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While I have attempted to generally avoid the topic of religion in this blook, I have received numerous emails about what place spirituality has within a dating relationship. Because many of the readers of this blook have a religious preference, I will comment on those issues here. Even though my thoughts and comments will be from a Christian bias, I believe that many of the principles are also transferable to couples of non-Christian faiths.

Disclaimer over. Let’s get on with it.

Here is the basic principle: by ourselves, spirituality isn’t a romantic experience. However, when we engage in spiritual practices with someone we are romantically interested in, those very same behaviors can and often do produce deeper feelings of intimacy for the couple.

Intimacy isn’t a bad thing. It’s what we are all looking for – especially within dating relationships. So, intimacy doesn’t need to always be avoided. In fact, it will be largely unavoidable in any relationship where two people want to be intimate with each other. For that reason, any spiritual behaviors that a couple does together (prayer, singing, service, etc.) will naturally create even more romantic intimacy between the two. Thus, the question becomes whether or not those deeper feelings of romance and intimacy are reasonable for a man and a woman who are not married to share.

Prayer is the most ubiquitous example.

When I pray with my wife, it creates unique feelings of intimacy between the both of us that really no other behavior can (regardless of what we are praying for). She doesn’t get the same feeling when I bring her flowers as when we pray together. There is nothing else that we do that even comes close to replicating it. Furthermore, I don’t pray with other women one-on-one like I do with my wife. So, not only is our praying together a unique spiritual experience because of the feelings it produces, it is also unique because it’s not an experience that we share with just anyone.

The more unique and exclusive the behavior, the more intimate it will be.

So, is it too intimate for a dating couple to pray together?

Probably.

There are many different ways dating couples pray “together.” Some shared prayer experiences are not that intimate – like a casual prayer before a meal, for example. Others, however, are very romantic – like praying aloud for the other person while alone with them.  There is a spectrum of exclusivity and uniqueness that makes some prayers intimate and others not.

If you will forgive the crude comparison, the same spectrum can be found in physical intimacy as is found in spiritual intimacy. There are some instances of physical touch that aren’t all that romantic or intimate. There are others, however, that are. What’s the difference between the two? Exclusivity and uniqueness in where we are touched and by whom.

In both cases, the behavior becomes an exclusive gift that one person gives to another (that neither person is willing to give anyone else). It is a very “naked” exchange – if you catch my drift. And it feels good, it’s fun, and both people want more of it.

So, the principle is the same in either physical intimacy or spiritual intimacy:

The more unique and exclusive the spiritual behavior, the closer and closer it mimics the intimacy that is meant only for a married couple. And the more a dating relationship resembles a marriage relationship, the more passionate and irresistible (lustful) it becomes. And a relationship that is built upon passion and lust is both unstable and unsustainable. It is a relationship that is seeking all of the benefits of marriage without any of the commitment.

Therefore, I generally advise couples to avoid the practice of unique and exclusive spirituality together (just as I advise avoiding unique and exclusive physical touch) until engagement at the earliest – if not all the way until marriage.

 

What do you think about this?

We’re celebrating our 100,000th page view! Hard to believe that in just over a year we’ve seen 100,000 page views from over 80 different countries across the world. Thank you all so much for your kind words and support of the material. As a thank-you, I’ve asked my wife to create an updated version of the e-blook that includes all the appendix articles and she has graciously obliged. You can download the updated version of the e-blook here or visit the e-blook page here.

I’m still monitoring and answering comments here even though I’m no longer making any new posts. Please feel free to continue to ask questions and engage with the material. Also, don’t forget to like our page on Facebook and continue your discussions there.

Thanks again for your support!
Matt

[back to table of contents]

Well, I think it’s time that I officially ended the writing of this blook. I’ve covered most of the topics I would like to address and any others aren’t really worth a post in and of themselves, so this will be the last official post. I will continue to reply to comments as they are posted, but I do not plan to write any more new content in the immediate future.

Thank you for reading. If anything, I hope this blook has helped you think more closely about how you go about your dating life. Whatever method you end up using, I wish you all the best and hope you find someone for whom you are willing to lay down your life.

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Have you liked our new Facebook page yet? It’s another place where you can discuss the ideas of the blook and engage with others about your own opinions. It’s brand new, so please visit and help get the conversation started.

Don’t forget you can download the .pdf version of the blook here.

