Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Dating as a Christian adult

I'm going to go down an unusual path with this post, not because I think it's vital for the entire Christian community, but because it's something I'm going through. Perhaps there's someone else out there like me who can be helped by what I've learned.

My wife passed last April, and last January I felt emotionally available to the world for the first time. Grieving is a strange process, but I felt I got off light because my marriage was entirely built on our faith. I didn't have any lingering regrets, no concern about Jess' second life beyond this world. All I had to deal with was loss. Awful, yes, but much less challenging than some others I know.

But I'm 40 and weighed down with medical bills, out of shape, and just no longer looking at the best physical years of my life. I sacrificed much of my career momentum to make things work in my marriage. Again, no regrets, but it doesn't make life any easier.

I mention that last part only because I really didn't put enough thought into that part of things when I started to make myself available again on the dating field.

Being a widower is challenging enough. It's a unique kind of baggage to carry around. A lot of women don't want to have to compete with a ghost. My marriage ended at a strong point. I still love Jess, always will. There was no break in that love, and ... well, who wants to be Plan B?

The financial stuff, the career stuff, that plays a much bigger role now than I had considered. Women my age have become more practical. There are no stars in their eyes. They've been burned -- or perhaps just almost burned -- enough to know money is an important factor to consider. Not wealth, mind you. The women I'm attracted to are reasonable people. Just some financial stability. If home ownership isn't already on the list, it's something the man should be able to acquire. You know, like a grown-up.

And it's not like something I can toss out there in the first conversation. That's the heartbreaking part. I would love it if I could! Would save some time and perhaps some broken hearts. But it's a conversation that takes place much further down the road, when feelings have developed and you start pondering life together, if only in the most simple terms.

This is not to say I'm completely out there, without a budget, without income, just throwing money around like a sailor on three-day leave. No, I have decent income, I have a good budget, and I have a plan to get out of debt. Sooner rather than later. My debt is also explainable. But if you're a 30-something career woman with great credit and no financial drama, it's a major stumbling block. A marriage isn't just an emotional and spiritual union. It's a financial agreement. And 720 credit scores have to think very hard about mingling with lesser ones because long-term quality of life is at stake. Frankly, I don't blame anyone at my age who takes this into consideration.

What really strikes me as more challenging, though, is communication. You get a very different mix of singles at my age. Everyone's lived a life of some type and have developed very strong opinions about the world. As a by-product, it becomes much more difficult to establish a common language, a common understanding. Everyone my age seems to have learned how important communication is in a relationship; if they're not divorced, they know a lot of people who are, and everyone's taken some very good notes. But they've also developed their own ideas about what type of communication is needed and how it needs to be delivered, when really that needs to be more organic and adjusted to the person with whom you're pairing.

There's this rush to establish strong communication from the beginning. Everyone's trying to address their own issues. So many are in counseling for something or another, so talking to some people, you know you're also talking to their counselor (and in a few cases, the counselors are talking right back at you through them). Just finding a common language that doesn't include pop psychology terms and Christianese can consume all the time you spend together.

I don't really have any great answers to these problems today, but I have resolved one thing: I'm still not going to wait to date. If I waited until I was where I think I needed to be, out of debt and a small bank roll of savings, it'd be two or more years before I left the house. I don't think that's healthy. And right now I'm thinking communication is either there and it's easy or perhaps I'm just not meeting the right people.


Jason Coker said...

This really is a brave post Matt.

I'm glad to hear you're ready to get back out there, but I can understand the hesitation. The level of intimacy one builds over a period of years with a spouse is deep and takes long and sometimes hard work. Still, for many of us it's just not good to be alone.

(One last thing, technically, aren't you a widower not a widow?)

Matthew Self said...

You made me look it up. ;) You are correct! It's based on gender.

I think it's good to be alone for a spell. I think it's good to not be afraid of being alone. The fear of being alone can be traced to perhaps half of all of life's bad decisions. Ha!

