Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Chair Strong and Sturdy

[Note: Scroll down to see the YouTube video of Joe proposing to Jason through a column of the Chicago Tribune. This one made me cry!!!]

I don't remember ever going on a third date.

I was having breakfast this morning with my pastor, his partner and a friend and as the conversation came up about dating and being single, I realized that I've never dated a person beyond three dates.

That makes me sound like a pathetic loser, doesn't it? Yeah, i'm a catch!

Well, considering that I haven't really gone on that many dates in the first place, plus the fact that it was only a year ago when I decided that I was ready to start dating other guys, I suppose I'm not *that* much of a lemon. It was also a little over a year ago when I talked about finding my Mr. Right and even when I talked about the kind of relationship dynamic that I was looking for.

In a year's time, I think i've only gone on a handful of dates. For many of those, I'm not even exactly sure if they were dates! I'd like to think that i'm ready for a relationship now. And as I consider the dating process, I've learned a few things from others that I'd like to incorporate into my approach . . . .

As you can guess from this photo, I'd like to start dating older men.


I'm so kidding! Really I am!

No, actually, this is a photo of me with Dr. Ralph Blair, founder of Evangelicals Concerned.

We met at the recent 3rd annual Gay Christian Network conference in Seattle, WA last weekend. It was INCREDIBLE! By the way, if you haven't registered at GCN yet, what are you waiting for? Seriously, God has His hand on it and if you are searching the Web for some kind of support and encouragement, there is an amazing community of people who either love God or have had a churched/spiritual background and are also gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or trying to figure it all out.

(Be sure to check out the new filmloop photos of my trip to Seattle for the conference at the top of the right column of this blog. Click on 'Watch the Show' to see the larger pics.)

At the conference, Dr. Blair led a workshop on dating that I found to be incredibly useful. He framed the dating process and relationships in the context of a three-legged stool. He said that a good romantic relationship is supported by three things:

Mutual Involuntary Attraction

He says that in every good relationship, the sense of mutual involuntary attraction is present. As he relates it, he's not simply talking about thinking that he or she is hot. Of course, that could definitely be there! But this sense of attraction has more to do with the overall perception of the individual.

So as I think about it, this would mean that not only do I 'like' this person but I also 'like him as a person'. Additionally, he 'likes' me and he also 'likes me as a person'. I want to be completely crazy for the guy and I want that involuntary attraction to be mutual and reciprocal.

I guess the first leg of a strong and sturdy relationship rests on being 'into' each other.

Shared Values

Dr. Blair also talked about how important it is for both people in the relationship to share common values. I'd imagine that this could include fundamental belief systems - like the good ole churchian exhortation not to be 'unequally yoked'. While I don't particularly like the insistent references to this from the old paradigm guard, I do understand it. I too want a relationship with a person who shares my love for Jesus.

But aside from belief systems, I'd like to think that Dr. Blair would also include lifestyle values in this particular leg in the support structure of a relationship. I think that both of us should be on the 'same page' on certain things - including the process of our relationship. We should both be on the same page in regards to physical intimacy. We should both be on the same page in regards to spiritual foundation. We should both be on the same page in regards to the relational investment into our community of friends.

Personally, I want to be with a person who shares my paradigm of Church. That's important to me because I'm pretty much done with the old churchian approach to evangelical religion. Ideally, I'm drawn to a person that shares an organic approach to living out a lifestyle of faith and who isn't caught up in the typical "spiritual" routines that are defined by churchian expectations. (Wow, that sounded bitter, didn't it?)

I want to be with a person who is nice. Just nice. Kindness is a lifestyle value that I find hot. I think shared values includes a common approach to interacting with humankind. It's just . . . decent.

I suppose the second leg of a strong and sturdy relationship is being on the same page.

Committed Willingness to Be a Team

Dr. Blair talked alot about how crucial it is for both people in a relationship to be willing to be a team player. The frame of reference should be at "us". What are "we" doing? How does this help "us"? As he talks about it, I imagine that Dr. Blair is talking about commitment. Both individuals are committed to doing what it takes to make "it" work. I can see how frustrating it can be to feel like the other person isn't trying to grow the relationship.

