Leading With Who You Are

After experiencing one too many disappointing relationships and “situationships,” I found myself painfully single in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. Having just moved into a new house with a couple of my girlfriends, I suddenly had a lot of time to think about those things that I really wanted in life. As I mulled over past relationships, I was faced with a stark reality— I had never really led with who I was. In the early stages of my past relationships, I hadn’t honestly communicated my desires, boundaries, or interests. I was always more focused on being agreeable— the perfect match for the person in front of me. This approach inevitably led to disappointment after disappointment for me, and thank God that it did.

A few months after realizing this, I was on vacation in Cape May New Jersey with my family. We had invited a close priest friend to come and spend time with us while we were there. Early one morning, after he said a Mass for us, I asked him for confession. As he counseled me, he gave me a piece of advice that will always stay with me. He told me that when I first meet someone and things seem to headed in a romantic direction, to ask myself, “Is this person, in the way they are living right now, capable of providing me with the life I imagine for myself?” This is a question I hadn’t been brave enough to consider in the past. Or maybe I didn’t want to consider it, already knowing that the answer was no. 

I held this question in my heart throughout that whole week of vacation, letting it transform my expectations. It seems like such a simple thing that someone should probably already know at 25 years old, but the idea had never been presented to me like that before. Just days later, I began chatting with a handsome and kind person on a popular dating app. We had similar interests, and I knew from the very start that he would treat me the way that I had always wanted to be treated. He had this gentleness about him, and I could see myself sharing a joyful and fulfilling future with him. I’m not going to lie—the wholesomeness of it all really freaked me out at first, but that’s a blog for another time. 

Mindful of the advice my priest friend had given me, I wanted to be sure that this man and I were truly compatible. So from the very beginning, I was honest about my values and passions: I let him know that I went to Mass daily, that I wanted someone who would pray with and for me, and that I believe The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is unequivocally the greatest movie of all time— the essentials. And as I grew to know him better, I wasn’t afraid to ask those tough questions that before, I would never have dared to let out of my mouth.

At every turn, I expected to be disappointed, but instead, I found someone who exceeded all of my expectations. I couldn’t believe it— for the first time, I felt that the picture I presented of myself actually lined up with who I was. After nine months of dating this wonderful man, I can say with complete confidence that we know each other. We support each other’s dreams and ambitions, and there is not a day that goes by without us praying together.

Sometimes it won’t work out so great. Sometimes we share who we are only to be rejected, or to have someone tell us that they aren’t willing to live according to our values. There is one truth that stands in this— the sooner we move past those things that are not meant for us, the sooner we will encounter what has always been meant for us. Dating isn’t easy, but it is much easier when we realize how important of an element it is to be true to ourselves.

Not everyone in the world is meant to be with you or appreciate the gift that you are. It only takes one.

The First Date

By Veronica Johnson

First dates can be dreamy, disappointing, or straight up awkward—especially if they are anything like mine. Unless there are major red flags on the first date, I would suggest that the first date does not need to be the deciding factor for a potential relationship or lack thereof. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your date the first time around.

I am speaking from my experience of doing the exact opposite. I always dreamed the man I would marry would already be saying “ma’am” and wearing cowboy boots with flannels, ready to swing me around the dance floor. While my man does love a good flannel these days, he does not fit the rest of the mold I had carved for him (the kind that came with a list—pages long—of necessary traits for a perfect husband). I am not saying that young ladies need to lower their standards to find a husband (striving for virtue is non-negotiable), but I am saying we could work on expectation management! At least, if you are anything like me.

Five years ago, I had been talking with a guy over texts and phone calls for a few months. He was a colleague of my brother-in-law’s and from his Facebook pictures, he was extremely good looking. I had met him in person a couple of times at my sister’s house and thought he was nice enough, a little socially awkward, but who isn’t sometimes?