But it's just not what I want.

I've made a commitment to not comparing every woman to Jess, but I confess it's strange having women I date withhold things from me or not include me in their inner circle. I know, at least for now, it's a matter of time, but I do sometimes wonder if it's me adjusting to a new role or if it really is them and I should be raising red flags.

carolss said...

But I'm 40 and weighed down with medical bills, out of shape, and just no longer looking at the best physical years of my life. I sacrificed much of my career momentum to make things work in my marriage.

After reading this my response is to caution jumping into the dating stream right away. Give yourself some time to heal and begin working towards wholeness, in a community setting, of course. Otherwise, when the next big hurt comes along, it will mingle with un-resolved past hurts and be more severe than it otherwise might have been. I agree that communication needs to be organic but one needs healthy soil, in which to grow that good organic stuff.

Maybe this rush towards strong communication is a way of saying we're not immature teenagers anymore (hopefully) so let's not waste time with fluffy subjects. That's not to say we can't be child-like and have some fun. Laughter is SO important, not to mention healthy for the mind/body/spirit. Whatever the case, as we live, we learn, hopefully with lots of laughter thrown in.

Grace and Peace

Johnboy said...

Hey Matt,
I need to lay a bit of groundwork here so that my comments are taken in context - bear with me. I will also stipulate going in that I am both biased, and I have a small amount of insight in being Jess' Dad. That advantage isn't because of some keen insight or gift, rather, it is borne of simply being one who has been up-close-and-personal for the past few years, albeit intermittently, with you and Jess.

I absolutely marveled at the dynamic between the two of you, and obviously share your loss. We have also, again obviously, taken very different paths through grief - you having lost your wife and daily companion as a widower, me as a father, having lost my firstborn child - the label for which is conspicuous in it's absence.

When I saw you in late July, I was surprised and frankly concerned that there might be an element of denial in your grieving process - because you were doing, well, so... well, all things considered. Yet I believe I know you well enough and have watched since then - and frankly believe I have seen the opposite - a guy who is and has been facing your loss head-on - w-i-t-h G-o-d's h-e-l-p. As to *normal* grief, Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross' book would in my opinion make a good fire starter. Not that there aren't good points in it, yet you just cannot put grief in a nifty little one-size-fits-all sanitized box. The stages she cites often overlap, some do not manifest at all, etc. Besides, while I believe the level of grief one experiences is roughly equivalent to their degree of loss, the models, the levels, the formulas do not take being a committed believer into consideration. THAT is huge.

Okay, that's my context.

You comment about lack of baggage as well as lack of worry over Jessica's eternal disposition are very large assets in moving forward. I know you're not some doop-dee-doo guy who is *stuffing* the grief as I'd worried. To the best of my knowledge you're also not being led of your impulses - another big plus. I am overjoyed at your desire to date, and to ultimately develop that oneness which you crave. Of course it will look different - it is good that you identify that up front. While a woman might pause over the thought of possibly being, as you say, plan B, there are big pluses to your situation as well. Like not having a failed relationship with Jess - even with all the intense trials and pressures the two of you endured. That fact alone should encourage any woman who gives you a second look. Also there is the fact that you took seriously the concept of *serving* your wife.

In my opinion, your questions and comments are honest ones, and the result of no small amount of prayer, soul-searching, and deep introspection. Grief can and will on occasion strike - that's the nature of it, why it's called being *grief-stricken*. And, as you continue to look to God for strength and guidance, I have little worry that you will discover His best for you.

Matthew Self said...

Carol, the medical bills are not my own. ;)

Thanks, John, I suspect you have a stronger idea of what I'm referring to. I think right now I'm settling on these issues as a 'you' problem -- the women I date -- but I'm open to comments and suggestions to the contrary.

friend said...

I just think some woman is going to find a really cool fellow in you. That's the great part of this - but doing the dance of "initial" dating seems like that would be intimidating to me.

friend said...

friend is Ben by the way.