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Dating and Relationship thoughts: for the guys...

I realize a lot of what you're about to read might sound like common sense, but it sure took me a long time to learn it. Maybe it'll seem like total nonsense in light of modern times. Maybe this will make life a bit less painful for someone... maybe you'll listen to me because I've so recently been there.

With no further ado, here's what I wish some guy would have sat down and said to me while I was in bachelor mode.

You have to find yourself before you can be confident in finding her.

Finding yourself means to see yourself from God's perspective. It changes a lot of things--your life, for one! What does it mean to "find yourself?" This mysterious thing isn't too bad if you follow several easy steps. You can find yourself and be on your way to getting life under way before you know it.

Note: I am making one basic theological assumption here: you're a conservative Christian.

Finding Yourself, Step 1:
Accept that God made you the way you are.

This is an easy thing to acknowledge, a far more difficult thing to accept. If you can name anything about your life that you want to change, but seems beyond your control, then pray that thing over to God and let go of it.

For me, it was my physical appearance and "IQ", for lack of a better term. Once I realized that these were not flaws, but choices made by a sovereign God, things started to make more sense. To use a trite phrase, "I know I'm somethin', 'cause God don't make no junk."

Finding Yourself, Step 2:
Be who you are, not someone else.

This doesn't mean you should cop an attitude and say, "I'm gonna do what I want, and everyone else can just bite me!" You lose friends that way. Tact isn't optional.

If you can think of someone in particular and say, "I wish I was in their place," then you'll never be happy. If there's one thing you can't change, it's that you are you and not they.

I always wanted to be more like my younger brother, Erik. He was more handsome, stronger, athletic, a real ladies' man, never lacked for attention from peers--you name it, he had it going for him, or so I thought. When I accepted that I could not be him, I was more focused and responsible for me. (Years later, I confided this very thing to Erik; he admitted to being somewhat jealous of me at times! Go figure...)

Finding Yourself, Step 3:
Be "you" all the time.

Character has been defined as, "Who you are when no one's watching." Your character must be consistent, no matter who's around. When you have a stable, consistent character that fits into whatever situation you're in--rather than adjusting yourself completely to conform to whomever you happen to be with at the moment--people enjoy your company more; you reflect confidence and control.

Personal history bit: I was chumming around with some friends of my wife--4 Marines, all pals. I tried to get into the group chatter and such, even mimicking their terminology and mannerisms to fit in better, or so I told myself. Later, Jessica told me that she felt uncomfortable--as did everyone else--when I tried to "fit in" by being something I was not.

Of course, adjusting social behavior to fit situations is fine. Don't be an emotionless statue at a baseball game, and don't frolic around at a funeral. But endeavor to have behavior that fits the situation and your character, instead of only seeking acceptance of the people around you. Predictability, consistency, and dependability of behavior combine to make a tremendous asset throughout life.

If you have to try hard to fit into and be accepted in any given group, then perhaps that's not the group for you.

Finding Yourself, Step 4:
Honestly accept yourself.

If you've never been honest to yourself about who you are, you'll never be comfortably honest with others. Honesty pays.

I've learned a painful truth: all women have B.S. detectors. These detectors are sensitive, well-tuned, usually active, and will nail your sorry hide more often than you will care to admit. The truth hurts, but it will hurt less now than it will later.

I once discussed this with an ex-colleague who eventually informed me that "there's no way to get anywhere in life and be honest all the time." He said he'd be "flexible with the facts" whenever necessary. Thanks for informing me; or warning me, rather.

Finding Yourself, Step 5:
Learn to say, "So what?"

Seriously! We're here for a mere handful of years. In light of eternity, does it really matter if everyone thinks I'm a funny guy? Or is it more important that people can trust and believe me when I share my faith with them?

Don't take yourself so seriously, at least where being in the right crowd is concerned. There are more important things to take seriously, like integrity, honesty, morality, and other such big-picture stuff.

Start every relationship with an honest representation of who you are.