[Disclaimer: this is a long entry & probably poses more questions than answers]

There’s a reason Seinfeld is the #1 comedy of all time: it makes fun of our deepest insecurities and failures and helps us laugh at the things that we want and do that are misguided by our selfish urges. The episode where George decides to tell his girlfriend, Sienna, that he loves her is an excellent example. Who knows whether or not George is really in love with this girl, he just wants to be able to say it to someone for once in his life and have them say it back to him in return. And, in true Seinfeld fashion, it goes horribly wrong for George. He tells her “I love you” twice and she never returns the words to him. He’s completely exposed and crushed and it makes for great situational comedy.

Being “in” Love

I’ve always thought that the words we use to describe our love relationship with another person as kind of . . . well . . . not helpful. For example, the phrase, “I’m in love.” I understand what it means, I’m just not sure that I like it. It makes love sound like some sort of location or state of being. Love seems to be this place that I or we can be in, but there’s no guarantee that either of us will be there 5 minutes from now. There is no connotation of permanence; it is a temporary state. It over-emphasizes the feelings of love (which easily come and go) rather than the act of love. And, finally, it doesn’t help describe or answer other important questions like, “why am I “in” love?”, “how did I get here?”, and “What now?”.

“Falling” in Love

Why do we use the word ‘fall’ to describe how we have come to love another person? Was it some accident that we are trying to explain? “Well, you see, I was on my way to work and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was stepping and, whoops!, I just fell in love!”

Certainly not.

Was it some mysterious “force” that made us do it? “Well, officer, I was at the bar like I said, and I was minding my own business. Honest! I thought we were just friends; I had no intentions of starting anything, but that night at the dance hall she just looked really pretty and stuff . . . and there was this bright light and my insides felt all funny, so I felt like I should tell her I was in love with her.”

Really? This is how we get from strangers to “until death do us part”?

What Love Is.

Ask any two people on the street what love is and you probably won’t get the same answer – especially when you ask them to describe romantic love. This is what makes relationships particularly messy. Each of us has a different definition / standard / expectation of what love is and what love should look like. So, which one should we use? Whose definition of love gets to be the standard for the relationship?

The correct answer is neither.

If only one person’s standard of love is adopted in the relationship, the other person’s expectations and standards will eventually be unmet or violated. The relationship will not survive. The couple will break up, go searching for love with another person, and do it all over again…never having experienced what they think love is.

The standard, expectation, and definition of love must be outside the individual.

Think about it: we have all somehow learned what love is over the course of our lifetimes. Who did we learn from? Another person. Who did they learn from? Another person before them. And so on and so on. Love is not some idea that was invented centuries ago by a brilliant poet. Love is not something that any one human being gets credit for coming up with. Thus, love is also not something that’s up for revision, improvement, or update. It is what it is apart from our opinions, expectations, and desires.

Since love is no human invention, but rather a truth that is learned, then there must be some sort of  knowledge outside of us that either tells us what love is or embodies it.

Or both.

Regardless of your beliefs about the person of Jesus Christ, we should really consider Him as a potential primary source of knowledge for this question of ours. Consider this:

  • Even those who don’t believe in Him regard Him as a great teacher
  • His greatest teaching to His followers was to love God and one another
  • His life was never hypocritical of His teaching. He loved prostitutes as well as Pharisees.

Jesus taught those who listened to Him that they would be recognized as His followers by the way they loved one another. Having spent time with Him, the disciples were not only taught how to love, they got to watch it modeled before their eyes.

And, yet, even those disciples were unsure that Jesus was who he claimed to be. It wasn’t until the end of Jesus’ life that they came to fully believe and understand all that Jesus has been teaching them about God’s love for them and, in turn, their love for God. When Jesus was crucified they realized some important things:

  • He had done no wrong & did not deserve to die
  • Yet He allowed Himself to be crucified for the wrongs of others
  • He died the death that they deserved to die so that they could have the eternal life He promised He would bring

Jesus’ resurrection, then, became the watershed moment where it all came into focus for His followers. From that moment on, they lived their lives with little to no regard for their own personal well-being, but rather the well being of others. They were firm believers in Jesus’ message:

  • We are all wrong-doers deserving the punishment of doing wrong.
  • God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him even though we have done Him wrong. His Son died the death we deserved so that we could live the life He lived.
  • Those who come to believe this to be true, just as the disciples did, will experience a new kind of life both now and in the life to come.

All of this was done by God towards those who had done Him wrong. Instead of destroying us all, He demonstrated His love by offering up His Son so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish as they deserve, but instead have eternal life. This is how we know what love is.

Thus, love is not what we make of it. Love is not a matter of preference. Love is not only an emotion. Love isn’t an idea, a higher truth, or an altered state of being. Love is no currency. Love is not something we get to define for ourselves.

