As many of you know (or are trying to forget), Valentine’s Day is coming up. Which often means a heightened awareness of being in a relationship or having a lack thereof.
I happen to be in the latter category, and as such, have received, read, and given my share of dating advice. And don’t get me wrong—the realm of dating advice can be fun. Entertaining, even (see my friend Zac’s post here). But I think for me, all I really need to know comes down to this:
Date with charity. For others and for yourself.
I feel like we in my generation approach relationships with so much fear. What if this person doesn’t like me as much as I like them? What if they don’t have all the qualities I’m looking for? What if it doesn’t work out the way I want and I get hurt or I hurt them? What if I have to tell them no? What is the other person thinking about me right now? What’s in this for me?
As valid as some of these concerns are, their focus is primarily inward. Fear focuses on self. When I’m coming from a place of fear, I’m anxious and unsettled. I can’t seem to get my mind to slow down, and day-to-day tasks seem excruciating. Even when I’m with the person, I’m still worried about myself and what they think of me and how I’m measuring up.
He talked to me—does that mean he likes me? But he didn’t text me back until AGES after I texted him, and I always seem to initiate the conversation. Do I really even want to date this guy anyway? WHAT IS GOING ON HERE???
I’m exaggerating (sort of…hehe), but you get the idea—fear constantly evaluates, weighs, analyzes, compares, attempts to control. And let me tell you—a true, loving, healthy relationship can’t come out of an environment like that. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
Charity, on the other hand, turns outward. It is the pure love of Christ. It looks at the other person and recognizes them as a child of God, inherently worthy of love and belonging. It goes into social interactions not thinking, “What’s in it for me?” but rather, “How can I serve and bless this person and appreciate them for who they are, even if we don’t end up in a dating relationship?”
And wouldn’t you know it, over the past few months, I’ve realized that charity for others ultimately springs from charity for yourself.
Slowly, it has dawned on me that a lot of my fear about dating comes down to me being afraid that I’m not good enough. When your self worth is tied to the approval of other people instead of a sense of inherent worth as a child of God, of COURSE rejection is scary! Because when someone says, “No,” to you it means, “You’re not good enough. You are not worthy of love and belonging,” when clearly that isn’t true. This has been an important realization, because now that I recognize that, I can begin to exercise charity toward myself as well.
What does charity look like? Well, like Moroni 7:45 describes it. The scripture lists a lot of charity’s characteristics, but I’ll just highlight a few traits that have been particularly important to me when it comes to dating.
- Suffereth long. It has patience for the weakness and shortcomings and learning processes of others and self (because dating is all about learning!). It practices compassion by setting boundaries, keeping them with integrity, and making generous assumptions about the other person’s motives and your own self worth. (Thank you, Brené Brown, for that understanding of compassion.)
- Is kind. Kindness is one of the top characteristics I appreciate in a guy. I have had the privilege of knowing several outstanding young men who always have their eyes open to the needs of those around them and then act to fill those needs—not to impress anyone, just because caring about people is part of who they are. And their words match. They build people up, never tear them down. That is charity. Want to impress me to pieces? Be like that.
- Is not easily provoked. Has the courage to communicate and the vulnerability to share feelings, even when the outcome of doing so is uncertain.
- Thinketh no evil. Believes and wants good for everyone, including self. Avoids immediately jumping to the most negative conclusion possible about self and others (“He’s a jerk, “ “It’s because I’m not good enough for her,” etc.).
- Endureth all things. This doesn’t mean tolerating or condoning inappropriate behavior, such as abuse. This does mean that regardless of what the other person says or does, your recognition of them as a child of God with inherent worth and your desire for good for them never goes away.
The older I get, the more I realize that there’s more to relationships than falling in love. The purpose of relationships is to help us become love itself. And often that means letting go of our own fears, desires, and expectations in order to see the other person and ourselves clearly—through the eyes of our Savior.
To be clear, I’m just as much of a rookie at this as anyone. I’ll be the first to admit that I have been uncharitable in dating a time or two. I still don’t know whether or not to trust someone with my feelings or say yes to a second date sometimes. But I’ve realized that charity, like many other things, doesn’t just take practice—it IS a practice that we develop in a million little decisions throughout our lives.
So this Valentine’s Day, whatever your relationship status, I hope you practice charity. That you SEE one of God’s children in front of you and show them that you care they’re alive. That you rejoice in and nurture those relationships, whatever they are, that matter the most to you. Any excuse to show the pure love of Christ is okay with me.