When I was in elementary school, my mom purchased the Sunshine Family for me, a group of Barbie-like dolls which included mom, dad and a baby. I can't remember the commercials that were on television for my little family, but if I could, my guess is that love wasn't just in the air in the spring at the Sunshine home, but year round. Love and life never involved arguments, feeling misunderstood or romantically disconnected. In fact, my guess is that for Mr. and Mrs. Sunshine, things always felt just like they did the day they married—flowers, fireworks and fantasy.
Sadly, this picture of the Sunshine family is what many singles have of love. They idealize love and intimacy and make it into something that it's not, nor can be. Sadly, they miss out on much of the beauty of loving another imperfect soul.
Here are three ways that singles—and even married folks— idealize intimacy.
Growing up, I never saw my parents argue; it was done behind closed doors. Also, as a sensitive child, I was never comfortable with anger, so whenever my father openly expressed it, I was devastated. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the road, I made the assessment that anger was wrong and that nothing good ever came from it. I didn't realize how detrimental this attitude was until I hit my 20s and moved out of the house. Not only did I have problems in relationships with college friends, but also in romantic relationships because a relationship without conflict is just like the Sunshine Family—it's just not real.
Granted, to have a normal relationship doesn't mean that a couple will argue all the time, or disagree constantly, but some conflict is a normal part of developing authentic intimacy with another person. If it wasn't, God wouldn't give us instructions in His Word on how to handle disagreements.
In his book, The Marriage Turnaround, Mitch Temple says that conflict is not what kills marriages. Rather, it's "conflict gone wild that kills marriages."
The same is true for dating relationships. Conflict does not always mean that you are dating the wrong person or that it will kill your relationship. In fact, it can be a reason that you develop greater emotional intimacy—if you are both willing to work through your problems.
Thankfully, I have learned this powerful truth and it has been liberating. I no longer worry about making the person I am dating angry, nor do I try to be someone I am not. As a result I am more relaxed during disagreements.
I recently had a conflict with a good friend. We had to find a solution, so I asked her if she would be interested in praying independently about what was going on between us. She agreed. We went our separate ways then came back together for a discussion. I was amazed at how bringing God into our conflict deflated our egos and softened our hearts. As a result, we were able to talk about what made both of us upset. The result? You got it. Greater intimacy. I know my friend now better than I ever did before.
This is the redemptive power of conflict that can also apply to dating relationships. When handled appropriately, conflict can be the reason for greater intimacy. To achieve this, do as God instructs and handle your conflicts with tenderness. Don't blame, yell, scream, insult or give your date the silent treatment. Instead, seek to understand and to be understood. Remember that this doesn't always mean you have to agree.
Sandra is an intelligent, attractive and bubbly 30-something professional. Many people wonder why she has not married. She has wondered, too. After careful observation, Sandra's closest friends have determined that she has idealized intimacy. Not because she thinks that conflict is bad, but because she thinks differences are.
When a man who liked to paint asked her out on a date, she immediately made the assessment that they wouldn't be a good pair because he wouldn't understand her affinity for numbers and balancing her checkbook.
When a man asked her out who liked to fish, but didn't like to watch football, she decided that they wouldn't get along because she likes to watch her favorite team toss around the pigskin on the weekends.
Sadly, Sandra is missing the point. It's not necessary to have everything in common with the person you date to have an excellent relationship, nor is it possible. Frankly, I can't think of one person I have ever known that I have shared all my likes and dislikes with, can you? Granted, it's important to share some interests, but not that you share them all. The most important thing is that you enjoy one another's personalities and company; when you do, you will find common interests.
Why does Sandra have this picky perspective? Because she is terrified that her relationship will fail. As a result, and to protect herself from emotional pain, she places high expectations on what it means to be truly intimate with someone by believing that you have to have everything in common. This is simply not true.
Movies, magazines and music sell the lie that when you think someone is hot, there is going to be instant intimacy. When anyone buys into this lie, whether single or married, there will be disappointment.
Recently, while working out at the gym, I noticed that The Bachelor was on the overhead television. The reality show has one very hot man and a group of gah-gahing women who will do anything to win the Bachelor's heart. I couldn't hear the program, but could tell from the look in one of the women's eyes that she was smitten. I couldn't help but think how things would be for her if she actually won the Bachelor's affections. Would she discover that he is sometimes irritable? Indifferent? Lazy? Self-centered? Unkind? Undoubtedly, she would because no matter how attractive someone is on the outside, we all struggle with sin on the inside.
Unfortunately, many singles have bought into the idea that intimacy will be better if our date is hot like the Bachelor (or the Bachelorette). For this reason, they can miss out on opposite-sex packages that don't look as nice on the outside, but are great on the inside. Don't get me wrong, a certain amount of attraction is necessary for romantic love, however, true intimacy is not dependent on thinking that someone looks like your favorite movie star. If you are hung up on believing that you can only date "hot" men or women, try something different and say yes to someone who looks like the girl (or the guy) next door. You never know, you might just end up loving them.
There are many other ways that singles can idealize intimacy. If you struggle with any of these three things, or another that I haven't mentioned, ask God to help you understand the reason you have bought into these lies. Ask Him to show you if you fear, pride or selfishness is driving you to idealize intimacy. Then, ask Him to give you His eyes for seeing the opposite sex and romantic love according to His design. You'll be glad you did.