Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The [unexpected] Perks and [misinterpreted] Perils of Online Dating

Online dating and I have had a rocky relationship. I have been fickle and unfaithful from the start, flirting with the prospect, but never committing.

If I were more gutsy, I'd change my relationship status on Facebook to: "It's Complicated with eHarmony."

I've never been able to make up my mind about the whole thing. Avril Lavigne would surely question my need to make everything so freakin' complex (more 90's references, forgive me. I'm just in that kind of mood), but over the years, I've played my own devil's advocate to think through all the possible perils and perks that could stem from the internet road to intimacy. Until very recently, the perils always won out...

Two weeks ago, I was shocked by my own insight. The words just tumbled out of my mouth to my counselor: "I feel ashamed to be looking at dating sites." 

Never had I been so honest about my thoughts on the subject before. Mostly because I tried to keep the whole thing hush-hush to begin with. My secrecy stemmed from the shame factor. Feeling embarrassed and guilty, I've had on-again, off-again seasons throughout my twenties where I looked at profiles, sent flirty "smiles" and even started seeing someone I met online. Even those things were a HUGE step for me. When I first signed up for eHarmony five years ago, I actually felt so ashamed that, although I paid for a four-month subscription, I only used it for three days.  

Armed with the revelation that shame was the real emotion I was feeling (more than embarrassment at the stigma, but the sense that I had somehow done something wrong), I began to poke and prod at the idea: praying, journaling, reading and seeking counsel about the whole thing. My big question was why do I feel this way about online dating? And should I be feeling this way? Here's what I came up with...

Why I've always felt ashamed/embarrassed/guilty for online dating: I grew up in the I Kissed Dating Goodbye generation where I thrived on love stories that revolved around young adults meeting their spouses "the old fashioned way" (more on that later) at church circa the age of 23. My expectation for how my future husband and I would get together was that he would (as the story goes): "See me from across the room, hear a voice from heaven that I was "the One," intensely pursue me, sweep me off my feet in a wonderfully romantic courtship, propose and put a ring on my finger all within six months of meeting me." And why not? I actually know people who have these stories (not just the Joshua Harris re-tellings I've clung to as though they were Scripture since I was 15)! I will patiently wait for the fairy tale to unfold, I told myself. This is clearly God's way of doing things...

Feel free to chuckle at my lofty expectations, but pause to think how closely they might resemble your own, single gal. Food for thought :)

Truth is, I've always equated online dating with bitterness and "settling" (like people who tell God "If you don't give me what I want, I'm just gonna go get it myself!").  If I dared to venture onto eHarmony or ChristianMingle, I immediately likened it to a Sarah (and Abraham) move; taking matters into her own hands to make her heart's desire (and God's promise) come true. Thus the immediate pangs of guilt: Ugh! Look at me. Failing to trust God...

But wait! Is that true? Is online dating "failing to trust"? Am I no longer "patiently waiting" for God to come through if I subscribe to a website that introduces me to single men who love Jesus (and want to be missionaries!)? 

A single friend recently had an older, Christian lady admonish her: "Don't you dare go looking for a husband!" I think this attitude, while perhaps well-meaning, is harmful to single women. And very misunderstood. Suddenly keeping our eyes open and actively waiting has become sinful. It's as if going online to meet a potential husband is somehow as evil as going online to look at porn. 

In shaming people away from online dating (or even venturing to local singles groups), we've done ourselves and others in the Christian community a disservice. We truly have put God in a box by saying that His way is that people meet their spouses for the first time in person and ONLY when they are "not looking" to meet someone. We must be 100% content and we must not be looking at all until that person arrives at our doorstep/church/work/social gathering. (I hope you read the sarcasm in that last line). This is what my friend calls "Meeting someone the 'old fashioned' way."

Pause. How 'old fashioned' are we talking here? Do you remember how people in Biblical times got together? Allow me to remind you...

Rebecca was found, NOT by her husband, Isaac, but by a man Isaac's father hired to find Isaac a wife! 

