Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's Worth the Effort - Follow up to ...But I'd Like the Chance

Photo courtesy of Elise Marie Photography
I had NO idea when I wrote my last post about dating that I was opening up a can of worms.  By the size of my inbox and the rapidly growing number of hits, it's obvious that this is something on the hearts and minds of more than just a few people.  The debate over hanging out vs. dating has sparked a lot of great intellectual stimulation and discussion, both in our home and online.  The stories you have been sharing with me have been insightful and helpful.  Thank you for opening up your lives to me!

I'd like to use this post as a follow-up to the last to provide a little clarity where it was missing.  First of all, I am no expert on dating.  Quite the opposite.  I haven't dated anyone in fifteen years which is why this new trend and new terms are so baffling to me.  I really want to understand the current dating culture because like it or not, I have four kids who will be entering this world in a few short years.  What I wrote was simply my observations of the dating world through the eyes of the people I've mentored.

I think this was clear from my first post, but I wanted to reiterate that the audience I was observing, writing about, and writing to is NOT teens and high-schoolers.  I am writing to college students and single adults who are ready to get married and are looking for a spouse.  My counsel to younger people would look much different.

I also want to emphasize that these young adults are really dynamic and incredible.  They desire to do this right and I applaud them for it.  What a great "problem" to have - singles moving too slowly through their dating relationships!  The question now becomes, "How do we help them navigate this?"

My husband Curt is really wise.  Last night while I was unpacking groceries, Curt and I discussed dating vs. hanging out with one of our "kids" who is currently navigating this process.  After an hour of thinking out loud, Curt nailed the problem succinctly.  Hanging out is a natural part of the dating process.  Most people have some form of friendship/hang out time together before they move into a dating relationship.  Where we see a colossal shift is in the time periods allotted to hanging out and dating.

In our opinion, the hang out time should be minimal.  It doesn't take very long to realize you're attracted to someone and would like to get to know them better.  When that happens, the natural progression is to move into a dating relationship.  But what we're seeing is young adults spending too much time in the hanging out stage and too little time in the dating stage.   It feels lopsided and like it should be switched around.

When guys and girls hang out for an extended period of time without communicating their romantic interest in each other through words, confusion and heartache sets in. This lack of communication breeds poor self esteem in beautiful, capable women.  They begin to ask themselves questions like, "What's wrong with me?  Am I not pretty enough?  Smart enough? Godly enough?  Is he spending this amount of time texting/calling/hanging out with other girls?  He seems like he likes me, but maybe he really doesn't?"  They will waste hours of time wondering, crying, and beating themselves up over these issues that could be resolved with a simple but nerve-wracking conversation.  

I would love some input from you guys out there on how you feel when you are hanging out with a girl you like but haven't expressed interest in yet.  Unfortunately, the majority of the burden falls on you to be the initiator of these conversations.  What goes through your mind, emotions, and prayers?  What holds you back from taking the plunge? When/why do you decide to have the Define The Relationship (DTR) talk?

SIDE NOTE:  It is almost impossible to over-communicate.  When in doubt, use your words to talk through your feelings, emotions, and intentions.  If you are not using words but think you are communicating clearly, think again.  Hinting and body clues are really hard to read and interpret correctly so use them sparingly.

Dating reveals a lot about you.  About the person you're with.  And about your relationship.  You get real life relationship experience through the dating process that you miss out when you're just hanging out.  If you cut this process short and rush straight to engagement, you may miss out on warning signs or positive confirmations that dating each other brings out.

I know it's hard to believe, but the initial phase of being enamored will wear off.  As you date, you will start to see things you don't like about the person you're dating.  And they'll see things they don't like in you.  The question then becomes, "Is this a deal breaker?  Or is this something we can work through?"

You'll have your first fight.  How you fight and how you resolve the conflict will reveal weaknesses in you and the person you're dating.  Conflict resolution is key to a healthy relationship.  It's imperative that we learn to do this well, but as a whole, this key test is absent in the undefined friendships that come with strictly hanging out.

Our advice?  Don't be afraid to date.  And when you start dating, don't feel a need to rush into engagement.  Date long enough to work through your first fight (or two or three).  Date long enough to get multiple confirmations that this person is really who you want to be your spouse.  Date long enough that your friends and family have ample time around the person you're dating to pour wise counsel into you regarding the relationship.  Date long enough to be certain of your decision to either marry the person or break up. That's why the process exists.

Photo courtesy of Elise Marie Photography
One of my newly married readers offered this bit of wisdom.  She said, "My friends, who I love and adore and would do anything for, are waiting for perfection.  What they don't realize is that by refusing to experience what may very well not be the real deal, they're wasting not only time, but the experience of LIFE."  She concludes by saying, "We have to trust our Lord and Savior that He will see us through whether it turns out the way we want or not.  And we can't expect finding our spouse to be easy or comfortable, at least right from the start.  This especially goes for men since they typically make the first move."  

Another reader summed it up beautifully.  She said, "It's hard to take that step forward, but it's worth it.  Life is hard.  Dating is hard.  Marriage is hard.  But they are ALL worth the effort."

Good relationships are seldom easy.  They may start off with a bang, but they take concentrated effort to continue to grow, deepen and mature.  Nothing has demonstrated this more than my relationship with Jesus.  The more I know him, the more I love him AND the more obvious my own deficiencies become.  It's in the process of learning, wrestling, refining and maturing, that my love for Jesus grows.  The same is true with Curt and I.  We've been married for almost fifteen years.  Those fifteen years haven't always been easy, but they sure have been fulfilling.  Being married to Curt is worth the effort.

Be honest.  Be open.  Be courageous.  And have fun.  It's worth the effort.

I want to hear from you.  What am I missing?  What has your experience been with hanging out and dating?  I'd love to hear your story.  

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