“Up until this point, dating was a very passive experience where I was deciding if I could make it work; which is very different than deciding if it is something I wanted to work.”
Think about your past relationships. Why did they end? For many years when people asked me this question my answer always started with he. “He cheated.” “He lied.” “He wasn’t communicating.” Then, a few years ago, I met and dated a guy whose philosophy was profound and impactful, if people repeatedly have the same dating experience, they must question their dating criteria. He would later cheat on me like my previous boyfriend, but even then, his words stuck with me. Was there something I could change about my selection process? While I am not at fault for his actions, I was forced to confront the possibility that my criteria for dating partners was not what it needed to be.
Rather than focusing on the behavior of these men I decided to spend time looking more deeply at what attracted me to them and whether those things aligned with my values and expectations for the relationship I desired. I also considered if these qualities were authentic or fabricated either by myself or the individual. I reflected on the red flags I had previously ignored and questioned myself on whether I had truly consulted God about the relationship before proceeding. My faith largely informs my life therefore I delved into sermons, devotions, and God’s word to help me in this process.
Let me stop right here and say, this type of self-discovery gets extremely uncomfortable.
I had to come to terms with a few hard truths the first of which being, I never asked or consulted God about the relationship in the first place. I only told Him what my hopes regarding it were. I had not been clear with myself about what type of relationship or partner I wanted. Up until this point, dating was a very passive experience where I was deciding if I could make it work; which is very different than deciding if it is something I wanted to work. I can make black coffee work, but I would rather have a cold brew with oat milk and three stevia, please.
While I don't necessarily believe in holding up a checklist to every man you meet, I did find it helpful to write a list of things I desired in a partner. This exercise forced me to focus on what I wanted versus what I could make work. I also made a list of things I needed to work on, like not ignoring red flags, being more intentional in the getting to know you phase, and ensuring I am in the right emotional and mental space for a relationship.
After deciding to take ownership over my dating life I have found it easier to identify compatibility issues or lack of alignment as they arise. I am no longer a passive participant in dating. I am confident and you can be too. Maybe you have not been cheated on, but you still feel a lack of control when it comes to dating. Consider trying the following:
1. Identify the emotions you feel towards dating. It may be helpful to write your experience(s) on your own words.
2. Look for trends in your experiences and reflect on the causes. Challenge yourself to go deeper than just blaming the other person. What role did you play? Were you settling for or accepting anything you weren’t happy about? What initially attracted you to them? Were there warning signs you ignored?
3. Spend a lot of quality time with yourself. Get back to you without the noise and influence of the world. What makes you happy? This is also a great time to do some personal and spiritual development.
4. Get clear on what you desire. What kind of person do you want to be in a relationship with? What habits and traits are important to you? Pray about this. Make lists. Spend some time reflecting on the parts of your dating history that you liked, but also the parts you didn’t like. We can pick up hints about what we want from the things we don’t want.
5. Show yourself grace. It is a learning process, and it takes time. Commit to learning from this exercise, not blaming or shaming yourself.
I have walked through these steps myself. I have learned to acknowledge my role in my dating mishaps, and I have been intentional about not repeating the patterns I identified. Most importantly for me, I have learned how to be an active participant in my dating process. Now I pray and consult God about potential partners, I ask more questions to gauge compatibility, and I am comfortable walking away from things and people that do not serve me.
I'm not promising this will be easy or cozy. I'm not even promising that this is a one-time fix. I am promising that it is worth the discomfort.