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Who's Picking Me Up from the Airport?
And Other Questions Single Girls Ask
By Cindy Johnson
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 Cindy Johnson
All rights reserved.
What I'm Working With
My Adolescent dating Baggage
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.—Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Occupation: Nonprofit Spokesperson
City: Newport Beach, California
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Let's just cut to the chase: heartbreak sucks. Like most of us, I've survived several, and I'm still finding my way through one as I write you.
When my mom was six months pregnant with me, she went to Vegas and married my dad. His cocaine addiction is mostly to blame for his leaving us shortly after I was born. He popped in a few times over the course of my childhood: always charming, always boasting sparkling promises he could never keep. He was my first real heartbreak.
My mom remarried when I was five, and her marriage meant I got a dad. I've been calling him Dad and using his last name since kindergarten. He officially adopted me when I was eight. I believed he rescued me from becoming a girl with daddy issues.
For a long time, I thought my story was one of redemption, believing that all of my hard work to show God what a good kid I was paid off. For years, I was proud of my family and thought I'd escaped feeling the byproducts of my beginnings.
Then when I was in college, my mom and dad got divorced.
My third heartbreak.
My second heartbreak was wedged somewhere in the middle of the first two when I fell in love with an addict who walked out of my life without a goodbye. (But like I said, nothing about me had anything to do with my childhood. Obviously.) Maybe that's why the same addict boyfriend was also my fourth heartbreak, years later, when we decided to try a brutal round two.
My fifth heartbreak was at twenty-six—around when I was sure I had finally figured everything out. I found a good man who cared for my heart. He was honest, suffered no addictions, and was kind through and through. Unfortunately, he eventually changed his mind about what he wanted for our future. He couldn't shed much light on his decision, just told me all the things he loved about me, but that he didn't think we were meant to go the distance. This heartbreak turned out to be one of the worst, and I spent far longer than I care to admit trying to recover.
I'm betting that if this letter caught your attention, it's because you too know heartbreak better than you want to. I wish I knew a way around it, but instead, I hope you'll hear the comfort I find in the words of Paul: "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:13 – 14).
The word that gets me here is "straining." It's as if God recognizes that moving forward is painful and uncomfortable. It's met with the temptation to move backward instead, to return to something familiar, even if it's not good for you. Other times, the temptation will be to skip it altogether and find a distraction. The good news is that if you're feeling the strain, if your heart is breaking, that means you're moving forward. I know it doesn't feel like it, but that strain is a sign of your strength.
We were designed to heal. And our healing is designed to participate in the healing of others. God is using my story for a greater purpose, to point me and others closer to him. I've seen him do it with all my heartbreaks.
What I want you to know is that if this part of your story hurts right now, I'm so sorry. I wish I could hug you and cry with you and that we could laugh our way through it. But mostly, I wish I could tell you how brave you are and that your healing is coming. And that with it you will do beautiful things.
Thanks for letting me share with you.
* * *
The first boy I ever liked was Mark-Paul Gosselaar. I realized something was different when I got embarrassed while watching episodes of Saved by the Bell with my family in the room. Can they tell? Does everyone know I like him? I should probably say that I think Full House is a way better show ... Yeah, that will throw them off for sure.
In middle school, I had my first boyfriend, Brad. I felt so cool during lunch when he'd come and stand by me. He had this beautiful blond hair and pretty blue eyes. My friends were jealous. I could tell. We had a brief, noncommunicative affair that ended three weeks later when I dumped him to get out of buying him a Christmas present. There was no way I was telling my mom we needed to go shopping for a boy at school. I'd rather die.
I didn't have another boyfriend till I was twenty-seven.
I grew up in a very small town in California called Banning. This is vital information because it means I had very few opportunities for real life crushes. There were exactly nine decent boys in my high school. My dad was the senior pastor of the main church in town, so that left only four boys who were still willing to take on the challenge of dating a preacher's daughter. The fact that I also have three brothers scared away the remaining and left me with zero. Zero boys to date.
Looking back, I'm not sure it would've mattered anyway. In middle school, I wore a lot of Anchor Blue baggy striped shirts and lipstick in the shade of "raisin." In high school I opted for Roxy everything and thought it was cool not to wear makeup. At no point did anyone bother to pull me aside and remind me that guys like girls who look like girls. Where were you on that one, Mom?
