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True Love Dates
your indispensable guide to finding the love of your life
By Debra K. Fileta
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Debra K. Fileta
All rights reserved.
THE PERSON YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU'D DATE
"Am I going to be single forever?"
She sat across from me on a comfortable, oversized gray chair. She was dressed in a professional pencil skirt, ruffled blouse, bright red shoes, and spunky narrow glasses that matched her spunky personality. Her tearstained cheeks reflected the sadness and confusion that she felt about this subject that had become such an important part of her heart.
Carrie had come to counseling for one reason and one reason alone—to sort through the pain of her singleness. She was in her late twenties, and she thought for sure she would be married by now. But God's timeline didn't seem to match up with hers. She was struggling with being alone and single while all her friends were happily married. She'd had enough of being the third wheel. When would it be her turn to find true love?
I know for certain that Carrie is not the only one who is thinking and feeling this way about love. I remember a class I took my freshman year of college that proved this to be true. The professor asked us to consider the plans we had for our future and to put together a three-minute presentation on our ambitions and dreams. The results were pretty typical. Some hoped to be doctors, a few lawyers, and others teachers.
But there was one presentation that was so unexpected that I will likely never forget it. One young woman sweetly waltzed up to the podium and began to share her dreams and ambitions. In her southern belle accent, she boldly proclaimed her desire to be a wife and a mother as the passion of her life. Without a hint of shame, she explained that she was at college with one thing in mind: to get her "MRS degree." To enter college as a Ms. and leave as a Mrs. was her top priority in life.
I can't say that this way of thinking was foreign to me, because I too had the strong desire to find a spouse and get married someday. But the fact that she actually said it out loud confirmed the reality that so many people are looking for love.
In the past few years of my practice as a professional counselor, I have seen numerous young men and women just like Carrie, men and women who are struggling to come to terms with the truth that the future they had envisioned for themselves looks starkly different from the reality that they are living, men and women who are hoping and praying that they will one day get to say those two simple words, "I do."
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF "I DO"
It is a phrase that has profound impact on the lives of those who speak it. Two little words that hold so much power, fusing two separate lives and two separate hearts into one. Though countless men and women have uttered "I do," I wonder how many of them have considered the depth of this phrase. It's a phrase that begins with personal responsibility and insight, because in order to proclaim "I do," one has to know and understand "I."
For thousands of years, the greatest thinkers of all time have come to the same conclusion that living a meaningful life comes down to this one thing. Aristotle said that "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." Pascal reinforced this way of thinking in his plea to mankind that "one must know oneself." So how did our philosophy on finding love get so fixated on looking out rather than looking in?
In Psalm 139, the psalmist marvels at God's complete knowledge of us. The fact that a God who is so powerful has such a detailed knowledge of and interest in our lives is simply mind boggling. He is keenly aware of us, from the moment we wake to the moment we close our eyes. And after verse upon verse of reveling in God's knowledge of us comes a tiny phrase that turns the focus back to "I": "Your works are wonderful, I know that full well" (Ps. 139:14).
Did you get that? Read it again. After going on about how we are God's workmanship, the psalmist proclaims, "Your works are wonderful, I know that full well." In other words, the psalm could go like this: "God, you made me in a marvelous way. I am your masterpiece, and I know that whatever you make is wonderful."
Is that true in your life? Do you know full well that you are God's workmanship? Do you really believe that you are wonderful, simply because you are God's? Do you grasp the details that make you who you are? Do you have an awareness of yourself in the same way that your Creator has an awareness of you?
We live in a society that is so fixated on knowing others. Young men and women are encouraged to get out there and date, to get to know people in the hope of finding a permanent match. They spend months—even years—in pursuit of the person they hope to spend the rest of their lives with, forgetting that the rest of their lives in marriage involves not just one individual but two.
At the end of the season of dating, you will have invested copious amounts of energy and countless hours getting to know the person you will be standing with at the altar, but what about the other person?
What about yourself?
God understands the importance of looking inward. The Bible teaches us to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:39). Loving others is contingent on the ability to love yourself. The ironic thing is that many singles are ready to get out there and love someone else, but they haven't taken the time to love themselves. Loving yourself requires that you know, value, and respect the person you are while moving toward the person God has made you to be. But somehow this important truth gets moved to the back burner. We tend to focus so much on the first part of this verse that calls us to love others that we neglect to love ourselves.
