Monday, July 22, 2019

Anonymous Asks (50)

“How do you get over a broken romantic relationship?”

How you feel when a relationship ends depends mostly on what you expected from it. If you are convinced that the guy or girl who just told you they don’t see you in their future is the only possible one for you, or that you will never find anyone else like them, or that they are somehow defying all common sense and maybe even the will of God by not appreciating your finer qualities, then you are bound to have a pretty hard time with breaking up.

More importantly, if you and the person who just dumped you have been heavily physically involved, breaking up will be ten times worse.

Song for the Dumped

Obviously our question today is about being dumped. The person doing the dumping may feel a little guilty or sad about hurting the dump-ee, and maybe a little disappointed that the relationship didn’t turn out to be all that he or she hoped, but the fact that a dumper is able to dump you in the first place means they can see some compelling reason why it is better to be apart than together, whatever that reason might be. They are already on the road to emotional recovery, if not outright relieved to get the big exit confrontation over with. It’s the person who doesn’t see the breakup coming who usually has the greatest trouble getting over it.

I have seen all kinds of suggestions about dealing with being given the relationship heave-ho, most of which won’t help when it has just happened to you, and some of which are more Christian than others. For instance, some people suggest you work at cultivating an “abundance” mentality. There are other fish in the sea, they tell you. This is probably true, but not particularly helpful. Others will tell you that “what will be will be”, which is also true, but sort of like chewing a mouthful of broken glass. The more Christian version of this is “It must’ve been the Lord’s will.” Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the Lord never got a chance to weigh in.

None of these ways of reframing your rejection after the fact provide much real consolation. If you are asking the question because you too have just been dumped, I can’t help you much either. Only time will do that.

I can, however, make a suggestion or two about how to approach a potential relationship the next time out.

1. Think of Yourself as Valuable

Here I am not at all talking about being arrogant or working to build up what is often called self-esteem. In general, the less a Christian thinks about himself or herself, the better. What I really mean is this: there is only one of you. One person with the set of spiritual gifts you have been given, one person with the specific experiences and upbringing you have had, and one person with your singular way of looking at the world. These factors all come together to make you you. More importantly, there is only one person with the specific set of obligations you have toward God to use your life for his glory. I am not saying that makes you more valuable to God than others, or equally valuable, or any of that ego-stroking nonsense. Let’s just say we all have value — if only potential value — and leave it at that.

At very least, think of yourself as valuable to yourself. Valuable enough to commit to not ruining your own life unnecessarily. A person who makes the wrong choice of life partner is usually very unhappy, and often hamstrung in their testimony and service for Christ. Why deliberately go looking for that?

2. Cultivate an Exclusion Mentality

Some people love having lots of options. You shouldn’t. One or two are great, but having too many options and working at maintaining them is usually a waste of everyone’s time. Rather than cultivating an abundance mentality, work at cultivating an exclusion mentality.

This is the pretty much the point of Proverbs 31, in which a mother tells her son what to look for in a wife and, by inference, what sort of women to disqualify from further consideration. So what’s on that list? Great legs? Long eyelashes? Porcelain skin? None of the above. Go look at the chapter: it’s all about character. Does she use her time well? Does she build you up or tear you down? Is she devoted to others? Does she know her place? (I’m not kidding with that one. It’s absolutely crucial.) Is she hard-working? Is she reverent toward God? These are the things that make any relationship successful. If you can get great legs and porcelain skin too, wonderful. But don’t make them the goal of the exercise.

Obviously a young woman will need to make her own list of qualities to be desired in a husband. She might start with the characteristics of an elder listed in Timothy and Titus, and/or the fruit of the Spirit (positively) and works of the flesh (negatively) in Galatians. Qualities like self-control should already be present. You should be able to picture this man as a good father without any great leap of imagination. These days the ability to lead is at a premium. Look for it and prize it. If your boyfriend is constantly deferring to you, he’s probably a poor candidate.

When you cultivate an exclusion mentality, you learn to take at least a little joy in eliminating a prospect, because you are moving closer to finding a partner whose character will please the Lord. You are not failing. You are succeeding. God is showing you how to recognize things that will factor into your long-term happiness or lack thereof and helping you to root out the less productive choices out of your life. Who can argue that’s a bad thing?

Someone who doesn’t want to be with you is not a prospect. Be glad they discovered it now, and not later on when you had intertwined your lives in ways that are impossible to separate without permanent scars.