Love has been demonstrated to us in both word & deed without hypocrisy. So, the question for me is no longer, “What is love?”, but rather, “Does my love for others match the kind of love I have received from God?” Have I learned from the only authority on the subject or am I presumptuously believing that I can be my own authority?

Learning to Love

Although I have said in previous posts that dating is a necessary evil because it builds the emotion of love on conditions of performance; I will say, on the other hand, that it is also a great opportunity to learn how to love someone. Jesus exemplified this very essential element of His love for humanity: he did not treat us as we ‘deserved’ to be treated.

I stink at this.

And I stink at this not so much with strangers, but mostly with the people whom I say I truly love!

As I described in chapter 4.1, dating only elevates this tendency in most of us. We all want the perfect mate. We all want that person who meets all of our needs perfectly 100% of the time. In fact, we find ourselves not just wanting it, but expecting it. We break up with people when they stop meeting our needs or when we realize that our expectations were ‘too high.’

What did we expect from a fellow wrong-doer?

The problem is that most people assume that they are great at loving others. Few people, if any, walk into a relationship looking to learn how to love someone.

George Costanza is the perfect example. Here is a man, if you know his character well, who is so completely self-absorbed he’s neurotic. It’s likely that he has never performed a selfless act in his whole life. He is consistently worried about what other people think of him and he becomes unnecessarily irate when treated unjustly. It is this man that walks out the door on a mission to tell a girl that he loves her. Why? Because he’s never gotten a woman to hang around long enough before.

George doesn’t know the first thing about love and yet he wants it desperately and declares it openly. He stinks at loving her.

Just like each one of us.

And that’s why dating is a great (but not the only) opportunity to learn how to love another human being. Here’s why:

  • We are all wrong-doers (we want to love an be loved for our own sake)
  • Our natural tendency is to point out the wrongs in others before we see the wrong in ourselves.
  • If we want to learn how to love, then we must not simply overlook the wrongs of the other person, but willfully choose to love the person when he/she is the most unattractive. Love is a choice that results in emotions – not an emotion that leads us to a choice.
If we say that we love another person and do anything less, we are either lying or using the wrong word for what we feel (see chapter 4.2).
Finally, Something Practical
  1. Is it possible to love someone before marriage or engagement?
    • Yes, it’s possible. But I don’t think it should be declared to the other person until the security of the relationship is intact (i.e. engagement or marriage).
    • This is more of a safe-guard against second-guessing and changes of heart. It is absolutely devastating (especially for the woman) to hear the words “I love you” and then to later hear the words, “I want to break up” come from the same mouth.
  2. When is it appropriate to say, “I love you” during a dating relationship?
    • When you have made the choice to love another person – not on your own terms, but the way it was shown to us by Jesus.
    • When you are confident that even if the other person wronged you severely, you would still want to be in relationship with them.
    • I think the best time for this to happen is when the couple becomes engaged. It’s the ultimate DTR.
    • Love is not a word to be thrown around casually. Because it is a declaration, it must be used accurately not just emotionally.
  3. Mean what you say and be prepared to prove it.
    • We often have feelings of love and say them, but then don’t always back them up with the actions of love. How is that possible?
    • If the standard of love is Jesus’ sacrificial and selfless death in the place of those who deserved it, how does that translate into a dating relationship (or any other love relationship for that matter)?

Love is a choice – a daily choice.  From the choice to love flows all the emotions and actions necessary to demonstrate that the choice was genuine and not hypocritical. The feelings of love will always come and go, but if we have found someone we are willing to choose to love daily – even when they wrong us – our love will not be wishy washy or only for fair weather. It will be trustworthy, faithful, and sure. We can declare it loudly in word and deed.

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If you are married or engaged, would you mind lending your thoughts on this subject? Would you agree or disagree with how it’s been presented here? 

If you are single or dating, does this help you think more accurately about your current relationship? What other questions/topics are missing?

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Here is a great follow-up article that is kind of related to this one. The author talks about the difference between being in love & behaving in love. It’s good. Find it here.

So, what about online dating? Times being what they are, online dating services are growing in popularity and they do present some unique circumstances (and challenges) that other dating relationships don’t have to face. I still feel like most of this method applies without much change to internet relationships, but there are some differences. So, thanks to a few questions from a friend of mine, here are some answers about how this method can be applied to online dating.

Question #1: If I use an online dating service, does that mean I’m desperate? 

