Do No Harm

When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore. And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules. But what if we all agreed on one rule: that we would try to leave people better than we found them?

It’s really hard to play a game if you don’t know the rules.  It’s even harder if everyone is making up their own rules as they go, and no one is playing by the same rules.

I love playing sports, and one of the things that makes a sport a sport is an agreed upon set of rules.  It’s how I know if I’m playing soccer (where there are penalties for anyone but the goalie using their hands), or if I’m playing basketball (where a kicked ball results in a turnover).  There are such things as out-of-bounds, fouls, and goals.  In sports, rules actually make the game more fun to play.  Without rules, everything quickly dissolves into chaos and the likelihood of someone being injured is high.

When it comes to the dating game, no one seems to know the rules anymore.  And it’s hard to play a game when there are no agreed upon rules.

  • Who should ask whom out?
  • Who should pay?
  • If we hang out one-on-one, is that a date?
  • Should men open doors for women?
  • Is it appropriate for a woman to make the first move?
  • Can dating be just for fun?
  • Should I only date someone I can see myself marrying?
  • How long should we wait to kiss?
  • How long should we wait to have sex?
  • How long do I wait to call or text?

Poll a random sampling of 20’s and 30’s, and you would get vastly different answers.  And this, I think, is one of the greatest difficulties of dating today.  How are we supposed to navigate dating if no one is playing by the same rules?

It’s a confusing time to be single.  I have my own set up assumptions and guidelines I bring to dating, and I personally know how I would answer all of the above questions.  But I can’t assume that someone I’m interested in would answer them the same way.

I’ve dated men who insist on opening doors for me and paying (which I appreciate, by the way).  But I’ve also dated a guy who didn’t open doors for me because a girl from his past refused to let him open a door, accused him of chauvinism, and needed to prove that she was more than capable of opening her own door.

I know women who would ask a guy out if she’s interested in him, and I know men who would be completely turned off by that scenario.  (By the way, if a woman asks a man out, is she obligated to pay?  Should the asker also be the payer, since the date was her idea?  See, it’s so confusing!)

In the midst of all the chaos that comes from the absence of agreed upon rules, I’d like to suggest one dating rule that I hope we can all agree on.

 

Leave peoplebetter thanyou found them

Leave people better than you found them.

When I was a kid, my parents drilled into me that if I ever borrowed something, I should return it in as good or better condition than I borrowed it.  What if that’s how we thought about dating?

What I want to keep in front of us is the simple reminder that all humans deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  But somehow, when we date, we can lose sight of this simple fact.  Instead of seeing one another as humans, we can slip into thinking of the person we are dating as the sum total of all of our dating expectations and they become an object instead of a human.  Rather than thinking about how our actions affect another human, our selfishness comes out and we only think about things from the perspective of what we want out of the situation.

Leave peoplebetter thanyou found them-2

How is the way you date forming your character?  How are the patterns and habits you reinforce now in dating shaping you to be a better spouse one day in the future?  If your goal in dating is to find the person you want to marry, then the way you date is creating patterns for how you will treat your eventual spouse.  Even if you’re dating just for fun, I doubt you intentionally want to date with the purpose of hurting another human being.  And yet, when it comes to dating, there is so much pain and so much baggage.

We’ve all either hurt or been hurt in dating relationships.  Some of that is a necessary risk that comes with all matters of the heart.  A break up is a break up, and no matter how you slice it there will be some pain.  However, there are ways to date and even break up with someone that still communicates their dignity and worth as a human being.  The worst pain I’ve experienced in break ups didn’t come from the break up itself, but how the break up was handled.

When we love someone, we should be willing to put their interests and well-being above our own.  Love is meant to be sacrificial.  This is the kind of love it will take to have a healthy marriage one day, and selflessness is also the kind of character trait that takes time to build.  Thankfully, dating provides us the opportunity to practice learning to treat others the way we would want to be treated, and to practice selflessness.

We know we’re supposed to treat people the way we would want to be treated, but somehow when it comes to dating we seem to throw this rule out the window.  If we just stick to this basic principle, I think we’d see a lot less emotional damage being done.  I suspect, too, that if we treat people with dignity and affirm their worth as a human being throughout every stage—from initial meetings, to texts and phone calls, to first dates and first kisses, to committed relationships, and to breaking things off — that we would make a lot of progress towards leaving people better than we found them.

Let me leave you with 5 practical ways you can leave people better than you found them:

1.  Avoid the silent treatment

If someone has called you, texted you, sent you a carrier pigeon, or used one of the 100 other ways we have these days of communicating with one another, honor them with a timely reply.  Even if you’re over them, even if you don’t want another date, they still are a human and no human deserves to be ignored.