There were some guys in high school who liked me, but only really weird ones—Boy Scouts and the occasional gang-banger with a romantic heart. There were a handful of cute Mormon boys (on account of our shared values), but they were off limits. I'm sure a few others here and there thought about asking me out but decided it wasn't worth their time since I was a proud card-carrying member of the abstinence crew.
My one major high school crush (who didn't live in TV or a book) was Andy. Another blue-eyed number with a big smile. My Andy saga started in second grade when he showed up at our house to play with my older brother. I tried to win him over with the old game of saying mean things to him, in what I can only imagine was a really high-pitched voice, while practicing my New Kids on the Block moves in his line of sight.
He never responded to any of this.
But I did once catch a glimmer of hope when I was sixteen. Somehow my friend Carrie's boyfriend managed to rope him into a double date to our town's carnival. I couldn't contain myself, I was so excited. My whole life had led up to this very moment. I remember everyone in my family was eating dinner in the dining room, except for me, because, you know, I had a date. As my pickup time of 5:00 turned into 5:20, to 5:30, I began to worry. Carrie finally called around 6:00 and said, "Cindy, we can't find Andy. I'll pick you up."
Walking through the dining room with my family watching me get stood up was one of my most humiliating moments. This never would have happened to my brothers. Girls in our town would have killed to date them, and I couldn't even get a date to show up.
I was confused. All of the youth group talks about making lists of "What I'm Praying for in a Future Husband" had led me to believe it would be a fairly easy deal. Get the right list, get the right guy. Simple. Creating the perfect must-haves was my part. Dropping him in my life in an exciting and movielike way was God's part. Obviously. If I carefully lived up to my future husband's ideal-wife list—some hybrid of a Proverbs 31 woman and a super sexy model who stayed quiet—God would bring me my soul mate and we'd live happily ever after.
No one told me I might have to date around, be rejected or disappointed. I wasn't sure how to file Andy's rejection into the easy and beautiful storyline I'd been sold. Where have I gone wrong? Is it something I did? Somewhere inside, I started to believe that God worked love out for those worth loving. The fact that it didn't go well for me meant something was wrong with me. The good people get chosen. The rest of us don't.
After Andy, with little to guide me out of my embarrassment, I began formulating a game plan that consisted of pretending I didn't want to date anyone, while secretly hoping some guy would chase after me, proving I was worthy. I would give no sign of liking a guy until I was absolutely sure he was in. For his entire life. It was my zero-risk plan.
And what better place to try this plan out than at a godly girl's man buffet—Christian college. In my head, there would be an endless supply of guys waiting to meet someone just like me. My dating pool would finally contain the kind of guys my dad would allow me to date. When I arrived, I found instead a bunch of over-emotive boys whose mothers had loved them too much. I was pretty disappointed with the selection.
Most of them seemed to think God would deliver a virgin Jessica Alba if they went to church regularly and didn't sleep with their girlfriends. Apparently the guys were sold some bad dating advice along the way too.
They weren't all bad guys, of course. It just took some effort to sort the dateable guys from the nondateable. If you busted out your guitar and sang worship songs unnecessarily, I wasn't interested. If you asked me to grab coffee and "share my testimony," I wasn't interested. If you blamed your last breakup on God, I ran for the hills. If you surfed and didn't know I existed, I secretly timed all my meals so I'd run into you in the cafeteria.
Unfortunately, this behavior kept me out of any real relationships and led to a few inappropriate friendships. Inappropriate friendships run rampant at Christian colleges. Warn your daughters. This is when you and a boy spend lots and lots of time hanging out. You grow very close emotionally and spiritually, but not physically. Hooking up meant you had to have a DTR (determining the relationship). Most guys prefered to keep it vague. Less responsibility. And since your inappropriate guy friend never declares what he is actually doing with you, the ball is in your court to make it a "more than friend" kind of thing. Only you can never be sure that's what he wants, because he never makes it clear.
This sends you on a massive crazed case of unsolved mystery where you must draw your own conclusions with only clueless girlfriends from your dorm as sounding boards. "He said God told him I should go on a dating fast for six months. That means he doesn't want me dating anyone else, right?" "He turned down that girl from his biology class. That's because we are a thing, right?" "He invited me to Chili's while his parents are in town. He is in love with me, RIGHT?!"