Anyway, I am visiting my sister on my Thanksgiving break and really want to spend some time with this Iowan Marine Corps hottie—oh, I mean, blessed son of God. So, of course I text him and ask if he wants to go for a walk on the beach or something. He says he has a better idea—that he wants to take me out to dinner on a date (men—don’t be afraid of this word—it is a thousand attractive points when used to make plans with a girl!). So I am thinking he will take me somewhere like Olive Garden, you know, with servers waiting on you. Nah, he takes me to Noodles and Company (which honestly is perfectly fine looking back on it, but at the time, it was strike one, because I was—and still can be—a bit high maintenance). I find that he is no conversationalist, but at least he refrains from droning on and on about himself for hours like I had experienced on previous dates. He is way more handsome in person anyway, so dinner goes by more or less okay, thanks to my skills at interrogation.

We then go to the beach for a walk, at my request. We don’t end up doing any walking though, because the dear man can’t handle the cold sand on his bare feet, bless his heart (strike two—cowboy up). Instead, we sit on our jackets to look at the stars, and as soon as we lean back to actually enjoy it, a gigantic monstrous bear (which turns out to be a German Shepherd puppy) comes charging at me and nearly tears my face off (sniffs my head, but I don’t know what is happening—it is dark and I just hear paws and loud breathing coming at me). I jump up with a shriek and my gallant knight laughs (he doesn’t throw himself betwixt me and my foe like my dream Hallmark man would have). He just sits there and acts like nothing just threatened my life. Good thing he’s not a dog lover, because my dislike of the creatures certainly showed that night. I was shaken, to say the least, and definitely feeling pretty stupid.

I am basically ready to end the night at this point, but he tells me he wants to swing by Walmart on the way back. Nothing classier than a trip to Walmart. He picks out a bag of coconut Lindt truffles I am eyeing (good man) and heads toward the office supplies he needs. En route, he sees a bean bag chair that might suit his apartment (which I would later learn was already exquisitely furnished with an air mattress and futon). He tosses it on the floor and plops himself on top. Only, the bean bag chair shoots out from under him and he lands sprawled flat on his back on the floor of Walmart like a helpless turtle (strike three).

I was so embarrassed, I could not end the night fast enough! What kind of guy makes such a scene in Walmart? Although to his credit, he really didn’t make a big deal of it. Nonetheless, I was sure I would never see him again. I took the Miraculous Medal that I had with me and secretly put it in the cup holder of his car. I wanted Mama Mary to watch over this poor guy who needed all the help he could get with girls and was leaving for a deployment in two months. I sure as heck was not going to be the one sticking around for him.

Maybe it was divine intervention, maybe it was the truffles he bought me, but you better believe I am married to that man. I definitely would not have thought so at the time of our first date. After weeks and months and years of his reliable presence and friendship, I am so grateful my thoughts that night were proven wrong. It took a few dates before we actually felt comfortable being around each other and our conversations became more meaningful and enjoyable. I am so glad he convinced me to see him again a month later (he drove halfway across the country to do it!). He continued to impress me with the time and effort he was willing to put in to make our relationship work. We lived in different states—about seven hours apart—until we got married. He would drive up to see me for a weekend at least once a month; if that isn’t commitment, I don’t know what is.

If anything can be taken from this experience, I hope it is that not every first date (or any date!) will be perfect. That doesn’t mean this person isn’t the one for you. Relationships need time and effort to nurture and grow. Love is a conscious choice that will sometimes take work! The perfect potential spouse you imagine does not exist in real life. God wants you to deny yourself and choose to love like He does—to love someone else in their entirety, brokenness and all.

Last I checked, we are all sinners, and we all fall short of the perfection we tend to seek in a spouse. So don’t expect to find your knight in shining armor on the first date. He won’t be there. Surrender yourself to the one perfect Bridegroom, Christ, and then give another imperfect person the opportunity to pursue virtue and heaven with you more perfectly each day. “The one” is the person you choose to keep choosing every day for the rest of your life. No marriage can survive without sacrifice, as I continue to learn. So please, reign in those expectations, especially on your first date!