Look before you leap – A series about when, how, and who to date (intro)

Song 3:5 (NLT)

“Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, by the swift gazelles and the deer of the wild, not to awaken love until the time is right.”

Song 8:4 (NLT)

“I want you to promise, O women of Jerusalem, not to awaken love until the time is right.”

In the past, many believed that Song of Solomon was a metaphor about Christ and his love for the church. But many Bible readers are getting more and more into the plain, in-your-face meaning of the book, as it talks about romantic love.

Yet, something that I find interesting about Song of Solomon is that it speaks to everyone. It has a message to the married. It has a message to the engaged. It has a message to those who are in a relationship, but unsure and scared. You know who else it has a message to? Single people.

And to each and every person, the book teaches wisdom. Now, single people get a message of the joy they have to look forward to if they choose to get married, but they also get a stern warning, a wise yet difficult decision. Don’t awaken love until the time is right. It is so important that the book says it twice.

I once heard it said that if you want a happy eternity, make sure you have the right Savior. If you want a happy life, make sure you have the right spouse. A mate must be chosen with wisdom. However, when one feels lonely, the voice of wisdom doesn’t seem to be as loud as the voice of desire for companionship. As my friend Wes put it, “she wasn’t looking for ‘Mr. Right’ but ‘Mr. Right Now.’”

This blog series is specifically written for teenagers, young adults, and anybody who enjoys interacting with them/us. The purpose is twofold…A) Give us a warning of what to look for and what to avoid. B) In light of that, shed some light on who we are to be. Shall we look for someone who is nice, yet ourselves be a jerk? No.

Why do I feel this is important? Several reasons.

  1. Mistakes we make here are the ones we regret the most, and often the ones that affect our lives later on.
  2. I do not believe that there is one Mr. Right or one Mrs. Right out there. I believe that once somebody is married, they have made a solemn oath before the LORD that they must hold to. However, no naming anyone please, but a lot of us know people who never should’ve gotten married, yet they did. To them I say, it will be more of a struggle than most, but you must stay married. However, to those who are unmarried I say…you still have a choice. If you do not choose wisely, well…you figure it out.
  3. Along with number 2, although we will never admit it, many men decide they are in before the relationship even starts. It’s kind of like…if we couldn’t see ourselves marrying you, we wouldn’t date you. Therefore, only 1/3 of break-ups are initiated by men. As for women, many women have a fear of hurting someone’s feelings or creating conflict. Because of this, there are many women who will sometimes stay in a relationship even if they don’t want to (women, do you agree? I need your feedback). Men and women both need to have the confidence to end a downhill relationship, but sometimes simply having a good filtering system (you do this, you’re OUT) and a good eye for warning signs will save someone from unnecessary heartbreak.

Special reason for teenagers

  1. Specifically for teenagers…I don’t know if you’ll believe this, but often the two most important things in a teenager’s life are the opposite sex and friendships. I won’t say it’s an absolute truth at all times, but I’m pretty sure it’s common that a person won’t admit how important the opposite sex really is to that person (especially for us guys), even when it is really very important.

Since this area of life is so important to teenagers, if we as adults do not take teenage romance seriously, treating it like it is insignificant and unimportant (“They’re probably not going to get married anyway, so what’s the big deal?”), then teenagers will feel like it is them that we are not taking seriously.

I have also gotten a TON of feedback, from teenagers and young adults both, where they say that they like it when I talk about relationships. They’re important to us, aren’t they? So if we can give advice that someone can see in the world around them, then it is quite interesting, quite captivating.

So people like talking about relationships. I like talking about relationships. So welcome back…let’s talk about relationships. And to same everybody time, trouble, and heartache, let’s talk about relationships before they happen, not just once they happen.

Onion Theory: Emotional boundaries?

Let me tell you a story about a smart decision I made. I love telling stories about smart decisions I made. Yay.

It was November, 2007. Sarah and I had just started dating a few days ago. I had learned that she liked to watch people too, and she liked to make observations. So, we had a bunch of interesting conversations. She had dated one guy. I had dated…well…we’ll get back to that.

In her experience, she told me that at a certain point, they just started talking about marriage. He even had a book that said something like “These are the questions you need to talk about before entering into a commitment of that kind” and they went through those questions. When the fire died off on her end, exiting the relationship was very hard.

In my experience, I had…

a)      A crush (wasn’t even an official relationship!) in 2004 where we ended up talking on the phone about marriage and children without even making enough commitment to “date”! Although nothing physically happened, I still feel like I went too far, and took the other person too far. (Remember that thing about unchecked emotional desire?)

b)      A year long relationship that went both emotionally and physically too far. Same mistake applied…got too serious, too early.

So, after spending a long time being single and getting my act together by God’s help, I did NOT want to mess up with this amazing girl.