3. Think About Your Future Kids

I stole this third point from Stefan Molyneux, and I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s a brilliant thought. While it is admittedly difficult to picture people who do not yet exist and act preemptively in their best interests, you had better get used to trying. Think about this: every bad habit and nasty character quality you tolerate in a potential partner is you deliberately inflicting a specific sort of misery on your child. How about that for responsibility?

Look, you may not love yourself like you should, and you may be willing to put up with all kinds of substandard behavior in a partner just so you can be sure to land one. You shouldn’t. There’s more than you at stake here. You may be okay with working for the rest of your life because the man you have your eye on is a bit of a dilettante, and likely to be a spotty provider. But your kids may not be okay with that. The fact that he’s remarkably good looking won’t make a huge difference to them the way it does to you. (It also won’t make a whole lot of difference to you once his bald spot and paunch both expand, which they almost surely will.)

As a man, you may be fine with a disorganized and hyper-emotional wife, or even a drama queen. If you are super-efficient and a bit dry, the difference in personalities may be kind of interesting and fun for you. It may be a whole lot less fun for the children she is raising while you’re at work.

Cultivating an exclusion mentality is showing love to others, not just to yourself and to God.

4. Don’t Commit Yourself Too Early

Even Christians rush into relationships way too fast these days, long before they have any real clue who they are really dealing with. They get into the relationship in order to find out what the person is like, not because they already do. That’s craziness. You should be getting into relationships with people whose character and goals you can already be pretty sure about, not those about whom there are a million unanswered questions.

So don’t pair up right away. Go out in groups. Work with them on common interests at church. Go to the other person’s home. Meet their parents and watch how they relate to them, because that is probably how they will eventually relate to you. Keep some space between you until you see what that person is really like. Not only does this keep you from being unnecessarily hurt when a prospect doesn’t pan out, but it helps you stay out of sexual entanglements that will seriously complicate your future relationships. Don’t worry that keeping someone at arm’s length initially will cause you to lose opportunities. A young man or woman who can’t stop pairing up for a few weeks or months is a terrible marriage candidate anyway. Disqualify!

5. Don’t Start Until You’re Ready to Go the Distance

If you’re a Christian and you’re not ready to be married — by which I mean you are carrying a ton of school debt, or your parents won’t allow it, or you don’t feel ready to have children, or you’re immature and know it, or you have major self-control issues you need to work out, or you’re unemployed or under-employed or have no life skills and can’t contribute anything to a relationship other than your beautiful smile and bright hopes — then don’t date. Period. It’s a recipe for heartache, whether yours or someone else’s. It will seem like a grand idea until the day your partner tells you that you really just aren’t compatible, and she wishes you all the best.

The time to start looking for a partner is when you’re financially solvent, employed and ready to have a go at the world. You don’t need a truckload of savings, but you need to be capable of making enough to support the sort of lifestyle you want to live, and a little bit more to be able to share with others.

You can be looking, sure. Having some real-life motivation is not a bad thing, and it may get you off to work with greater urgency. But it’s foolish and dangerous for a believer to tempt him- or herself by stoking the emotions and desires that go with Christian marriage when they are not yet in any kind of position to responsibly say “I do.”

Getting Over It

If you’re having trouble getting over a broken romantic relationship, chances are fairly decent that somewhere along the way you violated one of the above principles.

Maybe you threw yourself at somebody who wasn’t a good marriage prospect because you hadn’t thought through your spiritual responsibilities to yourself, to your future children, and to God. Maybe you got in over your head sexually before you even figured out who you were dealing with. Maybe you weren’t picky enough about character.

Or just maybe you haven’t been living like the sort of person anyone would want to settle down with. You may be a whole lot of fun and have great hair, but if you are unreliable or unready to commit, there are more than a few Christians out there who are.

As they say, it takes two to tango. You can’t fix a broken relationship by yourself, nor can you be sure the Lord would even want you to. What you can do is get yourself ready for the next relationship opportunity in the most practical ways, and commit yourself to doing it right this time. I can’t guarantee it’ll immunize you from further heartache, but at least you won’t walk away from another breakup with a bad conscience about your own conduct.

That’s something, I think.

1 comment :

  1. Very relevant and well thought out advice. The only trouble is, of course, that over here it pretty much languishes in limbo. Twitter ( I am not kidding) may be more fertile ground? In addition, as with all good advice, there may not be enough people willing to accept or even recognize and apply any advice (the typical self-centered or unaware human condition I would say. Or, ignorance is bliss (up to a point)).