I think and talk a lot about dating and marriage. Being a single, 20-something woman, this shouldn’t be too surprising. I have a deep desire for these things to be done well, in my life and in others’ lives. Obviously, life is messy, we are messy, and “done well” is a process, a combination of talking, listening, prayer, self-sacrifice, and a hundred other things that I don’t even have the wisdom to name. Relationships in general – friend/friend, parent/child, sibling/sibling, boss/employee, etc. – are complex. Relationships between the sexes, from my perspective, could be one of the most complex things in the world. I am a child when it comes to them, and I am not going to pretend to know a lot. Nevertheless, I have had the privilege of observing for a great number of years, and am endlessly fascinated (and perplexed) on the subject. I love these statements from C.S. Lewis in his book, The Four Loves, about how men and women “see” one another:
They [women] laugh at us [men] a good deal. That is just as it should be. Where the sexes, having no real shared activities, can meet only in Affection and Eros – cannot be Friends – it is healthy that each should have a lively sense of the other’s absurdity. Indeed it is always healthy. No one ever really appreciated the other sex – just as no one really appreciates children or animals – without at times feeling them to be funny. For both sexes are. Humanity is tragi-comical; but the division into sexes enables each to see in the other the joke that often escapes it in itself – and the pathos too.
Don’t you love that? To me, it is so true. I speak, think, and act differently when I am in the company of men rather than with just women. Even if I’ve known the dudes for forever, it is different. This is inevitable. There is a kind of whimsical humor in the air when guys and gals hang out. And it’s because we’re different from one another. Because men are men and they are not women and women are women and they are not men. This may seem obvious, but we were made to be different and distinct from one another. And that is a really good and beautiful thing. But it also makes relating to one another a wee bit tricky.
No one has spoken more wisdom into my life about celebrating these distinctions – men embracing their masculinity and women embracing their femininity – than Elisabeth Elliot. The woman has spent literally decades speaking, writing, and answering letters about how men and women should relate to one another in such a way that will lead to the joy and good of each. She is qualified because she has lived it, and she has seen multitudes of others live it too. She even compiled these stories – her own in Passion and Purity, and others’ spanning the last two centuries in Quest For Love, which is precisely the book I would like to recommend to you now.
This little gem will blow your mind and all you ever thought about dating and “how to find the one”.
First of all, I need to clarify that Elisabeth is writing from the perspective that dating (a rather new practice, actually) only exists to help lead to one thing – marriage. In fact, she often suggests in her book that dating could actually be an unnecessary evil and that maybe we should, “obviate dating altogether”. You may be thinking, “Whoa whoa whoa. That’s crazy right? How are we supposed to get to know one another? I can’t marry someone I haven’t spent a good amount of time with!”. Yeah, I thought that way too. Until I read about 20 or so firsthand accounts of couples who seemed to barely know each other commit to marriages that lasted for a lifetime.
Elisabeth also includes real letters that men and women have sent her in the past – arguing with her, pleading with her, desperately seeking advice about what to do in X situation in regard to their love lives (or lack thereof). Her answers consistently align with a few simple principles about how to do our part as men or women in the quest for love – principles that may seem odd to our texting/sexting/keep it casual age, but have voluminous records of success that frankly cannot be argued with. Because these are real people.
There is no perfect way to do relationships, no perfect formula. Dating, courting, or not dating and not courting – all of them have worked or failed to work at some point. But we can begin, or begin again, with a sober mind that has the wisdom to seek counsel from those who have done it well.