Focus on the Family

The Challenges of Dating Later in Life

by Shana Schutte

Jenna, Elisabeth, John and Suzanne all thought they would have found Mr. or Mrs. Right years earlier, but life didn't turn out the way they planned. By now, these thirty- and forty-somethings have all been playing the dating game a lot longer than they'd care to admit.

But first let's set the record straight: This group may feel frustrated with their dating choices, but they're still a happy, emotionally well-adjusted bunch who all want to marry. What's more, they have good jobs, attend church regularly and are responsible, civic-minded citizens. Still, their marital status begs each one to confront the one maddeningly elusive question: Why haven't I found my true love?

Any dating newbie can find the suggestions we want to share with you in this series of articles applicable, but we're especially wanting single adults who have been around the dating block a few times to sit up and take notice.

Remember Jenna, Elisabeth, John and Suzanne? See if their dating bios and circumstances resonate with you:

Do you feel like you've turned a corner in your dating life, like Jenna and Elisabeth? Or, like John and Suzanne, are you struggling to find peace in your marital status? Perhaps you're experiencing other dating-related struggles, like feeling concerned about growing older without a mate. Maybe you're wondering how you can become more interesting and attractive to men and women now.

Dating is tough at any age, so we'd like to help. While we may not be able to make your marital dreams come true, we can give you the next best thing: encouragement, guidance and suggestions to help make your dating life a little easier.

Idealizing Love, Romance and the Opposite Sex

What causes someone to idealize love, romance and a mate?

by Shana Schutte

My brother once showed me a Web site where I could tell Santa what I wanted for Christmas. All I had to do was type my wish in a little box, and voila! Santa would produce a picture of my gift.

Being a single woman, I typed in "husband." Within seconds, the virtual St. Nick reached into his bag and pulled out a picture of my mate. He was handsome and dark-haired; unfortunately, he was also asleep. I almost laughed myself off my chair, then jokingly told my brother, "What does Santa's choice say about the single male population in my age range?"

If I had visited Santa's Web site ten years ago, and if I had the chance to give him a list of specific requirements for a mate, he probably would have written me back to tell me to seek a therapist. Why? Because my list of requirements for Mr. Right was longer than Santa's gift list.

What causes someone to idealize love, romance and a mate? When I turned 32, God helped me learn the answers to this question.

I Idealized Love, Romance and a Mate Because of Fear

When I lost a man I loved while in my twenties, I was certain I couldn't handle any more heartbreak, so I unwittingly created an ideal picture of my Prince Charming. Can you guess what happened with the next guy I dated? Instead of seeing what was good about him, my mental doodling highlighted only his imperfections. In an effort to guarantee a life without emotional pain or romantic regret, I instead lost out on some good relational opportunities.

If you're acutely aware of others' flaws like I was, perhaps you need explore the motivation behind your ideals. Is it faith (because you feel led by God) or fear (because you're terrified of "settling", or being abandoned)? Saying no to fear and unrealistic standards doesn't mean giving up all standards. Instead of focusing on whether a person is just the right height or weight or is equally organized, we need to focus on how patient, gentle, humble, kind, generous and Godly our date is.

I Idealized Love Because of Society's Messages

I wonder how many times I've heard, "Don't marry someone you can live without," "Don't settle," or "God has the perfect mate for you." Messages like these, (which are often perpetuated by well-meaning Christians), coupled with the media's lies about love, can lead Singles astray.

Some of our culture's lies about love include:

Certainly, we should show wisdom and avoid choosing a mate who is abusive, deceptive, jealous or controlling. But when I allowed God to transform my expectations, I discovered I can be attracted to many different kinds of men. Your fear about whether a future mate's "what-ifs" should not prevent you from experiencing a Godly love with that person.

The Upside of Less-Than-Perfect

I no longer believe that finding someone perfect will keep me from heartbreak. Instead, I've accepted pain as a part of even the best relationships. I also know that God's best for me can be less than perfect.

