Wednesday, September 27, 2017

#1: My First Real Date

            Due to abandonment issues and relationship fears, I never gave much thought to dating in high school.  In fact, I avoided it.  I really only dated one wonderfully sweet guy for four months.  But I didn’t have any feelings for him.  I dated him because my mom liked him so much and made me go out with him.  Which was precisely the reason why I broke up with him.  (But honestly, Rodney, you were such a nice, sweet guy.  I’m sorry for what I put you through.  It wasn’t fair, and I wish you the best.) 

            Other than that, I only went on a very small handful of dates, and it was never with someone that I really liked.  (Okay, it was two dates.  Once to a homecoming dance and once to our town’s fair with a group of friends, so I don’t even know if you can call that a date.)  If I really did have a crush on any guy, I would never let it turn into anything.   

            I didn’t figure this out till graduate school, but I had a pattern of sabotaging relationships or potential relationships all through high school.  Hurt people with deep scars tend to do that (or else they go the other direction and throw themselves at people).  I would only like someone who didn’t like me back or someone who was unavailable.  And if they did start to show any interest in me, I freaked out and cut off all contact or completely gave them the cold shoulder. 

            I am sure that I thoroughly confused a few guys.  And I still feel bad about a really nice guy that I encouraged to ask me to homecoming.  And then after I accepted, I backed out later that same day.  (If you are out there, Chris from freshman year . . . I’m sorry!  It wasn’t you.  It really was me!)   

           I didn’t mean to play games.  I just didn’t know that I was terribly scared of being rejected or of having a relationship and then losing it.  So I made sure that I never risked it.  It’s like that question, “Is it better to love someone and lose them . . . or to never love at all?”  That’s an easy one: never love at all.  Then you can’t get hurt.  (Probably the same reason I was never very competitive - then you can’t lose.  Plus, I just never felt like I had to prove anything or beat others at anything.  Except volleyball!  Sloppy backyard volleyball angers me.  Play with some dedication and effort, people!)  

            I made sure that I only liked or went out with the “safe” guys, the ones who I would not want to stay with long-term or who wouldn’t return my affections.  Then I could never get hurt.  But I didn’t know that this was all going on inside of me until Jason. 

            I had known Jason for a few years through church and high school.  And after his girlfriend of two years broke up with him, we began hanging out as friends.  And we hung out as friends for over a year.  (She had the nerve to tell him to not date me.) 

            But during that year, poor guy, I unconsciously engaged him a terrible game of cat-and-mouse as these unknown fears wrestled inside me.  I would have a little crush on him until he showed interest.  And then, in typical fashion, I would pull back and act aloof.  I would flirt with him and then be distant and cold.  This went on for a long time.  I even had the nerve to ask him if I could fend off advances from other guys by saying that I was going out with him, without really having to go out with him.  (Yeah, I know . . . That’s harsh!)  He was polite enough to let me do that. 

            But he did decide to risk it once and officially ask me out on prom night.  I got asked to prom by another guy, but I didn’t want to go.  (Sorry, Jon!  You were such a sweet guy, too, and it would’ve been fun.  That’s something I would go back and change, if I could.  I would’ve gone to the dance with you as friends.  It was so nice of you to ask.)  So Jason, who didn’t go to my school, asked if I’d like to go out with him and do something else instead.  But I turned him down, too, saying that I had a lot of laundry to catch up on.  It was terrible, I know.  But I really did have laundry to do.  (And I still do.) 

            I gave him quite a ride over the year.  But he was still there; a faithful, long-suffering friend.  In fact, I used to pray, “Lord, I’ll go out with anybody You want me to . . . Just!  Not!  Jason!”  I had a sense that a relationship with him would be the biggest risk for me because I really did care about him, in spite of myself.  I stood to get really hurt with this one. 

            And then, one day, my mom couldn’t watch this go on any longer.  And she pointed out how I may miss out on a great opportunity that I could never get back. 

            That scared me! 

            Suddenly, the risk of losing this opportunity forever scared me more the chance that I could get hurt.  And overnight, I decided that I really did like him and that I wanted to pursue it.  No more games!  But now I was afraid that I had pushed him too far.  I had to somehow let him know that I was interested and that it wasn’t a game this time. 

            One day, a group of us friends had decided that we would go to a movie, if it all worked out.  Well, this other girl (who liked Jason) was supposed to plan it.  But she called and told me that the plans fell through.  So I agreed to baby-sit my brothers at home.  And I planned to ask Jason to come over and baby-sit with me.  I would let him know that night that I liked him. 

            But when I called and asked him to come over, he told me that this other girl told him that I said I was busy when she called to confirm plans.  So it would just be him and her going to the movie.  (Sneaky, right?  Can’t say I blame her!) 

            Since he had already accepted her offer and I was already babysitting, off he would go to the movie with her.  I was panicked!  This girl was going to weasel her way right into his heart, and I was left to freak out at home by myself and to deal with the realization that I got what I deserved.  I had pushed him too far and my chance had passed. 

            Much to my relief, though, he came to visit me before he went to the movie.  And when he heard what she had done to trick him into going, he was not too pleased.  Although he didn’t want to go with her anymore, he was too much of a gentleman to cancel.  So instead, he quickly called his friend, Paul, to ask if he would join them at the movie so that he did not have to go with her alone.  I can’t tell you how thankful I was for that!  That was my only bit of relief as I sweated out an evening alone at home babysitting.  Maybe it would work out after all? 

