A lot of factors went into the decision: a small group sermon series on dating and sex, conversations with friends, self reflection on my previous mistakes.
Not to mention the still smoldering embers remaining in my life from my last major relationship blow up. It wasn't something I ever talked about directly, but I hinted here that things had been particularly difficult for me to muddle through.
A lot of thought and prayer went into the decision, but at the end of the day I couldn't shake the feeling that God was asking me to trust him and take some time off from 'relationships'.
I am now almost 8 months in, 2/3 of the way done with this pledge, and I want to reflect a bit on what has happened and the change it has wrought in my life. Fair warning, this may be the most personal post I have ever written.
As I mentioned at the six month mark, I was already noticing a positive change in my life. I no longer felt tied down emotionally by the need to have a significant other, and I was free from the societal pressure to find a mate, and fast. However, it has simultaneously been lonely, particularly during times/events when having a boyfriend would be convenient (i.e. my birthday, weddings, difficult emotional trials).
I've called it a detox, because in many ways that is exactly what it has become; a spiritual cleansing of my soul that has left my heart free of the cravings, and free to find my own way. My dating life has not been particularly stellar over the past few years. That's not to say everyone I've dated has been horrible, many of the guys are truly wonderful men, for whom I wish nothing but the best in life. But several of the experiences, more than I care to admit, have been bad. More than bad. Toxic.
I blame myself.
Before you start harping in on me about not taking responsibility for other people's actions, and start trying to beef up my self-worth, let me clarify. Frequently, I have had a bad habit of letting myself get slowly sucked from a 'good' situation into a hotbed of lies and fear. The aspect of my personality that makes me incredibly nurturing and caring with my patients at work often translates into a 'hero' complex in my dating life which transforms me from mature and thoughtful caregiver, to manipulated and spineless female.
I feel responsible for others; there's a part of me that knows I am gifted in helping those who are hurting, and it is only recently that I have begun to recognize the need to separate that calling from my more intimate relationships. That's not to say I shouldn't be available to my significant other, or friends, during their times of need. However, I can not be both therapist and girlfriend at the same time. One role or the other is going to suffer, and in the process my strength and self-worth slowly begin to erode away.
I've been reading a book, one that is concurrently spawning half a dozen blog posts on a myriad of topics. It's a book from my childhood that I have recently rediscovered. I'll talk more in subsequent writings about the plot and it's influence on my theological musings, but for now I want to focus on a particular exchange between the protagonist, Vicky, and her grandfather. Vicky is involved with a troubled young man, one who excites and intrigues her, a man who knows exactly how to make her tick, but has such a troubled soul that it slowly sucks away her very being. (Sounds familiar). Her grandfather gently states that her parents would prefer she stay away from him, but she quickly responds that he 'needs' her. The following excerpts highlight the conversation stemming from this statement:
"That's a pretty heavy burden Vicky"
"Do you think I'm strong enough to carry it"
"I think we're given strength for what we have to carry, What I question is whether or not this burden is meant for you."
"He needs me grandfather."
"There is a sermon of John Donne's I have often had cause to remember in my lifetime. He says Other men's crosses are not my crosses We all have our own cross to carry, and one is all most of us are able to bear. How much do you owe him Vicky?"
I replied slowly " I don't think of it in terms of owing, like paying a debt. The thing is.. he needs me." "The obligations of normal human kindness... chesed as the hebrew has it, that we all owe. But there's a kind of vanity in thinking you can nurse the world. There's a kind of vanity in goodness." A ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle
That last line kills me."There's a vanity in thinking you can nurse the world. There's a kind of vanity in goodness."
I am so guilty of believing that because I can handle helping people that I should. I've realized over the past 8 months that my own sanity hinges on my ability to separate chesed from vanity.
The knowledge that I am 'not allowed to date' has saved me from myself several times over the past 8 months; knowing that emotional intimacy is not an option has kept my barriers up and getting through the crisis and past the guilt has helped m recognizing my own needs and desires. Slowly it is getting easier, and my hope is that by the end of the year I will be strong enough to resist such a situation if it were to present itself in the future.
I'm also realizing how much happier I am on my own.
Over Valentine's Day I attended a party with a large grouping of my single female friends. I have been to many such 'single awareness day' parties, but I have to tell you this was the first time in my life I truly felt a celebration of our status, instead of a disguise for our inner longings. We drank, we ate, we laughed. What started as a joke 'toast for all the reasons it is great to be single' turned into a ten minute fest of laughter and truth. We rejoiced in our place in life and the abilities and freedoms it brings, while simultaneously looking forward with pleasure to the day that status changes.
I enjoy my freedom. I enjoy making my own decisions and having ultimate executive power in directing the course of my life. And some day, perhaps, I'll meet someone who will make surrendering that power worthwhile. But for now? I'm not settling.
And with that I am growing.
So what has the last 8 months been? A chance to find myself. A chance to redefine myself. A chance to experience life with pleasure and examine where I have been and where I am going. It's interesting to reflect on this change, because I don't really think I expected it to be so monumental. To be perfectly honest, when God put it on my heart it felt like a challenge from him. How badly do you want that life, the marriage, family, kids. Are you willing to trust me? Are you willing to sacrifice it for a year and trust that I won't bring the guy to you before the time is right?
I can't believe I'm admitting this on such a public forum, but initially it felt like I was making a deal with God.
I'll take a year off from dating, to 'work on my relationship with you', and at the end of it you will reward me by sending me that 'perfect guy', and let me start the next phase of my life.
Now though, I can assure you that when July 29, 2013 comes, I will not be anxiously resuming my hunt for a husband. It will certainly not be active, because I have come to love myself, for who I am independently. All I can believe is that someday I will find someone who feels the same way, and hopefully I will enough self-respect to never settle for less than that. This pledge has become my life line and a chance to shift focus onto redefining my identity and my purpose (with God's help of course).
Who knows what the next four months will bring. I have a feeling there are even bigger changes ahead in this last 'refining process'. The first four months were the detox phase, clearing out my system of the 'need' and resetting to zero; the next four months became the rebuilding phase, taking the crumbles and reconstructing them properly; my guess is the final four months will be the training phase, learning to apply what I have learned in a 'safe setting'.
All I know is that God's gotten me this far (or so I'm choosing to believe thanks to The Positivity Project). So I'm actively moving forward, trusting him to guide me as the trials come.