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Week 12 – Dating Again? Am I Ready?

Author Crista Beck wrote: “To walk the path of intentionally and consciously finding love, you need to start with the main question: Where do I want to go?”

We may not know where we want to go, but we sure know where we’ve been. Through the ringer. For many of us, our faith in love has been shaken. Is it worth all the trouble to make those promises again? We might be cynical now, grappling with an inner voice that says Don’t bother—most women are going to be unfaithful, or Don’t bother—most men wind up inconsiderate or abusive.

That inner voice isn’t correct, but it means well. That’s your frightened inner child trying to protect you. It’s fear dressed up as common sense.

In the 1950s and 1960s, numerous university research centers conducted now-famous studies that put rats into tiny cages, allowing them to drink sugar water laced with heroin, morphine, amphetamine, or cocaine by pressing a lever. Often, the rats would choose drugs over food until they died.

In the late 1970s, scientists followed up the earlier study by building a “rat park” full of things rats like—climbing platforms, tin cans for hiding in, wood chips, and running wheels. Most importantly, they had companions. Very soon, the rats living in isolation consumed nearly twenty times as much morphine as those in Rat Park. Which raises a few questions for us today:

Do we push the lever for the drug of sex because we’re free? Or do we seek a hit because we feel caged and alone? Regardless of how we lost in the past, how can each of us reassert our focus on the nourishment of love?

In the common culture, sex is pushed as all kinds of things. We’re told it’s empowerment. We’re told we’re entitled to it. While we might subconsciously see sex as proof of our value (though it’s more accurately proof that we doubt our value). We lean on physical contact to approximate the intimacy that frightens us. We use it to distract us in the same way other people might binge on food, porn, alcohol, or drugs as numbing agents through difficult times. Love—even merely dating again in the hopes of a relationship beyond a one-night stand—requires us to move forward despite our fear, but nourishes us in a way isolation cannot. Are you ready?

Divorced and betrayed; widowed and devastated; never married and unseen. No matter how we landed here, to believe we can love again is one of the last milestones of healing.

Every day, we choose to let new people into our lives. We meet people at work, at the gym or at church, at our kids’ school, and in our local community. Every now and then, there’s that zap of attraction. Someone who surprised us; made us laugh; sparkled in a way we couldn’t help but notice. And almost right away, our brain pipes up and says, Oh yeah? Well, what do you bring to the table? What would this person see in you?

We’ve all been there in that moment. We flinch. Life is already complicated enough as it is. We pull back, imagining introducing someone new to our ex or our kids. We guess this new person would want to steer clear, once they find out what happened. We remember how we screwed up last time, or how our ex screwed up. We wonder if it’ll all happen again.

You’re standing in line for coffee, having said barely two sentences to the attractive person next to you—and you’ve already talked yourself back into your shell. So what now? Will it always be this way?

Determining If You’re Ready

“When it comes to love and relationships,” wrote Kevin Darné, “…most of us fail our way to success.”

Don’t let past disappointments serve as proof of your future—but when you finally venture out from the hole you’ve been in, make sure you try again from a self-aware foundation. Are you using dating to escape from loneliness or pain? For a healthy start, we need to get honest with ourselves about our motivations. Ask yourself: is there a chance I’m trying to fill a leaky bucket, and have some work to do on myself before adding anyone else? Or, am I genuinely ready to add a partner to my life without being overwhelmed by baggage or fear?

• Have I been on a path of healing and personal growth?
• Do I have the emotional and practical bandwidth to date?
• Am I secure in myself and my relationship with God?
• Do I know who I am and what I need and want?
• Am I ready to explore dating as part of my ongoing growth?
• Am I committed to maintaining my values and boundaries as I date?

If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you are likely in a solid place to consider dating.

Share Time:

Share where you are in the process of considering dating on a scale of 0 to 10, from zero being “I’m absolutely not interested!” to ten being “I know I’m ready and can’t wait to start!”