Some time ago, while reflecting on how God has freed my heart, I wrote the following reflection in my journal:

Love does not come to dwell in perfection, for no one is perfect. Love dwells in the unlovely, the imperfect. My love for another is not produced by the object of my love. It exists in me when I choose to love all that is unlovely and imperfect; and I thereby receive the love I need by being the lover first. Love is the "bond of perfection" (Colossians 3:14).

Christ died and placed the love of His heart into mine so that I can love with His unconditional love. He loves the imperfect; He loves me."

Five Ways to Celebrate Singleness

How can you "celebrate your singleness?" Here are some ways to go on the offensive and enjoy life.

by Shana Schutte

When I moved out of my parent's house, no one told me how to scrutinize my credit report, live on a diet of macaroni and cheese or handle disappointment if I didn't marry by the time I turned 30 years old. Maybe I just didn't feel like these were important issues at the time. Or maybe, like millions of other single women, I assumed that my Mr. Right would make me his bride, take care of the finances and encourage me to buy food that wasn't of the pre-packaged variety.

Reality is so different than what I imagined nineteen years ago. Since then, I've won the battle of the bank book and have only sometimes eaten SpaghettiOs from the can. But the one thing that hasn't changed is my marital status.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why I haven't met a mate. I'm open to love, family and marriage, I'm emotionally stable and I've prayed countless times for a spouse. Still, I haven't met my husband.

Over the years, I've come to terms with my singleness. I've learned to cut out the whining and to celebrate life.

The most important I've learned is that I don't have to trick myself into believing that life is good. When we focus on others, when we strive to serve God, when we choose to believe that He is in control of our lives, that He loves us and knows what is best for us, we're more likely to focus on "whatever is good, whatever is lovely" (Phil. 4:8) like Scripture commands. Which I know from experience is much better than focusing on what you don't have and feeling miserable.

This isn't an easy mentality to embrace. It's even harder when it gets lonely or when fears about the future set in. The key is to go on the offensive. These are a few ways that have helped me combat self-pity, embrace joy and celebrate life:

The Gift of Loneliness

Instead of running from loneliness, allow God to use it to draw you closer to Him.

by Shana Schutte

When was the last time you were lonely? Was it when you stood in a crowd of 5,000 cheering people? When you visited with a friend, or when you lay next to your snoring spouse at 2 a.m.?

Everyone experiences loneliness at some time. It’s a common denominator in the equation of life. It’s also something no one likes to feel, so our natural response is to run from it, avoid it or deny it by filling our lives with a million distractions.

God has a better way.

When we sink into loneliness and allow it to do its redemptive work by embracing it, it can be a powerful teacher. And as Henri Nouwen writes in his book, The Inner Voice of Love, we may find our "loneliness not only tolerable," but even fruitful.

Luke 5:16 says, "Jesus withdrew into lonely places and he prayed."

True, Christ may not have been lonely, but just “withdrew into lonely places.” However, in the same way that his lonely places provided a place of hope for Him, the loneliness you sometimes feel can promote positive change in your life.

Loneliness can enlarge our hearts to love.

Several years ago, my grandfather was diagnosed with leukemia. During the weeks before his death, a tenderness settled into his eyes and a loving spirit embodied him like I'd never seen. He hugged tighter, smiled wider and laughed more. On this side of his passing, I've often wondered why. My best guess is that the thought of saying goodbye to those he cared for, and moving into eternity without their physical presence enlarged his heart to love—his greatest sorrow produced a greater virtue.

In the same way, the sorrow of loneliness can be fruitful by causing us to ache for human connection. Loneliness is God’s gift that drives us into relationship and enlarges our hearts to love. Without it, we would never marry, engage in friendships or endure the numerous problems that are natural part of intimacy.

