I was nineteen when I went on my first date.
He was a friend of a friend and the first boy to state to my face that he thought I was cute.
Of course I went out with him.
Dating wasn’t exactly forbidden in my family, but it also wasn’t expected. I grew up in a conservative social circle where boys and girls couldn’t be friends; “courtship” and “intentional relationships” were the norm, and people didn’t just save sex for marriage, they saved all physical contact. My parents weren’t nearly as strict as some, but by the time I went on my first date, I’d already been to half a dozen weddings of my peers where The First Kiss was listed in the wedding program.
I was a bit of an ugly duckling in high school, but by nineteen I had cut my waist length hair to my shoulders, and traded contacts for glasses. I got my ears pierced finally, after obtaining my dad’s permission while basking in the glow of first place at a homeschool speech competition. Like any good moderately-fundamentalist girl who was tentatively pushing boundaries, I wanted desperately to follow the rules and be respected by the authorities in my life, but I also wanted to be myself. I bought skinny jeans and watched Garden State, but I still didn’t date any boys.
Then, on my first summer home from college, destiny happened: here was an actual, cute, moderately-fundamentalist human boy who said I was cute and wanted to go out with me.
I felt an excitement that I dared to date instead of court, but I still wanted to do everything right.
We were allowed to be alone, but mostly we spent time with each other’s families and friends, discussed our theological beliefs, and talking about future goals. I tried to follow the formula of romance, gender roles, and “God’s best” that was laid out for me. We made our relationship “official” by praying together in his car just a week after we’d met.
We never did anything more than hold hands and listen to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie in that car, but it felt real to me.
Growing up in the church, the idea that dating could be fun was for weaker, less spiritual people. Our holy sort of romance always had a future. We used the words intentional and accountability like they were magic spells.
I wasn’t sure how that boy and I would work out, since I was in school across the county, but saying yes to romance was the expected thing to do. Ugly ducklings did not simply turn down charming Christian boyfriends when they showed up. I remember solemnly announcing to my less-conservative aunt that I have a boyfriend now, because it felt like a very grown up and important thing to have.
All I wanted was to be grown up and important.
Three weeks later, when I flew back to Michigan to start my sophomore year of college, he gave me his scarf doused in cheap cologne, like a good boyfriend should. I slept with it every night, surprisingly not because I had any real attachment to him or it, but because I played the part. That was what good, intentional girlfriends did. They played submissive, attached, and enjoying it all.
He broke up with me two months after that, because I wouldn’t quit school and move home to be with him. I had a part time job in the Admissions Office, and I spent a week trying not to let my tears drip into application files. But I wasn’t really that upset about him, this person that I barely knew, who was suddenly missing from my life.
It was more about the shame of failing to date the right way and get the right results. I was always told that romance done the right way continued on with no heartbreak, you know? The right way was for God’s glory. It led somewhere that mattered, like marriage.
Until I realized that it doesn’t actually work out like that.
The point of dating is growing, not just getting married.
The great thing about disillusionment is that, when the clouds part and you’re blinded by the sun, eventually your eyes will adjust and you can see what’s really in front of you.
And I’ve adjusted a lot of my ideas and practices in dating.
I’ve untangled myself from restrictive gender roles and rules that kept me pretending. I’ve unraveled a lot of misperceptions about the purpose of dating and the right way to do it. I’ve tried to engage my privilege in various areas surrounding dating, and listen to other people with different experiences and types of relationships.
I’ve slogged through online dating and in person dating and flirting and excitement and disappointment and crying and being happy with myself at the end of the day. In the nine years since that first fling, I’ve learned how to speak up and be myself, and that a lot of people actually like that.
So, I’d like to try something new around here. I’d like to write about a few of the things I’ve learned outside the idea of the right way to date. I’d like to show you how I’ve developed a different philosophy of dating and learned how to live well in the tension and reality of dating through my twenties.
Let’s call it: The Emily Maynard Dating Guide to Speaking Up & Not Following Crappy Christian Romance Rules & Other Cool Stuff. That's not long or convoluted, right? It should work out just fine.
I’ll also be answering some of your questions about dating, so if you have one, send me a note!
The last thing I’m offering is the one I’m most excited about: dates with you!
My heart’s currently taken, but my nine years of dating experience, and opinions are all yours! You and I will video chat, one on one, about your dating history, and unravel dating myths you’ve believed, reshape your dating goals so they’re actually achievable, talk about building an awesome online dating profile, and more!
Dates About Dating are $15 per 45 minute coaching session, but I’m giving two sessions away free! If you’re interested (or want to nominate someone who totally needs this), email me by 11pm this Sunday, April 6th. Two of you will have our first hangout date on me!
So what do you say? Want to unlearn some old rules and try on some new?
Will you go out with me? (Circle yes or no)
* I’m a cishet white girl. I recognize that I have a lot of privilege when it comes to dating, and all of my dating experience has been heterosexual. I'll try not to universalize my life. That said, I think we can work together to dismantle dating myths and pursue healthy relationships, even if your life or attractions look very different from mine.