I have to admit that for a while I was missing this piece of the puzzle. I spent so much of my young adult years looking for true love without ever getting to know and appreciate who I was. I read book after book on dating and courtship in an attempt to learn all that I could about meeting, identifying, and interacting with my soul mate. I focused on building a relationship not realizing how much of me that relationship would one day entail. I put a lot of effort into finding "the one," all the while losing myself.
I grew up in a generation that was stuck between two very different ways of thinking about how to find true love. Inside the church, I was bombarded with messages regarding courtship and commitment. Gender roles were clear. Men were to be the pursuers, and women were to be the pursued. Chivalry was a must, and whether a man opened the door for a woman was almost as important as the condition of his soul. Dating was seen as the pagan way of living. One had to kiss dating goodbye and pursue true love through courtship: long-term, deeply committed, smooch-free relationships that were headed toward marriage. This mentality left absolutely no room for dating, because if you were planning on having coffee with someone, you had better know that they were "the one." Talk about some serious pressure.
The other way of thinking about how to find true love pervaded the world outside the church, and I encountered it in the movies I watched and in the magazines I read and in the lives of people I interacted with. Chivalry was seen as a weakness and gender roles were considered confining. Dating around was the only way to find true love, and moving in together was the only way to test it. Commitment was an old-fashioned word, laden with fear and anxiety. Afraid to make the wrong choice in a partner, my generation decided to refrain from choosing altogether. Why risk it all on one when you could have as many as you wanted "risk-free"?
As a Christian young adult, I found myself struggling to make sense of two starkly different ways of thinking, neither of which seemed to accurately define me or offer me a practical way to live. I took on the stories of others as my own, trying to relive their experiences and recreate their romance in the hope that these things would lead me to love. Instead, I was led down a road of confusion and pain.
I came from a fairly conservative family that didn't encourage dating in my teens. I spent a lot of my time with friends and was involved in church activities. But as much as I enjoyed my high school years, I longed for the day when I could be in an exclusive dating relationship. Upon entering college, I was finally free to make my own decisions when it came to dating. And lucky for me, there were single, good-looking young men everywhere I looked.
Impatient to be in a relationship, I found myself dating the very first guy who showed an interest in me. He was a sweet young man, gracious and kind in every way. But in my craving for attention and connection, I failed to recognize that he was not right for me. Because I had no awareness of who I was or what I needed, I found myself settling for a mediocre relationship rather than holding out for what was best.
Trying to stay true to the concept of courtship that I had read about and so desperately wanted to believe in, I confined myself to a relationship that I eventually knew in my heart wasn't the right fit. I was terrified of failure and of letting people down. Afraid of starting over, afraid of playing the dating game, I allowed my bond to get deeper and deeper with a man whom I ultimately would not marry.
After two years of heartache, I finally let go of this relationship and for the first time in my life engaged in dating inward. My relationship with God was strengthened, as was my awareness of myself and, in turn, my relationships with others. The more awareness I gained, the more I grew in confidence and was empowered to trust my heart again. Rather than allowing the stories of others to define my love life, I found the God-given wisdom to create my own story.
THE PERSON YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU'D DATE
Dating inward may be the most important component of your story because it is not dependent on anyone else. You don't even have to be in a relationship to get started. When you're single, it's easier to focus on what you don't have than on what you do. It's difficult to change that focus in a culture that defines the word single as "incomplete." Dating inward requires a change of perspective, a shift in thinking that puts the focus on who you are rather than whom you are with. And the only commitment it requires is a commitment to yourself.
Getting to know yourself may seem simple, and on the one hand it is. It is as simple as strolling into an art gallery, yet as complex as closely observing, analyzing, and finding meaning in each and every piece of art. The difficulty comes in choosing how much you will allow yourself to engage and discover, how much you will allow yourself to come face to face with the person you never thought you would date: yourself.
Many people have little to no awareness of who they are. Others see their true self as a part of them that they have to hide from pain, brokenness, abandonment, abuse, and fear. It's the part that may be covered with insecurities or painted with pride. Either way, it's part of them. And it needs to be exposed to them for healthy relationships to become a possibility.
Author Julien Green says that "the greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart." When you choose to look inward, you are choosing to go where no man has gone before, because only you have access to this terrain. It is a journey that brings with it new discoveries each and every day.
