“Your picker is broken!”
Those were the words Dr. Ted Roberts uttered to me with a smile on his face several years ago in one of our counseling sessions. At first, the middle school boy in me immediately thought he was talking about my index finger. But quickly, I realized what Dr. Ted meant.
Dr. Ted was talking about my reality: I was struggling in dating relationships because I wasn’t picking women to date from a healthy place. I had made physical attraction ultimate. I was drawn to beauty over connection. I cared about physical attributes over spiritual and emotional health. I would get caught up in idealizing relationships, being temporarily blinded by testosterone, unaware of what I actually needed. Total addict move. I had thrown out my desire for a significant other who also had a high commitment to spiritual and emotional health and shared what Tim Keller and C.S. Lewis call the secret thread.
Ultimately, your marriage partner should be part of what could be called your ‘mythos.’ C. S. Lewis spoke of a ‘secret thread’ that unites every person’s favorite books, music, places, or pastimes. Certain things trigger an ‘inconsolable longing' that gets you in touch with the Joy that is God.Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
I had thrown out my need to be in relationship with someone that I could connect with on a deeper level—understanding them, and them understanding me. I had traded these things for something of much less significance. Dr. Ted was indeed right. My picker was more busted than a piñata at a birthday party.
Maybe you too have found difficulties in your dating relationships. Maybe you continually find yourself drawn to certain types of people, despite knowing they’re not what you need. Maybe you’ve had thoughts like, “I can’t find anyone I’m attracted to who I also like,” or “Things never work out with my type.” Maybe you have a mental list of personality traits, interests, characteristics, and physical features that you are dead set on finding in those you date. Maybe you have thoughts like, “God just hasn’t brought me the right person yet.” But unless you’re hoping to marry the person who delivers your Uber eats or the mailman, you might want to rethink that last strategy.
Whether it’s over-valuing physical attraction, going for a specific type, or being repulsed by certain characteristics, many of us continue to (mis)type. Many of our pickers are broken. We limit ourselves to a specific type of person, with certain physical features and personality traits while avoiding others. Tall or short. Curvy or slender. Loud or quiet. Dominant or passive. Adventurous or chill. Structured or spontaneous.
More than that, we find ourselves attracted to some individuals and turned off at the thought of anything romantic with others. We can’t explain it. We treat attraction as ultimate but may be unaware that as we get healthier, what we are attracted to can actually change.
Often, attraction is not rooted in who we are, but deeply woven into the unresolved areas of our story. Yet we use it as one of the primary bases to determine if we date someone. In short, our default tendency is to date from and in reaction to our emotional wounds in life. Until we do the hard work of addressing the unresolved areas of our story, we will continue to reenact them hoping for a different outcome.
Growing up, Jada’s father was controlling, angry, and emotionally distant. As an adult, she swore off men who had any hint of dominance and found herself dating passive men again and again. These relationships never worked out because what she needed was a strong but gentle man. One that would pursue her, encourage her, and lead her spiritually. A man that could be a healing figure in her life. As Jada realized this unresolved area in her story, she began to go on dates with strong men and work through the insecurities this brought out in her. As she found healing, she actually began to find herself attracted to strong men.
It can be scary to put ourselves out there—risk being seen and known—identifying the unresolved areas in our story and confronting them. It’s much more comfortable to stay stuck in what we think we need, avoiding our insecurities. It can be terrifying when we seek to understand the “why” of our stuck-ness in relationships: the emotional wounds from our past and how we are reacting to them in current day relationships.
Avoiding these unresolved areas of our lives comes at the cost of missing out on the ways Jesus wants to heal us. It means living reactively, making dating ultimately about ourselves rather than serving, loving, and giving. It means missing out on reaching our potential, fulfilling our purpose, and being set free from our wounds to be who we were created to be. Let alone finding a significant other who is actually what we need; who we can invest in sacrificially. The hard work of heart-work revealed in dating is Jesus’ gift to us with freedom on the other side.
Will you engage your story? Will you identify your wounds and unmet desires from your past? Will you seek to understand your reaction to them in relationships and what you seek out?
We can rest assured when we bring our wounds to Jesus, he will heal us (Psalm 147:3). We can rest assured when we bring our desires to Jesus, he will fulfill them (Psalm 145:16). We can rest assured when we surrender to Jesus, he will use us (Ephesians 2:10).
A friend of mine, who I’ll call Diego, found what he truly needed in a significant other as he too stopped (mis)typing. He always thought he would end up with a creative, athletic, and laid back brunette who shared many of the same opinions and interests as him. But after moving to a new city, he began dating a woman who was different from what he thought he needed. She wasn’t brunette, she freely disagreed with him, and she was a homebody rather than a night on the town individual. But she had character, was intentional, mature, loving Christ with all her heart, and loved Diego. He fell for her and married this amazing woman.
As Diego looked back on the past women he had dated who were quiet, and who he didn’t connect with at a deep level, he knew there wasn’t anything wrong with them. He knew he could have married any of them. But he also was thankful he didn’t marry any of them and that he stopped (mis)typing. Today, he has a good marriage, a spouse he connects with deeply, and one who understands him intimately. He knew she was the kind of person he truly wanted and needed.
Get rid of your mental list of requirements in a significant other and be open to the idea that you may not know what you need.
Go on dates with different kinds of people. Don’t limit yourself to a type.
Be wise and hold to your convictions.
Don’t go on first dates to find a spouse—have fun, learn about yourself and others, serve, and pay close attention to your reactions, feelings, fears, and attractions.
Be slow to become exclusive with someone. When exclusive, date with the intention of moving toward marriage.
If you’re attracted to certain types of people, traits, and characteristics, ask yourself why.
If you’re turned off by certain types of people, traits, and characteristics, ask yourself why.
When it comes to dating, don’t over-spiritualize God’s call and will on your relationships. God’s will for you in dating and marriage remains the same as it is for the rest of your life:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification...1 Thessalonians 4:3
For years, Ben served with the U.S. Campus Ministry of Cru as the Mid-Atlantic Regional Coordinator for sexual addiction recovery. Recently, he transitioned to a new role and is leading a new national initiative with Josh McDowell Ministry (A Cru Ministry) helping individuals overcome hurts, unwanted behaviors, and thrive in life. Ben is a speaker and he co-authored Living Free: a Pure Desire recovery resource specifically designed for college-aged men.