By Caroline Madison, Crosswalk.com
As a young woman who struggled with my singleness for a long time, I know how hard it is to want a romantic relationship more than anything and not have it. I’m familiar with the sting of well-meaning friends asking if I’ve met that special someone yet.
Sometimes, it’s hard to think about anything else.
We are often told to embrace our singleness and learn to enjoy the season instead of wishing for another. But what if I told you that you need to prepare for the next season?
Have you ever considered that you might not be ready for that intimate connection you want so badly? We don’t hear this message quite as often, but it’s crucial.
I wasn’t ready when I started dating. I was incredibly selfish and hadn’t cultivated what I now understand to be one of the most vital qualities in any relationship: awareness of others. Here are 7 things I wish I had learned and practiced before I started dating.
1.Practice Seeking God
Do you have a close relationship with God? I’m starting here because it is impossible to develop a true awareness of others without Him. And I firmly believe that a pursuit of our Creator should come before any pursuit of romance.
- Read. Familiarize yourself with Scripture and the example of love and service Christ left for us.
- Pray. Ask God to teach you to be more aware of other people—to give you His heart. And then keep your eyes open for the opportunities He provides.
- Listen. Set aside time in your day to be still and quiet. God always answers, but He won’t start a shouting match with everything else competing for your attention.
Draw closer to God now, while you’re still single. Make Him a frequent part of every day, so that when you do meet that special someone, you can carry into that relationship all the joy and richness that Christ brings.
2. Practice Noticing Other’s Needs
Do you notice the people around you—their needs, hurts, and desires? I will admit that, for a long time, I didn’t. Or at least, I noticed them less frequently than I noticed my own.
Imagine walking through the same park every day for weeks. Maybe you watch your feet the first few times, avoiding anything that might trip you. But after a while, you’re familiar with every root, low-hanging tree branch, and soggy patch of ground.
You avoid them automatically, adjusting your path by memory to the way of least resistance. It’s easy, and you don’t have to think about it.
Now, imagine walking that same path with someone next to you. Your avoidance of thorns and roots pushes them directly into every treacherous obstacle you’ve been sidestepping. Soon, your friend is bloody, muddy, and bruised and you haven’t even gotten your feet wet.
We naturally walk through life self-aware. It takes effort and practice to turn our attention to the steps someone else is taking to look out for their safety.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Phil 2:3-4
Let your goal every day be more than just your own success and comfort. Shift your focus to those around you and settle your attention more frequently on what they need. This shift will deepen the relationships you have and prepare you for the one you want.
3. Practice Listening
Do you really listen when someone is talking to you? This is something I have to intentionally practice in every interaction.
Listening to respond doesn’t count. Your mind is so intent on forming an answer that you can’t efficiently process what they’re saying.
Lazy listening doesn’t count. Your attention is drifting away from the person. Their voice fades in and out like a bad radio signal and you’re only catching every other thought.
Selective listening doesn’t count. They have your attention if you’re interested in the topic. But the instant that is no longer true, you begin to think about other things.
Practice listening well in your relationships now. It’s a skill, much like playing an instrument or reading a book. Discipline yourself to listen to those around you, and when you have that special relationship, you will be able to make that person feel heard and therefore loved.
You’ll be able to learn more about them and remember what they tell you. If anyone has ever listened to you, remembered, and used that information to order a favorite meal, avoid an allergy, or buy a gift, then you know how impactful it can be.
4. Practice Serving
Do you ever choose to invest your time and energy into the people in your life? It’s not always convenient or comfortable. Maybe your sister needs a babysitter so she can have an evening off, or your best friend is moving and needs an energetic tape gun wielder all weekend.
Service and sacrifice are often paired. But giving something up to help another person is always worth it.
It’s also something we’re told to do as believers: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others…” (1 Peter 4:10).
You can’t say yes to every need, but you can be willing to give up your time to make life easier for someone else. Time and energy are two of the most valuable resources we have and, therefore, the most precious gifts to offer each other.
