My Adventures in Online Dating, the Conclusion: Mars & Venus

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“Welcome to my world.”

“Good job with the face.”

“You have a nice smile! *winky face*”

“Did you know that cows have best friends?”

These are some examples of the smooth ways I’ve tried to initiate conversation on Bumble. Each of them failed at least once. (Disclaimer: “good job with the face” and “nice smile” were the only ones that merited a response. I bet you can guess why the other ones didn’t.) Some of my more successful attempts have been a bit less interesting, like “You don’t have a bio, so what do I ask you?” or “Tell me about yourself!” Or even the typical “Hey!” Which apparently guys¬†don’t¬†want to respond to…but, hey (!) do guys even know what they want?

Not on Bumble they don’t!

And neither do I…?

Or maybe I actually, secretly¬†do¬†know what I want and that’s what makes online dating so difficult.

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I definitely didn’t want that.

After online dating for about two and a half months, I have gone on a grand total of¬†three dates.¬†I haven’t kept track of how many people I’ve matched with, but it hasn’t been an astronomical number. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting to be ambushed with men as soon as I logged on, but I have to admit, it’s been a little discouraging. One of my dates turned out to be an atheist. One now has a girlfriend. And another brushed me off after dangling the possibility of a second date. There are a few I haven’t even met but¬†kinda sorta really want to but can’t for reasons.

So yeah, it’s hard.

But it’S hard offline too. I realize that. The dating game is the same in the real world – you usually have to anticipate rejection, unless you want your self esteem kicked around. But after awhile, it sort of helps you grow a thicker skin, so you can continue to enter the dating pool with confidence.

In short (but not short, really), I’ve learned a lot about myself through online dating. I learned things that I really didn’t expect to learn, to be honest. When I joined the online dating scene, I thought I was simply going to be swiping left and right and going on cute, fun dates all the time, just to test the waters. But it’s actually been a rather emotional (and, dare I say, spiritual) journey for me these past few months.

I’ve never really been ~on~ the dating scene. I was an awkward-as-heck high school student who never had a boyfriend and asked her own date to prom. I wasn’t the victim of freshman frenzy in college. I’ve never really been the “chased-after” one. And that can do a number on your heart sometimes. You see everyone getting with everyone else and you wonder what’s wrong with you. (I’ve talked about this before, haven’t I? I’ll bury the dead horse now.) So to jump into the dating scene at this time in my life, when I’m still becoming the adult I’m meant to be instead of the teenager/juvenile I was, was like jumping into a cold lake, when I thought it was going to be like wading into a tropical seaside.

But life is never quite what we want it to be, is it?

So, before I get any more tangential, here’s a few things I’ve learned while surfing the web for a husband (not an overstatement):

1. 90% of men are really bad at online dating.¬†Ok, that’s not an official statistic, and it’s probably not accurate. But I feel like I’m weeding through a lot of roughs to find the diamonds. Here’s some reasons why they’re bad at it (let the meta-lists begin!):

  • Ya’ll don’t specify who you are in a group picture.¬†If all your pictures involve multiple people, I have no idea which one you are. And that makes a difference. Are you the one cuddling the puppy or holding the liter of beer? I need to know these things.
  • YA’LL POST PICTURES THAT INVOLVE YOUR EX (or multiple women.)¬†If there’s anything that’s super unattractive to me, it’s when guys on dating apps post pictures of themselves a) with their ex (or a woman who is draped over them for some other reason?) or b) multiple women who are apparently competing for who can wear the least amount of clothing, or bleach their hair the brightest. That’s a¬†huge¬†turnoff for girls who are looking for something real. Unless you’re not looking for something real, in which case…as you were. I’ll pray for you. (Only slightly kidding)
  • You don’t post anything about yourself.¬†Seriously, a bio goes a long way. I tend to swipe left on people who don’t have bios¬†because I’m not much of a risk-taker. I do understand that some people are on dating sites for much…different reasons than I am, so maybe a bio doesn’t matter much to some people.

