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Dating Is a Cesspool, and Other Lessons I'm Learning

There is nothing wrong with you!

man and woman

Dear Single Ladies,

There is nothing wrong with you!

Every Wednesday leading up to that Holiday-Beginning-With-A-V-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named -- inspirational, hilarious, and ridiculously-relatable Christian Post contributor Joy Beth Smith is offering a fresh perspective on flying solo, in a 5-part series, based on her upcoming book Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness (available for pre-order now, and wherever books are sold on Feb. 6). This week... Dating Is a Cesspool, and Other Lessons I'm Learning.

"The purpose of dating is marriage." I remember sitting at a conference and hearing the youth pastor, with thickly gelled hair and fervor in his eyes, say this. Heads nodded along, offering up their own silent amens. These affirmations only spurred him on: "And I don't understand why our young people are dating folks that they can't see themselves marrying. If you know that you want to head to the altar, you don't take a detour. You take the most direct route, and that means pursuing godly girls and godly guys who you can picture the rest of your life with."

I was hanging onto every word he said. After all, it sounds good, right? If there's a shortcut, you take it. If the purpose of dating is marriage, you only date people you can see yourself marrying. There's a lot that makes sense here, but the practical application of this philosophy has left me (and other wonderful, beautiful women like me) painfully single for the last two decades.

The problem isn't so much the concept of dating with purpose; the problem is the way this relatively sensible idea has resulted in fear and a tendency to hold people of the opposite sex at arm's length. We expect to be able to judge whether or not someone has Quality Spouse Potential based on surface interactions, because we're so scared of getting close, of "wasting" time and effort in investing in a relationship that then doesn't work out once we realize that candidate is no longer in the running. But this method is self-defeating. We're now putting only our best foot forward, concealing all flaws and weaknesses in order to appear supremely marriageable. No one is being themselves; we're all guessing at who will actually make for a good mate, and then we pray it all works out in the end.

Whenever I meet a guy who's about my age and we strike up a conversation (usually as I'm signing the receipt for the sub he's delivering to my apartment), I attempt to turn off the scanners that are constantly running through my mind. Despite my best efforts, by the end of the conversation I've determined that while Logan has a great smile and is amiable enough, he's a bit short, doesn't share my sense of humor, and could never support a family on a delivery boy's pay.

How could I possibly know what Logan's true Spouse Potential is after such a brief interaction? I couldn't. But I act as though I can, and that's what's so dangerous. Remaining aloof until someone pledges undying love may be wise, but it's also a little cowardly. As much as I can pray for a guy with financial stability, spiritual thirst, confidence, and a desire to adopt, I can only hope there's a man praying for a girl from a broken home with a bum knee and mild social anxiety, because at times, those seem like my selling points. At the end of the day, I have to question whether my list helps me find a husband or is actually keeping me from one.

In my own experience, being guarded removes any need for self-reflection. I've recently thrown myself deep into the dating waters. While I'm a bit disappointed that I've been on a series of dates without even an offer of a second date, I know that I wouldn't have met a handful of those guys for breakfast again, no matter how delicious the pancakes were.

But for a few of the others, their disinterest does cause me to pause, to ask tough questions about myself, my communication style, and my expectations. Though I haven't come to any strong conclusions, the process of questioning has been very beneficial for me. If I had continued to only embrace courtship, I never would have been forced into such uncomfortable, but ultimately profitable, self-examination. Because sometimes it's not them—it's me.

Joy Beth Smith (@JBsTwoCents) is the author of Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness (Thomas Nelson, February 2018). She is a managing editor with Christianity Today and winner of the Evangelical Press Association's Higher Goals in Christian Journalism Award. For more information, a free chapter download, and LOL-worthy memes, visit

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