Red Flags

A red flag means STOP: deal-breakers and non-negotiables. Anyone who may make you or your children unsafe. Anyone who isn’t likely to respect your boundaries. Red-flag people may love-bomb you early on, followed by an explosive temper and coercive control. They may be upset or argumentative when you say no or make other plans; or be irrationally jealous; or they may want to move too quickly. Remember that when we’re in an emotionally vulnerable state, we’re less able to recognize and resist this kind of red-flag person. They may be narcissists taking advantage of the low self-esteem we’ve been suffering lately, or offering us the obsessive affection or charisma we may have been missing from our ex. But red-flag people never offer gifts for free. There’s always a cost, and we pay it in escalating drama.

Not all red flags are intentionally harmful people. Sometimes, people aren’t ready to date or may be earlier on in their own separation than you are. They may have not processed their last relationship or grieved the loss of a former partner. It may not be you with the leaky bucket, but them—they may be desperately lonely, reacting to pain by seeking a band-aid of intimacy. Or their own drama may still be unfolding, like a divorce that hasn’t yet been finalized. Sometimes, you’re ready, but by no fault of their own, the person who’s sending you mixed messages—pulling you in and then pushing you away—simply needs time and space.

To find what you want—someone who’s secure in their own happiness and identity—you need to offer the same. We all have insecurities. We all have moments when we lack confidence in who we are. But if we’re going to heal to the point where our next effort stands a chance, we need to first take responsibility for our own agency, accountability, and outcomes. With God’s guidance, we renew from there.

Share Time:

What is one red flag for you? Does it relate to any of the examples mentioned? How?

Yellow Flags

Yellow flags mean CAUTION. You were curious for a moment, but after a conversation or some time getting to know them, you realize this person isn’t right for you. The chemistry was lacking, or your interests were too far apart. You’ve enjoyed meeting them, but won’t pursue a romantic connection. A yellow-flag person may love God and be emotionally mature but may be in a different season of life. They may have younger children, while you are looking forward to being an empty nester. They may be highly career- or city-focused when you’d prefer to grow your own vegetables off the grid. There’s nothing “wrong” with them, and nothing “wrong” with you—you’re just different. You can honor the good you see in them and walk away as friends.

Green Flags

Green means GO. For you, this might be someone who’s got integrity, emotional and spiritual maturity, who loves outdoor adventure, and who makes you laugh. In the same way that red flags radiate drama, green flags radiate safety and cheerfulness. Green-flag people have processed and grieved the loss of their spouse or previous relationship, owning their part and committing to relational health. They’re likely to be well-regarded by their friends and by yours. They love themselves well, which means they’ll love you well too.

When you meet green-flag people, you’ll see evidence of their maturity and wellness already in their lives. They have great relationships with their family and/or friends, without a lot of old grudges, negative narratives, or conflict.
They make life easier, not harder—their own, and yours too.

You’ll recognize red- , yellow- , and green-flag people well beyond your dating life. Family members, community members, people at work, and friends fall into these categories. Conduct yourself accordingly, always seeking to project into the world what you want to attract

Share Time:

What is an example of a green flag for you that helps you know who may be safe to let into your life in a significant way?

When it comes to new relationships—a date, business partner, or new friend—you want to find people who are actively moving toward wholeness. This is not a destination, but a direction. You don’t have to be fully healed to begin dating (there is no such thing), but think of it as “integrated.” Work towards making what happened calm within your body. Make peace with it in order to make peace with yourself. Know your triggers and blind spots. Know where you sometimes falter. Be very aware of your own tendency to mixed messages, fearful behavior, or pessimistic habits. Hold softly what you’ve dealt with and be just as gentle with what’s not yet resolved. Find others who do the same.

Author Todd Perelmuter wrote, “As we become rooted in the present moment, as our inner peace and joy radiate from within us through meditation or faith, we will finally be able to find a mate not out of desperation to be free from loneliness, but rather we’ll find someone who, like you, is living life to the fullest and excited to bring a partner on board to share the ride.”

Further Action Step:

Ask yourself this week if you are ready to begin dating. Why or why not? Journal and write down your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about where you’re at in your healing process. Take some time to ask God and be willing to listen as the Spirit guides you. Consider possible next steps in your healing journey.