3 simple things I wish I had known about dating

A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to an outdoor music festival featuring some of our favorite bands. We felt like we were young and falling in love all over again as we waited in the heat and crowds to be up close and personal to the stage, hearing songs we had listened to our whole relationship. We made friends with some college students and showed them that even parents pregnant with their third kid and five years into marriage can still find a way to have fun and enjoy life. It was funny to see the hope in their eyes as they saw us dance together and sing to one another the love songs that had come to mean the world to us, often giving us the words we didn’t have to say to one another in hard and trying moments throughout our relationship.

Talking to those college students, I was transported back to my time being a young 20-something. Having never really dated anyone, nor experienced much of anything even close to it, I was desperate to be seen and known and desired at that time in my life. I wanted it so badly, and it seemed like every decision I made was motivated by if so-and-so would be there or if I knew “he” liked this or that musician or coffee shop or campus ministry. I also settled often for less than what I knew I deserved because I didn’t believe I was good enough for what I thought I wanted.

You might relate to this feeling. We find ourselves in longing seasons throughout life, but that season of desiring to be loved and to give ourselves in love in our vocation is a particularly challenging one. Though the Lord protected me from a lot of poor decisions that desperation could have caused in that time, the ache existed nonetheless, and I can still feel it deep inside when I look back on that time.

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Having had a few years in my vocation, there are so many things I wish I could go back and tell my impatient and untrusting 20-something self about who she is, what she deserves and what it looks like to be in a good relationship. I’ve watched many friends’ relationships come and go and seen the hardships I’ve experienced in my own marriage, and it’s brought to clarity a few important truths that I wish my younger self would have known.

1. A good relationship will always take work, but it’ll be work you couldn’t imagine not doing

My mom always said, “When you find the right guy, it will just be easy!” While I don’t know that it’s that simple, I get the sentiment she was talking about. In crushes and relationships before meeting my husband, I had always wondered, “Is this right?” My mind would wander between convincing myself and convincing others. Unresponsiveness to texts and calls, lack of clarity in communication, red flags in friendships, and more always left me in that state of confusion.

Then I met my husband. He’s not perfect, but he was always clear in his communication and always apologized when he made mistakes. Our relationship wasn’t always easy, and we weren’t always on the same page, but I never had to wonder or worry if we would be able to work through whatever we were facing. This gave me a confidence I hadn’t had before in any relationship or crush, a confidence that I knew would be the strong foundation for our vocation. And I knew I wasn’t holding out for anything or anyone else; it was Andrew that I wanted to do life with, and I knew that because he showed me that I could trust him.

2. If you find yourself making excuses often for your boyfriend, you should do a double take

I was in one relationship with a good, Christian man, where I found myself constantly making excuses for him and his behavior. My friends saw it, my family saw it, but it seemed like I was the only one who didn’t. So when he broke up with me, the shock almost snapped me out of the false reality I was living in — I didn’t actually want to be in that relationship, I just didn’t believe there was anyone better out there for me.

Then, I started to notice and fall for my husband. He always made good on his promises, had meaningful friendships, showed virtue and strong will in his own pursuit of holiness. When I voiced concerns, he listened and dialogued with me. In times where I wanted a different pace, he worked with me, even if he felt something different. And ultimately, I found myself admiring him and never, ever feeling the need to make excuses for him.

Marriage is hard. Vocation is hard. If you are lacking trust or confidence in your dating relationship because your boyfriend isn’t meeting your expectations, it might not mean things need to end, but they need to be evaluated. Talk to your friends and family, talk to your boyfriend’s friends, and be honest with yourself now rather than later. Don’t let impatience or a lack of hope cause you to enter into something that isn’t right, because the reality is that things are only going to get more challenging.

3. Don’t let your desire for your vocation make you ignore what God is asking you to do today

I have a friend who is 30, single and has embodied saying yes to who God has asked her to be in her current season. She prays regularly, hosts a young adult and leadership Bible study in her city, and often visits her friends who can’t travel as easily because of their children and family obligations. She deeply desires her vocation, but has not let that desire stop her from living every day to the fullest.

It’s been inspiring to me as someone who did not heed this advice in the ways I wish I would have in my single years. This was evident in the first few years of my marriage, which were full of personal growth and challenge coupled with lots of hurt and need for healing. The Lord’s grace was evident, but I wish I would have understood what it meant to lean into God’s invitation for holiness no matter your external circumstances, unmet desires and restlessness in the present.

God has a good plan for your life. We often hear that and think that means his good plan is in the future rather than in the present. I love being married and having children, but there are things that I can’t do because of what my family obligations ask of me. And there are lots of needs in our Church and world that God is calling someone to do TODAY.

So, if you find yourself waiting for your vocation to give God a fuller “yes,” consider this an invitation to ask God what he wants of you — not in the future, but today. Whatever that is, I can guarantee you that it is also preparing you for whatever vocation God is calling you to and that it will help give you the trust and confidence to live every day to the full, no matter your own unfulfilled desires.

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