When I was 16 years old, I read this horrible book called Undateable.
Undateable was a book written by a Christian couple who (I think) essentially wanted young women to know what kinds of men they should be dating. But it was also a guide as to how, as a young woman, to not be undateable.
Here was my main takeaway point from this charming book:
“If you want boys to like you, make sure you are a certain type of girl. Be carefree, be coy, be really, really, really hard to get, and above all make them want you like crazy by fitting into this box of manic pixie dream girl. Be a certain way. Act a certain way. And make sure your relationships all follow this linear, step-by-step process and also fit into a box, because if they don’t you have clearly lost your way and messed up and now need to break up and ask God for forgiveness. Also, you are not special.”
Undateable, along with countless other books, articles, friends, and lectures, taught me one very fundamental thing about dating relationships: they are about control.
Not control like aggressive control, but control as in, “It’s up to you and you alone to make sure your relationships look a certain way and play out a certain way. And if they’re not playing out a certain way, you’re doing it wrong and your relationship is bound for failure.”
Let’s take a brief look at some of the ways in which dating people should be practicing control, according to certain sources:
- You need to make sure they have A, B, and C value in place or else they aren’t worth it.
- You must never, ever, ever cross any sort of physical boundary line. Control yourself, and make sure he’s controlling himself. Any tiny crossing of this line is indicative of your character and the shady direction this relationship will now be going.
- You must make sure your story plays out in this order: acquaintances, friends, boyfriend and girlfriend, engaged, married. No breakups, no uncertainty, no room for non-linear stuff.
- You need to feel this way, think these things, and act this way in order to be in a healthy, positive relationship other people will approve of.
For a long time, I really thought that if I could follow these rules, my relationships were destined for success and I could always feel good about them. And if I ever did do something or think something that didn’t seem to line up with how it “should be,” I carried around a great deal of guilt, wondering why I couldn’t seem to get this right.
I wanted my relationships to fit into this neat, tidy box. I wanted to fit into this neat, tidy box.
But that’s far from how relationships actually work.
Despite my best efforts and overall very well-developed maturity and super excellent life choices, I have been unable to make any of my relationships go exactly how I thought they “should” go.
And believe me, I’ve tried.
In fact, I tried so hard that I overwhelmed myself with worry, so afraid of taking any kind of misstep or suddenly finding myself in a scenario that didn’t line up exactly with how everyone else was telling me things “should” be.
When you’re trying this hard to control how everything goes, all you’re really doing is preventing yourself from actually enjoying what’s right in front of you.
For me, I have often spent relationships and singleness operating from a place of fear rather than wonder and flexibility. And not only has this taken away from my enjoyment of a perfectly good relationship, it’s also fed my resentment and confusion when something didn’t go right or the relationship ended.
Is it important to have certain values and standards that are non-negotiable within a relationship? Absolutely! But what I have to be okay with is that I cannot force my relationships to fit into a box. If I’m in a strong, healthy, God-focused relationship and we have a mutual goal we are working towards, ultimately the details of how that all plays out is really just up for grabs (despite what “experts” may tell you).