2. I’m bad at online dating too!¬†Be you not afear’d, men. I am also terrible at online dating, as you’ll see by my awful conversation starters. I’ve done really jerk-y things, like unmatch with someone after a conversation (essentially “ghosting” them.)¬†I’ve gotten unnecessarily angry at people I’ve matched with. And¬†I’ve been hecka impatient.¬†That’s been my biggest pitfall so far. Even now, I’m beating myself up for something I texted one of my matches weeks ago.¬†What the heck possessed me to say that?¬†

3. It’s really overwhelming.¬†It can feel like online shopping at times…which is probably not how it’s supposed to be. (But if you think about it, IRL dating can be like shopping too…) It’s almost like that scene in¬†The Emperor’s New Groove¬†(I’m very cultured) when Kuzco is choosing from a row of women for one of them to be his wife. And then when you¬†do¬†swipe right on someone, you get hopeful that you’ll match. And sometimes you don’t. And that can be draining or discouraging. In the last week I’ve talked to only two people on Bumble, and both conversations were unfruitful. I matched with several guys, but those people let the conversation expire. And I keep thinking¬†why? What’s wrong with me?¬†(Wrong way to think about it, but I’ll get to that later.) It can do a number on your self-esteem.

All that to say, my journey on Bumble has been a journey of the soul. (Cue candles and ambient music.) It sounds canned, but it’s kind of true. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I learned that I get attached¬†really fast.¬†After matching with people, I sometimes imagine what our first date will be like, or what our first cute Instagram photo will look like. I imagine what it’s like to drive in a car with them, listening to their favorite music.¬†Audrey, that’s ridiculous. You haven’t even met them yet.¬†(Cue Michael Buble music.) I know it’s ridiculous. It’s¬†friggin’¬†ridiculous.

Which is why I think I’m going to call it quits on online dating.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but I don’t think I’m at a good spot in my life to be doing it. However, I’m really thankful that I made that decision to join a few months ago, because I don’t think I would have learned about who I am or what I want if I hadn’t. Here’s the way I see it: Online dating sites are for people who don’t know what they want. But I’ve realized that¬†I actually do know what I want,¬†which is kind of a weird thing for me to say, because I feel clueless half the time.

Secondly, no matter how hard I want to look ~authentic~ on dating sites, it’s almost impossible to be 100% real online. (Like I said, I went on a date with an atheist and didn’t realize he was an atheist based on his profile.) Sometimes I think the more we try to be authentic, the more fake we are. And yeah, I try¬†really hard¬†on dating sites. So it’s not doing me any favors to show that “me” to potential dates. You can fake it all you want, but just remember there’s no screen when you go on an IRL dates. It’s all you. And it’s exhausting to try to keep up an ~authentic~ facade.

I’ve made some good connections on Bumble. I still talk to some of the people I went on dates with. One has a girlfriend now (we figured out after one date that we weren’t super compatible, but are cool as friends) and is giving me advice on future romantic pursuits. I still talk to some of the people I¬†haven’t¬†gone on dates with, because hey, you never know.

So, in short (1440 words later), online dating is a great thing. But remember, you might not be ready, and you might learn the hard way that you’re not ready. Be patient with yourself and with all those left-swipers out there. Don’t take every rejection personally. Continue growing and cultivating who you are first and foremost.

And most importantly, be the realest you you can be.

What if when he sees me
I like him and he knows it?
What if he opens up a door
And I can’t close it?
What happens then?
If when he holds me
My heart is set in motion
I’m not prepared for that
I’m scared of breaking open
But still I can’t help from hoping
To find someone to talk to
Who likes the way I am
Someone who when he sees me
Wants to again

–¬†When He Sees Me, Sara Bareilles

a. w.

 

 

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It’s 2017 and I’m Still Wearing a Purity Ring. Here’s Why.

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I was 18 years old and working as a grocery store clerk. As I scanned an older couple’s groceries one evening, we exchanged some banter, as one does with near strangers. They were talking about how usually the wife does most of the shopping and making witty quips about it. The husband then looked me dead in the eye and asked:

“How about you? Do you do the grocery shopping for your hubby?”