Loneliness can also cause us to appreciate the beauty of others in a new way. I imagine that in the days before his death, my grandfather savored his great-granddaughter’s smile, wife’s embrace and pastor’s encouragement more than ever.

Think back to when you’ve felt most lonely. My bet is that you’ve longed for a connection with someone familiar and that you reflected on their best virtues with gratitude. In short, loneliness enlarged your heart to love.

Loneliness can open us to a deeper knowledge of God’s love.

Just as physical solitude helps us to hear God’s voice, the inner solitude produced from loneliness can open us up to a deeper knowledge of God’s love when we get alone with Him.

I have to be honest. There are times when I’m lonely that I fight my need to spend quiet time with Christ. Why? Because facing loneliness can feel threatening, like squaring off with a mean bully who presses me into a corner and makes me look at things about myself that I don’t want to see. However, I’ve learned that when I embrace my loneliness and hold the hand of God, I don’t fall into a pit of despair like I feared. Rather, I find His comfort, hearing His voice of love and healing for my broken places.

What do we miss when we run from loneliness and refuse to invite God into it? Ironically, the pain we try to avoid by running can create an even greater inner chaos. We need time alone with God when we are lonely.

For example, a friend of mine always has a packed social calendar. When he’s not working, he’s helping someone with a chore, attending a group luncheon, watching a movie or engaging in any number of other social activities. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with his interests. However, there is something wrong with using busyness to hide from personal pain and loneliness. God calls us to live balanced lives in which we are not afraid of solitude or loneliness and neither are we afraid to be with others.

Loneliness can help me define or redefine my calling.

Prior to becoming a writer, I was an elementary school art teacher in Houston, Tex., where my days were spent tying shoes, painting, coloring and pasting. My evenings were spent primarily alone. Because my family and closest friends lived several states away, it was the three loneliest years of my life.

I wouldn’t want to repeat my Texas experience, but I also wouldn’t take it back. It was a time of tremendous personal growth both spiritually and emotionally. It was necessary for God to mature me. My loneliness caused me to question my purpose and ask myself if the things I was pouring my life into agreed with God’s will.

I also found a new calling through my isolation. It was the first time I became serious about putting pen to paper. I spent many hours journaling and the result was an idea for a book I am writing, which I’m confident wouldn’t have been produced if I’d been running from one social function to another. I learned that when God strips away our close connections with particular people for a season, it’s for a reason. It can be His way of moving us into His calling for our lives.

Certainly, you may not be a writer but every calling can emerge from loneliness and isolation when God has a greater opportunity to speak to our hearts about where we are going and where we have been.

If you are lonely today, I hope you are encouraged. Remember that God can use your emotional pain to complete you. He has not forgotten you. My prayer is that the next time you are standing in a crowd feeling lonely, that you can press into your loneliness and find God’s gift in it until it passes.

Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

How to Recognize a Safe Date

How do you break negative dating patterns and find respectful, responsible and loving spouses?

by Shana Schutte

Mark always dates controlling women who treat him like a child. C.J. consistently finds herself in relationships with critical men. Ashley wants a man who respects her when she says no, unlike the other men she's dated. And Brian often falls in love with women who are irresponsible.

How can Mark, C.J., Ashley and Brian break these negative dating patterns and find respectful, responsible and loving spouses? Here are five ways that can help you recognize a date as a safe person.

  1. A safe person will respect your boundaries. In their book, Safe People, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe boundaries as spiritual and emotional "property lines." These invisible lines help us define which things are our responsibility and which are another person's. It also helps us to know when the emotional or physical line has been crossed.

    In any relationship, one person may not respect the other's boundaries. This means that if Susan tells her boyfriend, "Don't call me after 11 p.m.," and he repeatedly ignores her request, he has not respected her boundaries. Boundary breakers who don't respect you in one area probably won't respect you in others.

  2. A safe person will not treat you like a child. When Joel met Kati, he appreciated her maturity and how she demonstrated control of her life—until she started treating him like a kid. Joel quickly discovered Kati was an unsafe date, because she believed he wasn't capable of making his own decisions.

