Practice, practice, practice

This post is a part of an ongoing series. To read the rest of the series, click here to check out the list on my about page.

Well. I didn’t exactly reach my goal. I set out to write down my dating story before Savannah arrived, but I barely got started. And now she’s almost 8 months old. But, praise the Lord above, she’s started taking longer naps recently (high five to her and to me, thank you very much- nap training is quite the endeavor) so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to have more time to write. If you’d like to refresh your memory on how the story begins, the first post is here and the second post is here.

So, where was I? About 8 years ago, I found myself in a season of lots of reading, thinking, and talking about dating, which was a whole new world for me. Dr. Cloud’s book that started the journey, challenged me to look at my approach to dating and ask, “So, how’s that working for you?”

Not well, Dr. Cloud. Not well.

I was getting more comfortable admitting that I wanted to be married. And I knew God wanted me to be an active participant in the dating process, rather than being passive, which was my default mode up until that point. My new realization was that there was a whole part of dating- the initial phase of meeting men, getting asked out, going on dates- that I really wasn’t very good at. It was humbling to admit to myself that I needed to work on some things. Like really humbling. But I knew that if I wanted to grow and change (and hopefully get my dating life out of “stuck” mode), I had to be open to God teaching me new things that would feel uncomfortable at first. So I basically did what Dr. Cloud recommends in his book. He actually has a section called “The Program”. Makes me giggle, but then I get all serious faced again when I admit that it changed my life completely. I was blessed to have Dr. Cloud’s book as a guide, and a real life friend, Amy, giving me lots of encouragement and coaching.

First off, I took inventory of how many new, available men I was meeting on a weekly basis and then came up with an explanation for that number. The number was real low. As in most weeks it was zero. Why? I was an elementary school teacher. Not a job where you meet many available men. A lot of my friends from college had moved away, so most of the people I hung out with regularly were friends from church and a lot of them were married. I had my routine. I liked it. Except that it wasn’t moving me towards a pretty big life goal.

Ok, so I wasn’t meeting any new men. What was next? Get the number up to at least 5 new men a week. 5?!? How in the world was I supposed to do that?

The simple answer is that I started going places and doing things where I could meet new guys. I went rock climbing, swing dancing, did online dating, asked friends to set me up on blind dates, and went to parties even when I only knew a couple people and would rather have stayed in my pj’s and watched Gilmore Girls. I’m telling ya- whole new world.

However, I actually met new men and talked to them at those activities because I also changed some of my unhealthy thought patterns.

First, I had to practice being okay with going somewhere or doing something with the main goal being to meet men. Truth be told, I used to judge girls that did that. I thought they were less spiritual than I was. Lovely, wasn’t I? I think the root of it was jealousy. I was just as boy-crazy as the next girl, but I was shy and I had no idea what I was doing. But my pride covered that up with over-spiritualized ideals of how a woman is supposed to act that had no basis in the Bible. Judging others was way easier than dealing with my own junk. In God’s grace, he helped me see how I was in the wrong. In my new way of thinking, it just seemed so reasonable to need to meet new men if I wanted to get married. How would I marry him if I never met him?

Secondly, I took a good look at how I typically interacted with men. I noticed that I had very healthy and appropriate relationships with men like my dad, other family members, my friends’ husbands, and younger guys in the youth group I worked with. But all of those categories of men have something in common- they weren’t men I could date. I was totally myself around men that were never an option. But guess who I was when I was with a guy I liked? Shy Laura. So shy and worried that I’d be rejected that I remember thinking things like, “Oh, gosh, what if he knows I like him?!?” If I were giving advice to my old self I’d say, “Umm, hello! That’s awesome! He needs to know you like him!”

Shy Laura was also Insecure Laura. I started paying attention to the thoughts I had when I was meeting a new guy, and it was not a fun process. I realized I was so mean to myself! If I was interacting with a guy that I found attractive, my default mode was to assume that he found me unattractive and not pretty at all. Or that he thought I was awkward. Or saying the wrong thing. You know what you’re supposed be doing when you meet a new guy? Flirting. Smiling. Paying attention to him. Not thinking horrible things about yourself! Yikes. This was by far the area where I had the most work to do.

Amy was a huge help when it came to me getting rid of negative thoughts and gaining confidence. She was basically a Team Laura cheerleader. She would tell me why she liked me. She reminded me of my strengths. She told me I was pretty. God used her to teach me the truth so that I could ignore the lies in my head. Her friendship is such a gift.

She also gave me flirting lessons. It makes sense that she started by helping me gain confidence in myself. Flirting takes a lot of confidence. You’re drawing attention to yourself. Telling someone that you notice him. This was super scary for me. Part of my process was that I also had to admit that I used to judge girls that flirted (see above), while secretly wishing I could talk to them and ask them to teach me their ways. Ha. Now, just in case the word flirting is making you nervous, I recognize that flirting can be over done and/or inappropriate. But I was so far from that ever happening. I needed to practice the basics. I remember a conversation with Amy going something like this after I mentioned I was going grocery shopping:

Amy: I want you to flirt with the single guy that works at Trader Joe’s.

Laura: What?!? I don’t want to marry the guy that works at Trader Joe’s!

Amy: I didn’t say you were going to marry the guy at Trader Joe’s. I just want you talk to him.

Laura: (wide eyed stare)

Amy: Look him in the eyes, ask him about his day, and smile. You have a great smile.

Laura: Ok. (deep breath) Ok. I can do that.

And so I went to Trader Joe’s, and instead of getting in the line with the safe, older woman at the cash register, I got in the line with the young, cute single guy and I smiled and asked him how he was doing. And Amy was right- I didn’t marry him. But I practiced flirting (I know- eye contact! I’m a crazy woman!), and I practiced being me.

That’s a lot of how the next couple of years went. A lot of practicing. Figuring out ways to meet new guys and sometimes going on dates. Praying and asking the Lord to bring a man into my life who would be a great fit for me to marry. I often felt sad that it hadn’t happened yet, but generally I felt hopeful that the lessons I was learning were getting me on the right track.

Then on November 29, 2009, I turned 30. And the hope that had sprung up over the last few years was suddenly gone, and I felt more stuck and more alone than I ever had in the past.

Click here to go to the fourth post in this series.

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