July 24th, 1998, I waited with butterflies in my stomach for him to pick me up for our first date. Some folks at our church said we would make a good match; so, regardless of my young age, they went to work and introduced us. Up until this point, my dates were not traditional. They were more like:
Boy meets girl in youth group. Boy and girl flirt. Eventually, boy and girl hold hands during the Sunday evening service. Boy and girl talk on the phone some for a few months. Then, boy and girl break up and life is completely over for about a week before the next round of flirting begins.
But, this date was going to be different. I was almost sixteen, my gentleman caller was coming to my house to pick me up (and talk to my parents!), and I am pretty sure I was incredibly nervous! Soon, he arrived in nice clothes and a freshly washed truck. My parents invited him in, and not so surprisingly, my dad and I sat quietly while my mom chatted with him and asked questions. She was so involved in their conversation she did not notice the poor guy wringing his hands. Apparently, we were both a little nervous!
After what seemed like an eternity to him, we left my house, hopped in his green Chevy truck, and made our way down the road to Applebee’s. Folks, this was the longest meal of my life. Not because there was anything wrong with him, but because I had no idea what to talk about and I was majorly outside of my comfort zone (as was he). Midway through the meal, I noticed a girl sitting near me who looked familiar. She was a friend of a friend! We barely knew each other, but from the way I carried on, one would have thought she was my long-lost sister. I practically clung to this young lady for conversation to momentarily stifle my discomfort with the kind and patient man sitting across the table from me. There is a good chance he was just as thankful for this random girl as was I!
We stumbled our way through dinner, headed to the local Dairy Queen for dessert, walked around the mall, and then made it back to my house around 9 pm. After six years of daydreaming and waiting to date, I was somewhat disappointed. There were no fireworks and no Hallmark ending. However, what I experienced was normal for a first date. Dating comes with societal and cultural expectations which can lead us to feel panicked and unnerved. In fact, we do not even realize what expectations are lurking beneath the surface until they unexpectedly smack us in the face.
- I have to be on my best behavior.
- I have to look my best.
- I cannot appear incompetent or uneducated in any way.
- I cannot snort when I laugh! I will be humiliated!
- I have to take her to a nice restaurant, even if I cannot afford it.
- He will be offended if I do not finish my meal, so I will force it in even though it is gagging me.
- Any silence on this date means I am tanking! We have to keep the conversation going.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have enjoyed that date. Instead of focusing on what could go wrong, I would look forward to the memories – the good, the bad, and the embarrassing. Dating can teach us a lot about ourselves and even though that first date was uncomfortable (the dates got better, by the way!), I would not trade it because it was a necessary growing experience.
Dating does not have to be a painful, exhausting, or dreaded event, nor should it consume your mind day and night (as it did mine). Dating is simply getting to know someone better. If I could go back a couple decades, I would tell young Heather (and her anxious date) to consider these tips for making the dating game simpler:
- What you use to draw someone is what you have to use to keep someone. Dates are meant to be fun, but they are also meant to be informative. Instead of trying to make dates impressive, make them memorable and enlightening. Had Eric spent the first six months we were together taking me to the finest restaurants and buying me gorgeous jewelry, I would have felt slighted and unloved when he stopped (not because I am a gold digger, but because I would have equated his giving with his feelings for me). Thankfully, Eric was completely himself, took me on nice (but affordable) dates, and spent much of his time actively trying to get to know me. There is a time and a place for fancy dinners and Broadway shows, but make that the exception instead of the rule. Instead of giving superficially on dates, give of yourself. Open up and invite the person to know you and seek to know him or her in return.
- Stop pushing so hard. The person sitting in front of you may be your spouse someday. Then again, this time next year, you may not even remember his or her name. Stop getting ahead of yourself. Have fun in the present. You may even end up getting a memory – one to make you laugh, one to make your smile, or one to teach you a lesson. Your wedding day is, of course, important; but, it is also just another step on your journey. The dates you go on are all a part of your story as well. Enjoy them for what they are and do not waste time and energy over-analyzing every sentence, facial expression, or silent moment.
