When it comes to matters of the heart, Millennials have a tendency to overcomplicate things. We want to have friends, romance, and relationships, but we don’t often want to put in the effort required to forge those things or maintain them. So what do we do? We play games of convenience that require minimal investment and no shortage of emotional terrorism. It’s strange if you think about it. We’re living in this amazing time, where society has come to terms with our need to be human and explore our emotions, and it’s even encouraged in most environments, but when it comes to taking those leaps into higher states of feeling, we can’t be bothered because it’ll interfere with this need we have to be desired, or envied, or exercise our ability to make poor decisions for momentary gain. It’s so tumultuous that even attempting to unravel the psychology and reasoning behind it all is an exercise in the purest form of madness. So for the sake of appealing to our need to understand things, we create unspoken rules for initiating, maintaining, and ending relationships, all designed to perpetuate comfort, pleasure and convenience. This isn’t true of everybody, but in my experience and some of the experiences relayed to me by others, this seems to be a common theme.
For somebody of faith, relationships are even more complicated. Not only do you have to deal with all of the things mentioned above, you also have to navigate a treacherous landscape of self-righteousness, gossip, shaming, and self-created theologies, designed to put you at the base of somebody else’s high tower. We romanticize the idea of meeting that perfect Christian partner and in the process, we lose sight of God, compromise our identities, and have our hearts broken more times than we can count. That’s not to say that love can’t happen in the church, because it can and it does, but the process comes with hurdles and an ample supply of collateral damage. That being said, tread carefully
A Culture of Single Shaming
Being in your late twenties and early thirties and being single is like trying to navigate a minefield that seems to only exist beneath your feet. Your friends are all getting married, your parents want grandkids, you’re slowly coming to terms with dying alone, all while racking up enough hours on Netflix to successfully make entire days of your life disappear. To the single person, it’s far easier to be single than it is to even attempt the daunting task of going out and meeting somebody. Some people even want to be single, and good for them. The problem with that, however, is that we live in a culture where people want you to be ashamed of being single. I’m in my late twenties and I’ve been single for the past four years. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been dates or romantic interests, I just haven’t put in a lot of effort, and I’m okay with that. Actually, I’ve put in very little effort, and I’ll get to that later. First, however, I have a story.
My younger brother got married back in August, and he asked me to be in the wedding party. I wasn’t the best man, but I stood up there with him while he said, “I do” in the front yard of a house in Costa Mesa. If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you know that it’s an emotional experience, not just for the bride and groom and their families, but also for all of the single people who were invited. It’s yet another reminder that the future is looming in the horizon and soon you’ll be the only person left on the bus. This feeling goes through stages. You start out happy and excited to see your friend or family member take that plunge, then the excitement turns to reflection, and soon (depending on how much you’ve had to drink) that reflection turns into fear. I’m not sure where I was in that cycle, but I had planned on trying to strike up a few conversations with people of the opposite gender. The only problem was that my best friend, who is about to become a father, was also invited and was about eight beers and three shots deep into the night. By the time I made any attempts to socialize, he had already gone to every available woman at the wedding and not only asked them if they were single, he told them that I was “desperate and wanted a girlfriend.” I know there was no malice intended, but I honestly cannot think of a more embarrassing and horrifying example of single shaming.
I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who has an obnoxious friend who is constantly trying to introduce you to people or tells you that their significant other has attractive friends. It’s a cliché as old as time and is only amplified by the pressures that young adults face from family and friends to be in relationships so life doesn’t leave us behind. This pressure is the anti-thesis of what love is supposed to be, and has become such common practice that we jump into relationships with the first people to show any sign of interest in us. Sometimes it works, but more often than not, we get stuck in these endless cycles of momentary happiness and wasted time. Jonathan Tropper says this in his novel, This Is Where I Leave You, “You’re terrified of being alone. Anything you do now will be motivated by that fear. You have to stop worrying about finding love again. It will come when it comes. Get comfortable with being alone. It will empower you.” Though the words are being applied to fictional characters, there’s a haunting truth to be had from them.
