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.
THOUGHTS ABOUT THOUGHTS -- AND MID-SINGLES
What causes you the most pain? When I was 26 years old, I lost my little brother to cancer. The loss I felt was deeply painful. He was only 17. There was some feeling that "it wasn't meant to be this way" because he was so young. But, mainly, it was honestly just feeling the pain of his loss. I also had the thought that some of the light had gone out in my life and that life would never be quite so sunny or hopeful again.
The pain of losing my brother was, in some sense, inevitable. I could, perhaps, choose thoughts that made it go away. But, in a larger sense, I would not have wanted it to go away too soon. As President Nelson said, "The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life." Who wants to do that? So, we can choose pain when it serves us. I think it serves us to grieve after the death of a loved one. However, the thoughts that I would never feel so sunny or hopeful again did not serve me. Any sense that he was "too young to die" was a judgment about how something went wrong, the cosmos was out of balance, and I was suffering because if it.
Mid-single Latter-day Saints almost universally suffer from deep disappointment over how things turned out for them. During, and for years after, my divorce from my first wife, I was plagued by thoughts that:
It wasn't supposed to be this way.
We were married for time and all eternity, not to separate when things get tough.
I didn't get married to get divorced.
We made Covenants in the house of the Lord before God, angels, and witnesses.
We have two children who are deeply hurt by this.
Whatever benefit this is giving us is not worth the price.
It is not right for me to be deprived of my children as much as I am.
I should not have to pay money to support someone else's unrighteous decisions.
God does not approve of divorce.
Taken together, in some sense, these thoughts all add up to the idea that, "it wasn't supposed to be this way." And that judgment, in all of its forms, will keep us in pain as long as we carry it. It is one thing to feel the pain of loss when your marriage ends. It is quite another to burden those thoughts further with a lot of judgments about things you cannot control. I hope this gives another level of meaning to the truth that, "with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged." (Matthew 7:2.) This is certainly the truth. Our judgments of our own situation -- about how something is out of place or wrong -- are guaranteed to keep us in pain far longer than if we just allowed ourselves to experience the authentic pain of loss, unladen with the idea that it was supposed to be some other way.
Let's try on a few other thoughts and see how they feel:
Things are as they were supposed to be.
Wherever I am now is perfect for me.
My situation is the starting point for a happier life.
God has a plan for me and does nothing that is not an act of love.
God allowed me to experience this loss to make room for more love in my life.
No other person can permanently deprive me of my joy or of my exaltation.
I love my children and will continue to love them even more actively when they are in pain.
It is a privilege to support and care for my children in whatever ways I can.
God's love is in, around, and through me. There is an endless supply of it available to me whenever I need it.
Can you see how this list of thoughts is elevating, where the former list is heavy and overwhelming? Both lists are thoughts about the same situation, but they are different interpretations. Consider what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
”[T]ruth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come; And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning." (D&C 93:24-25.)
Truth is what IS, not what we think should be. It is not the judgments we make about what might be superior or preferable. How we think about our circumstances will determine whether we are happy or miserable. Joseph further taught:
"Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man; because that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light." (D&C 93:31.)
How do we receive any truth? It is through our "agency." We may have physical ordinances like baptism, but they mean nothing if they do not reflect an exercise of "agency," where we receive that truth in our thoughts. Think of that metaphor of light and darkness. "That which is of God is light." (D&C 50:24.) Moses saw the difference between the glory of God and the glory of Satan, and told Satan that his glory "is darkness unto me." (Moses 1:15.)
Light represents thoughts that are elevating. It represents illumination and clarity. It represents hope and vision. What does darkness represent? It represents chaos, confusion, a lack of vision, and being unable to see our way home. It represents fear of whatever danger might be lurking out there that we can't see. Darkness is heavy. Any work performed in darkness requires more effort because we can't see what we are doing.
My plea to you is not to think your way out of all pain. Pain is part of the human experience and sometimes gives meaning to the love we feel. The point is really to keep it in its proper place. Make it authentic pain, and not the result of the judgments we make about something being wrong or out of place. Pain with all sorts of judgments hanging on it will last longer and hurt more deeply and get us stuck and unable to move forward. So my plea is to embrace the light with your thoughts. We have all kinds of thoughts. Not all of them reflect light and truth. Many of them are laden with judgment. Choose to keep the thoughts that are elevating and invite more love into your life and into your heart. That is the way of happiness.