I grew up in a religious household and [I was forced to attend] youth group retreats that focused on dating and ‘how to find God’s perfect mate for you.’
Some of these events included drawing on a Barbie doll with a Sharpie to display what areas of your body were permissible to touch when dating (sex was out of the question) and scare tactics by showing graphic pictures of what STDs looked like. We also were instructed to make lists of our non-negotiables for a future spouse.
We were 13-years old. We barely knew how to maintain our own hygiene.
We didn’t know what we wanted in a dating situation other than hoping they were really cute, a good kisser, and liked the same music we did. Yet list-making we did, being brainwashed into believing there was one ideal person that would be everything we wanted them to be before ever meeting them.
My list of an ideal mate included such weighty items as “tall, handsome, funny, loves God, wears CK1.”
Some of my friends made their lists and some of them met ‘their person’ and got married young. It didn’t work that way for a lot of us, though.
While I believe that my youth group leaders had admirable, good intentions, reality is that fear tactics and lists of ideals harmed my ability to learn about what actually mattered in a relationship. It didn’t train me for life within a relationship.
Or marriage at 24 years old. Or divorce at 27 years old.
It didn’t teach me about how to set healthy boundaries.
Or how to stand up for myself when something felt uncomfortable or hurtful.
Or how to distinguish what ‘red flags’ are and how to talk about them.
Or how to break up with someone in a dignified manner.
Or how to like myself first, the other person second.
Nothing about character. Just a list of check boxes that indicated if you were ‘staying pure’ or not.
At age 29, I tried something different. I threw out the old mentality and I committed to a new way of doing relationships.
I made a list of all the things that hadn’t worked and things I did not want. I did something scary – I trusted the process. I didn’t try to control the variables.
Eventually, Zachary came along.
Now he’s my dude. My partner. My bestie.
While he doesn’t wear CK1, he’s got a slew of amazing qualities, outstanding character, and he is one of the most likable people I know. He’s not someone I would have ever considered dating previously, though, because he didn’t match The List of ideals I made at 13-years dumb.
Now I see that my relationship has to feel and be holistically right, not a list of checked boxes. I’ve looked great on paper before and been miserable at home. That’s not a sacrifice I will never make again. And this resolve has led me to seeing the importance of living congruently. My insides match my outsides. My relationship matches that, too.