What taking a year off dating taught me

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I never realized the impact the ‘No Guys in 2018’ commitment I made would have on my life. There is something liberating about going against the grain. While most single females in their early thirties are focusing on the fact that their biological clocks are ticking, it’s not exactly the norm to quietly exit the dating scene. But I did. And I can say quite confidently, it has been one of the best decisions of my life.

It forced me to spend time on what I really wanted. What’s really important to me as an individual, by myself. Instead of going out with multiple guys in case he was “the one,” the commitment gave me the confidence to say no to the guys I already wanted to say no to. Guys I would have been afraid to say no to in the past. I wish I could say it was courage, but I’m not sure I can call it that when I was somewhat hiding behind a wall of “I’m taking a year off of dating” rather than simply saying “I’m not interested at this time.” It’s as if we feel we owe people an explanation of why we aren’t interested. But do we? Can’t we just say we aren’t interested without opening up insecurities and self-doubt? I wish we could. But I think we feel guilty for saying no. We don’t want the other person to feel less than so we attempt to justify. Instead of realizing someone may simply not be the one person we are supposed to marry, we equate it to something being wrong with us- not good enough, smart enough, funny enough, attractive enough. So we either make excuses for rejecting them or we go out with them “just in case.” The latter is how I spent my 20’s. Trusting that God would do his part. But adamant that I had to do my part.

If I were to remain single, at least I could say I tried.

For the longest time I tried to fix my behavior. Questioning something must be wrong with me if I’m not married yet while so many of my friends were celebrating anniversaries. I didn’t see singleness as a punishment, but more so a training ground to prepare me for who I was to be with. And it frustrated me thinking I was still perhaps not good enough or that I was simply too picky. It had to be one or the other.

But I think it had more to do with me, independent of any relationship. My identity. Ensuring my identity was in Christ alone, separate from an identity tied to a relationship, especially when two are supposed to become one. I have always longed for completeness that was independent from anything in this world. To be not only content, but joyful regardless of my circumstances, whatever season of life I was in. Complete in Christ. But how can that occur fully if so much of my energy centered on inviting another in in an attempt to feel whole? To say that I have achieved the next milestone? That I’m not behind and my timeline aligns with societal norms?

It took me a few months after the year was over to realize and understand just how much I had changed. How much I had grown. I’ve always had high standards when it came to relationships. Convictions that led most of my decisions. Relationships surfacing if marriage seemed like a possibility. Dating was the necessary means to that end- the end being marriage. So while my standards were high for relationships, my standards for dating were significantly less. Dating “just in case” is what I focused on while in my 20’s. My time, energy, conversations, thoughts revolved around my dating life. Dating occurring with not only guys I was simply attracted to, but guys I wasn’t attracted to “just in case” they had good hearts. This resulted in dating numerous guys and few actual relationships. On the surface this sounds normal. Expected. But I was dating potential. Not dating intentionally, decisively, or wisely.

I was living in the hopes of what if rather than in the reality of what is.

I’ve come to realize what making the most of your single life really means when not lived out intentionally. When lived with no concern for the future, and perhaps, most importantly, with no concern for others. We call these years the sowing of wild oats. Living without real responsibility yet. Shying away from commitments. A revolving door of who can feed my ego the most next. But what has really taught us?

We become dependent. We believe any man is better than no man. We can say we disagree with that statement but our actions often show otherwise. Compromising. Justifying. Believing any man is actually better than no man to pacify the fear of being alone. 
This behavior causing us to settle when we decide we are ready to actually settle down now. Oh, the irony. I’ve learned that how you spend your single years, has a direct impact on how much you are willing to settle.

The level of desire determines how far you are willing to compromise.

If you plan your life, career, education, community involvement around a potential family, discontentment will fester until you satisfy what you’ve laid the foundation for. If you live based on what you’ve been given and pursue dreams outside of a potential family, it’s easier to stay true to standards you’ve set for yourself. It’s as if some of us feel we can’t truly start our lives until our spouse enters the picture. And as a result, we miss out on some of the best years of our life.

As my time was spent more on knowing myself, more on knowing God, God Himself began to fill that void in a way I hadn’t known before. God has always been in my heart since I was little and first got saved but I wouldn’t say He completely filled it. I think when He does our desires go from “God and…” to simply “God.” I think it is then when we reach a deeper level of intimacy. Marriage and family so easily viewed as our purpose rather than as a complement to it. Those desires so strong, you know God wouldn’t deprive you. But over time, feeding those desires until they become an idol rather than giving them back to God and allowing Him to fulfill the true desires of our heart once we surrender.

To those married, embrace the beauty in two becoming one as you both fulfill your God-given purpose here on earth. For those still single, wait until you meet someone who will complement your God-given purpose. Be equally yoked. Keep your high standards and know what you want. If you lower your standards, compromise on what you want, you will no longer be single but you won’t have peace either. You’ll live in inner turmoil, conflicted over what to do, what to say, and how to live the rest of your life. Wait until you love your single life. It is then when you will marry out of love rather than desperation.

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30 plus 3 and finally free

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Married by 20. And then 20 kids. That was the plan. I was sure of it. My crushes on guys started at the ripe old age of 5. A new crush each year. Brandon in first grade, Brett in second, Shawn in third, a teacher in fourth, Jason, Shane, Doug… and the list goes on and on. In sixth grade I had made a list of all the guys and girls in our grade and coupled them off as I felt appropriate. Maybe that’s’ when my love for relationship topics, matchmaking, and unsolicited advice started.

Moving into my teen years, the Internet started to provide so many tools for my interactions with guys to flourish. I didn’t have to wait to see one in person, I didn’t have to wait for a call. Email, message boards, AIM, and the beginning of social media made a guy available to me at any time to satisfy my emotional needs. To make me feel worthy. To get my temporary fix.

