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So I was thinking about titling this Bernadette’s Dating Manifesto, but I won’t, partly because I don’t think this is my definitive last word on the subject – I’m figuring things out as I go – and also because almost none of these ideas are really mine.  I’m pulling this stuff from a million conversations and books and videos and speakers and who knows what.  So I can’t take credit for anything.  For now, anyway, this is what I think:

I don’t know that there is one perfect person out there waiting for me.  I think perhaps there’s a field of possibilities that narrows the further we go.  I do think that God knows the man I will be married to, and I believe that God is forming him as He is forming me.  I trust God that the man I marry will be exactly what I need to help me become the woman God wants me to be.

With that said, I’m not looking for the perfect man, but I do want one who is perfect for me.  I think that’s what happens when we’re attracted to someone: we see or think we see something in them that is not just good but also good for us.  The number of things that would have to dovetail for me to be able to coexist with a particular person is a little intimidating.  There’s the basics (Christian, loves God with all his heart, I can’t push him around), and then the seemingly more frivolous things that still can make or break a relationship (do we laugh at the same things? can he stand my family? is he addicted to Hummel figurines, or paintings of clowns, or who knows what?).  And we can’t forget the physical side, without which all this is just a beautiful friendship.  When I think of all the things that would have to mesh, it’s more than a little intimidating.  From that perspective, it would take a miracle to find the right guy for me.  Which is why it’s a good thing God’s in charge of it, not me.

Beyond just encountering this paragon, there’s learning to love him and letting him learn to love me.  I talked about this more in a comment elsewhere, so I’m not going to go into it again here.  Letting myself be totally loved means opening myself totally to another person.  This is terrifying enough to do with God, much less a fallible human being who is guaranteed to be imperfect, insensitive and clueless.  I’m going to get hurt.  What’s worse, I’m going to hurt him too.  It’s kindof like getting dipped at the end of a dance (something I stink at, and yes, it all goes back to swing dancing).  It could be really beautiful and cool.  Or you could get dumped on your butt, maybe hurt pretty bad depending on how you land, definitely humiliated.  The question is: how much do you trust the person you’re dancing with?

The thing is that trust takes time to develop.  Just like rushing into physical intimacy is a mistake, so is rushing into emotional intimacy.  You need time to get to know the whole person.  True love can only rest securely on a broad foundation of friendship.  I can’t imagine anything better than being married to my best friend, or dating someone who wasn’t a friend.  However, this requires remaining open to all the possibilities inherent in a particular relationship until you either discern that the person is not who you want to marry, or another comittment (yours or theirs) closes off that possibility.  I think this is reflected in the Song of Songs, where the Bridegroom refers to his beloved as, “my sister, my bride.”

I also think it’s important to date like you mean it.  We date in order to find the person we will marry.  If you’re not ready to be married, you’re not ready to date.  I think this includes building emotional intimacy with someone.  While close, supportive friendships are awesome, and I’m immensely grateful for the brothers God has given me, it’s not right to lead someone on, giving them the kind of attention that usually means romantic interest without any intention of fulfilling the expectations you’ve aroused.  So you have to be carefully honest both with yourself and with the other person about what kind of relationship you’re building.

This is the longest post ever, but there’s one more thing I wanted to say.  All of this is utterly dependent on the perfect will of God.  HatMan nailed it when he quoted Psalm 37.  Too often we interpret that verse to mean that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, then God will give us what we want.  It’s as if finding our match is the carrot on the string we’re chasing after.  If I just get holy enough, then God will bring my future spouse into my life.  It’s not like that.  Holiness is a lifelong pursuit.  We have to chase after God with all our hearts whether we’re single or married, even if we are never married.  And that might be God’s will for us.  We have to trust God to form our hearts so that our desires match His.  Which is way easier said that done, and we’ll never be able to do this perfectly until we’re dead and in heaven.  But the attempt is what will get us to heaven.

And that’s what I wanted to say.