But here’s the dilemma: I don’t know how serious this girl is. If I mention marriage too early, I know there would be this uncomfortable pressure that would make the relationship more serious than it should be. But what if marriage is what she’s thinking? Surely I would not want her to think that I was just playing around with her heart, dinking around while she wanted more?

What is a man supposed to do? Well, I hold to this rule: When in doubt, honest communication is helpful.

“Just so you know…I wouldn’t be dating you if I couldn’t see myself marrying you. But I believe that if we talk about marriage too early, there will be this unhealthy pressure, like if we don’t end up together, like something went wrong.”

We communicated and came up with a plan, together. We knew that we were not dating to get married…we were dating to find out if this was the right person. Therefore, we came up with this rule: Talking about marriage was off limits for the first three months, and then on our three month anniversary we would have another “DTR” to just communicate and ask: Where are we?

So three months later, at Olive Garden, we had that talk. And we agreed that we were still in, but not locked in. But…if things kept going well, then we would talk about marriage at the six month mark.

Well, at the four month mark (While I was in Israel), we both figured out that we couldn’t live without each other. I still have that conversation saved…the one where I ask “Let me see if I have this straight…are you sure that you want to be married to me, until one of us dies?” And she said “I’m absolutely sure. I couldn’t think of anyone else better suited for me.”

 

The moral of my story here?

  1. Set no emotional boundaries and you might accidentally talk about marriage a week in. Set a six month boundary and you’ll ruin it at 4 months…which is better than ruining it at one week.
  2. Open, honest communication is a good thing IF YOU ARE GOOD AT PUTTING YOURSELF IN THE OTHER PERSON’S SHOES. Saying something like “I really like you…do you like me?” carries an intense pressure that implies “Please say yes! If you say no, my feelings will be hurt and I will make you feel like a bad person.” This pressure inhibits honesty, it does not promote it. Some people might actually say yes just to not hurt your feelings. You might have to say things like “It’s okay if it’s a no, I’m just asking because I want to know.”
  3. Along the lines of open, honest communication, I am a big fan of being as clear as possible as early as possible (before the relationship starts is ideal). If you are only interested in casual dating, say so! If you are interested in marriage but want to take a long time to figure it out, say so! If thinking about the future scares the living crap out of you, say so!

To expound on this point, I’m going to step outside of a Christian mindset into the secular world for a moment. If one person wants the booty call, while the other person wants emotional intimacy, then someone is going to get mad. If both people want the booty call, then no one gets mad (they are on the same page). If one person says they just want the booty call, but they really want emotional intimacy, well…they will still be mad, but it will be their fault (and this happens incredibly often!)

So in the secular world, there is a generally accepted rule that both people should be on the same page. The same rule should apply to Christians (without the booty calls, please). Both people should be on the same page, and should communicate what “page” they are on freely. Serious? Casual? Somewhere in between? Talk about it!

 

So, in summary…

a)      Be careful not to emotionally go too far (don’t overcommit to the undercommitted!). Keep your emotional desires in check…the same way you keep your physical desires in check.

b)      Nobody (Christian or not) likes it when girls tempt, yet don’t give anything (I am not supporting that girls should “give it up,” I am simply speaking out against meaningless seduction!). For a guy to emotionally lead a girl on is the same thing. It is equally bad, and it breaks hearts and hurts real people and real feelings. Guys…you have to keep yourself emotionally in check or you will mess people up and make enemies for yourself!

c)      I don’t think anyone ever tells newlyweds, “Now, make sure you have sex!” And no one tells newlywed husbands, “Now, make sure you go a little fast…you’re going too slow with the foreplay.” Newlywed husbands have to be taught to slow down, not to speed up.

In the same way, concerning emotional temptation, you (boys and girls both) should go way slower than you feel, not faster. Because if you make a commitment, you better back it up. If you commit too fast and then freak out (I am still talking to both boys and girls), it will cause some broken hearts and some enemies in your relationships.

 

 

For the final few Onion Theory posts, we will return to the context of friendships and family relationships and stuff.

Onion Theory: Emotionally crossing the line?

“I knew that a couple could go too far physically, but no one ever told me at that age that a couple could go too far emotionally.” –Dr. Dan Garland, one of the professors at Corban. Smart guy, loves Jesus, incredibly awesome, and did I mention a smart guy?

 

There’s more than one way to go too far…

As Christians, we believe that sexual activity is intended for and should be limited to marriage. Even if we mess up, we still believe that this is how God wanted it and how God intends it. So we are extra conscious and careful about “going too far” physically. We also know that “going too far” physically creates a strain on the relationship, because of a) a secret that both people must keep, and b) a breach of trust because our actions did not line up with the standard that we verbalized. If you want more detail about this, see the sex blogs, most notably this one. The current post, however, is going a different direction.

Let us add, however, that in the case of physically going too far, Christians hold it as a mistake, but then try to emotionally justify that it’s okay if we are going to end up together. Thus, we sure as heck better end up together or else we have to admit that it was a serious mistake. And this creates an uncomfortable pressure that since you have invested physically, you are locked in.