Now, for some reason, this question assumes that being desperate for a date is a bad quality to possess. Is it?

Secondly, how is someone who is looking for a date via an online dating service more desperate than a person looking for a date at a night club? If both persons are utilizing the methods that they feel will give them the greatest chance for success, should we call that ‘desperate’? And, if so, (and if being desperate is a bad thing) what is the better alternative?

So, it’s hard to answer this question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The important thing to remember is that where we meet people doesn’t matter nearly as much as how we choose to treat them when we do.

Question #2: Am I vain if I just scan through online dating profiles and make quick judgements about people?

Probably. But, again, this is no different than going to a bar, classroom, or church in person and doing the same thing. Both men and women are constantly (and quickly!) aware of people they are attracted to and people they are not attracted to. Sometimes that process is mostly shallow and based completely upon appearances. Nevertheless, attraction is often the spark that starts the relationship, so if it’s simply based on whether or not one finds another attractive, then it’s not vain; it’s fact.

On the other hand, with online dating the volume and pace of this can be greatly exaggerated and objectified because of lack of personal interaction. For instance, if one were to go to a bar, he or she might only interact with 20-50 people over the course of one evening. However, one can sift through hundreds of online profiles in one sitting. To prevent unhealthy levels of vanity and objectivization, I would limit the number to what one person would normally expect to meet in a day’s worth of social interaction.

Question #3: What should meeting up with someone you get to know online look like?

This is a most-difficult question and one that I am, frankly, unable to answer with confidence. I have some opinions, but my strongest piece of advice is this: make sure that your online relationships are not secretive. Friends and family should be well aware of who you are interested in and be able to tell you whether or not they think it is a good idea for you to meet someone in person. Regrettably, we live in an age where a person’s online presence isn’t usually who they really are in person. This makes online relationships even more risky than normal. Precautions should be taken until trust is established.

While this is not something I have any experience with, here are some general ideas and thoughts I would suggest:

  • Meet the person at a common location in public. Guys should arrange to travel to wherever the woman is and select a location that she is most comfortable with and meet her there.
  • Have the meeting during the daytime if possible. Lunch dates are generally less intimidating for both parties. Keep it short too – just chapter 2.6-2.7 suggest.
  • The guy should recommend or offer for the woman to bring a friend along if that would make her feel comfortable. It’s important to get a second opinion from a trusted friend. The guy should welcome this even though it seems a little weird. Getting to know a woman’s best friend is often just as important as getting to know the woman herself.
  • It’s difficult to say when the couple should meet. It will differ for each relationship and should not be rushed or forced. If either person is in a hurry, consider it a red flag.
  • Do not let the relationship get too emotionally intimate prior to meeting someone in person. If when you meet them in person you realize that the other person is not who you hoped they would be, then you won’t have to deal with the emotional hurt that would come from having shared so deeply before.
  • I also don’t think that either person should say that he or she is ‘dating’ the other until after the first in-person meeting. I don’t really have a strong reason. I think that the first date should be in person is all.

Once the first meeting happens, the guy needs to very quickly have a DTR with the woman. It might be on the spot (if he’s super-gutsy), but probably better that he leave the first meeting letting the woman know he will call her the next day. However he manages to communicate with the woman after the first meeting, the guy needs to let the woman know where he stands and either tell her he’s still interested or that he’s not. Beyond that point, I feel like the rest of this dating method applies without much deviation.

Question #4: Any other advice for online dating?

Here are some thoughts that are too short for their own question:

  • Online dating should not be your primary or only means of social interaction. Sometimes online dating is more socially convenient because you “match” with someone else or know that they are at least interested in talking with you (especially when doing that in person hasn’t worked out for you lately). Nevertheless, you should keep looking for opportunities or create them if you have to.
  • You are not weird if you fall in love and marry someone you initially meet on the internet.
  • Singles groups are generally lame because all the ‘not lame’ people think that they are too cool to participate. I wonder how cool singles groups actually might become if those ‘not lame’ people actually participated in them (or at the very least gave them ideas on how to be not as lame). Start the new trend and make singles groups the new cool place to hang out!
  • Keep your friends and family posted on how you’re doing. If you’re bummed that you’re not really connecting with anyone, let them know. If you’re excited about someone you’ve met, let them know. The more your community is involved with your online relationship, the better chances you’ll have of making a good choice.

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Do you use an online dating service? What advice would you add to this list? What questions would you ask?

Author: Matt Lantz

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Illustrations are designed and hand-drawn by my wife, Darcie. Visit her graphic design website at www.freelantzdesign.com.

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