If any given relationship goes anywhere, the truth about you--and her--must be and will be known. It might as well be up front, because life's too short to waste time acting like you're one thing, only to have the truth come out later on and ruin everything.

Putting on an act is sort of a double-whammy: not only are you found out to be dishonest, but you've earned doubt as to whether you're telling the truth once you really are telling the truth.

Remember what the relationship is for: to make Christians more like Christ.

For the Christian, relationships have only one ultimate goal: to make you and the other person more like Jesus Christ. If you are ever in a relationship that does not encourage you to live according to Biblical guidelines and your convictions, change the relationship or end it. It's that simple.

Another thought here: life's too short to spend it trying to fix other people, or rescue them from themselves by dating them until they turn around. Spend your dating energies on people with whom you can have an open, stable, honest relationship.

Love is a choice, not a feeling.

God doesn't love you because you make Him feel good. He loves you because you needed Him, and He wants you to become like His Son. He died in your place so you can have eternal life.

Kinda makes the teddy bears 'n hearts thing a thin basis for a lifetime together, doesn't it? Love's a bit deeper then that.

Be a gentleman to all women, not just those you're trying to impress.

This includes Mom, sister, cousin, total strangers, any woman. Treat all women like they are valuable (they really are); not to gain attention and respect, but to gain practice. Read up on your Emily Post. Civility isn't dead, but it sure has been in retreat for the past 20 years or so. What people really need today is a bit more class and taste, more common courtesy.

Why is it that common courtesy is now so uncommon?

Eliminate erotica.

This sounds easy--you may have done it several times already. Do it again, and make it permanent; create a no-tolerance policy for yourself.

I speak from experience: the value of a "virgin mind" when you start your marriage cannot be underestimated. The mental static created is not worth it. Erotica tends to create a view of women as objects instead of emotionally complex persons. I regret having viewed erotic material in my "younger days", because the human mind takes so very long to forget such things.

I've heard all the excuses, probably used them all, too. The classic one is, "It's OK because I don't have a serious girlfriend or anything, and I need an outlet of some kind." When you do get married, you will regret the "outlet" excuse. Trust me.

Assume spiritual leadership early on.

Missionary dating--dating someone who's not a Christian so you can "win them over"--is risky. There are too many available, decent, Christian women out there for you to mess around trying to snatch one from Satan, so to speak. If you can't start the relationship as the spiritual leader, you have no business starting the relationship.

This doesn't mean you have to spend your time examining the original Greek texts of the Gospels with a full exploration of Calvinism vs. Armenianism. But it does mean that you should find that praying together is natural and not forced.

Keep your virginity; you'll only "lose it" once.

Are you sitting down?

Jessica and I were virgins all the way to our honeymoon.

I've never heard anyone express regret for keeping their virginity until marriage. Every guy hopes to have a virgin bride: so leave some virgins out there, for crying out loud!

Quite shocking that someone can reach the advanced age of 25 years and not be intimately involved, isn't it? You'd think so, considering the way that most popular TV series stars are portrayed as passion infernos that must jump from relationship to relationship (and from bed to bed) on a weekly basis. As someone once quipped, "If practice makes perfect, Hollywood should have the marriage thing down perfectly."

So why did we wait until after the wedding? Enjoying the emotional closeness of an intimate physical relationship before being legally and morally bound to assume all responsibilities of its possible outcome is not something we thought we should do. We don't regret waiting. We've made up for it now that we're married.

Think about it, guys: don't you want to marry a virgin woman and have the special feeling of being the "one and only man" she's been intimate with? Then leave some virgins out there, for crying out loud!

I've never heard anyone express regret for keeping their virginity until marriage. You don't need to get experience or test your compatibility before marrying. You can learn what you need to learn during pre-marital counseling: Jessica and I studied the books The Act of Marriage by Tim LaHaye and Intended for Pleasure by Ed and Gaye Wheat. That was plenty. Everything else we've been learning together.

No guilt, no HIV, no STD's, thank you very much.