2.  Follow through on your promises

Did you say you would call?  Then you should call.  Did you ask for a second date?  Then take them on a second date. Don’t get in the habit of telling people what they want to hear with no intention of following through.

3.  Stop hooking up

Bodies are not commodities.  We are more than simply physical beings, and we need to stop using one another for physical pleasure outside of an appropriately committed relationship.  When you engage in any sort of physical intimacy with someone, you’re training your body that this action is okay to do with someone whom you associate your current feelings with.  If you make out with everyone on the first date, then you’ve taught your body that making out is casual.  If you want it to mean something when you kiss someone you really do like, then stop making out with all the people that you don’t really care that much about.

4.  Use clear language

If you want to go on a date with someone, use clear language that indicates this is what you want.  “I’d like to take you out”, “Can I buy you dinner?”, or “Would you like to go on a date with me?” are examples of clear language.  “Hang out”, “Meet up”, or “Grab a drink sometime” are less clear.  If someone asks me to hang out, I assume it’s not a date and act accordingly.  So if you actually want to go on a date with someone, use language that makes your intentions clear.

5.  Practice appreciation without expectation

One of the things that messes us up the most in dating is our expectations.  We all bring in a truckload of expectations of what we’re looking for, what we’ve been waiting for, what we want, and how we want to be treated.  When we place all this on the person we’re just going on a date with, it brings a ton of pressure and paves the road to objectify the person across table based on how they do at meeting your expectations.  And, let’s be real, you probably have some unrealistic expectations.  So instead of seeing how someone does at meeting all of your expectations, just be grateful and appreciative of what they do bring to the table.  I never assume or expect that a guy will pay on a first date, and I usually offer to split the check.  However, I really appreciate if he does offer to pay.  Expect less, and appreciate more.

 

 

To All My Single Ladies

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

I know this can be a hard day for several of my friends not currently in relationships.  I know it can also be a hard day for people in relationships, as they face unrealistic pressure and expectations to have a perfect relationship on this day.  I don’t know where you’re at as you read this, or what season of life you find yourself in.  What I do know is that years ago a wise woman talked to me about appreciating each season of life for what it has to offer.  Since then, I’ve tried to live more fully into what each season of life has for me.  I’ve trained myself to look for the benefits of where I’m at in life, instead of wistfully wasting my life wishing for what I don’t have.

Life comes with all kinds of seasons.  When I was in grad school, I loved soaking up the opportunity to learn, to sit under leading scholars, to network with my peers, and to take one too many study breaks getting fresh baked cookies from the café on campus.  When I lived by myself for a year, I learned to appreciate the quiet and solitude, to value more intentional time with friends, to understand more about who I am as a person, and to find out just how clean I really do keep the kitchen when I don’t have others to blame for not doing the dishes.  When I moved back in with roommates, I learned to trade in my space and independence to make room for relationships, and learned to appreciate how great it is to walk through life so closely with a few godly women.

Some seasons come and go more quickly than others, while others seem to linger like an unwelcome guest.  In my life, the season of being single has stretched on for longer than anticipated.  And yet, rather than begrudgingly endure, the longer I stay single the more I’ve learned to love this season of my life.  I’ve learned to not only endure, but to embrace and genuinely love this stage of my life.  With each year that passes I’d like to think I’m learning to live more fully into what this season of life has to offer, and to live more fully into who God has called me to be.

What has helped me, more than anything, is to practice gratitude for all the things available to me in this season of my life, and to pursue the things I know I have time for in this season that I might not have time for when another season comes along.

I choose to think about what I have, and not what I don’t have.  I’ve spent the last year of my life choosing to be thankful for what this season of life can offer.  I can travel.  I can invest deeply in friendships.  I can be independent and plan my schedule without worrying about how it affects someone else.  I can invest in new activities.   I have a LOT of freedom.

I also think there will be other, new things to be thankful for in other seasons of life.  Things like having a partner who always has your back, and settling down and building a family.  Things like never having to find another roommate because you’ve found your forever roommate, and never having to do awkward first dates ever again.  Things like experiencing the joy of children.  I’m not saying one season is better than another.  I’m saying that I think what we are called to do is find the joy and gratitude that comes with each season and do our best to do each season well.