The question startled me. But not as much as it could have. When you wear a silver ring on your left hand where a wedding ring would be, you get questions like that. I got them at 18, and I get them at 21.

“Are you married?” is a question I’m not unfamiliar with hearing. After that comes the awkward clarification that I’m not married. Sometimes I just stop there and avoid the further awkwardness of explaining what that ring is. Because then I’d have to talk about…sex.¬†

Well, I’d have to talk about it implicitly. I’d have to say, “It’s a purity ring.” And then you see it behind their eyes.

Oh. She’s one of¬†those¬†people.

I went to a Christian school growing up, so abstinence was in our curriculum. In eighth grade, twenty-five sweaty and slightly hormonal eighth graders gathered weekly to listen to a woman talk about the dangers of premarital sex (a bit more tactful than the Mean Girls coach, I might add.) Eighth graders tend to giggle at the s-word. (Not to mention all the other words that go along with it.)

After those uncomfortable four weeks, I made the purity pledge (I still have the ATM – “Abstinence Til Marriage” – card in my wallet. Judge me and judge me hard) and then after eighth-grade graduation, went to a Christian bookstore and got a small silver ring to wear on my left hand. It has three words on it. “Love. Purity. Trust.”

Fast forward to today. I’m typing this and it’s still on my finger. I haven’t taken it off much since then. It peeks up in many of my Facebook photos, has made a handy prop for a few plays and musicals, and has been the subject of many questions and comments over the years.

You might say it’s become a part of me.

And that was the norm for Christian school kids. Many of my friends had or still have purity rings. I thought the¬†Silver Ring Thing¬†was a thing of the past, until I Googled it before writing this to find it’s still in fact…a thing. Their mission statement says: “SRT defies the meet-up, hook-up, break-up mindset of today and inspires students to a pure life centered in Jesus Christ.” And that’s great. I’m glad that it’s still around.¬†

But is it still…relevant?

It was when the Jonas Brothers wore them. But now they¬†don’t. Because it’s not cool anymore. (Or they’re married. But I’m talking mainly about Nick here. You know, the one who used to be the cute and innocent one.)

Purity rings became a Christian norm in the 1990s, when millions of Christian teens were taking purity pledges, only to (fairly quickly) break them.

Teens and sex go together – it’s always been like that. It’s hard to tell a teenager “no, don’t touch that, wait for something better.” Teens want everything¬†now.¬†Which is why teens have sex. Which is why adults tell teens¬†not¬†to have sex. Which is why the purity movement seemed repressive to some, and many adults are now¬†coming out¬†about their experience with the purity movement – that it was forced upon them by their church groups, that they were made to believe sex was inherently bad, that it prevented them from having a healthy sexual awakening or full knowledge of their desire for intimacy. You name it. The purity movement messed them up, apparently.

But for me, it’s not a fad. And it’s certainly not repressive.

That’s not what it’s about. At least not for me. And maybe we as Christians are just getting the whole sex narrative wrong.

See, I don’t see my purity ring as a ball and chain, enslaving me to some doctrine or ideology of “do” and “do not.” It doesn’t make me fear sex or intimacy, or feel guilty for having impure thoughts or looking at things I shouldn’t. I intend to wear it until it is possibly replaced with a wedding ring, and even then, wearing it still.

Because above all else, it’s a reminder.

There are so many allusions in the Bible to Christ being a¬†bridegroom. Can you grasp how intimate of an image that is? God chose this language – the most intimate relationship a person can have – to describe the relationship of His son to us. Because His love is unconditional and intimate. It penetrates our hearts and permeates every square inch of who we are. ¬†And if you think that’s explicit language, read Song of Songs. (Guess what? Song of Songs isn’t just about sexy time between a king and his bride. Guess¬†Who¬†else it’s about.)

