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Just got back from visiting my ol’ stomping grounds in New Jersey where I spent the weekend with my parents and grandparents, just talking, eating and enjoying good company. And all this was done in the dark. Yep, that’s right. Even nearly two weeks after Hurricane Sandy unleashed her fury, the Garden State is still struggling to recover. And let me tell you: Living without power for that long will quickly make you appreciate the little things.

Like walking into a dark room and then transforming it with just the flip of a switch. Or turning on a faucet and seeing water actually pour out. Or pulling into a gas station on any day you choose, not just the days you’re allowed to based on the numbers on your license plate. Or just using the bathroom without strategically planning your “number twos” based on how much water is in the tank. Or not having to wake up at two o’clock in the morning to wander outside in your pajamas to fill the generator with gas. (Okay, fine. My dad did that part. But still…)

When you’re without electricity for a while, your mind tends to do a lot of thinking. There are no reality shows to turn your brain into mush, no hair dryers to block out the noise of everyday life, and no steaming hot baths to drown your worries in. Basically, it’s you, alone, with a candle, a flashlight and your thoughts. So I spent the time brain blogging.

Brain blogging [noun] \ˈbrān bläg-ing\ The act of composing web logs in one’s memory, usually practiced during periods of intermittent Internet access

The topic of said brain blog? Well, duh: dating. But it took me a while to get there. I started thinking about the little things that I appreciated so much only when I lost them due to the power outage — the electricity, the running water, the reliable gas station service. I thought about all the other things that used to cloud my view — television, tech gadgets, iPhone apps. The hustle and bustle of 2012 can really muddy the waters of life, making it easy to forget how good we have it.

And sitting there with my grandparents put things into perspective really quick. One night, under the glow of one generator-juiced light bulb in the kitchen, we chatted about the “olden days.” The days when my Slavic baba and dido (grandma and grandpa) lived in China and shared one outhouse (a hole in the ground) between ten families. When they heated their small house with a wood burning stove, only to wake up every day to burnt embers and a bitter cold house. When they trekked to the town well or the river to get buckets of water for cooking and washing. When there was no such thing as a power outage.

I think we’ve made dating way too complicated, particularly in the Christian dating scene. We’ve taken a simple thing and added unnecessary rules, pressures and expectations — making it something impossible to satisfy. And I think what we need is a massive power outage to bring us back to the basics.

I know too many people that enter dating with a mindset altogether too serious. They expect to gauge so much during the first date, ultimately hoping to know if the person sitting across from them is indeed their future spouse. They expect to hear from God, through a burning bush or a burning restaurant menu, that this person is or is not “the one.” And all this in a couple hours over an oriental chicken salad and a glass of white wine? Let’s get real!

Why does dating have to be so serious? When did it lose the fun factor?

Here’s a thought: What if we knocked out the power for a while and started to simplify the process of dating? (Note: I’m not suggesting dating in the dark, people. That was a terrible and short-lived reality show premise that really lowered the standards of humanity.) What I’m suggesting is filtering past all the things we’ve built up in our minds as to what dating actually is, and landing on something a bit easier.

Dating is not a magic litmus test to find a husband or wife.

Dating is not a feeler to gauge how many children your date wants in the future.

Dating is not a way to tell if he or she will make a good father or mother.

Dating is not a way to find out if someone is good in bed.

Dating is not a seminary course exam to test the theological prowess of your date.

Dating is not when you’ll find out if your date will be the spiritual leader of the family.

Phew! No wonder dating has become so complicated. We’re setting the expectation level right below “completely unrealistic” and right above “yeah right.” It’s a typical problem that I notice with Christian dating — going too deep too soon, and viewing “dating” the same as “relationships.” Because there is a huge difference between those two things, and not realizing that can unfortunately stop both of them from ever working for you.

So if all the topics listed above are off limits for at least the first date, if not the first five, then what’s left to explore?

The really shallow stuff.

Yep, I’m telling you to be shallow.

Forget the deep end, folks. Jump, cannonball style, into the shallow end and let the fun begin!

Shared interests. Favorite movies. Local hot spots. Interesting hobbies. Recent vacations. Current music playlists. Boring work stories. Embarrassing childhood memories. Stupid jokes. Mutual attraction. Sparks. Chemistry.

Because if you can’t relate on these basic levels, then who the heck cares if you both want two boys, one girl and a yellow Labrador named Minnie?

Start small. Start simple. Grab a lantern and meet during a power outage. It’s amazing what you’ll find out about your date in the dark. (With your clothes on, people! Get your minds out of the gutter.)

~Ruth