To help manage an important transition, I made a commitment to refrain from dating for the past year, but those 12 months are quickly coming to an end. As the summer draws near, I feel increasing excitement to date again — as well as anxiety.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation. Perhaps it’s for health reasons as we come out of this pandemic, or maybe you’re looking to finally put yourself back out there after taking some time to heal from a breakup. Whatever your situation — whether you’re feeling pure excitement or crippling fear — here are some things to keep in mind as you reenter the dating scene.
Time is your friend
Sometimes it’s a good idea to take more time than we think is necessary before we dive back into the dating scene. “But I just took time! What are you saying?!” But taking time off doesn’t necessarily mean you spent it well.
The good news is that time really does heal — if it’s used smartly. That “if” is a big one, though. Like an athlete, we can rush back from an injury only to hurt ourselves more. Without the proper rehab and care, we could put ourselves — and someone else — in a risky situation by going back into the game too soon. You wouldn’t enter a marathon right after heart-bypass surgery. Likewise, you shouldn’t enter a new relationship right after a heartbreak or other traumatic life event.
Because dating affects someone else’s life and not just your own, it’s important to make sure you’ve given enough time and attention to healing from past pain before inviting someone else into your life. That’s not to say that we need to be perfectly woundless to start dating again. Woundless people don’t exist. When we reenter the dating scene, however, we shouldn’t still be bleeding from unresolved issues. That’s just a mess waiting to happen.
In no way have I perfectly spent the past year away from dating. I do believe that I’ve increasingly taken it more seriously, though, and in doing so I’ve been able to address parts of my past that needed attention. Allowing time and grace to do their thing has thankfully excavated areas of my heart that — unbeknownst to me — have never been brought to light. So, before you pamper yourself for that next date, check-in with your heart and make sure there are no warning lights. If nothing stands out, spray that perfume and get ready to rock and roll! On the flip side, if you do notice some blinking lights, giving yourself more time is never a bad option. You want to feel like you’re on solid ground when you step out there.
Enjoy your life
Before you invite someone into your life, make sure you’re actually living your life. Do things that make you come alive. Hang ten in the Baja. Learn to ride a motorcycle. Pick up pottery. Enjoy yourself. We need to do life before we find someone to do life with.
One of the big lies that our society tries to sell us is that another person can satisfy our hearts. Therefore, we can be tempted to persevere in a life of mediocrity, thinking that our lives will suddenly and finally improve with the entrance of a romantic partner.
Reminder: no one else can satisfy you, so don’t expect to suddenly come alive because of someone else. I’m a big believer that if we wait until X happens before doing Y, then we will ultimately never do Y — and X will usually never happen, either. If we wait until we find a partner before allowing ourselves to enjoy life, then life will always fall short.
I find that I’m my most vibrant (and therefore attractive) self when I’m active in all of the different spheres of my life: the physical, emotional, mental, social, and, most importantly, the spiritual. When I neglect one of these areas — which inevitably happens from time to time — I’m a much less appealing version of myself. Buckling down on my spiritual life alway brings back order, however.
Another person can’t bring me satisfaction, but another Person can: Jesus. If you ever find yourself slacking in a particular area of your life, diving deeper into your faith life will always pick everything back up.
Because of how vulnerable dating is, it’s easy to focus inward instead of outward. I remember drinking a brew with my best friend on the eve of his wedding night and him telling me, “I found who I was looking for when I stopped looking around and started looking up.” I playfully acted like I was choking on my beer: “Cheddarrr! Straight cheddar!” As his best man, it was my brotherly duty to let him know how cheesy he sounded. His words have stuck with me, though.
In dating, we need a level of detachment when we’re looking for a suitable partner. When we only focus on what we hope to get out of dating, we suck the life out of the process. Our desire should be less to get and more to give. Likewise, when we put the pressure on ourselves to make things happen, we reject God’s willingness to give. Our mindset should be less to find and more to receive.
In my acting class, my coach would always yell at us, “Be present! The more the other person is there, the more you’re there! Quit being selfish!” She would then proceed to spew an impressive amount of profanity, but the point was made. She knew that by focusing more on the other person — and less on ourselves — we inevitably become more authentic.
When we turn inward and focus our attention on the jokes we’re telling, the amount of time we’ve been talking, whether the other person notices our razor burn, etc., then we stop being present and start putting on masks. Give your date your undivided attention and you’ll give them the freedom to be real. Be genuinely curious about your date and you’ll be genuinely yourself. Dating is all about getting to know one another, but we have to be real in order to truly know one another.
Know who you are and go for it
Any insecurity I have can often be traced back to a misunderstanding of my own identity. When I forget who I am, I get worried about who I am. Makes sense, right? Plant this in your mind and hold onto it: you — yes you — are unique, unrepeatable, and irreplaceable. You are a son/daughter of God.
Anything that tells you otherwise is a lie and has no place in your mind. By that same token, anyone who says otherwise has no place in your life. For some reason, we like to chase people who don’t accept us in our totality. Jesus himself told his disciples to shake the dust off their feet when they’re not received. We need to be willing to do likewise in the dating scene.
The more the truth of your identity can sink into your being, the more free you will feel to put yourself out there. And do put yourself out there! What’s the worst that could happen? Getting rejected? Meh. That’s literally the worst thing that could happen, and it’s not that bad. Most of the time when we’re rejected, it has nothing to do with us. But even if it does, when we’re firmly rooted in our identity, one person’s opinion of us doesn’t make a difference. Two people’s opinion of us doesn’t make a difference. The world’s opinion of us truly doesn’t make a difference!
If you want to date, you eventually have to be bold enough to be available to date. And, please know, it’s more than okay to have fears. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t have any fears when it comes to dating again. The person writing this certainly isn’t without them! We can’t stay stuck in these fears, though. Know who you are and believe you are enough.