    If you're in a parent-child relationship, then you may not want to reconsider keeping him around; healthy relationships are characterized by people who relate as equal adults.

    See if you recognize these other characteristics of an unsafe date:

    • Gives advice without seeking it
    • Distrusts your judgment
    • Is critical
    • Is convinced that you need help navigating life
    • Disapproves of you
    • Withdraws when you make adult decisions with which he disagrees

    Remember that if your date is parenting you before you've tied the knot, she won't magically respect you after saying, "I do."

  3. A safe person will forgive you, not condemn you. Some people allow their perfectionism or bitterness to consume them. But when we can't show grace, we can't forgive. This is essential in any relationship, but in marriage each spouse has to make it a priority.

    If your date has a penchant at holding grudges, he or she won't exclude you. Take your time to determine if he has the ability to resolve conflict maturely and forgive without constantly condemning.

  4. A safe person is responsible. When Cheryl met Len, she was impressed with his people and business skills. Before long, she fell in love with him and believed he would strongly support her and a family. After they married, his true nature reared its ugly head. He used his winsome ways and took advantage of others' generosity. He jumped from one job to the next, and left it up to her to be the consistent breadwinner. This irresponsible and reckless spouse drained her physically, spiritually and emotionally.

    At the beginning of their relationship, Len seemed exciting, fun and spontaneous, but it didn't take long before his behavior and lifestyle caused irreparable damage.

  5. A safe person admits their faults, rather than blames others. Some people are either blind to their faults, or they blame others for their problems. If you're dating a person who embraces these not-so-endearing qualities, you might want to cut them loose.

    Emotional intimacy is key to a thriving, growing love, and it is difficult to feel safe when there's no expectation of empathy. Granted, everyone struggles to some degree with this, so we need to seek God's help in overlooking imperfections in others and ourselves. Just remember that you aren't looking for a perfect person—just someone who's perfect for you.

Story: Marrying Later in Life

The Vaughans and Elliotts understand better than most about the frustration of waiting to find a mate.

by Shana Schutte

Like most men, Joel Vaughan wanted to marry, so he prayed for a mate and dated as often as he could. But more than 10 years after high school graduation, he still hadn't found his wife.

Then, while in his mid-30s, he was organizing the details of a conference. A package he needed for the event had not arrived the morning it was due. Desperate, Joel did everything he could. Still no package. Miraculously, only minutes before the seminar started, a courier walked into his office and handed him the prized box. Filled with gratitude, Joel silently thanked God for the delivery.

That's when he felt he heard God speak to his heart. In the same way I brought this box, I'll bring your wife. When you have done everything you can, then I will bring her.

Joel laughs now and says that, by the time he turned 42 and moved to Colorado Springs to work for Focus on the Family, he wondered if he'd just "eaten some bad chili" the night before and hadn't heard from God at all. Still, he continued praying and enjoyed dating, but without long-term success.

Then one day, almost two years after moving to Colorado, he unexpectedly met his future wife, Kellie, while picking up his mail. She purchased the town home next to his and had just moved in. Weeks later, when Joel discovered Kellie also worked for Focus, he thought, "God could be doing something."

Indeed, He was.

After their first meeting, Kellie and Joel became good friends, danced their way to love in a ballroom class, then tied the knot a year and a half after they met. Joel now jokes that not only did God "deliver" his wife just as He promised, He brought her right to his mailbox; a true mail-order bride.

Brian and Cindy Elliott, like Joel and Kellie, also wondered if they would ever find "the one." But unlike the Vaughans, they didn't meet at a mailbox, but on a dance floor of the Queen Mary when they both attended a Christian Singles dinner dance. Both were 38 years old when they walked the aisle.