Ruth followed her mother-in-law's advice and used her "feminine wiles" to entice Boaz (he had already noticed her, but this "taking matters into her own hands" as some might interpret a modern parallel, was what caused him to step up and commit. And Scripture didn't seem to frown upon it!). 

Mary was betrothed to Joseph most likely through a traditional match made by their parents years prior to her being "of marrying age" (as in the case in many cultures throughout the world), not necessarily because they saw each other, "fell in love" and decided to get married. 

It seems that the "old fashioned" way of doing things (meet in person, fall in love, make the decision between the two of you to get married) isn't necessarily as "old" as we think it is. Perhaps the more traditional way is actually match-making. Maybe eHarmony is on to something after all...(Note: For those unfamiliar, eHarmony actually matches you with potentials, as opposed to simply searching through profiles like most other sites. They pick em for you. I like that. There's something "old fashioned" about it) ;)

Which leads me to my other original question: What should I feel about online dating?

First of all, online dating is NOT sin. It should NOT be a cause for guilt or shame. Nor do I think it's choosing merely the "good" instead of "the best" (as some people would over-spiritualize). Such thoughts assume that God's will is that everyone would meet and fall in love through an "old-fashioned" method that's really only existed in Western culture for the last 100 years. How limiting of our creative God to say that other ways of meeting people absolutely would not be part of His plan for us. 

And really, how arrogant of me to think that it's all up to me anyways? As though online dating automatically secures me a relationship ("Ha! Look what I got! I did it MY way!") and as though God has nothing to do with it. God is still sovereign and orchestrating the circumstances of my life! If it is His will that I meet someone on eHarmony, you'd better believe that He will be overseeing that process and making sure it happens! 

But I don't want to be the stubborn one to tell God how exactly I will meet my spouse and what the whole process has to look like. Do we ever stop and think that maybe we haven't met "Mr. Husband" (as one lady I met would call her FH before she was married) yet because we're not open to God introducing anything or anyone outside of our expectations?

So, as a godly Christian gal, I keep my options open. I smile and talk to single guys, at the store or at church (despite whether or not they appear to be "my type"). I shun the "creeper-fest" and "meat market" labels of singles groups and give 'em a try with my fellow single girl allies. I'll see who eHarmony matches me with (many a mission-minded man, amazingly enough!). But most importantly, I will trust God to guide the process. I'll humble myself to let Him work in His way.

 And maybe, just maybe, that's outside my "old-fashioned" box...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Amalgamation of a Future Husband

I've spent much of my life immersed in or on the outskirts of charismatic circles. As is fitting for inclusion in such groups, you'd better believe that I have been prayed for and prophecied over many a time. Specifically regarding my mysteriously wonderful and amazing future husband.

Who is he? Apparently, everyone else seems to know...

While I fully believe in biblical prophecy and always appreciate a word of exhortation, I have to laugh when I piece together all the little tidbits of "foretelling" I've received over the years. Granted, not all of them came with a "prophecy" label attached, but these are the comments that people make with a sly smile or ironic laugh as they proceed to tell me what kind of man they think I'll end up with.

Keep an eye out for him, will ya?

My future husband's ethnicity/nationality will be...

American (from California or the mid-west)

My future husband's career will be...

Business guy
Public speaker
Taxi driver
A non-YWAMer
Something that makes him rich

He will be both...

Taller than me
Shorter than me

And I will be...

Very surprised
Very blessed to have him (and he to have me)
Engaged really quickly

And he is...


Yes, you deduced those blanks correctly: There have been specific men named as my future mate! Granted, one (maybe two) of them came from my own sense years ago when I was still learning to recognize God (but I was soooo sure--freakish circumstances confirmed it! lol!). Yet, the other ones came from outside sources (multiple people confirming two of them). Good news is, four of them are still single. Keep hope alive!!