Lots of girls were obsessed with getting married right out of college. (The whole "ring by spring" thing was alive and well at my school.) I wasn't. And neither was my friend Jody. She and I met after class our freshmen year. Together, we decided it was best to have at least four boyfriends before graduating and travel and have a career before settling down.
I thought I had found my perfect first boyfriend when I met Eric, with whom I had an IF with during most of college. We met early on and became friends right away. The kind of close friends who spend lots of time together but never address any feelings. It was frustrating and confusing. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, he got all the benefits of a girlfriend (someone to leave him a voice-mail message before a big presentation, someone to listen to him vent, a shoulder to cry on) without any commitment.
Eric and I kept our thing going right up until the day he called me to catch up over the summer. We chatted for an hour or so while I pictured us holding hands and walking campus that next fall. He eventually said, "Oh, hey, I don't think I told you, I started dating this girl from home over break and I'm thinking about proposing!" In perfect IF form, I finally got my answers. I finally knew for sure how he felt, because it was over. He liked someone else. And wanted to MARRY HER.
Don't worry, it got better. Jody came to the wedding as my date that next summer.
You'd think I'd have learned my lesson, but unfortunately I repeated the same cycle with two more guys after Eric. Since they weren't boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, I never spent any real time reflecting on how I felt. I never asked myself why I allowed someone to treat me like that in the first place.
One day, I came to the conclusion that the embarrassment I felt over Mark-Paul Gosselaar was the same embarrassment that kept me from buying Brad a Christmas gift all those years ago. It was that same feeling that allowed me to linger in a crush for years. It's how I rationalized letting guys get to know the best parts of me without ever having to be responsible to me. Jody eventually pointed it out to me when she said, "Cin, you never want to be the fool."
How right she was. I never wanted to be the one who put her heart on the line. More than finding love or expecting guys to treat me the way I deserved to be treated, I didn't want to experience rejection because I didn't want to have to wonder if there was something wrong with me. As long as no one technically turned me down, I could go on thinking I was a catch. As long as I never pushed anyone to choose me, I wouldn't have to face them if they said no.
After college, I made the shift I believe all girls have to make for themselves: you have to know you are a catch regardless of your relationship status. I always liked myself, but I still needed a guy to prove my worth.
Once I realized how wrong that thinking is, I stopped giving time to friendships with males I was interested in. If they were going to get to know me, they were going to have to date me. I was worth it, and I needed another guy friend like I needed a hole in my head. There was enough gray area to navigate in my twenties; I didn't need it in my relationships. Guys take a ton of our emotional time and effort. I decided if they weren't adding to my life, they were holding me back.
Now when I meet a guy I want to ask me out, I say to myself, "He should ask me out." And a lot of the time he does. Things didn't change because I suddenly looked so much better. I wasn't funnier, better at flirting, or nicer. I believe their responses changed as a result of the change in me. When I finally and confidently owned my beauty and worth, they did too.
The vibe you and I put out when we believe the man standing in front of us would be lucky to spend time with us actually makes a difference. Before every date, Jody and I always tell each other, "You are the prize." It may sound a little cheesy, but when you and I know our worth, it sends a message to us and the guys we date about what he can and can't get away with.
I wish I'd known earlier in life that as women, we hold a lot of power. Some guys will try to get away with whatever you let them get away with. Even the good ones are testing the boundaries in some form. It's okay to put yourself out there and get rejected, especially if it saves you from confusion and wasted time. Especially if it protects you from giving a guy something for free he was never planning to pay for in the first place.
I know. Easier said than done.CHAPTER 2
Love Is a Battlefield
[begin strikethrough]Lessons[end strikethrough] Scars from Adult Dating
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.—C. S. Lewis, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis
Occupation: Elementary school teacher
City: La Habra, California
* * *
"Unlucky in love." I always hated that phrase and never understood it. I never ever thought it would describe me. I grew up with the (wonderful fantasy/for sure to happen) dream that at age twenty-five I would be married, and by thirty I would own a home filled with three cute kids. Instead, I rent a modest one-bedroom apartment that I can barely afford, and not a single man is knocking on my front door, let alone texting, calling, emailing, or messaging me.
Excerpted from Who's Picking Me Up from the Airport? by Cindy Johnson. Copyright © 2015 Cindy Johnson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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