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Dating: The Artificial Season That Doesn’t Count

Dating The Artificial Season That Doesn't Count

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“He was nothing like this when we were dating. He would send me little notes, hold the car door open, and be thoughtful about almost everything. I’m not sure I exist in his world, except when he wants sex. I seem not to matter anymore. He is not the man I married. Are you saying that dating and marriage are different realities? What I thought I was getting but what I got are two different people. What’s the point of dating? How can we fix our marriage?”

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It would be a challenge to count how many times I’ve heard some version of the story above, either from a husband or wife. Yes, a wife, too. It would be a severe mistake for a wife to think what she is today is what she represented to her then-boyfriend. I’m not saying she is better or worse than he is, but wisdom and humility suggest common sense and a sober self-assessment when discussing these types of marriage problems. Though the particulars can be different for any of us, the storyline is always the same.

When a distraught spouse comes to you with this type of dilemma, you want to gently let the air out of the balloon by reminding them that their glorious season of dating was somewhat artificial, where it can be challenging to discover the actual person. Sometimes I will tell the spouse in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that a “dating season is an artificial season where the two lovers fake each other out until they get married.” Both are putting their best foot forward, hoping to impress the other so they can continue dating one another. There is a built-in tension, not knowing when or how to reveal what we know ourselves to be.

Dating is the time when they are nice to each other to win each other over. The partners are careful to keep their authentic selves under wraps until after the wedding. If they date for more than a year, the true self will pop out from time to time, be seen for what it is, and quickly snap back to an “acceptable disguise” until after the marriage when it’s not possible to hide all of a person’s badness forever. I’m not saying dating has to be wrong, especially if the couple is wise as they incrementally build their relational bridges to carry their unique baggage over to one another. It takes wisdom and courage; nobody should reveal their entire mind upon first meeting someone. You show yourself incrementally, always carefully stewarding the relationship.

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The Dating Reboot

Of course, another advantage of the dating season is that you can always let the girl go home at the end of the evening. You don’t have to live with her 24/7. My wife and I got along swimmingly—for the most part–during our dating season. However, after the honeymoon, I woke up the following day, and she was sleeping in my bed. I couldn’t send her home. She was at home! Through the good and the bad, I had to live with her for the rest of our lives. Of course, from her perspective, she could not get rid of me either. We were stuck with each other.

It was far easier to enjoy the benefits of dating, drop her off at the end of a fantastic evening, and return to my apartment. She goes to her place, I go to my place, and we start the next day again. Dating is convenient but not real enough for most of us because it is possible to navigate through the dating period without ever dealing with the real baggage we all carry. On the one hand, we selfishly and nervously hide our baggage. On the other hand, immature love tempts us to be blind to the other person’s baggage.

Dating to Divorce and How We Got There 01

Tale of Ricky and Lucy

After our honeymoon, our dialogue could have gone like this:

  • Lucy: What is that?
  • Ricky: What is what?
  • Lucy: What is that train with all those baggage cars in tow?
  • Ricky: That’s my baggage. I never told you about that. I thought that if you knew what a knucklehead I was, you wouldn’t want to marry me.

The Next Day

  • Ricky: What is that?
  • Lucy: What is what?
  • Ricky: There is a long train in our front yard. What is that?
  • Lucy: Oh yeah, that’s my baggage. I conveniently forgot to mention this when we were dating. You’re not the only one in this relationship with problems.

“For better or worse” means “for better or worse.” Unfortunately, there is a little hypocrisy in all of us, and the dating season is one of the most tempting times to disguise the gap between who we are and the person we present ourselves to be. It can be that artificial season where hypocrisy can survive. If the person you’re married to is nothing more than a silhouette of the person you were dating, you must begin by talking. If too much water is under the bridge, you must ask someone to help you get started. One of the things you’ll need to come to terms with is that your spouse has not changed much. You’ve only gotten to know him or her better.

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  1. The first step is acknowledging that you have changed too. How different are you from the person you were when you were dating your spouse?
  2. Next, you must guard against self-righteous judgments. Your spouse could be worse than you, but unkindness is not the means of repentance. How do you communicate the challenges in your relationship to your spouse?
  3. What are a few things you can change to become a better person while modeling the person you hope your spouse will become?
  4. Are you more apt to focus on how different your spouse is now while regretting any miscalculations from the past? Are you aware of how that focus can lead to disappointment, regret, and hopelessness?
  5. In what ways are you bringing your marriage to God and experiencing His help? In what ways are you enlisting the help of others?

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