Dating In the Church
If you’re like me, and you grew up in a Christian household, you’ve probably heard at least some form of the sentence; “You need to go to church so you’ll meet a nice girl.” Perhaps in the younger days of our parents, dating in the church really was that simple. These days, however, it’s an entirely different landscape. That’s not to say that church should be a place one only goes when looking for a date, but a majority of single people who go to church, often have that thought somewhere in their minds. The pastor could be talking about putting God before everything else, but you’re cautiously and meticulously scanning the aisles of the auditorium looking for attractive people to talk to after service. I’ve spent a better part of the past four years working for churches, and while conversing with various young adults, I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard them say, “I like the message, but I’m only here for the community” or “I like the community, but I’m really hoping to meet my future wife” or “Oh yeah, they’re cute but they don’t believe in Calvinism.” Just kidding, I made that last one up. Trying to keep track of all the different motives and reasoning for attending a young adults service is like trying to keep track of all the betrayals in an episode of Downtown Abby, all while completely overlooking one important fact . . . it’s complicated.
Dating In the Church: From a Male Perspective
I can’t speak about the female perspective of dating in the church, because I’m not a female. And while I’m positive that they probably have a longer list of dating clichés than men do, I don’t want to assume to know what they experience. I can however, give you a rundown of what goes through the minds of men, based on my own experiences, observations, and conversations I’ve had with others.
When it comes to single ladies in the church, they usually fall into one of three categories. The first, and most common type of single lady in the church is the one that wants to “date a man like Jesus.” So, unfortunately, unless you can turn water into wine or raise the dead, the odds of dating somebody like that – if I can be honest – is like being a Raiders or Texans fan and seeing your team make it to the Superbowl. The second kind is the kind that stands up during worship, puts their hands in the air, and during conversations they talk about their excitement for “God’s plans” more times than they breathe in between sentences. While those aren’t exactly bad qualities, what makes them unique is that they usually know how attractive they are and are very quick to take dating off the table when engaging with the opposite sex. This gives them a sort of siren-like power over men, and most men who encounter them continually line up for punishment. The third kind is completely normal. They don’t necessarily show up in hopes of meeting their future spouse, but they’re open to the idea should that right person come along.
Then there are all of the standards that single Christian women have when it comes to dating in the church. The age gap has to be less than three years, they have to dress like a hipster, they have to be involved in the church (preferably in the worship band), and they have to have exuberant amounts of knowledgeable on Pho and coffee shops. And if you’re not talking about marriage within the first three months of dating, chances are that it’s not going to work out, and your peer group will probably know before you do. However, cynicisms aside, there are people who live outside of these “statistics.” These are the ones who meet at church and experience a legitimate form of love that isn’t created by loneliness, desperation, or social pressures. It just happens. I know people who have experienced it, and I couldn’t be happier for them. For those who aren’t that lucky, dating within the church is a difficult feat to say the least.
The standards of men are even worse, but we’re painfully aware of that, so there’s no need to elaborate further.
When it comes to break ups, there’s a common thread that binds the young and broken hearted together . . . the concept of collateral damage. You deserve to be happy and anybody who stands in the way of you and that happiness is none of your concern, right? Even if you’ve been dating them for the past several months, what happens to them means nothing to you, right? No, it shouldn’t work like that. Unfortunately, it does. And we don’t so much break up with people as much as we find excuses not to be with them anymore. Among my peer group, I consistently run into situations where break ups happen because the other person “needed to find themselves.” What does that even mean? Are you lost? There’s a GPS on your phone that’ll get you where you need to go pretty quickly. I remember one story in particular where a friend of mine said that they got dumped because their partner went on a Jet Ski ride in the ocean and said that God told them (while riding a jet ski) that they needed to break up. Sounds like a case of mistaking God’s will for your own. Don’t take this to mean that you should stay in a relationship if your partner makes you miserable or vice versa. Sometimes feelings change and love fades, there’s nothing you can do about it, and there’s no point prolonging the inevitable. However, the way that you break up with somebody matters a lot more than the act itself. You would be surprised at how much an open dialogue between two people can not only lessen the impact of heartbreak, but also help speed that healing process. We all want to understand, and even if the reasoning is unexplainable, doing it face to face can make a huge difference, especially since statistics show that 40% of breakups are done via text or email. If you consider all of the people in the world, that’s a horrifying number. You might read millennial blogs or puff pieces from Huffington Post that tell you that sort of thing is okay and even how to do it in an acceptable way, but there really isn’t an acceptable way, and even thinking about doing that is an act of cowardice.
