By Christine Wagoner

Dating Lessons: Leave the Boxes Behind

A few months ago, I felt a nudging from the Lord to be more “open” in my life — to stop with the judgments of myself and of others and to be open to the possibilities that he would put before me. I’m a fairly Type A, driven, achiever-type person, and I don’t like to waste time. The idea of swimming around in different possibilities and not really knowing if it’s the “right place” or “right person” to be expending energy on is not super exciting to me. Perhaps this is why God wanted my attention.

I accepted the challenge from God and decided to apply this “open” mindset in the realm of dating. I signed up for an online dating service, and within a matter of weeks, God was lining up men to meet! This had never happened to me before.  All of a sudden I was having multiple first dates each week, and trying to keep the men’s stories straight so I didn’t embarrass myself.  I was in desperate need of a spreadsheet, and quickly wished there was an “app” for such situations.

I began to rely on my skills of getting into spiritual conversations in 60 minutes or less with these dates, trying to discern where these men were with Jesus, what their worldview was, and if they had the ability to carry on a deeper conversation.  This was no small task.

In the course of three months, I met 14 different men, went on 17 dates, and accumulated a lot of interesting stories, which would require sharing a great cup of coffee with you in order to tell! As I collected these stories and met these men, I began to see patterns emerge from these dates, one of which featured the ability (or lack thereof) to have a good conversation.

It seems that many of these men did not understand that having a conversation is like a game of ping-pong.  In ping-pong, I hit the ball to you, you hit the ball to me, and so forth. This is the way a good conversation happens, with dialogue going back and forth between two people.  Much to my dismay, most of these men did not know how to play conversational ping-pong. They were very happy to allow me to keep hitting the ball to them . . . over and over and over, while they made no effort to hit the ball back to me. This resulted in my dates asking very few questions of me, and therefore, not really learning much about me at all in the course of our time together.

I began to ask a question after an hour of this one-sided ping-pong match: “I’ve learned much about you in our time together. I’m wondering if you might have any questions for me, or anything you’d like to know before we leave?” Many of these dates had a similar answer for me: “Nope, I’m good!”

Really? Not one question to figure out more of who I am?

My favorite response was, “Nope, I’m good! You’re pretty, you go to church, and you like kids. What else is there to know?”

Oh dear. 

This man made all sorts of judgments about me because I am tall, blonde, and have a picture of my nieces on my profile. He was unaware that I deeply love my friends and family, and as a single woman have given much of my heart energy toward them. He didn’t know that I oversee ministry for the state of Indiana for InterVarsity. He had no idea about the passion I have for the work that I do.  He didn’t learn many other things that simple questions would have easily revealed.  I was frustrated by the lack of depth in conversation and the snap judgments he had made about me. He must have thought I fit very comfortably into the box he’d made for me. 

And then I wondered. Do I make snap judgments about people like he did? Do I judge without even realizing it?

I believe one of the reasons God wanted me to be “open” to him in this area was to show me how quickly I can judge others, putting them into the pre-labeled boxes I’ve created.  I can be judgmental about what people think and feel based upon simple observations I have made, and then I determine my judgment is true! So often I don’t know what they are thinking or what their motivations are; I’ve simply made assumptions. Many times these judgments I make do not match up with reality and are based on projecting my own thoughts and feelings on them. Oh, the need for forgiveness when this happens!

I believe there are big and small parts of us that want to be known by others. Many of the men I got to know on those first dates thought this was the most thoughtful conversation they had had in a long time, and they were very interested in going out again. All because I asked questions to get to know who they really were as a person. Do people not do this anymore? If not, is it because of technology, distractions, self-centeredness, or because no one has taught them to do so? 

This has made me conscious, again, of how much we in our culture long to be known by someone — and how we often lack the tools to develop authentic relationships. It has made me all the more vigilant to teach this next generation how to play good “ping-pong” — listening well and asking good questions, all in the effort to get to know a person beyond the box that we think they should fit into. This blesses people more than we can know; it is truly powerful for people to feel known and be truly understood by someone else.

We will reflect more of Christ’s love for others in deep ways, as we let go of judgments and discover more of who people really are. Although those 17 dates did not lead to a magical romance, God did  teach me a valuable lesson, and I continue to learn more as I keep being open to him and to those who come into my life.

About the Author

Christine Wagoner is an associate regional director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, where she directed their national women's leadership development program. She received her master of arts in counseling ministries from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Christine is married to Kurt and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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