Also, in modern translations of the Bible, a euphemism for sex is “knowing” someone, particularly in the KJV. In the time that version was written, that was a common way of politely saying “they did the nasty.” But isn’t that an accurate way of talking about sex? It’s not just your body. It’s your mind and your soul merging with another person. You¬†know¬†them as no one else knows them. And Christ knows you even beyond that.

Our culture tends to focus on the carnal aspect of sex, which is degrading to both sex itself and the humans who do it. Sex in its carnal form isn’t the point of human sexuality. That’s for the animals. We were given senses and souls to “know” sex in a much different way. With strings attached, if you will.

Let me put it this way: When a buck and a deer, well…come together, the deer doesn’t have to worry if the buck is going to call the next day. The deer doesn’t have romantic feelings toward the buck. She doesn’t have to worry if she took her birth control or if she ruined her possible future relationship with her future buck husband.

She’s meant to have sex and make babies. No strings attached.

And people are too, but not in the sense that animals are. Our sexuality goes far beyond that of carnal animals. Ours is rooted in love, not necessity or instinct. Hence the Christ-bridegroom allusion. If our sexuality was meant to be casual and carnal, that allusion would fall apart and cease to have meaning. But because of the importance the Bible puts on marital sex, it infuses that beautiful allegory in all its fullness. Rules can be good, y’know.

Animals weren’t designed for intimacy – just for sex. Humans were designed for both. Human sex is more than just making babies.

(And that’s why R&B was invented.)

All that to say, that’s why I still wear a purity ring. I haven’t given up on the notion that we are more than animals, and that we are infinitely loved by a Man who wants us to live in His image. He loves us as a groom loves his bride. How amazing is that? No other religions can claim to have the same allusion.

I wear a purity ring to remind myself that, before anything or anyone else, I am infinitely Loved.

a. w.

 

My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 2: If You’re a Christian, Swipe Right

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Give me a little time and, take all my money, take all my money

You’ll come around and someday, I’ll be the one you love.

–¬†“Broke,”¬†Bear Attack

Hey!

According to most men on dating apps, that’s not how you should begin a conversation with them. But I think I can say hey to all y’all, instead of thinking of a witty pickup line. (I mean, what do they want other than ‘hey’? A deep question about systematic theology? Very confused.)

But I’ll get to “what men want” in another post. What do¬†Christians¬†want?

In other words – should Christians use dating apps?

Well, my obvious answer is probably “yes,” since I’m currently using one myself. BUT like most topics, different people have different opinions about it.

The Bible isn’t cut-and-dry about dating apps…obviously. We all know Hosea didn’t have an awful marriage because he accidentally swiped right. Ruth didn’t get Boaz’s attention with…well…~pics.~

And then there’s Song of Songs.

BUT ANYWAY

Dating is different now than it was in Biblical contexts. It’s more different than¬†it ever has been before.¬†Until the later part of the 19th Century, most women were still given away by their fathers and/or the patriarch of their family – sometimes to someone they’d never met. ~Love~ really didn’t come into play all that much. It was more mutuality or convenience that drove most courtships and marriages. (Not always…I mean, we’ve¬†all¬†read Jane Austen. I hope.)

What I’m trying to say is, the dating game has changed. But the name of the game is the same. (Lame.)

So has¬†Christian¬†dating. There was that whole¬†courtship¬†phase we all collectively went through in the 90s, until that was overruled by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Courtship is a bit stressful, with a little bit too much commitment far too soon. (It was so bad that the guy who wrote the book apologized.) And we have our ideal, “celebrity” Christian couples, like the Duggars or the Robertsons, who we then found out each have their own fair share of problems just like the rest of us.

So now what? Now what phase are we in? If we’re not being given away, or being courted, what are we doing?

Are we being swiped? 

Well, in a word, yes.

The game has changed, and I don’t think we need to sit idly by and let it change without us. Of course there’s dangers to online dating, but there’s dangers to¬†live¬†dating too. And I’m not even saying you have to limit yourself to an exclusively Christian dating website. Put yourself out there.