When I'm in a relationship, I don't want to feel like I'm single. I definitely wouldn't want either of us to act like we're single! I'm not describing an unhealthy co-dependency to where neither of us can function without the other. But I am describing a relationship, committed by covenant, where we are joined together.

I'm not looking for him to complete me. But I would want a relationship that is complementary. I want a relationship where we are better together than we are apart. We are better people because we are together. And when we are together, we are THAT much more unstoppable! We're a team!

For me, being a team player includes mutual sacrifice. In a relationship, we want to make it work. If we want to see each other, we work around the details so that we can make it happen. If one has a request, then the other maintains a willingess to adjust without needing to be asked. For me, taking initiative is super hot!

Being a team player, in my book, also includes open communication. I don't think I need to know every minute of the day what he is thinking or doing. But I do want a relationship where I won't have to pry things out of him. I want him to want to share with me the things that are on his heart - whether they be passions or burdens. In this kind of a relationship, I want us to have a sense of safety. We trust each other enough to where we don't feel the need to keep up the wall that we would normally erect for other people.

So the third leg of a strong and sturdy relationship is being an "us".

As I enjoyed breakfast this morning with my friends, one of the things that I began chewing on was the idea that there is a level of intimacy that God reserves exclusively for Himself. As intimate a relationship can be with all three strong and sturdy legs supporting it, there is still a kind of intimacy that my partner cannot experience with me. It's an intimacy with God where I have to cross over and experience alone. Hopefully, he is doing the same on his own!

The key to this idea is that there are some levels of intimacy that my partner is simply not able to meet for me. He wasn't designed to meet that kind of spiritual intimacy that I can only have with God. This frees me (and him) to enjoy and appreciate each other without an unhealthy expectation that only God can meet. My partner doesn't complete me. God does. God completes me. He fills that one space in my heart that is designed for only one key - Himself.

So with all of this said and done, with the insight of Dr. Blair, i'm viewing my approach to dating as a screening process of determining with whom I can have a strong and sturdy relationship that is supported by mutual involuntary attraction, shared values, and a committed willingess to be a team.

I know I haven't dated a truck load of guys. And there are times when I wonder what my problem is - why i'm still single and why I don't date as often as I'd like? But I'm feeling much better about knowing that I'm just not out there experimenting through trial and error to figure out who's out there and what I like. I know what I like. I know what I want. I know what turns me on. Maybe there's nothing wrong with being "picky".

I've got my insecurities - big ones! - but I find relief from the dating anxiety in that I don't have to worry about whether or not I'M good enough or cute enough or smart enough or holy enough or fit enough or perfect enough. I can be a pretty flirty guy. I'm a HUGE flirt sometimes. But I want to know that a connection can exist between me and another guy beyond the fluff of flirt. If a mutual connection doesn't happen, then maybe neither of us has to take it personally. As Dr. Blair puts it, "It's simply a 'successful screening'".

So the questions i'm asking myself now on this part of my journey are:

*How can I maintain this framework with people I might potentially meet locally?
*How can I maintain this framework with people I connect with at a distance?
*What happens when I connect with someone at a distance in a way that has more substance with anyone I've met locally thus far? Do I deny it while using the distance as an excuse? Or do I hold out for someone locally where it'd be "easier" to build something with?
*How does any of this apply to online dating Web sites?

If dating is a screening process that uses the three legs as a framework and assesses suitors for the potential of a good healthy relationship, then the one that lasts and makes it through that process will be "the one". Maybe that's the guy that gets the second or third date! Maybe he's the one who becomes my "we".

[Remember, if you'd like to read the book "Undressed" by Jason Illian with me and others, get it now! I'll be posting about the first few chapters in about two weeks! Click here for more details. ]

A friend shared this one with me that seemed perfect for today's blog post. I totally cried after watching it! Here's Joe proposing to Jason in a column of the Chicago Tribune (click here to read the column):