Really, I can only laugh. It is actually very amusing... :)

But boy did this ever made for a bi-polar path when it comes to thinking about guys in my younger years. At some stages, after a particularly compelling word (i.e. something I really wanted to hear), I had been closed off to hundreds of potential men simply because they did not fit that very specific description. Short guys, American guys and men who were not fill-in-the-blank #3 were all been "brutally rebuffed" as it were.

Yet, here I am. Ring finger still bare. Hmmmm. Someone might have been wrong.

It was probably me...

Now I've resolved to start from scratch. I don't know that I can ever truly be "expectation-less," but I can pray for an open mind and for God to help me put all the "words" behind me.

There is one word (that I've gotten over and over lately) that I feel there might actually be some truth to, though:"You'll know him when you meet him."

Amen to that. I like clarity.

Until then, here's to mystery...

Semi-un-related endnote: This idea of "What will he be like?" reminds me of this beautiful song (except it's the girl version): "What'll She Look Like?" Will I be what he is waiting for?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Missionary Dating: Flirt to Convert the Masses

So, I'm gonna quit hiding it: I'm looking for a man.

Life just seems to go in circles when you're single: It's all about seasons. Over the years, there have been long stretches where I've sat back and busied myself with non-male related ventures, living up the single life and learning to be content in the wait. And then there are other seasons where it's just twitterpation to the max and boy-crazy restlessness sets in. It's like when a new crop of students would roll into the YWAM base, all us single girl staff would have "periscopes up," subtly (or shamelessly) scoping out the new prospects. At times like these, I seriously consider patenting a "Find a Man" App. Surely there would be a market for such a brilliant invention...

Scratch that...what I need is NOT a "Find a Man" App. What I need is a very specific offshoot of that concept, but FAR more necessary: I need a "Find a Missionary" app.

After all, we've got eHarmony and ChristianMingle to scout out potential mates and dates (if any of you  have tried both, which I have, you realize that the former really is a "marriage site" as it claims, and the latter is for Christian boys who can't make up their minds. Or, in the words of a co-worker, "The guys only go on [ChristianMingle] because they want [to hook-up with] a virgin."). But even fishing from a pond stocked with men who love Jesus isn't quite narrow enough for some of us mission-minded gals. They tell us there are a lot of "fish in the sea," but I, personally, have to keep throwing back a lot of
em because they're not so much swimming in the direction of the nations. (This America pond is a bit stagnant...).

My friends and family are praying for a good catch and I'm praying for a missionary. I don't think those two things are mutually exclusive, of course, but I do want to be very specific in my requests. And, just being real, those requests are coming on a daily basis now. By seriously upping my prayer level over the last six months. I've gone "persistent widow" on Jesus, unrelenting in my request for a mate and ministry partner.

After all, wasn't it God who put both callings in my heart to desire?

This morning, my pastor said that the mark of spiritual maturity is when we come to fully desire what God desires. For the last 3 years, it has been my constant prayer that God would "set my heart where He wants it to go." So, here I am. I keep returning to the three core desires of my being: To know God, to be a missionary, and to get married. Surely, after all those prayers and intense seeking of God's will for my life, there must be a reason why I always end up back here. It must mean one thing: Those desires are GOOD!

Someone had to say it! Single gals in particular suffer the stigma of being labeled "desperate" if we voice our desire for a husband and children. When we ARE brave enough to vocalize this [godly!] longing, we are shushed with a little pity pat on the shoulder and cliche admonitions like "Be content in your singleness" and "Make Jesus your husband." These are probably the same  people who take a purely "spiritual allegory" position on the Song of Solomon. Not gonna lie, I don't draw much from SoS as a single, aside from frustration. [And ironically, in this twitterpated state, Paul tells me it's actually better for me to marry than to "burn with passion."]. Hmmmm. The Bible is a strong advocate for marriage, it seems...

Now, before you go all 90's "Well, duh!" on me, let me just say that we really do NEED to be reminded of that! How often have you (assuming your the target audience single gal reader of my blog) felt "desperate" any time you've expressed your desire to be married? Most likely, you weren't actually desperate (my theory is that if you were truly desperate, you would have been married by the first breathing option that showed interest), but you felt that pressure to be content and stop desiring marriage so strongly.

