~a guest post by Julia at Dearest Most Darling~
A lot of people said to me, “You are going to find a boyfriend the moment you get to college.” This seemed odd to me. I never had a boyfriend in high school. I never even had a crush that lasted more than a couple weeks. I watched some of my friends start their first (or fifth) high school relationship, and I started to believe that I was a commitmaphobe. The problem was not that guys did not show interest, but that I really REALLY did not want a boyfriend. [Sidenote: It turns out being single is not a problem.]
A lot of people said to me, “You are going to find a boyfriend the moment you get to college.” I guess they were right. On Monday, classes started. On Tuesday, I met a guy. On Sunday, we started dating. It took me less than a week at college to find a boyfriend.
On the other hand, it took me over 5 months to realize that he is NOT for me. On a Monday I realized it was over, and on Tuesday we broke up.
I do not for a minute regret breaking up with him. I had been struggling with the relationship for a couple months, so the official end set me free. It was almost inappropriate how well I was doing after the breakup. My luck turned, and since then, my life has been better than ever.
It has been about half a year since the end of that relationship, and my darling friend Chelsea (of 100 Ways to Write) encouraged me to reflect on the relationship. So here I am, sharing my biggest take-away from my first relationship.
The biggest problem with our relationship, which also happened to be the biggest problem and hindrance and obstacle in all areas of my life, was fear.
What do you mean fear? You dated a guy you just met. Isn’t that fearlessness?
No. That is recklessness. My life- especially my love life- was drenched in fear. And people with fear in their heart date differently.
A person who fears rejection may not date the people he is interested in. He may never express his feelings or make himself vulnerable enough to express his interest/like/love.
A person who fears her boyfriend will cheat may act in a distrusting, paranoid manner. She may look constantly for evidence of infidelity, creating problems where there are none, destroying relationships before they really begin.
A person who fears being unloved and mistreated may cheat because she finds being treated kindly so rare that she takes it whenever she can. Or she may settle for a guy who treats her not-too-bad because she doesn’t believe that there are enough guys who treat girls really wonderfully well.
A person who fears being broken up with may constantly look for reasons to get out, to have a breakup he can control.
A person who fears never finding another may stay together with an abusive partner.
A person who fears being alone may compromise his or her morals and values to keep their “special someone” by their side.
The list goes on.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Do you have fear in your heart? Does that fear affect your relationships?
When you are afraid, you date differently. You settle. You justify. You are emotionally unstable. You distrust. Oftentimes, these behaviors do not show up at the very start of a relationship. Everything is golden and perfect. Romance is in the air and hormones are raging. Then, after a few weeks or months or years, you cannot pretend to be perfect anymore. You cannot live only showing your strengths: your weaknesses and struggles and fears and insecurities are very real.
I started my relationship in fear.
I was afraid that if I waited I would stop finding him attractive. I feared this because any attraction I had felt towards guys in the past faded quickly. And there were absolutely wonderful guys in my life I felt no attraction towards because I had known them for so long: I could only remember them as pre-pubescent tweens.
I was afraid that a relationship would not work without attraction. I did not know what a healthy relationship looks like at the beginning.
I was afraid of being alone, and this fear grew as my boyfriend spent more and more time getting shwasted with his friends.
I was afraid of my mental health fragility, especially with all of the life transitions I was going through, and I thought that a stable character in my life would keep me grounded. At first he was a great listener and a predictable friend, and then he was steadfast in his lukewarm care.
I was afraid of making a bad habit of breaking up too early. I held on for longer then I needed to because I hated how I had been labeled a commitmaphobe in the past. I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted to be capable of a relationship that lasts a lifetime.
Instead of destroying my fears, calling them out for being lies, and kicking them out of my heart, I gave them validity. I let them affect how I acted. This was all very subconscious. I was not very aware of the state of my heart at the time. I would later say, what was I thinking? Was I even thinking?
One day, I was struck with a new fear. What if this is it? What if I marry this guy and this is the level of love I receive for the rest of my life? This lukewarm, neglectful, going-through-the-motions, self-centered and selfish “affection”… This sad relationship that looks so good from the outside where people do not see me leaving voicemails wondering where he is and crying myself to sleep. He was not a good boyfriend to me, and in return, I was not a good girlfriend to him. What if I let this be it?
I wish I could say that I realized then I needed to get out, but I did not. I just grew numb to it as I tried to figure out what to do with all of my new free time- now that he was ignoring me half of the week.
My life was turned around when I met a wonderful group of people.
First I met one. He was driving and I needed a ride. It seemed odd to me when he went to the passenger’s side of the car instead of to the driver’s seat. I had never had a guy open a car door for me before. He asked me what year I was, what I was majoring in, and if I was discerning. The last question caught me off guard. Discernment is the prayerful lifestyle one adopts and nurtures to try to figure out how to better do God’s will, to find out what plans He might have for you, what life He wants you to love Him in, be it cloistered religious, active religious, lay consecrated, or married.
