I was standing in line for take-out a couple days ago, after ordering food for the weekly date night with my wife. The restaurant of choice was a local joint, the kind with little seating space but always a line out the front. I placed my order and found a corner to stand in, out of the way, waiting for my number to be called.
Sitting at the table in front of me was a man and- I think- his date for the night. The two weren’t dressed in any sort of lavish fashion, but had the kind of semi-awkward chemistry between them akin new love, casual enough for take-out but enough of a novelty to explain the nervous smiles.
I was never good at dating; I think it’s fair to say that I had about as much suave on a first date as a walrus has on a unicycle. It’s a miracle, really, that I ever got married. Some would call it grace.
Which is to say that I’m hardly one to judge. But the next thing this gentlemen did made me feel awkward from ten feet away. As they sat, waiting for their number, the gentleman reached into his pocket and asked “wanna see what’s in my wallet?” and proceeded to dump the contents out on the table, the amount of which would have made George Constanza scoff. The girl looked taken a back; I can’t blame her; it would have been more appropriate for him to begin reading her lines from his diary. But the man didn’t seem to notice, or perhaps care, and began to rifle through it’s contents: “Lesse here, two Starbucks cards… my therapists’ business card…my senior portrait (Mom had extras)…oh cool, twenty bucks!”
I’m not a terribly open person, though I put up a good act. I wear my heart on my sleeve but moved north so I could always justify a coat; at times my life seems like one giant con I’ve enacted to keep others from figuring out who I really am. I fear that when the contents of my poker hand is laid on the table, they’ll pass on the gamble.
Sometimes I get close; in sprints of courage I’ll remove some forgotten card of my soul’s wallet and toss it into play. But I always keep at least one card in my pocket- I’m a cheater in the hold ’em tournament of life- just in case, when I show my hand, the response is “that’s it? That’s all you’ve got?” This has yet to happen, because people- as a general rule- have better things to do than expose my flaws. But the card stays tucked in my pocket, just in case.
Because it takes a certain amount of gumption to stand before the world, a friend, a spouse, anyone… with everything exposed and on display. Self-disclosure is a spiritual gift, its distribution from which I was absent, off in my own corner scratching notes into a diary. Some of my best friends in the world don’t know my deepest fears; I pride myself on inserted tidbits of conversation that prompt a “I don’t think I knew this about you” from my wife; I may keep a blog but I’ve studied the craft of writing for years and can clothe an emotional smoke screen in the garments of transparency. Self-deprecation, after all, covers a multitude of insecurities and a writer’s life tends to mirror his work.
That said, my fear of exposure is coupled with the innately human desire to be known, admired, overwhelmed with acceptance. It was Irenaeus, an early church father, who posited that to love is to suffer, and with this I do agree. But he says nothing about the suffering of the beloved; the humiliation of the prodigal son, the ache that swells within us when our child says “momma” for the first time; the driving force of a nail through the wrist and into a wooden cross. “This is my beloved Son…” can we ever know the cross our own love brings?
After a while, the couple’s number was called. The girl stood up to grab their order as the man delicately picked up the contents of his wallet, like they were love notes from her. In a way, I guess they were; on the way out she took his hand. I wish them many awkward years together.
And I wish myself that some years down the line I won’t have any cards in my pocket. Sometimes I look at my wife and imagine that I could articulate the magic spell required to sweep the final card out of my wallet, naked an unashamed. But Rome wasn’t built in a day; the irrational love of Romeo was too much for Juliet to bear. There’s time.
Some day it’ll make it’s play. Some day, I believe.
First dates can kinda, sorta, mostly suck. You’re usually anxious, sporting sweaty palms, wet armpits and a nervous twitch in your right eye that makes it look like you’re constantly winking at your date mid-conversation. There’s always the mandatory questions: “So what’d you study in school?”, “How many siblings do you have?”, “What do you do for fun?”, and “Mhmm yes, the weather has been a bit queer “ (read: old English, not a political statement) “lately hasn’t it?”. These are all (naturally) followed by an awkward silence and the dreadful realization that you both have nothing in common, this is going nowhere, you still have to pick up the tab (why didn’t chivalry die with feminism?) annnndddddddd your fly has been open the entire time. It only takes a few of these to realize that vows of celibacy have their perks.
Of course, Christians have their own set of rules and stigmas that bring an entirely new set of pressures in the form of an anxious chorus in your mind:
I wonder where she goes to church?
What’s he think about pre-millienialism? Infant baptism? Rob Bell?
What if she’s not in the same denomination as me?
Could I date a Baptist?
Hahahahaha okay, let’s be serious.
Do I let him kiss me…or is that too far? Hold my hand? Touch my arm? Okay! He totes totally just touched my arm!
Do I tell her she looks beautiful? Or hot? Or is that improper? Or wait…is it okay that I think she’s pretty? OMG AM I LUSTING!?!?!!?
With so many questions swirling in our heads, it’s a wonder most of our dates don’t result in spontaneous combustion from at least one side of the table. But the thing is, dating doesn’t have to be so difficult, and it doesn’t have to be so damn nerve wracking. You just need good theology.
When I sit down across from someone, whether it be on a date, at church, the library…basically anywhere but the DMV, I have to realize not necessarily who, but what it is, that I’m sitting across from. They’re not just a human being…they are a human being.