Forgive me for the repetitive thought, but just allow it to sink in: Singles, it is OKAY to desire marriage! We were made for companionship. We were made to have babies. We were made for sex. We were made to walk through life with just one person for the rest of our lives. We were made to experience the amazing allegory of the relationship between Christ and the Church this side of heaven (okay, so there is some allegory in SoS, I'll admit. I think that's more clear in Ephesians 5, actually. I still think Solomon was talking more about sexual positions than allegorical positions. But I digress..).

Before you protest about what we were made for with the myriad of examples out there of brokenness (divorce, infertility, singles never marrying...), let me point out that marriage, sex and babies were God's ideal designs for us. Yes, there is sin in the world and a very real enemy that breaks, taints and takes away God's created blessings, yet these blessings are all still available to hope for, to pray for, and Lord-willing, to attain. Don't fall into the world's trap of cynicism and lose hope just because you've been (or you've seen the ones you love) hurt.

I'll close with this thought...

I just finished reading a book called "Shattered Dreams" by a brutally honest Christian psychologist named Larry Crabb. In the book, he made a fascinating comment about the state of modern Christianity that made me think WE need missionaries (or at least prophets) to bring us back to the Truth. We have, as Crabb says, become "practical Buddhists."

At the core of the Buddhist religion is the belief that the way to achieve peace and perfection (Nirvana) is to eliminate all desire. Stop wanting so much.

Sound familiar? We hear some derivative of that all the time in Christian circles. Crabb turns the thought on its head and exposes our misunderstanding of the Truth:

"''Don't let your hearts be troubled. Find some way to feel less pain, to reduce your desire for what you do not have. If you succeed, call it contentment. Call it deep trust.' We think that's what Jesus taught. But it's really advice from Buddha."

Jesus never asked us to kill our longings. Desire is another God-ordained creation we can add to our list: We were indeed "made to crave." Don't silence the longing. Embrace it. Be honest about it. And pray the Lord brings it to pass.

As my roommate and I were driving home tonight, I told her how dumb I think it is when Christians skirt around the actual asking for a spouse for themselves or a single friend. They pray the ever-so-holy: "God, if it be your will that my sister gets married..." or the spiritual anti-ask, "God, help them to realize they need you more than a husband." What's up with that? Adam had perfect communion with God and God very directly pointed out that it was "not good" for him to be alone. GOD said that, not man! Clearly God wants His children to have spouses. MARRIAGE, not singleness, is the good we were created for!

So I've started boldly praying, in Jesus name, for spouses for my single friends. None of this disclaimer non-sense. God already knows what I'm gonna ask, so I might as well be real about it. It's like praying for someone to get healed. Do I know whether or not God will heal that person? Of course not. I just need to pray and trust Jesus to do His healing thing. The same is true with marriage. Maybe not all those people I pray for will get married, but I will pray it! I want to stand in faith and not doubt. God's not into double-minded waves: He's into kids with mustard-seed faith and boldness not to beat around the bush. Just ask already!

(And just to encourage you, if you're a subscriber, you're most likely already in my "Single File" prayer list. Even if you haven't got the guts to pray regularly for a spouse for yourself, at least you've got somebody else advocating for you. You're welcome...) :)

Go ahead: Be honest about what's in your heart, persistent single. Ask God for a spouse. He who finds a wife finds a GOOD thing. Single gals, that's YOU! You are the good thing--an answer to a godly man's prayer! And single guys, don't be ashamed or too scared to settle down. Your wife will be a blessing and you were created to long for her until she's in your life. Go find her (and send your single buddies out to find the rest of us!) ;)

So, friends, allow me to be the first to proudly proclaim (as Nia Vardalos' just said in the movie that's playing in the background), I am officially "open for wooing."

Tell those missionary men they know where they can find me :)