It’s complicated to write about dating someone while dating someone because it’s personal and vulnerable and there’s no guarantee as to how everything will work out. At the same time, part of me rolls my eyes when I see posts about dating from people who are married—not because they don’t understand, but because their understanding is in hindsight. Hindsight empathy is valuable for a number of reasons, but I’m-feeling-that-way-right-now empathy is valuable, too. Hopefully this serves the latter purpose for someone out there, because I’ve felt all the feelings over the last four months and I’d love to normalize your experience with an affirming, “Me too.”
Dating someone feels a lot like taking sandpaper to your own heart, slowly smoothing out the rough edges and breaking down barriers built by fear and self-protection. After three years of intense therapy, I thought it would be a breeze, but instead I feel like the characters from Inside Out jumped in my brain and are pushing every button available on the Emotion Console.
Part of it’s easy, of course, because a boy is sending you flowers at work and writing you notes and taking you on dates. The other part is like sandpaper because of three things: fear, guilt and shame. Fear tells you that to be loved is to be suffocated and lose your identity. That you will never have a successful marriage. That you are putting your relationship with your boyfriend above God and now God going to take it away from you to prove a point. Shame tells you that you are not worthy of having flowers sent to work. That you don’t deserve to have your meals paid for. That you are not beautiful enough to be delighted in since your arms aren’t toned and your hair is short. Guilt tells you that you need to repay him for all the good things he’s done. That you’re not doing enough to show him affection. That you forgot to say “thank you” after he went an hour out of his way to pick you up (which naturally means you’re an unappreciative diva who expects to be coddled until the day you die).
And instead of working through these problems and toxic thought patterns, my natural tendency is to run away and say I’m not ready to date because I still battle with body shame and fear of intimacy and marriage and money and sex and kids. Seriously, the first month of our relationship was single-handedly held together by my therapist because all I wanted to do was end the whole thing and avoid dealing with my heart. But the reality is that God uses these relationships—especially intimate relationships— to draw our fears and doubts and misguided views of Him to the surface. Running away defeats the purpose. It undercuts the process of sanctification.
The reason I even started writing this post is because I saw a picture of myself and thought my arm looked huge, which spiraled into a whirlwind of feelings that concluded with the idea that my boyfriend would find me more acceptable if I had better arms. Seriously? My arms? I’ve made two limbs of my body the determining voice regarding my value and acceptability? Maybe even more startling than that, I’ve given my (sweet, loving, godly) boyfriend the determining voice regarding my value and acceptability?
Like I said…dating feels like sandpaper to the heart.
Joy, vulnerability, peace, and sandpaper.
(Side note: As I was just now editing this post, I literally rolled my eyes and said, “Blah blah blah, sanctification” to an empty room. Clearly I’m handling everything like an adult.)