June 28, 2021
This was one of my overriding worries when my marriage to my wife of 15 years ended. I was over 40 and divorced, and didn't think I was particularly good at dating in my 20s. I got married at 26, which was ancient at BYU at that time. Back then, I found talking to a woman I was interested in scary. If she turned me down, it seemed like all I could do was sit and stare at the wall the rest of the day stewing and horrified. I was one of those who said, "I hate dating," and was relieved when I got married so I wouldn't have to do it anymore. Imagine my horror when I was thrown back into the singles world.

Add to this that my career and finances were in disarray in the chaos and depression of losing a 15 year marriage. I doubted that I could clean it up anytime soon, and doubted that any woman would choose a depressed guy with financial problems. I even told myself that there was no guarantee I wouldn't spend years or decades building a personal life and career that I love and watch it all turn to crap before my very eyes again. Does this sound familiar?

Many people avoid dating for all of these reasons, and I get it. I feel your pain. My purpose in this essay is not to nag you to date or make you feel some sense of obligation. The truth is, you won't start dating until you are firmly convinced that: (1) It can lead you to a better love; and (2) it will be a lot of fun in the meantime.

The truth is that all of my fears about dating were just thoughts. They seemed real and they felt real. But they were just ruminations based on fear. If they were just thoughts, I could change them. You might be thinking, "yeah but in my case they are true thoughts!" Our brains want to be right more than they want to be happy. So they defend the thoughts that are painful.

Here are a few ideas I learned that helped me out of the dating mind trap:

1. I am not for everyone. But I AM for someone. If I get rejected, she is not my someone. Next . . . .
2. People are interesting, and learning about a new person is great fun, even when it doesn't lead to marriage. The time is never wasted.
3. Some people come into my life for a short time to teach me things, or bless my life in some other way, and then they are meant to exit. Others come into my life to stay forever. Both are meaningful kinds of relationships. But it is usually impossible to tell who is who at the very beginning. Letting the relationship unfold and finding out why our paths crossed is both mystical and fun.
4. Don't overload a relationship trying to know the end from the beginning.
5. A rejection has nothing to do with my worth. It is all about the other person's agency.
6. Dating and getting to know great people is a fun adventure.
7. I have more wisdom now than when I was dating the first time, and I am more comfortable in my own skin. So dating need not make me nervous or frightened.

8. Some dating partners really like me. It is a lot of fun to be liked.

I could go on. But I think you see the general idea. Adopt supportive thoughts. Activate those thoughts by using them to create the emotions you are trying to find. Thoughts are just thoughts until we activate them with passion.

One more idea: We can shift the thoughts that are not serving us and adopt thoughts that are more supportive. Doing so involves risk and taking chances with our hearts. But without risk, we are already dead. As C.S. Lewis wrote:

"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell."

Lewis would know. He fell in love with Joy Davidman, a divorcee who was dying of cancer, and married her. She was the love of his life and he lost her less than four years after they were married. But the blessing of loving Joy fundamentally transformed him. His writing became deeper and fuller and richer. He finished raising her sons. He was a man who had always lived in his head before Joy found her way into his heart.

Friends, dating can be light-hearted and great fun. It should be. But, fundamentally, it is about our hearts--most of which have been broken at some point. Do we choose to protect them and watch them become hard and unbreakable, or do we move forward courageously in a quest to love and be loved, even at the risk of having our hearts broken again?

I choose love.
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