So that’s kind of my answer. Yes. Of course a Christian can date online. But, like all aspects of living in a fallen world…you have to be careful.

Actually, I would¬†encourage¬†Christians to date online. The great thing about dating online is you’re spreading your net further than if you simply mingled among your work, school, or church friends. (Because to be honest, sometimes the pickings are slim. Especially at church. Everyone’s already married. Or maybe you go to an old person church.)

So yeah, definitely set up an account on a site you deem appropriate and go on dates.

But here’s the “no-duh:”¬†only if you actually want to.¬†

If your female relatives keep asking you why you’re still single, that’s not a good enough reason. If your guy friends are telling you about their amazing wives, that’s not a good enough reason. If you’re just plain lonely and want someone around, that’s not a good enough reason.

The church definitely puts undue pressure on single Christians to get married. (You can’t graduate from your 20-something small group into a couples group until you do.)¬†So if you’re seeking a partner just because you feel like you have to (or your grandma keeps asking) don’t do it.¬†That goes for both offline and online dating. Just don’t do it. Wait til¬†you¬†are ready.

And only you can know if you’re ready.

That took a much more serious tone than I meant it to. But the song remains the same: I invite my young, single Christian friends to check out the online dating scene. I’ve had more interesting conversations on these dates than I normally have. And I’ve met other Christians who have different opinions than me (gasp.) So even if you don’t find your soulmate, you’ll probably meet some pretty darn cool people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

One last thing before I let you go. When entering the dating scene, whether it’s for the first time or after your last-breakup, remember this (another no-duh clincher:)¬†If you like someone, don’t change your convictions for them.¬†This can come into play¬†especially¬†in online dating. You see a cute guy’s profile and see what he’s interested in, and you might be tempted to, well, change. Maybe he smokes marijuana, and you’re not comfortable with that. Maybe he doesn’t mind sex before marriage. Maybe he has vastly different political opinions – or even some opinions about the Bible that you disagree with.¬†Even if he (or she) is a Christian, that does not give you a free pass to change who you are in order for them to like you “more.”¬†Seriously. It’s super easy to do online. I’ve¬†definitely¬†done it a few times.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, go on dates. Talk to people. Swipe left. Swipe right. Remember what you believe and why you believe it. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. God has something better in mind for you.

Now you kiddos go have fun.

a. w.

 

 

My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 1: Initiation

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So here’s a surprise: I’m¬†single. Very¬†single. I kinda write about it a lot. But the good thing is, I’ve sort of come to terms with my singleness in the past year-ish. After only going on a handful of dates in my lifetime and having had a few ~serious~ crushes, I’m pretty comfortable with being a smart, sassy, single girl.

I’m at the point where I don’t¬†need¬†a boyfriend, but I’d¬†like¬†a boyfriend.

Or, at least, I’d like to meet people. Talk. Get to know people. Go out. Have a good time.

If you’ve met me, you know that I’m¬†abismal¬†at meeting new people. And that’s not a stretch.¬†That’s the truth.¬†My go-to method of flirting is staring at someone attractive across the room until ~maybe~ they notice me (this has only worked once.) If I actually get the guts to talk to someone, my conversation is either bland and uninteresting or WOAH CALM DOWN AUDREY DON’T HIT THEM WITH ALL YOUR WEIRD AT ONCE.

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m my own worst critic. Which is why I’m bad at meeting people.

A few months ago after some emotional setbacks, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was going to dive into the world of online dating.

That phrase has a lot of weight behind it – and a lot of stigma. Swiping left and right and pictures of things you’d rather not see. And Tinder. Lots of Tinder. (I didn’t use Tinder but we’ll get to that later.)

“Audrey, you must be super ~desperate~ if you’ve turned to online dating,” you might say.

And you’re probably right. But it’s mostly because¬†I’m so awful at freaking meeting people.¬†A lot of people have told me it’s hard to meet people after college. Well I’m almost done with college, and even¬†in¬†college I haven’t had much luck either. So…online dating.