Then there’s a term that millennials have labeled as “ghosting.” This is when one person just disappears from the other person’s life. They don’t return phone calls or text messages, and they go to great lengths to make sure that they never run into their former significant other again, because in that person’s mind, that significant other no longer exists. This is the extreme version of sweeping a problem under the rug, except in this case, that “problem” is another human being, who was not even given the courtesy of a warning that things were over. Can you imagine how that would make somebody feel? This is an act motivated by pure selfishness and an inability to empathize with the feelings of others. This type of person will always text or ghost their way from one relationship to the next, hoping to find the mythological place in life where happiness flows in abundance. However, in the end all they’ll find is a sad illusion of happiness that quickly fades into misery and loneliness, and it’ll leave such a large trail of collateral damage behind them that they won’t need to turn around to know it’s there, because they will forever feel the heat of that destruction on the back of their neck.
A Rational Thought About Irrationality
I had a conversation with a friend a few weeks ago, and the question they posed to me was this: how do you just let go? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? To this individual, it wasn’t just a matter of letting go of lost love. It was a matter of letting go of all the things that went with that love. All of the songs, and the movies, and the places, and the people, all of those things hold memories. And it doesn’t matter if those things or those people were precious to you before that relationship started. The moment you bring them into the relationship, they become potential collateral damage. So how do you just let go? The answer is frustratingly complicated, but at the same time, it isn’t. It can be summarized in two words: you don’t. Failed love is like a dormant gun in the pit of your stomach; you might think that it’s empty, but all it takes is one memory or seeing your ex in public to remind you that you left a round in the chamber, and when it goes off, the sound is deafening, and the pain becomes new again.
When it comes to love, no two experiences are the same. You might not have experienced any of the things mentioned above, and that’s awesome. If you have, don’t feel like there isn’t hope, and please don’t feel like you’re alone. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Not always, but it does teach you some valuable lessons. I haven’t dated in four years, not because I’m emotionally inept (okay maybe just a little) or I don’t believe in love. I do believe in love, and the last time I felt romantic love, I believed in it so much that my heart was completely unprepared for the aftermath of what eventually happened. I would have moved heaven and earth for her, and then after months together she disappeared. She didn’t say that it was over, she stopped answering phone calls, stopped texting, and for the following two weeks, I was left in a state of emotional purgatory. Then, one day, I logged onto Instagram and saw her with another guy. That’s how I figured it out. There’s more to the story than that, but it’s not something I wish to recall. Point being that was the worst pain I’d ever felt. I locked myself away and tried to ride my self-destructive spiral off the edge of the world. I became collateral damage because somebody used me in hopes that I would bring some kind of meaning or joy to their life, and I tried. In the end, I lost one more piece of myself that I will never get back. I haven’t put a lot of effort into dating over the past four years because part of me doesn’t want to ever feel that again and another part has been frantically trying to get myself back to an emotionally healthy state of mind. It sounds clichéd, but I don’t have many pieces of myself left to give, and I need to be absolutely sure before I even attempted to give one away. So I studied the “dating game,” observed things, tried to help people who had experienced similar things. What did I learn from all of it?
I learned that isolation is a sorry substitute for healing. I also learned that life is too short to play games. Nobody speaks from their hearts anymore. Love has become cold and calculated, even scripted. We want to feel, but we don’t allow ourselves to do it. We watch movies that confuse love and sex, and we watch television shows on the CW that teach you it’s okay to use people, and your happiness, pleasure, and comfort are the most important things in the world. Well, they’re not, and we need to stop perpetuating these ideologies. Throw the unspoken “rules” away. There’s not enough time in your life to play the game. If you have feelings for somebody, tell them. If you go on a date, don’t wait three days to tell them you enjoyed their company because you’re afraid of sounding desperate. Love is desperate, and desperation is beautiful. We’re not meant to be statistics, or pawns for gossip magazines and millennial blogs. It breaks my heart to think about how many great things don’t happen because society has instilled in us a dire fear of embarrassment. We’ve all had those moments, the ones where you’re sitting across from somebody, whether in a restaurant or coffee shop, and in that hour or two you spend with them, you can look in their eyes and feel how they make you whole and you imagine what a future with them could look like, and then they never call or text you again, and you mourn their loss with more sorrow than you’ll ever admit to. Sometimes things don’t work out. You’re not worthless, and it doesn’t mean you should stop trying. Love will happen when it happens, but in the meantime, we need to stop making it so difficult. God’s plans are greater than our rules and games, and when you get caught up in the rush of it all, it’s easy to miss what’s right in front of you.