Meaning they’re not just a pile of skin and bones that evolved into walking and cognitive abilities which will now roam the earth, work from 9-5 and (if they can get past a first date) one day pass genes down the line before retiring to Florida and dying of old age. No, they are a human being whose existence will bridge into eternity. There, sitting before me, twiddling their thumbs and trying to think what three books they’d read if they were stranded on a desert island, is a foreshadowing of something of greater and more mind-blowing significance than I could ever imagine. They’re a human being, made in the image of God Himself.
Of course, that all sounds fine and dandy unless we can grasp what it actually means. This is a realm in which Christian’s tend to objectify.
“Objectify!?” you cry, “you must be talking about the pornographers and sexually deviant masses!!!”
Nope, I’m talking about us: Christians. For we have developed a wonderful and very apt ability to point the finger at secularism and, with many a “tisk tisk” and shake of our heads, condemn the objectification of pornography and Beyonce’s halftime show. This is not to say that we are wrong in our identification but that we still have a log in our eye.
Because too often we have “a date” for the night. We’re gonna meet our “date” at an agreed time, swap customary information, chat over a meal, try to send the right signals and, if it goes well and they like Neil Diamond enough well, then maybe we’ll have another “date” the next night. If things progress, they’ll become “our girlfriend/boyfriend” and maybe our “fiancé” or “spouse”. If things go poorly, well then, they’re just immature, stupid, childish, selfish, hurtful, liars that we label our “ex”. Am I being nit picky about our terminology? Perhaps. Am I proposing that we stop calling it “dating” and start calling it “courting”?
My point is that, especially in the context of dating, we have a tendency of ceasing to view the other person as an eternal entity and instead cram their existence into a nice little box we can comprehend and place on the shelves of our egos. The person we sit across from in Starbucks, is first and foremost, a child of the utmost God and secondly is our brother or sister in Christ, which means we’re going to be together for a lllloooonnnnnggggg time. I’d rather not start off an eternal relationship with an attempt to whittle that person down to some identity I can label and carry around on my arm or add to my Facebook profile. But this happens all too often and I get tunnel vision. I lose sight of the eternal picture and instead focus on the immediate situation; I cease to see the person as anything other than who they are in relation to me in this moment. The failure to view another person as an eternal child of God doesn’t just result in terrible first dates, but leads to dysfunctional break-ups, damaged or destroyed marriages and terrible, God-awful, bubble-gum pop music
This brings us to a lil’ caveat. As Christians whose life is centered on Christ, we must make it a priority to only pursue romantic relationships with Christians. This is a position that I advocate and encourage for several reasons, the least of which being you will have much more in common. I mean, c’mon what’s a dating relationship without a common jab at the Left Behind Series, comparison of favorite preachers or mutual bonding over the high school rebellion stage?
Of course, unless you attend a Christian college, work in a Christian organization, or only date people whom your set up with by that nice old lady who sits in the front row and church and (God knows she means well) asks you if your “married yet” every g$@$% Sunday…. then you may not know right off the bat if the fine lad/damsel you who just agreed to meet you at Starbucks is a God-fearing Christian or not. While long-term committed romantic relationships with non-Christians isn’t the best of ideas…there’s nothing wrong with a cup of coffee and awkward questions for an afternoon. Furthermore, a first date is not shot to hell when you find out the person is not a Christian, although that can be
but I would strongly advise that your romantic aspirations come to a screeching halt. That said, I would also wave a finger at any gut reactions to whip out some Billy Graham pamphlets and go evangelize their (oh, so) hot self.
But if you find out that you’re date isn’t a Christian, what you have isn’t a train-wreck of an evening but yet another opportunity to interact with a being of eternal significance. We Christians have a wonderful knack for wasting such opportunities on our own intentions.
“Oh mah gawsh….I came into the evening hoping for a date and beautiful woman with whom I could whisper sweet nothings for years and years and what I got instead was a chance to show the love of Christ to another human being…”
I realize that in writing this that I may bring upon myself the perception that I have half a clue as to how Christians ought to date. I really don’t. My assertions and suggestions are just as much of a shot in the dark as anyone else’s. The world of dating is a complicated, twisted, skewed and (more often than not) painful labyrinth of emotions and questions no one can ever maneuver perfectly. I’m no exception; my attempts at the task have hardly been something to brag about . Luckily, eternal grace envelops all of our lives…even the awkward dates and nasty break ups.
Furthermore, I’m convinced that for every awkward date, every broken relationship and all the tattered remnants of a romance I’ve weathered or caused, I’ve got a glorious, smiling and forgiving reunion waiting for me up in heaven. That’s the beauty of the common bond we all share; all of our petty conflicts will, upon inhabiting the New Jerusalem, boil down to a “hey…remember when? Man, were we stupid…”. I plan on having many of such conversations with some recipients of my less-than-successful romantic aspirations over a good, heavenly beer. And yes, they’ll have beer in heaven.
So when you sit down from someone on the first date take a deep breath and relax knowing that however awkward it is, however the relationship with that person ends, however many times you find yourself saying:
… you have an eternity of laughter, worship and true community to make up for it. Our promise of heaven is one that extends to every area of our worlds, especially our love life, and removes the need for objectification, stress and especially Taylor Swift. It’s not to say that all the questions swirling through your head aren’t good ones or that they shouldn’t be considered. They probably are and probably should…you just need to start with a proper view of who your date really is; you need to start with good theology.