I actually have been staunchly against the idea for awhile. Why would I meet someone online when I’m CERTAIN that God is gonna whisk a dude my way in the most romantic way possible?

Concept: Garden party. I’m relaxing under a tree, wearing a breezy dress that perfectly matches my skin tone, sipping ros√©. Sara Bareilles is probably playing in the background. I turn to the stairs leading up to the patio and there he is – MY DREAM MAN. He floats over to my shady perch and joins me. His shirt is probably a little bit unbuttoned and he might look like Colin Firth. The rest is history.

Ha. Ha. Ha. (I’m not gonna pretend I haven’t fantasized it happening that way.)

But the thing is, I can’t just sit around and wait for something to happen to me. That’s not how things¬†happen.¬†It’s a little give and a little take, if ya know what I mean. (I don’t even know what I mean at this point.)

But then I listened to this great¬†podcast¬†where a woman was talking about how millennials date, and the way she talked about dating sites made it seem a bit more legit than I’ve heard them talked about before. (One of my friends met his (ex)-girlfriend on Tinder and told everyone they met at Chipotle. Like I said…stigma.)

So I decided to embark on a quest. I was going to find love via the Internet. That sounds like a horrible tagline for a movie.

But guess what? You’re about to get a free ticket.

So the two dating apps I decided to use, in chronological order, were the following:

Coffee Meets Bagel: This is a free phone app (I’m not paying for a subscription…I’m not¬†that¬†desperate) that matches you based on mutual liking, which I found out is pretty typical for dating apps. You put up some pictures, write some stuff about yourself, and you’re off. Then you head over to “Discover” to look at potential match profiles (a weird caveat is their names aren’t given until you’re matched…so I can’t Facebook stalk them at all and that’s frustrating.)

  • Pros: It’s free; it doesn’t overwhelm you with choices; it allows you to filter through categories like religious affiliation, age, height (yeah that’s a serious subject), and distance; ladies get the final choice on whether or not you match
  • Cons: If you want a subscription it’s 34 FRICKIN DOLLARS A MONTH (money can’t buy me love…but a free app can?) and there are lots of features that require a subscription. You also have a certain number of points (called “beans,” like coffee beans, hahahaha) that you can spend on liking profiles. They’re pretty easy to earn, but if you want more, you have to PAY MORE FRICKIN MONEY. The Beatles were right. Also, I’ve had instances of 30- and 40- year olds liking my profile, and that weirded me out a little bit. This cradle is not getting robbed.
  • Result:¬†I’ve gone on¬†one date¬†as a result of¬†Coffee Meets Bagel. We found out that we were waaaaay too different, so no second date. As of a week ago, I’ve deleted the app off my phone. I’d rather focus my energy on one app.

Bumble: Bumble is popular because the lady initiates contact first (which can be stressful – will explain later) after the match is made – or after you both “swipe right” on each other’s profiles. Then you have 24 hours to initiate contact, but your chat never expires, which is kinda nice. It’s like a safe Tinder. Safe being a relative term. Bumble has also branched out to helping people find friends or simply helping them network. They recently opened up an¬†IRL place for dates to meet.¬†¬†I was introduced to this app after seeing countless ads for it on Instagram (I’m the gullible demographic they’re looking for). So I decided to give it a shot.

  • Pros: You have a lot of time to chat with each other (which I like, because I need a while to get to know someone before outright asking em out); there’s a “report” feature in case you find a shady character; you can make a fun lil bio for yourself (highly encouraged – I’ll talk about that later); you can filter who you see age and location wise.
  • Cons: It can be a bit overwhelming, almost like online shopping, so it’s probably good to use in moderation. You’ll run into a lot more shady characters here than on CMB. Sometimes people don’t utilize the bio portion, so you have ~no idea~ who they are. And if you’re like me, going from zero prospects to several prospects is a bit harrowing.

Not to mention. I’m bad at starting conversations on the Internet. Case in point:

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This was an actual message I sent to an actual person I was matched with. He never responded, and less than 24 hours later, his account was mysteriously deleted.