Joel, Kellie, Brian and Cindy are like an increasing number of singles who are marrying later in life. They understand better than most about the frustration that can result from waiting and praying to find a mate. And they are also well-acquainted with the joys and challenges of marrying later than the average person.

So if you're an older single and you want to get married, here is some advice from four people who've been there:

There's Not Necessarily Something "Wrong With You" if You're Still Single

The Vaughans and Elliotts know what it's like to face the stereotype of having something "wrong with you" if you're older and still single. Thankfully, when each of them explains why they didn't marry earlier, they agree that it was due to not meeting the right person. In retrospect, all see God's sovereignty in action.

"God brought Cindy at just the right time," Brian says.

This can be comforting for many singles who fear that they can't find a mate because of their flaws.

"He [God] can overrule our inadequacies," Brian says. "You don't have to be perfect [to meet someone]."

While it's important to improve your emotional and spiritual health while you're single, remember that everyone is a work in progress and that God ultimately controls every detail of your life.

Marrying Later Doesn't Mean You'll Have a Harder Time Complementing Your Mate

It's commonly thought that couples who marry later in life will automatically have a more difficult time uniting as a couple because each spouse is set in his or her own ways. Not so for either couple.

"Kellie and I have found it very easy to blend," Joel says. "She and I were extremely grateful the Lord brought someone to us …after years of wondering and waiting," which he says helped them merge their lives together.

Cindy Elliott agrees: "[When I married], I was surprised at the perspective I had on what's important and what's not."

She doesn't worry about minor problems like her children's fingerprints on the refrigerator because she is just grateful to have a family. This has made blending easier than she anticipated.

If You Want to Get Married, Do Something!

Both the Vaughans and the Elliotts also say that marrying later can be challenging because it becomes more difficult to find a suitable mate. But many Christian men, Joel and Brian suggest, don't take the initiative to find a wife.

"A common complaint I hear from single Christian women is that Christian men don't do anything," Joel says.

"Some people believe that God is a magic genie," Brian says. "They say they're not going to work on their issues but expect God to magically bring someone to them. You need to learn about yourself and learn about others."

In short, both men agree that guys should get busy and initiate!

Take Advantage of Your Single Season

In retrospect, Cindy wishes that she would have taken better advantage of her "single season" by focusing more on God.

Joel agrees.

"The Apostle Paul was very clear. You can serve God better being single," he says. Of course, there is intense emotional pain that can come from being alone. But God is always faithful. "Realize that the key to everything else in life is to get closer to God."

So while you're waiting, praying and dating, develop a heart of gratitude and service to bless God and others.

When Thinking About Marrying a Non-Believer

If you're thinking about marrying a non-believer, here are some future questions you may have to answer.

by Shana Schutte

Following Christ is the most important decision you'll ever make. The next most important decision? Choosing a mate who shares your faith and who will support you in your spiritual growth.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14, the Apostle Paul says that believers should not "be unequally yoked with non-believers." While it's true that this passage does not specifically mention marriage, it does refer to being bound in a relationship with another person—no relationship is more binding than marriage.

The picture of two oxen bound (or yoked) together is often used to explain this Scripture. The oxen must pull in the same direction. Otherwise, they will fight with one another and experience exhaustion.

The same is true of two people who marry but don't share a common faith. Like the oxen pulling in different directions, a couple who doesn't share a Godly foundation will clash and experience conflict.

Perhaps you're not convinced yet, and you wonder, Two people enjoy one another and are mutually attracted, so that's enough to sustain the relationship, right?

Absolutely not.

If you're thinking about marrying a non-believer, here are some questions you may be faced with answering in the future:

Even well-meaning Christians can fall into the trap of marrying non-believers. The most important piece of advice is that saying he knows Christ doesn't mean he has a relationship with Him.

Marriage based on a common faith is for our benefit, blessing and protection. God wants what is absolutely best for you. Make the decision to follow Him and allow Him to help you find the right mate for you.

The Challenges of Dating Later in Life

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