- Turn off your phone. Our brains need a break from constant stimulation. Sometimes when Eric and I go out to eat, I catch us ignoring each other and scrolling through our phones. Not only does our screen addiction keep us from catching up and strengthening our connection, but it robs us of the opportunity to let our minds relax. It may be easier in the short term to spend your date time glued to your phone, but it is simpler to leave it in your pocket or purse. Doing so makes it much harder to coast through a date without having to learn about each other. Simplify the clutter in your mind and you will simplify everything else in your life.
- Be honest. Being honest can be difficult (more for some than others), but it is the simpler way to live. Ultimately, we all want honesty. Let’s say the man you have dreamed of dating for two years invites you to see Ernest Goes to Mars at the discount theater. If you have zero interest in the movie, you can answer in a few different ways: first, you can politely decline; second, you could reply, “I am not interested in that particular movie, but I have been thinking about seeing The Greatest Showman if you would like to join me.” Responding this way shows him that while you are not interested in his movie pick, you are interested in spending time with him. Plus, it communicates that you are going to be open about what you like and do not like. Men appreciate kind women with gentle spirits (cf. I Peter 3:3-4), but contrary to popular belief, quality guys are not looking for Stepford Wives or doormats. Third, you can tell him that you do not think Ernest Goes to Mars is your kind of movie, but you are willing to give it a shot (if you are genuinely willing).
- Break the Ice Quickly. What I appreciate most about board and card games is their ability to kill the awkward silence in any room. Sit me across the table from a stranger over a meal and I may draw a blank on what to say or how to act; but, get us engaged in a game, and before long, everyone in the room is laughing like we are old friends (especially if the game itself has a comical theme). If you are not already extremely comfortable with your date, consider activities which will help you both let your guard down – bowling, miniature golf, game night with friends, building or painting something, hiking with a group, or volunteering. These types of dates give both people the chance to see each other in a more realistic light than just sitting across the table from each other at a restaurant waiting to decide the next thing to say.
- Create a bucket of under $10 date ideas If you have moved from the simple dating stage to the seriously dating stage, write down twenty to fifty date ideas on small pieces of paper, fold them up, and drop them in a canister. When you have some time together, fish out a paper and go on that specific date. It takes little planning, inspires creativity, and helps you avoid ruts in your relationship!
- Incorporate what was meaningful to you as a child into a date. Take turns planning your dates and share personal aspects of your life story with each other. Did you and your family spend hours each summer at the lake? Perhaps a day trip to the lake is in order. Did you practically memorize The Sound of Music, Aladdin, or Home Alone (am I showing my age? ~smile~)? How about a movie night with some of your favorite childhood snacks? Had Eric and I done this when we were dating, we would have surely spent time playing video games (Eric’s idea of fun) and, another full day watching The Little Mermaid, Charlotte’s Web, and the Back to the Future trilogy (my idea of fun). Movie day would have also included pizza, ice cream, and plenty of candy. Which activities and pastimes helped shape you and how can you incorporate them into your dating life?
What comes to mind when you hear the word dating? Some think of roses, dancing, and fairytales. Some think of awkward meals and nerve-racking mental stress. Others hate everything about dating and wish they never had to deal with it. Wherever you happen to fall on the spectrum, dating can be simpler than what it has become over the last several decades. It can be more cost-effective, less stressful, and can come with fewer expectations.
Along with the tips above, we recommend reflecting and journaling on dating itself. What does dating mean to you? What do you want to accomplish through dates? What are you willing and unwilling to do physically? Where are your boundaries? How do you hope dating will improve your life and help you grow? Instead of only going out for fun (or being on a spousal hunt), use dating to your advantage in several ways.
We are a few weeks into this year’s theme of simplifying and, so far, we love it! We hope you are making peace-filled and calming changes to your lives as well. If there is something in your relationship you would love to simplify, let us know and we will consider writing a post on the topic! ~smile~
How will you simplify your dates in the future?