20 came and went. I almost settled down in hopes of sticking to the plan. Thankfully, I realized ‘I had more time.’ I continued to enjoy the single life of my 20’s. I wasn’t too concerned…

Approaching my 30’s was different. I was older now. A real adult. Most of my friends now married with kids. Every song reminding me of my desire to be loved, every chick flick making me wonder when it would be ‘my time.’

“Maybe I need to settle. Maybe I need to learn to commit even if I’m not ready. Isn’t there such a thing as “good enough?” Am I being too picky? Maybe I can grow to love him. No one will be perfect. Just find a Christian, I can work through the rest.”

Thoughts flooding my mind. Talking myself into certain guys. Hope of finding true love dwindling. Rationalizing in my mind how many kids I could have and still be happy. Still have the big family I had craved for so long. Mapping out a new plan. Logically. Systematically. Planning. Seeking control as much as possible. Asking myself, “How can I still make this work? How can I still get what I want?”

But I think part of the problem was not really knowing what I wanted. Do any of us really know what’s best for us? Do we know what will cause us to grow? To make a difference? To feel at peace? To be fulfilled? When we are all alone. When we peel back all the layers of distractions that keep us from being real with ourselves, what is it we really crave? If we could eliminate societal expectations, what would we truly want? If we stopped limiting ourselves to what we could see, what would be our deepest desires?

God wasn’t done working in my heart yet. Still molding me into the person He knew I wanted to become. Knowing I crave something so much more than a husband and kids. Knowing I crave to have the purest of hearts, a love overflowing for people, a dependency only on Him. Chasing a spark that lights my fire when I’ve made a difference in someone’s life, the twinkle in my eye I get when I know I’ve spread a little hope to someone in need.

I’ve been a work in progress. Years of lessons. So many stories. Seeing purpose through the pain of multiple heartbreaks.

I’ve recently hit the point where I’ve changed. You may not notice it on the outside, maybe you do, but my heart is different. My passions long for something more, something deeper. While a husband and kids may end up being part of my story, they aren’t my story.

I can’t tell you what love feels like yet. True love. Soul mate type love. But I still believe it’s out there. And I can tell you what it looks like, based on knowing what love isn’t. I’ve experienced enough to know. Hitting this point at this age would have normally brought me into a state of desperation. No one would have seen that. But it would have been eating me up alive.

A husband…
Kids…
How will it even be possible? Options getting slimmer. Eggs getting older.

But I’ve changed.

I no longer need that text to feel validated.
I no longer need your time to show me I’m worthy.
I no longer need you to know that I am unconditionally loved.

You see 30 plus 3 and finally free has a deeper meaning for me. 33 was the age Jesus died on the cross so we could be free. Free from lies. Free from peer pressure. Free from society. Free from ourselves. Free from sin…

I wish I knew how to describe how I’m feeling but it’s beyond my comprehension. It’s not the peace I used to tell people I had, while looking over at the guy across the room wondering if he was ‘the one.’ The peace that was still anxious. The peace of knowing in my head God’s plan is perfect, but feeling in my heart a longing for human love.

No, this peace is different. This peace has thrown out all my plans. I’ve stopped thinking logically and I’ve given up control. I don’t want to be in charge anymore. I’ve just let go. It’s a peace full of trust and hope.

Hopeful of what is come. Hopeful to see the plans God has for me. Because this life hasn’t been a life of marrying young, with a house full of kids. This life has been so much more to me. Such an adventure. Full of things I didn’t even know I was capable of. Things I didn’t even know were possible.

I really don’t know what the future holds anymore but I am confident of one thing-

The best is yet to come…

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Love when I was young, wild, and free

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I sometimes wish I were my younger self. Wishing I could love with that same pure and innocent love, from a heart that has never felt pain, never been hurt. Wishing I had made different decisions. Wondering if I made the right choices. The truth is, sometimes I didn’t. I have regrets, made decisions I’m not proud of. And while I wish I could go back and make those decisions over again, I’m learning and seeing how God takes our mistakes, covers them in grace, and makes a way for a beautiful story.

I look back at my life and see how my love has evolved through the years. I look at how I used to be. I remember how innocent, how pure my heart was. I didn’t know pain, I didn’t know hurt. I was so free to love. So giving. Assuming guys would love with the same love I felt. Holding expectations that they had the same morals and values that I did. It never crossed my mind that they could lie, that they could cheat. No thoughts that I was never good enough for them. But the way my love was received told a different story. My love was often not reciprocated. I was met with cruelness, selfishness, and hate. Each experience tweaking my own behavior, my own concept of love.

I watched how these experiences changed me. I wasn’t so quick to love anymore. I began building an unbreakable wall around my heart, afraid to let someone hurt it even more. I became guarded. This allowed me to avoid hurt, but it also allowed me to not give away my love so easily. I’ve protected that love, kept it buried deep inside my heart. And now, now that I’ve met someone worthy, someone deserving of that free and beautiful love, all I have to offer is a scarred, broken, and guarded heart. And I just wish I could love with that same love I had when I was younger. But his patience slowly chisels at the protective wall I’ve built. His love ignites the love I once possessed.

I watch as our love story continues to unravel. Realizing I’ve never loved like this before. Not even close. A deeper love now. A love I didn’t think was possible, a love I didn’t know existed. And I think one of the most beautiful things I’m seeing is how our love relates to God’s love. How God loved us in spite of our brokenness. How God loved us even when we couldn’t love Him back. And how God’s love ignites passions inside of us to love Him and love others with that same love. I’m learning that perfect love isn’t love that’s never been hurt or never been broken. Perfect love is one that sees all of our brokenness and loves us even more.

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photo credit: VanessaC (EY) 7th April 2009 via photopin (license)