As I think back over the last year of my life, I see so many ways in which being single freed me up to pursue so many incredible opportunities.  If you’re wondering what could be so good about being single, here’s what it has looked like for me over the last year:

  • I picked up paddle boarding and now I love hitting the water and exploring local harbors.  I also started doing yoga and playing basketball once a week.
  • I crossed items off my bucket list, including a life changing trip to Israel where I got to walk where Jesus walked and see the history of the Bible come alive.  I ran a half-marathon, and took a road trip up the whole length of the California coast.
  • I asked a friend to help me build a table, and learned a few new skills in the process.  And now, one of my favorite things to do is have friends over for dinner and we sit around this table that I built and we share life around the table and pour into each other’s’ lives.
  • I went on a 3-day solitude trip and camped out at Lake Tahoe, letting my soul breathe deeply of the beauty of God’s creation.
  • I paid off all my debt, and learned how to make and follow a budget so that I’m able to give, save, and be financially independent and responsible.
  • I studied the Bible and read books that deepened my faith.
  • I started learning about and getting involved with a non-profit that fights against human trafficking, and I’m planning a trip for this summer to Thailand and Cambodia to learn firsthand about the work they are doing.  I’m training for my second half-marathon and planning to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for this same organization.
  • I practiced being quiet, listening to God, setting aside time for solitude, and seeking God’s guidance for my life.
  • I invested into my community and built deeper friendships.  I hosted dinner parties and practiced cooking.  I learned new recipes, and ate healthier.
  • I did go on a lot of dates, and continued to learn more about what I’m looking for in a man, and, maybe more importantly, more about what I’m not looking for in a man.
  • I took a lot of fun trips to places like Big Bear, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.  I explored new restaurants and discovered new coffee shops.
  • I pursued my dream of writing, and finished a 9-week discipleship curriculum that we are now using at my church.
  • I invested in younger women and poured into their lives, and tried to point them to what it looks like to follow Jesus.
  • I learned to walk more closely with Jesus.
  • I was able to be there for my friends and support them when they were going through hard seasons.
  • I learned more about who God made me to be, and what I want to do with my life.

I could probably keep going, but I’m sure you get the idea.  It’s not that I want to brag about how great my life is.  I really don’t, and my life is far from perfect.  There are plenty of hard things and painful moments and stupid and sinful and selfish choices I made in the midst of all these things.

I really want you to know

But I really want some of you to see that being single can be a beautiful thing.

I really think some of you need to hear that singleness is not a disease.

I really need some of you to know that there is nothing wrong with you.

You are a complete person.  You have a full life to live.  You have a God who loves you deeply and perfectly just as you are.

This season of being single comes with its fair share of challenges.  Believe me, I know them well.

But the beautiful thing about you is that you always have a choice.  You can choose what you will let your mind dwell on.  Yes, your heart will ache, and ache deeply, on some days.  You’ll wonder what God is doing, and question if you can really trust Him.  But you don’t have to let your emotions define you.  Let yourself feel those emotions when they come—don’t ignore or repress them—but don’t let those emotions control or define you.  You might feel alone, and you might feel hopeless.  Those are real emotions.  But there also deep and profound truths you can choose to hold on to and let your mind dwell on.

God is good.  He hasn’t forgotten about you.  You can trust Him.  You can choose to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and instead practice gratitude for what this season of life has to offer.  You can choose to pursue everything available to you in this season of life, because before you know it this season will be gone, and you’ll never get it back.

I’m choosing to use this season to live fully into everything God has for me in this stage of my life, and to become more and more who God created me to be.

Today, for my Valentine’s day, I’m going to have coffee with my mentor and catch up on life.  I’m going to go run and train for a half marathon.  I’m going to go shopping with one of my friends.  I’m going to meet another group of friends tonight and we’re going to have dinner and play games and enjoy life together.  I think it’s going to be a great day, and there’s nothing better or worse about my day, or yours, based on a relationship status.  Your day will be what you choose it to be.

As you go throughout your day, let me leave you with a few questions to reflect on:

What season of life are you in?

What are you thankful for in this season of your life?

How are you using this season to live more fully into who God created you to be?

What truths do you need to be reminded of to help you hold on to God during this season?

Here’s a few pictures from this past year.  As I look back at these memories, I’m pretty sure I would consider myself incredibly blessed to have another year like this!

Riding a camel in Israel
Riding a camel in Israel
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary's wedding
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary’s wedding
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Building a table and hosting dinners for friends
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
A friend's birthday at Magic Mountain
A friend’s birthday at Magic Mountain
Summer surf days with these girls
Summer surf days with these girls
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Roommate date to Big Bear
Roommate date to Big Bear