I did not realize that I could discern. I was Roman Catholic on Sundays, when I volunteered at Church, before meals, and when I was really sad/bored/lonely, and I thought that was it. I did not know the fullness of joy of striving to be Catholic 24/7.
I said, “No. I have a boyfriend.” But the question shook my world. I suddenly realized that I have a soul! And that this perfect stranger cared about my soul the moment he met me, and that my boyfriend of five months did not. (My longing for a deeper faith was shot down as a weird idea by my boyfriend. So I stopped bringing it up.)
The next week, this new friend invited me to hang out with his little faith community at their weekly meeting. I was struck by how he treated everyone so kindly (though kindness between men sometimes looks like being really mean and then laughing). He was appalled when I said I was going to walk back to my dorm alone in the dark (10PM). This was also new to me. I was used to walking myself back alone in the dark.
And he wasn’t a unicorn. All of his friends were wonderful and genuine and loving and inviting and kind. And they listened and loved my longing for a deeper faith. I finally got to share the thoughts I had on The Confessions of St. Augustine, a literary work that changed my life. And I got to be there for them as they shared their joys and sorrows and hopes and Faith.
It was too good to be true. It was all I ever wanted. All I had given up on finding.
And then one more person joined the meeting, 45 minutes late. My friend’s boyfriend. My dad’s good friend’s son whom I had never had a conversation with. He gave me a big, warm smile and said, “I am so glad to see you.”
I wanted to cry. This person I barely knew who had nothing to gain from showing me sweet kindness was more excited to see me then my boyfriend had been in a really long time, if ever. Suddenly, being looked at without love was intolerable. I reconsidered what I want and need in a guy. I didn’t need some guy: I needed a really special man.
That night, as I lay in bed, I accepted that if I wanted to pursue a relationship with Christ and be happy, I had to break up with him. And I was at peace. No more fear. Just a great hope. Because I felt loved. Christ’s love, which begged for my acceptance through the words of St. Augustine and the kindness of a few new friends, was so immense and powerful, that I felt safe and free.
The breakup was wonderful. In and of itself it was awkward and sad and painful, but not as sad and painful as being in the relationship. And for the first time, I was really in love.
I was in love with God. I was finally reciprocating (or trying to reciprocate) the love He had for me from before time began. A love that is all good, steadfast, and endless. And oh boy! is God a great romantic.
He sent me beautiful clouds as I walked around campus and serenaded me with songbirds as I walked to church. He held me when I cried, and when I needed to be held with more visible arms, He sent me friends and kind strangers.
He sent me a perfect mother, His own, and He and I started to have a lot of mutual friends.
He was always available. In fact, He was always eagerly waiting for me, whether in the Blessed Sacrament or the Gospels or in the most perfect sacrifice at the alter.
He asked me to want to leave the darkness I was living in, to want to live without fears. In return, He cast out my fears, healed me, and gave me hope.
Not the hope that it won’t rain tomorrow or that they will call your raffle ticket number but the older meaning of the word. Long ago, hope meant trust. When you hoped something would work out, you genuinely believed that it would.
Spe Salvi. Hope changes you because every difficulty becomes bearable and no situation can defeat you once you hold God’s love as Truth. My life was forever changed.
It appears that I detoured off the topic of dating to talk about the greatest of loves. Back to dating.
My biggest advice to myself in regards to dating: date fearlessly!
Where I am right now in my life, fearless dating looks like no dating at all.
I am not afraid that if I don’t go on dates now, I will not find a boyfriend in college and then never get married ever.
I am not afraid that if I do not get dolled up or act cute all the time I will miss my chance.
I am not afraid that if I am not very upfront about my attraction, the guy will lose interest and pursue someone else.
I am not afraid that if I am the last of my friends to find a boyfriend, I will never find a boyfriend.
I am not afraid of a life without marriage. I receive so much love from God. If He wants me to build a home and a life with a special someone, I will love that vocation (“calling”). If He wants me to build a home and a life in Him alone, I will love that vocation. I don’t know my vocation yet but I love it, like a mother loves her child long before the she knows the gender.
You know how some people date intentionally? With intent? Well, I am single intentionally.
I am learning how to guard my heart now so it is ready later when I find someone who wants to share it. I am preparing myself for true love, the kind I can share with a husband, with my friends, with the homeless, with orphans, with EVERYONE. I am practicing good relationship skills by being a good friend. By staying away from dating for a while, I am learning to see men for who they are instead of who I want them to be for me.
Maybe fearless dating for you looks a lot more like dating. I’d love to hear about that: what does fearless dating look like (for you right now)
Comments and messages are always welcome. I’ll be praying for you.
You are loved! Have hope! You are lovable! Date fearlessly!