…is it possible that this could happen emotionally too? I propose that yes, it is. Let’s dive into this one.

Let’s talk about sex for just a second. It won’t take long. I promise.

Whether it is a crush, a relationship, or whatever, our desires (both physical and emotional) are stressors. I simply mean this: They make us want to take action, action that will remove that stress. In the case of physical, we call the stressor being “horny,” a stress that makes us want to engage in sexual activity. Sexual activity will temporarily remove that stress, just like eating food will temporarily remove the stress of being hungry.

Ready for the best part? God intended marriage to be permanent (until death), and God commands that neither wife nor husband deprives the other of sex (1 Corinthians 7). So with the food metaphor, you get hungry, you eat (so you aren’t hungry anymore), but once you are hungry again, hopefully the cupboard is full of food when you get hungry again. God intends that when you are married, your “cupboard” is ready so that you do not starve.

But until that day, you are unsatisfied, just waiting for something more, what is to come. Now, you are not ruled by your desires…you need to wait. However, God has programmed into you a desire, and that desire has an answer. If you do not get that answer, you are unsatisfied.

Simple, right? Here’s the problem: If you do not keep your desires in check, you are going to make a bad decision.

But enough about sex…anybody who knows me knows that I will talk about it for hours. Let’s talk about the emotional aspect.

Emotionally insatiable? Is it possible?

Let’s say, for metaphorical purposes, you are 15 years old. You meet a wonderful, fun, amazing person of the opposite sex (who is also really smoking hott). Talking to her/him just seems to light up your world, and you just can’t get enough of them.

Here’s the problem: In the same way that you have physical desires, you also have emotional desires. You like them, and then the thought of making the ultimate commitment (marriage) and having them make that same ultimate commitment to you, well, that would be amazing. To know that you belong to each other for life, well, that would be a big deal. There’s just a couple problems involved.

1)      You are 15. So unless you plan on getting married at 16, you are going to end up waiting at least three years.

2)      You and this person have only been talking on the phone for, say, a week.

Stressors that drive us

And in the same way that physical desire is a stressor that drives people towards sex (which, if left unchecked, leads to disastrous consequences), the emotional desire drives people to deeper and deeper commitment (leading to marriage). What? Did you think that God programmed a desire for sex into people, but programmed no desire for marriage?

But you know that thinking about marriage is WAY too far ahead (Just like how you know that premarital sex is BAD). So you don’t want to go that far, but more commitment would be nice.

Yet, no level of commitment satisfies. See, the emotional situation actually functions a lot like the physical.

Let me explain: Sex is bad, but is kissing bad? In itself, no. But does kissing satisfy? No.

Marriage does not make sense at this point. That would be insane. We should date. Is dating bad? Certainly not. But does dating satisfy? No.

Thinking about them naked? You’re a creeper.

Thinking about your wedding? You’re like, a super-creeper.

Yet, there are many couples even in early high school who actually talk about marriage! Why? For the same reason there are people in early high school that have sex!!! A desire went unchecked, a desire that should’ve been held back was not held back.

“But Carson, is talking about marriage really as bad as premarital sex?” Not really…but unchecked emotional desire will have a very negative toll on your relationships. And why is that?

…it’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s…ONION THEORY!!!

I know that my posts have been pretty scatterbrained concerning Onion Theory. So let me break Onion Theory (as I am presenting it) down into two main postulates:

1)      Relationships of all types develop through different types of self-disclosure (social penetration theory)

2)      In a healthy, comfortable relationship (of any type, friends or more), both people feel most comfortable when they are at the same level, or layer.

And number 2 is what we are covering here.

You see, if Susie walks up to Johnny and says “I like you” and Johnny says “I like you, too,” that’s nice. If Susie walks up to Johnny and says “You’re all I can think about, every day, and every night. I like you so much I can’t stand it.” Would that be awkward? That depends! If Johnny does not feel the same way, it’s crazy awkward! (Because they are at different “onion” levels. She is way more into him that he is into her…even if he is into her a little bit.) But if he feels the exact same way, then it is NOT awkward. In fact, he will be floating on cloud 9.

Now, here’s another awkward scenario. Susie says that she likes Johnny a freaking ton and she can’t stop thinking about him day and night. Johnny says he feels the same way. BUT THEN one day, Susie wakes up in the morning and, well, doesn’t feel that way anymore. However, Johnny still feels that way. Awkward? I think so! Let’s add this factor in…Susie and Johnny are walking along (Johnny’s crush is full blast, Susie’s is dying), and then the friend comes along and says “There are the lovebirds!!!” Johnny laughs and puts his arm around Susie…

…awkward…

………aren’t you just cringing? You’ve seen this happen, haven’t you?

How do we prevent this? We’ll cover that next post.