dangerous, adjective: “able or likely to cause harm or injury.”
Dating is a dangerous activity. Any dating relationship will end in one of two ways: a break up or a marriage. The former usually comes with a good amount of pain, and it happens much more often than the latter. Even the latter can seem like a daunting option, though, because of the lack of quality examples of marriages in our lives. It’s easy to understand, therefore, why dating can be so scary. It’s a risky thing to do.
There are four ways in which fear takes shape when it comes to dating. I hear them over and over from college students, but they extend beyond campus life — I see them in my own experience and my friends speak of them, too. If the idea of dating makes your heart beat a little faster, you’ll likely relate to one of these four fears as well. Let’s examine each more closely, and identify ways to manage and transcend that fear.
The fear of choosing the wrong option.
We live in a world saturated with options. We have access to thousands of television shows, playlists automatically cultivated with new music everyday, and endless friend request recommendations. We can scroll until our fingers bleed. We can swipe until our eyes black out.
As I was writing this, I searched toothpaste brands just for kicks. I counted around 40 different options. Each brand then offers their own spectrum of products for sensitivity toothpastes, tartar-control toothpastes, whitening toothpastes, and on and on.
The options are endless with just about everything we could ask for. So why would a dating partner be any different? Just like a Subway line, dating apps enable us to modify our list of potential suitors down to just about every detail. You can literally tailor your search engine to only show you people in their late-twenties who are Catholic, alcohol drinking, non-smokers who desire kids. It’s wild.
I’m not bashing dating apps — don’t get me wrong. I think they’re great, but they can add to this ever-increasing fear — the fear of choosing the wrong option — if you’re not careful. With access to more people than ever before, it’s easy to believe there’s one option for you who is perfect. But there’s no perfect toothpaste — and there’s no perfect person.
Eventually you have to commit to a toothpaste or your teeth will rot out of your face. Eventually you have to see a person as a person, not as an option, and commit to him or her — or you will live in constant dissatisfaction. Dating is not a consumer-based activity — it’s a giving-based activity. When you really try to look at dating through that lens, this fear loses its punch.
The fear of pain.
A few years ago, I had a particularly bad wipeout while surfing. I got absolutely buried by a wave and as I was tumbling underwater, I tried swimming back to the surface. My legs kicked and kicked but as I reached up for air, I grabbed nothing but sand. I didn’t know my up from my down or my left from my right. Another wave broke and took me for a few more underwater flips. I tried scrambling to the surface again but to my dismay I only found more sand. My lungs had absolutely nothing left in them. By the grace of God, I found the surface just as my chest instinctively inflated for air. My desperate inhale was a combination of air and water, though, and I coughed all the way to shore. I headed back to my car and called it a day.
I was nervous to get back out on the water after that wipeout. I didn’t want the same thing to happen. I knew that avoiding the water was only allowing my fear to get the best of me, though. Just because I experienced a scary wipeout didn’t mean that I was doomed to experience another.
Your past is not your future’s inevitability. Just because you’ve been burned in a relationship before doesn’t mean that you’re doomed for the same thing. When it comes to dating, our fears are defense mechanisms for wounds from past relationships.
The fear of pain in dating doesn’t have to be centered around your pain, though. You might find yourself afraid of causing another person pain. As I’ve mentioned, dating is a giving-based activity. By putting more of your focus on giving than on receiving, you can make sure you’re going about a relationship with pure intentions. How a person ultimately reacts or feels when you’re focused on his or her good is not your responsibility.
The fear of inadequacy.
No amount of schooling, teaching, or training can hold a candle to dating when it comes to learning about ourselves. In getting to know and grow with someone else, we ultimately come to know ourselves better and grow and mature. Relationships uncover the fullness of our hearts like no other human institution is capable of.
Because of this, dating helps us quickly learn our quirks, oddities, strengths, and — yes — our weaknesses. Facing our own shortcomings is never an easy task. Find me someone who’s giddy to find out that they emotionally attach too easily and you’ll find me a liar.
Dating will expose you to yourself. Maybe you’ll find out that you don’t enjoy receiving compliments. Maybe you’ll learn that you don’t handle small talk easily. Maybe you’ll find yourself insecure about being gluten-free. Whatever it is, there will be something. Don’t let that something lead you into the fear of being inadequate, though. We all have weaknesses. We’re all broken. Essentially, we’re all inadequate for one another.
The right person will be able to accept the whole you, imperfections included. The wrong person won’t be able to. This sounds like a complete oversimplification, but it’s not. It’s just a hard truth.
The fear of loneliness.
We all know about COVID pandemic, but the greater danger to our generation is the loneliness epidemic. In our current “age of connection,” we’re ironically as lonely as ever.
The first thing God noticed about Adam was that it wasn’t good for him to be alone. We are communal beings, designed to share intimacy with one another. As with each of these fears, the fear of loneliness is a totally reasonable fear. It makes sense to fear being alone because being alone isn’t in accord with our nature.
The problem isn’t in fearing loneliness. Rather, the problem usually lies in what causes this fear. The fear of loneliness is usually the manifestation of a deeper fear. It could be the fear of being unloved, fear of facing some part of your own story, or the fear of what others may truly think of you.
Well I’m here to tell you that it’s easy to find a solution to this fear — the fear of loneliness can’t stand up to the love of the One who created us and wants nothing more than to be united with us. We’re never actually alone — God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
Accepting that love and cultivating it in prayer helps us accept ourselves and our place in this world. God’s love means we are never alone. We may desire to not be alone, and we may prefer to not be alone — but we wouldn’t fear its possibility. Loneliness isn’t ideal, but having intimacy with God makes it more than manageable. All relationships participate in that one divine relationship, after all.