I can picture myself with my first boyfriend. He was 13 and I was 14 (absolute cougar). He came complete with dimples and a skateboard and every time I get a waft of Lynx Africa I think about him. I wasn’t in love, in fact that relationship only lasted three weeks, but for a few short days I was relieved that my search for love could finally stop. I had found the one.
Little did I know that I would find many “the ones” of the years, the majority would be “the wrong ones” but I threw myself into each romantic encounter with as much enthusiasm as the last.
Since Jamie-with-the-dimples, I’ve had my heart broken twice, and faced many other rejections. I’ve also done my fair share of turning people down and cutting things off. It’s the circle of life. When I survey the carnage of my early love life, I can’t help but think I could have navigated things better if I’d been given a little more information to work with. I went to Sunday school every week, I’d had the church relationship chat – make sure they’re Christian and don’t touch them anywhere until you’re married.
Armed with this and the certainty that I was far more mature than other teenagers, I ventured out into the dating world. But, shockingly, this advice left me ill equipped for what lay ahead. Here’s what I wish someone had said…
1. Your value is more than your relationship status
Sounds obvious. We all know that in theory at least, right? Wrong.
People need reminding of this regularly, every day perhaps. Just because someone sitting next to you in school/church is in a relationship, doesn’t mean that that person is better looking/funnier/more desirable than you are. This isn’t a hierarchy system, and you are not at the bottom of it.
Your value is insanely high because you are royalty. You are the son/daughter of a King and anyone who treats you as anything less has no place in your life.
2. Make sure they’re kind
Nice guys/girls don’t finish last. If you have ever told someone that they are “too nice” to date you are wrong.
Kindness should be prized, championed, encouraged and sought after – especially in a dating context.
If you struggle to find someone who is respectful, emotionally available and gentle with you attractive, you need to work out why you don’t see yourself as worthy of that kind of wonderful attention.
You will eventually realise that being “kept on your toes” isn’t sexy, it’s rude. But realise it today rather than after yet another upset in your 30s.
3. You think sex doesn’t matter – but it does
I’m one of those rare damage control Christian speakers. I recognise that it’s often silly to tell people “just don’t have sex” and “just don’t try drugs” when they’re so engrained in our culture. It’s why I’m always surprised when Catholic schools invite me to speak. While I think everyone would be better off if we wore our chastity belts and “just say no” badges 24/7, I recognise that’s not practical.
As a young person I was told a lot about the evils of sex. I was told it was like smooshing a peanut butter and jam sandwich together and trying to pull apart the bread again without mixing up the fillings. I thought they were old fashioned and the fun police. Or maybe just virgins who didn’t know what they were missing.
"You will enjoy dating far more if you see it as an opportunity to more deeply connect with someone and find out more about them – and that’s it."
What no one ever said to me was: “Go and have sex if you want to, I won’t stop you. But you should know that the pain of so intimately connecting with someone who is then gone (either the next morning or in the weeks/months to come) is indescribable.
“You should know that you’ll tell yourself you’re fine but you will be slowly chipping away at a part of yourself that you don’t even realise you’re losing.
“You should know that you’ll start to get increasingly desperate to hang on to those moments of physical closeness because you will have substituted love for sex and you won’t know how to put them back in their rightful place. It will feel like being perpetually disconnected.
“You should know that this will all only hit you years down the line and the damage will take a lot of reflection, prayer and upset to unpick.”
Plus, all of that in exchange for what – let’s be honest – will be an awkward, inexperienced and disappointing sexual encounter anyway. Because until you really know someone, understand, respect and commit to them, you won’t be able to completely sexually satisfy them.
4. Don’t take dating too seriously
Having just made quite a serious point, I’ll now bring it back to the fun, light-hearted and enjoyable experience dating should be. Every coffee you go on should be seen as just that – a coffee. It’s so important to live in that moment and not worry about if you can marry that person or what your friends will think of them. You will enjoy dating far more if you see it as an opportunity to more deeply connect with someone and find out more about them – and that’s it.
Ultimately if you feel respected and you’re being respectful, you’re in a good place. Chuck in a bit of crazy golf and a few flirty text messages and you’re on to a winner.
Lauren Windle is a journalist, author and presenter who focuses on faith, recovery and love. Her debut non-fiction book Notes On Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage Obsessed Church is out now, published by SPCK. You can connect with her on Instagram and Twitter @_lauren_celeste. We're also delighted she'll be speaking at our new summer event, Satellites 2022.