WHERE DO I BEGIN?
Maybe you're realizing how much time you've spent pursuing others and how very little time you've spent pursuing yourself. Maybe you acknowledge that in trying to find someone to love, you have actually lost yourself. Maybe these concepts resonate within your heart and you are ready to embark on this experience. So what does it mean to date inward? How do you get to know yourself?
When it comes to self-discovery, I find it helpful to begin by answering three questions:
1. Where do I come from?
2. Where and who am I now?
3. Where am I going?
Each question is an important component in getting to know yourself and requires you to take the time to learn, explore, and discover. Each answer offers fresh perspectives and insights, and challenges you to see yourself in a whole new way. The next three chapters of this book will guide you in answering each question as you begin this voyage of self-discovery.
If you are ever to relate fully to another person, you must begin by dating yourself. Foundational to knowing what you need in a partner is knowing who you are. Are you ready to get to know the person you never thought you'd date?
Questions for Reflection
1. W hat are some ways our culture emphasizes dating others as the key to finding true love?
2. I n your journey of finding true love, how much time and energy have you devoted to getting to know yourself?
3. What do you believe about yourself? Do you see yourself as God's workmanship? Do you know full well that his works (including you) are wonderful? If not, what is holding you back?
WHERE DO I COME FROM? The Colors of Our Past
"The way you do the things you do." —the Temptations
There's a funny story about a new bride who always cut off the end of her ham when she prepared it for dinner. When her husband asked why, she replied, "I don't know. My mom always did it that way, so I just thought that's how it is supposed to be done." Out of curiosity, the bride called her mother and asked the reason for cutting off the end of the ham. The mother replied, "I'm not really sure. That's just the way your grandma always did it when I was growing up." A little while later, when the bride was visiting her grandmother, she asked, "Grandma, why do you always cut off the end of the ham when you bake it?" The grandmother replied, "Well, I had to, dear; otherwise it would never fit in my small pan."
As lighthearted and humorous as this story sounds, the reality is that we are shaped by what we have learned from those around us. So much of my time in both premarital and marital counseling sessions is spent tracing the steps that led a couple to their problems and pain. I spend hour after hour digging into their pasts to identify solutions for their present, because knowing your past is crucial to succeeding in your present.
OUR FIRST CONFLICT
It was the week of Christmas. The stockings were hung, the tree was decorated, the scent of delicious food was flowing through the house, and snowflakes were falling gently to the ground on a beautiful, chilly Chicago day. It was the perfect postcard picture of family fun and relaxation. John and I were visiting his family, celebrating our first Christmas together as a married couple. And while everyone was downstairs playing board games and munching on delicious snacks, John came upstairs to find me in tears.
As much as I tried to have fun and enjoy my time with my new family, it was nothing like what I was used to. My family spent Christmas week shopping, traveling, and visiting family and friends together. There was so much to see and do, and we found joy in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. On the other hand, John's family celebrated the entire week in the comfort of their cozy home. They valued spending quality time with one another, away from distractions and the busyness of the outside world—no shopping, no traveling, no hustle and bustle. As much as I loved his family, I didn't think I could take one more moment of quality time and being indoors. With tears streaming down my face, I explained to him that I missed my family and our way of celebrating Christmas. For the first time in our marriage, differences stemming from our family origins had birthed a conflict.
FAMILY OF ORIGIN
Our family of origin plays a lead role in determining who we are. It makes sense when you think about it. Nearly everything we know and feel about ourselves has roots in the soil of our upbringing. We learn about communication from watching our parents. Our self-esteem and value are based on words and actions that were imprinted on our minds from a young age. Our desire for love and acceptance is either satisfied or parched by our family atmosphere. Even our views of sex and sexuality stem from our exposure to our families' attitudes about them in our early years.
A lucky few have fond memories of a home filled with love, affection, fidelity, and honesty. Their families solved problems with proper communication, expressed feelings in a healthy way, and exchanged love and support freely. But most people experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly in their families. Maybe you come from a home where communication had two forms: silence or rage. Maybe love was felt but never articulated. Maybe you grew up longing for acceptance, but acceptance was never given. Maybe you live with the wounds of divorce, fatherlessness, religious hypocrisy, physical or sexual abuse, alcoholism, or addiction.
Excerpted from True Love Dates by Debra K. Fileta. Copyright © 2013 Debra K. Fileta. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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