Above photo by Monica Defendi https://monicadefendiphotography.pixieset.com/
Am I a dating a success? If you count getting to know and falling in love with my now husband, then I guess our dating was successful. But if you count dating as grand Hollywood-inspired gestures, exotic locations or romantic moments, then my relationship never fit these criteria of success.
There are three things to know about dating. The first is that it can be both wonderful and a terrifying time as you get to know each other deeply and vulnerably. The second thing to know about dating is that it is ultimately about marriage. A successful dating relationship is one where you know for sure whether you want to, or really shouldn’t spend the rest of your life with the other. But the third thing everyone should know about dating is that it never goes one hundred percent to plan. Not once. Not ever.
On the 27th of January this year I married the love of my life. The journey to that point has always been unexpected. The following are five dates that even as they never quite showed us to be the cool and collected romantic leads of our own story nonetheless were five important milestones on the road to marriage.
The first “date” wasn’t really a date, it wasn’t intentional, it wasn’t private, and it wasn’t romantic; or at least I tried really hard for it to not seem that way. I wanted to go canoeing with some friends. I invited Daniel along too. Just casually, along with other girl and guy friends, in a group message (several times rewritten to ensure it didn’t seem like I was keen). Looking back I can see that I was starting to develop feelings for Daniel but I wasn’t in a dating headspace, and was pushing those feelings to the side. God had different plans.
Every other male I invited couldn’t make it and it ended up being just three of my closest girlfriends and Daniel. Of course the girls wanted to paddle together, which left Daniel and I in a boat together. I was quietly thrilled about this, but played it cool. My playing it cool continued as I showed off my canoeing skill. After dropping into conversation my years of paddling experience, I tasted the bitter fruit of pride as I wedged our canoe on a log. At Daniel’s suggestion, I (a little too enthusiastically) scooted up his end of the boat, which flipped the canoe, toppled us both into the water, and pinned Daniel between the boat and the log. A bit of teamwork, a few hours of damp paddling, and a dry change of clothes later we’d got to know each other pretty well.
There’s nothing that quite breaks the ice, like plunging into icy cold water. It also helped to dilute the cool persona I was trying to put across and the emotional distance I was trying to keep. The thing is, that all of us put on a persona or mask when we are around people we want to impress. This isn’t always a bad thing; no one wants to be one hundred per cent vulnerable with a near stranger. But in the end you can’t have much fun if you’re not being yourself.
We all have our dating rules, and I’m no different. In terms of a guy asking a girl out, I theoretically had three rules. First, he has to make is clear it’s a date. Second, it has to be in person. And third, it can’t be to the cinema. Movies are lame dates.
After what seemed like an eternity (maybe a month) of seeing each other around, texting, and catching up, Daniel finally asked me out on a date, by text message, to the movies. I was torn. But I was pretty keen, one out of three isn’t bad I thought, and began mentally preparing myself for an awkward movie date. My housemates intervened however, stealing my phone until I agreed to tellhim. After much cajoling I finally texted back. I didn’t want to go to the movies. I’d love to go on a date I said, but I don’t like movies, surprise me with literally any other date.
The date he came up with was the first of many wonderful and romantic dates, and the only ever organised by text. I’m glad my housemates encouraged me to be myself and speak my mind. It meant that honest conversations even if they were uncomfortable to have formed a solid foundation for a relationship to blossom.
It was our first Valentine’s date, I know what you’re thinking; candlelight dinner, flowers and chocolates, picnic by the river. That’s at least what Daniel’s parents had in mind. Daniel as it turns out is the oldest of ten children, the youngest being only two. Before Daniel could get any Valentine’s plans off the ground, his Dad had gotten in first. So Daniel asked if I would mind babysitting with him for a couple of hours with him on Valentine’s Day.
I’m pretty sure Daniel regretted agreeing to babysit. In fact I can pin point the exact moment the regret kicked in. It was the moment his siblings realised they could do whatever they liked because Daniel wasn’t going to get angry in front of the girl he was trying to impress. And so we sat on the back patio as six kids on razor scooters circled round and round in circles firing nerf gun bullets at Daniel. Needless to say he was pretty relieved when his parents got back from dinner and we could head off for a picnic dinner for just us.
Enjoying each other’s company and getting to know one another are important parts of dating. But being invited to spend time with someone’s family, allows you to get to know who they were growing up and how they’ve experienced love. The picnic together was lovely but I have to admit my highlight was seeing Daniel teased mercilessly by his siblings.
After some time of Daniel taking me out on dates, I thought it was about time I took him out on a date. So we made a date and time and I started planning. One idea caught my attention, “A picnic in a mystery location.” Perfect I thought, we both love adventure, I love being spontaneous and it didn’t need any planning. Why not make it a date? What could possibly go wrong?
So we picked a location at random and started driving. What a winner, I thought. The location couldn’t have been more perfect; there we sat on a sand dune, full moon over head glistening down on to the calm water with moored sail boats bobby gently.
As we gazed out at the water we noticed in our peripheral vision that someone was climbing up our sand dune. My first thought was that we were about to be mugged. As it turned out it was a drunk New Zealander who wanted someone to talk to. A friend of his had recently died and we spent the most part of an hour listening to him talk about his friend and what had happened.
It was a valuable lesson to me. When the guy started talking, I was trying to think how we could wrap up the conversation quickly and go back to our date. But here was a man in need. It reminded me that relationships aren’t all about romance and feeling nice. Love is as they say, “to will the good of the other”(St. Thomas Aquinas). What love demanded then was not to be there for each other but to together be there for this other; to be an ear and a shoulder to a man who was hurting. Nonetheless it was not the date I had originally hoped for.
As the dates continued over the next year or two the conversation got more future oriented and I started to think that it wouldn’t be long before Daniel proposed. Daniel never plans dates far in advance, so I knew if a date was pre-planned that’d be it. After having a few conversations about what marriage and engagement meant to each of us, Daniel dropped into conversation that if he were to propose he’d ask my Dad’s blessing first. A few days later he asked me when my Dad was home next (my Dad works overseas.) My Dad wasn’t home for a month or so, but it was pretty obvious when was going to propose.
As it turned out Daniel was stealthier than I thought. He had already called my Dad in Saudi Arabia and had bought the ring. On Thursday he asks if he can take me out on the weekend, and asks what I want to do. I suggested going out for dinner. So he asked whether I wanted to go somewhere classy or casual. Somewhere nice, let’s dress up, I asserted not knowing I was planning my own proposal. The night before I had an impulsive change of mind and said let’s go hiking. The poor guy then had to quickly change his plans. He rose to the challenge, packing a plate of canapes, champagne, and crystal glasses into his backpack.
I did think Daniel was a little overdressed for hiking, in chinos and a button up shirt, little did I know I was the underdressed one in cargo pants and a flannelette shirt. But I didn’t care what I was wearing when he slipped a ring on my grubby from hiking finger. I had said yes, a yes which prepared me for an even bigger yes, or rather an I do eight months later. On that date I was dressed for the occasion, but it wouldn’t have mattered if I wasn’t, the real action was in our souls. In the words of St Pope John Paul II “Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church.”
We’ve made ourselves a family, a domestic church. But does that make us a dating success? In some ways yes, but perhaps that’s a question better asked on my death bed or shortly after. With the real criteria of success being, have we gotten each other to heaven?
Written by Eliza Matthys.
Full time youth ministry worker at CYM, Eliza is a passionate lover of Christ and his Church. She intends to spend her spare time outdoors exploring the world, having meaningful conversations, or in front of a fireplace reading a book. It’s often instead spent watching YouTube, napping, and snacking…