If you enter a romantic relationship having already learned to enjoy serving others, you will automatically be more aware of opportunities and more willing to snatch them up. Service is the truest expression of love that we have.
5. Practice Compassion
Are you gentle with those who are hurting or struggling? This can be difficult, especially if you’ve never experienced their particular heartache.
With no foundation of understanding, we are quick to judge each other. I know I’ve made this mistake many times and unwittingly made an already painful circumstance worse.
But we want compassion, don’t we? We want people to offer comfort before criticism—understanding before judgment. And how encouraging it is when they do!
Some are blessed with sensitive hearts that ache over the struggles of other people. Compassion comes naturally for them, but not for all of us. And if it doesn’t for you, you’ll have to reach for it.
Practice viewing a situation from the other person’s perspective rather than your own.
Practice listening if they want to talk and not offering an opinion unless they ask for it.
Practice praying in situations that require compassion and asking God to give you His heart for others.
All relationships—romantic or otherwise—will require compassion from you at some point because people are imperfect. We make mistakes. Often, we suffer from other’s mistakes. Learn how to show compassion now so that you can offer it freely to that special person.
6. Practice Communication
Do you know how to communicate with others? I should clarify here that talking and communicating are not the same thing. Talking is merely forming words that may or may not be understood. Communication is bridging the space between two people using words…sometimes.
We also use our bodies to communicate in ways that we aren’t aware of. But the focus of communication is connecting with another person.
Choose words that others can understand and respond to.
Express yourself in a way that encourages a response rather than stifling it with condescension or hostility.
Avoid phrasing that expresses passive aggression or unwillingness to listen.
And lastly, be aware of what your body language is communicating.
A friend once told me that she was prone to standing with her arms crossed in front of her: a position that made her feel more secure. But because she knew that others often understood this posture as an expression of close-mindedness, she found other ways to physically stabilize in a conversation.
Good communication is a lifelong pursuit, so why not get to work now? Practice initiating conversations that you’d rather avoid. Find areas of communication that you stumble in and strengthen them.
Yes, every individual communicates differently, and you will have to learn how to communicate with the person you end up dating. But practicing awareness of how you communicate and developing basic skills now will go a long way toward smoothing the process.
7. Develop Confidence
Do you second-guess every decision you make? Maybe you struggle with low self-esteem—so many of us do. You might be wondering what this has to do with being aware of others or having a healthy relationship, but I assure you it has everything to do with it.
I have struggled for years with a lack of confidence and low self-esteem: a struggle that makes it desperately hard to live with an awareness of others or have meaningful connections. It’s like trying to teach a swimming class when you yourself are socially intimidated and not sure of your own ability to stay above water.
Many of us tell ourselves that a relationship will fix it, but it won’t. If confidence is something you struggle with, then you know how it affects relationships.
For me, it means I need constant reassurance from the people I care about. It means I struggle to initiate anything meaningful or helpful because I’m not sure how it will be received. It means I need help carrying my burden but can’t usually offer to carry anyone else’s.
If you can relate to this, I encourage you to confront the issue as soon as possible. Professional counseling is a helpful resource, or maybe mentorship from a more mature Christian.
Developing your confidence now means that you can encourage and support each other, which will make whatever relationship you form so much stronger. Not to say there will never be times when you’re weak and need the other person to hold you up. But if you’re able to support each other, you can confront obstacles from a much more stable place.
Being in a relationship will naturally develop these practices as well. But fostering an awareness of them now will benefit you and whoever you end up dating in the future. It will deepen your relationship and help you overcome obstacles that are insurmountable for many couples. So yes, enjoy your season of singleness, but don’t forget to embrace the necessary growth along the way.
Caroline Madison is a freelance editor and writer with a passion for the written word and a special interest in telling and reading stories that present biblical truths in fresh ways. She also enjoys writing flash fiction, drawing pencil portraits, and playing piano.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Kal Visuals