I really know how to reel em in.

On the other hand, as a result of being on Bumble, I’ve been on¬†two dates¬†with two different people, and one of them have merited a second get-together.

This post has gotten a bit long-winded, so I can’t talk about¬†everything¬†I’ve learned so far. But I can tell you that this will become a ~blog series~ (I’m so professional) including topics like:

  • Can Christians date online?
  • What Men Shouldn’t Do on Dating Apps (from a Female Perspective…you could call it womansplaining if you’d prefer)
  • General Advice on Online Dating: An Introvert’s Perspective
  • How to Talk to Strangers
  • Smooth-as-Heck Pickup Lines

One of those will NOT be a blog post. Guess which one. (Hint: It’s the last one.)

So, until next time, may all your swipes be right and all your chats be longer than 24 hours. If that wasn’t the most millennial signoff ever, I don’t know what is. Stay tuned, friends. It only gets better from here.

a. w.

In Defense of Private School Education

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“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” –¬†Proverbs 22:6¬†(NIV)

We are all shaped by our experiences. That’s nothing new in the handbook of life. You kind of get a sense of that even at a young age and usually don’t even know it until you’re older. On your first day of school, you sit down and have lunch with the other kindergartners and find out that not¬†every¬†kid in the world eats peanut butter and jelly for lunch – but you have almost every day for most of your life so far. Some kids can’t even¬†eat¬†peanut butter (gasp.) When you get a little older in elementary school, you find out that not everyone has brothers and sisters, or even a father and mother. Wait…not everyone has a dog?!

So you get a little older and you’re in middle school. You start to learn more about the world, and decide for yourself what it is you believe in. Then you find out that some people don’t believe the same things you do. You’re thirteen years old, in the school band, have braces, and come home to a family every night. There are other thirteen year olds who go home to fighting parents, who skip school regularly, who don’t believe in anything. They might go to your school, they might live in your neighborhood, they might ride your bus. They’re in their own worlds, worlds that collide in public.

Some people might call this a “bubble.” Actually, a lot of people would call this a bubble. A bubble might be called the sheltered, exclusive environment that you are raised in with its own unique set of characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of the world. That’s a narrow definition. You won’t find it in Merriam Webster, but kids these days know what’s up. But I still think that definition is too narrow.

You grow up in a bubble, essentially. Your home is a bubble, wherever your home is. When you go to school, you enter into your school bubble. You also might have a church bubble, or a camp bubble, or friendship/relationship bubble. Exclusive bubbles.

People like to throw this term around in higher ed, though, more often than not. The College Bubble. Just imagine Stephen King’s¬†dome¬†but it’s around your college, and everything that goes on inside it is exclusive to your college. If you think about it, your life is a series of bubbles that you traverse through as you transition from one place to another.

There’s also the “Christian bubble.” The impenetrable Jericho-style barrier between being in the world and of the world. At least, that’s how some people see it. The fine line between legalistic, conservative “mama-raised-me-right” living and “the outside world” of secular community and sin.

Others see it as a membrane, where select individuals can travel in and out, but there’s still always outliers. In my opinion, it’s neither of these extremes, but we’ll get to that later.

Then why is being in a “bubble” a bad thing?

The title of this post involves school, so I might as well focus on school – private school, in particular. First things first: I honestly don’t care how you feel about private school. I want you to hear me out. I have my own biases about private school, and you might have some that are different than mine. That’s fine. But hear me out, and then maybe we can find some common ground. People like to think they’re radically different from one another, but really, we’re fundamentally the same, and sometimes go our entire lives without realizing that.

