date might be the answer, but perhaps it won’t. Either way, we must embrace the freedom and moment of dating, travelling steadily along its path, which means if there is someone we would like to get to know more to bravely embrace that.
You know, a cheeky mid-week exchange over text, getting to small-group early to reserve a spot next to a certain someone, a coffee or two at Starbucks.
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’, Alfred Lord Tennyson once famously wrote. We take a risk by walking into the exciting yet undefined world of dating, as those who have journeyed it can well testify. Our hearts could burst or break, along with a whole bunch of other stuff somewhere in-between, but hopefully along the road we’ll get to go on walks that are awkward for all the right reasons.