            Later that week, as our youth group hung out at Burger King, I had my chance to put out the bait to see if he would take it.  I made sure to smile more at him, look him directly in the eye, and sit by him at the restaurant.  I wanted him to know that it wasn’t a game this time.  I think it was because he wasn’t prone to breaking hearts (although he could’ve been a heartbreaker - tall, dark and handsome, gentlemanly, a killer smile) and because he was a good and faithful friend that I finally decided to risk getting my own heart broken.

            I told him how another guy from my college had asked me out for Friday (I wasn’t making that up - it did happen) and I had turned him down saying that I was busy. 

            “But I’m really not doing anything on Friday!?!” I hinted to Jason.  And then I prayed, Please, take the hint!  Please, take the hint! 

            He’s no dummy!  He leaned forward and, in a hushed tone, he put his heart out there once more, “Since you’re not doing anything on Friday, would you like to go out with me?” 

            Yes, Yes, YES! 

            “Sure,” I replied, calmly.  And then, just to clarify, I added, “Just you and me, right?” 

            “Yeah, just you and me.” 

            And that was it!  I finally decided to risk it.  I agreed to go out with someone that I actually liked who liked me back.  I had finally opened my heart up to someone, and I knew that I would not risk losing it.  I knew that I was in the relationship that I wanted to be in for the rest of my life.

            For our first date, we decided to go on a really exciting date - a movie and ice cream.  (We are both such simple people!)  We went and saw The Three Musketeers and then went shopping at Jewel for ice cream to eat at home.  It was a low-key, relaxing evening.  Not too unlike the many evenings we had gone out as friends.  But it was just the way I liked it.  We talked and laughed and enjoyed the first “alone” time the two of us ever had.  (Okay, I just reread that and I need to clarify ... It's not that kind of "alone time".  I just meant "intentional alone time, just him and me deliberately spending time with each other, on our own, as a couple."  Get your minds out of the gutter, people!)

            I was eighteen years old when I went on my first real date.

            I was eighteen years old when I knew the man I would marry.

            [People often wonder how (and if) you can really know someone is right for you, right off the bat - if you can find “the one.”  Well, I just knew somewhere deep down that when I finally found someone worth the risk of getting my heart broken, he would be the one for me. 

            I got into a conversation once with a friend about this.  She said that she believes that there is “the one” out there for people - that when you walk down the aisle to get married, you should make sure that you found the one. 

            I, however, see it just a little differently.  I believe that we don’t have to find that one perfect match that’s floating around out there, just waiting for us.  I believe that we make someone the one when we choose to commit to them and only them. 

            I think it’s risky to believe that you are supposed to find the preordained “one” somewhere out there.  I don’t know for sure, but I think God brings different possible matches into your life at different times.  And it’s your responsibility to search for God’s guidance regarding His Will during those times.  So maybe you missed out on someone once because you weren’t ready or willing.  But God, in His wisdom and graciousness, eventually allows another “match” into your life. 

            And when you finally decide to marry, you make that person the one.     

            That way, there’s no feeling like you made a mistake.  There’s no wondering if you missed the person you were supposed to be with.  Because the person you are supposed to be with is the one you chose to marry.  And when you hit a rough patch or the romantic feelings temporarily seem far away, you will remember that you made your spouse the one when you married him or her.  There are no other options out there.] 

            Anyway, we dated for several years, while I got more and more impatient waiting for him to pop the question.  

            The day after I graduated from college, we went to Six Flags Great America.  And we decided to get one of those old-time photos taken.  I wore some southern plantation gown and he wore an old-time mobster outfit with a tommy-gun.  (I didn’t like the flapper dress that went with the scene.) 

            And as we were trying to figure out where to stand, the photographer said to me, “Here, you sit on this stool.”

            “And what about me?” Jason asked her.

            “Well, why don’t you just kneel down?” she told him.

            It was so obvious that I actually missed it.  In fact, I had been expecting it all weekend.  But when the moment finally came, I didn’t recognize it. 

            Yeah, right, I thought.  It’s only been four years of dating!  And I’ve been trying to get him to kneel down for a long time. 

            But then I saw the twinkle in the photographer’s eye as she looked at Jason. 

            And I looked at him.

            And he looked at me.

            And then he knelt down and took out the ring. 

            And there in front of all the people watching, he asked me to marry him. 

            “Yes!” I said.  Of course! 

            And the photographer snapped this picture:

 (That's my hair hanging down over my face,
not some head-wound gushing blood all over.)

This is the "marriage certificate" frame she gave us.  It's been on our bedroom wall ever since.  It was a picture-perfect moment!  (Pun intended!)  And we have now been married for almost 18 years.  But honestly, I married him the day I agreed to go out with him 23 years ago.

And we were married the following year.  This is my favorite picture from our wedding.  And it’s not even one that the professional photographer took.  (Our wedding!  There's a story for you!  If I could, I would seriously go back and elope.  But then I guess I wouldn't have this beautiful picture.)

Of course, we've had our ups and downs in life. 
And we look older now and are more tired. 
But I still feel the same way about him! 
(And he looks even better with a salt-and-pepper 5 o'clock shadow.)

(This post is from my blog,  It’s chapter 4 of my book, Child of Mine.  Chapters 5-8 are reposted on this blog after this post.  The posts with the numbers in front of the title.)

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