I grew up in private school. If you’re thinking white, suburban, Christian, and sheltered, you’re absolutely right. That was my upbringing. I don’t know why those words have gotten bad connotations. I didn’t feel suffocated. My suburban upbringing wasn’t just a glossy, gilded exterior with a nightmare underneath. Of course we had our troubles, but it wasn’t¬†American Beauty.¬†It was pretty happy and normal, “happy” and “normal” being relative terms, here. I can’t believe I’m even trying to defend myself here, because I can hear some of you through the screen saying, “Audrey, my upbringing was a living¬†hell¬†so you have no right to this and that and the other thing. You don’t know what life is actually like.”

I don’t know what¬†your¬†life is like, that’s true. Nobody does. I don’t pretend to know. But hear me out.

I am the product of private Christian schooling. And it was great. I was exposed to Christianity at a young age and was blessed enough to accept Jesus into my heart while in my single digits. I have two hardworking parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brother to go to Christian school, and I am never going to take that for granted. They both forged their own faiths for themselves, having both grown up in relatively turbulent and godless homes. They wanted better for their children, and they gave it to us.

Therein lies my first point. I think some people go off about private school without taking into account the sacrifices made on their behalf. “But kids should be able to decide for themselves!” some may say. Okay, then sit down with your four year old and ask her if she wants to go to Christian school or public school. She probably doesn’t even know what those words mean yet.

My parents worked hard to make sure my brother and I got a Christian education (which is a lot of money, if you didn’t know that already.) Looking back, I feel horrible about the times I’d come home from school complaining. I was complaining to my parents after they’d had a long day getting the paycheck that funded my education. They never mentioned it or used it to guilt me, but looking back, I realize it now and it hurts to know that I did that.

Also, do you know how much Christian school educators get paid? Not much. Not much at all. But they show up every day because they believe in it. All teachers do.

I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better because I went to private school. I’m not. But I’m not less, either. My opinion isn’t any less valid because of my upbringing, because I went to a school that believed in something that’s radically different than what the rest of the world believes.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with some of my college friends who also went to private school. It seemed as though they didn’t have anything good to say about them. It seems like no one has anything good to say about private school these days, given¬†recent events¬†and the concerns regarding the¬†current administration. I won’t get political here, but I don’t think either of these things discredit private schooling.

“I’m not going to raise my kids as Christians,” one of my friends said. “I’m going to let them decide for themselves.”

“I don’t think private school gives kids enough opportunity,” another one said, “like with the arts and stuff like that. And it doesn’t give them enough opportunity to talk to people who are different than they are.”

“There’s really no difference between public school and private school. Kids are just as bad in private school.”

“I just think it’s a bubble.”

Allow me to assert the radical notion that¬†if we are Christians, it is our obligation to raise our children as Christian.¬†I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you send your kids to public school (I’m not a parent at all so there are a lot of things I don’t understand.)

I’m just asking you to give private school a chance. Work through the biases you might have about it, try to understand where those biases come from. Was it one private school kid you knew a long time ago? Was it one headline you saw in the news? Was it one bad experience you had at your own private school?

I understand that private school is a privilege that not all people can afford. But if you think about it, education is priceless, no matter where you get it from. That might be kind of a canned phrase, but it’s true. It’s a privilege to live in the US and get an education here. We should never lose sight of that. It just so happens that the government pays for some school more than others, because the people who formed this country a long time ago thought that was a good idea. And it was, and it is.

If you went to a private school and hated it, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t mean that private school is fundamentally bad or not worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that private school is a “bubble,” at least not anymore than a public school or a church or a home is. It’s not a crutch, it’s not a handicap. It’s a school.

All education is worth it, and I would encourage you to see private school and public school as two sides of the same coin, not two unequal coins.

Whatever education you’ve had or are getting, don’t take it for granted.

That’s all I got for now, kids.

Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across¬†this¬†on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes!¬†I’ve written almost¬†the same thing¬†in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full¬†Atlantic¬†article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band¬†Jimmy Eat World¬†says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives.¬†

If you’ve ever watched¬†The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play¬†Our Town¬†by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and¬†not¬†being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone:¬†don’t¬†feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone¬†is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I¬†am¬†saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots.¬†College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area.¬†It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally¬†wasn’t¬†anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective.¬†Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.