I remember a talk given in a singles ward about "spreading it to the edges." It referred to sandwiches, or toast such as this that I made for my son this morning, as a metaphor for spreading goodness to the edges of our lives, to make our life experience as delicious as possible.
Since then, I have learned about the law of attraction and how what we put our focus on we get more of. If we will intentionally focus on and spread the good, our world becomes better.
During my mid-single years, I often heard the phrase "I hate dating." I even heard it from people who were actively making an effort to date -- maybe even especially from those people. If I asked the reasons, I heard disparaging comments about the opposite sex, feelings about having hearts broken in the past, negative comments about "playing games," and comments about how "phony" and "contrived" the process is.
In one way or another, all of these comments come down to fear. These include fear of rejection, fear of embarrassment, fear of emotional pain, fear of invalidation, fear of being deceived by a partner and hurt, or fear of not being able to "play the game" right and win the prize. Inevitably, dating is an emotional risk and it feels unsafe. (It's also exciting for the same reasons.)
How do we confront these fears and make dating more joyful and less fearful?
1. The Apostle John wrote, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18.) Isn't this true? It may have been written 2000 years ago, but it is true in 21st century dating that "fear hath torment." I am suggesting that the primary remedy for fear and torment is to love your dating partners. You might be thinking, "I don't know her yet. How can I love someone I just met?" I'm not suggesting getting carried away with romantic feelings and making commitments when you have barely met someone. I'm talking about genuine, Christlike love. Care about him or her as a person. Ask authentic questions about his or her life. Focus on the other person instead of your own fears. Focus on getting to know him or her and discovering what is special about that other person. Focus on finding genuine ways to build him or her up. Focusing your attention on the other person's gifts and goodness is the way to love him or her, even early in a relationship.
2. Focus on authenticity and be vulnerable. For some of you, this will trigger thoughts like, "but my ex-husband was a narcissist," or "I can fall in love easily and I need to remain suspicious to protect myself." No, you don't. That is fear talking. It is a fear of being vulnerable. You can never build high enough walls to protect you from getting hurt again. The best way to see who the other person really is, is to cultivate an authentic relationship, not a guarded or contrived one. As Paul wrote, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1.) Do you know any "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal" people -- who are very impressive talkers but void of real love? Such hearts are exposed in an authentic relationship. If you are only playing games and keeping your own defenses up, the other person will do the same thing and you will have a superficial dating relationship and not really get to know the person at a deeper level. That's how you get fooled. Take the lead in creating an authentic and vulnerable relationship. That is your best defense against marrying a narcissist. Focus on love and the fear of being fooled will dissipate.
3. Drop the excuses. If you think the dating process is "phony" and "contrived" change it. There is not some big governing body that sets the rules for dating. "How it works" is determined by the two people involved. Our social customs are not so rigid as to prevent authenticity and vulnerability. When you are dating, you and your partner make the rules. If it ends up being phony, it is because you made it that way. Honestly, it is such a relief to drop the pretense and stop trying to impress, and just have a real conversation with another real person.
I've heard every excuse in the book for why people don't date, and I know it's not for me to judge any individual. I only encourage you to seek for the things you really want. For most Latter-Day Saints who understand the plan of salvation, I think an eternal marriage is our highest aspiration -- second only to our relationship with God. As President Kimball said, "Honorable, happy, and successful marriage is surely the principal goal of every normal person." So why do many of us pretend we don't want something that we fervently do want? Fear. We do it in many areas of life. If you don't get that job you really wanted, you might be inclined to tell people, "I didn't really want it that much anyway” to make it okay. Any other time we are not chosen for something we really want, we make it okay by saying "I didn't really want it." For many of us, we tell ourselves that we don't want to get married because that's safer than getting our hopes up and being disappointed or embarrassed. So we make excuses instead. As Jesus said:
"Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. Then said he unto him, A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused. And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." (Luke 14:15-20.)
"I have to focus on my kids right now."
"I have to get my business up and running first."
"My church calling takes all of my spare time."
"I am not good at marriage."
Instead of making excuses, admit what you really want. Be authentic and real. If you are afraid of getting hurt, say so. It will feel a lot better than pretending you aren't interested, playing hard to get, or telling people you are apathetic or don't care Of course you care. You are talking about your eternal destiny. Confront your fears with love and not with walls.
In teaching time management, Stephen Covey and Hyrum Smith taught four divisions for how we might categorize possible uses of our time:
1. Urgent and important
2. Important but not urgent
3. Urgent but not important, and
4. Not urgent and not important
Essentially, where most people get confused and waste their time is between Quadrants 2 and 3. Quadrant 1 will demand your attention. It creates anxiety. Quadrant 3 also screams at you because it must be done now or the opportunity may expire. A ringing phone is urgent. It is in Quadrant 1 if it is an offer for a job interview. It is in Quadrant 3 if it is a survey call. Quadrant 3 screams at you, even though it may not be relatively important. Quadrant 2 does not scream at you, even though it is important. Covey taught that a key secret of success is in prioritizing Quadrant 2 over Quadrant 3 -- even though Quadrant 3 is louder. What is in Quadrant 2? A few examples:
Creating processes in business
Of course, these priorities depend on your values. But the most important results of your parenting don't typically show up right away -- but are nonetheless very important. The health benefits of exercise do not typically show up right away. But over time a failure to exercise can create disastrous results, where exercise includes undeniable long-term health benefits. It is unlikely that failing to go on a date this weekend means that you will never meet your eternal companion. But I think you would agree that meeting an eternal companion and building a relationship is very important to most of us.
As mid-singles, we tend to be pretty busy people. In many areas, it feels like one person trying to do the work of two. It is often tempting to push off important self-care like exercise and sleep, to accomplish the more urgent items on our task list, even if many of the tasks are in Quadrant 3.
In my values system, dating is in Quadrant 2 for Latter-day Saint singles. It doesn't demand your attention. If you don't go on a date this weekend, nothing fundamental is going to change because of that. BUT, if you don't go on a date this weekend, nothing fundamental is going to change BECAUSE of that. (Yes, I am saying the same thing twice, but with different emphasis in the second sentence.) The stakes are very high in dating. But it also requires time and patience, and a lot of lesser priorities clamor for our attention. Almost every priority we have feels more urgent -- even if they aren't as important to your long-term happiness.
I am urging you to look at the priorities in your life, and make sure that where you are spending your time is in accordance with your values -- whatever that means to you. I am especially passionate about self care for mid-singles. Mid-singles with kids tend to put everyone else before themselves and operate from a chronically empty tank. If we focus more on Quadrant 2 and a little less on Quadrant 3, Quadrant 1 will start to shrink and demand less of our attention.
In my experience, you don't need to be obsessive about dating. You just need to consistently make time for it, just like sleep and exercise and other Quadrant 2 priorities. If you do that, I believe you are going to find what you are looking for.