Every three months or so, I delete all my dating apps and take a break. Sometimes it’s because the prospect of another bad date is emotionally crippling. Sometimes it’s because I’m busy with work, friends, hobbies, travelling, life. But a lot of the time, it’s because my faith is shifting faster than I can keep track of, and it feels overwhelming to explain that on a first date.
The first decision I had to make when I re-entered the online dating world was which religious box to check. “Christian” felt simplistic and misleading. What I mean when I call myself a Christian and what a guy scrolling through my profile will think when he reads it are probably pretty different things.
But most apps don’t have “post-Evangelical progressive pro-LGBTQ pro-liberation theology actively deconstructing Christian with mystic leanings” as an option. OKCupid has an option that says “Christian and laughing about it” but on most days, deconstruction is less of a laugh and more of an ongoing existential crisis of varying intensity, so that option doesn’t feel right either.
When I would go on dates with Christian guys in the past, I would find that we agreed on some religious points, like the centrality of Jesus, but disagreed on other important ideas, like gender roles. Nowadays I have almost nothing in common with the men who should theoretically make up the majority of my dating pool.
Going on dates with men from other religious backgrounds or men who identify as agnostics or atheists hasn’t necessarily been easier. It’s really hard to explain deconstruction to someone who doesn’t share any of the Evangelical context, and the relative deficiencies of various purity culture analogies (the used tape and chewed gum examples figured prominently in my abstinence-only education) is apparently not the best happy hour talk. My bad.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I were chatting about dating and she essentially said that unless the guy is also actively deconstructing, she is going to have to swipe left. That left me wondering how one signals deconstruction on a profile. I’ve already put The Liturgists on my favorite podcast list and added books by Richard Rohr, Christena Cleveland and others as recommended reads. Other than that, I’m not sure how to describe a process that I’m still actively undergoing to people who aren’t experiencing the exact same thing, or even to people who are.
Another challenge has been rethinking what kind of people I want to date. Per Joshua Harris’ advice, I made a list of my non-negotiables many years ago. I used to have five: Jesus-loving, social justice oriented, outdoorsy, intellectual and stylish (hey, ⅘ of those are super deep). Now I’m not as sure what I’m looking for, which makes it harder to clearly articulate what I want and need.
I want my partner to be comfortable with mystery, fluent in the language of Christian spirituality, attracted to some of the rituals of church and familiar with Jesus, but since I can’t predict how my own beliefs and feelings will evolve over the next few weeks, months and years, I struggle to imagine what I will want and need from a partner in the future. How can I make wise decisions in dating when core parts of my own identity are shifting and reordering?
The uncertainty I feel about how to proceed with dating while deconstructing mirrors the general uncertainty I’m learning to live with as I let go of some of the beliefs to which I used to anchor myself. I’m learning to find the elusiveness of truth and the uncertainty inherent in the human experience beautiful and mysterious instead of anxiety-inducing and terrifying.
I’m learning contemplative practices that help me sense God’s presence in the world in deeper and more complex ways. I’m learning to reject simplistic answers and embrace unknowing in my spiritual life, and maybe the lesson here is that dating is another sphere in which I need to let go of my need for certainty and embrace a little mystery.
Life is unpredictable. It is impossible to choose a perfect partner whose path will naturally run parallel to mine. It is impossible to predict how anything in my life will play out, so it might be time to let go of the illusion of certainty and control that algorithms and checklists and dropdown menus create and instead try to live in the present, engaging with the people I encounter as deeply as I can.
My strong, certain beliefs used to give me a feeling of security in a world that can be scary and unnavigable. They gave me a sense of belonging in a clearly defined group which then gave me the confidence to move through seasons of transition with some firm grounding.
Similarly, my dating checklist gave me clear criteria with which to evaluate people. I felt a sense of control; a little autonomy in a space that can often feel arbitrary and confusing. Giving up the illusion of control and my need for certainty in my spirituality has opened me to accept it in other areas of life as well, and as I move forward with dating, hopefully I can continue to find peace in unknowing.