'Once Upon a Time' and the Pitfalls of Dating

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Earlier this month, the popular ABC series Once Upon a Time ended its third season with the protagonist Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) finally getting together with the once-villain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue). I have to admit, since the show first introduced the character Hook, I rooted for these two characters to get together. At first, I couldn’t put my finger on why I enjoyed this pair so much. Was it the fact that he was a shameless womanizer and flirt who finally met the girl who resisted his charm? Was it that she was a typical modern jaded woman who slowly put down her walls down for her relentless pursuer? I’m sure those were factors.

Yet, looking back, I realized what made this budding romance so unique: Hook and Emma’s love story had elements of a courtship, not simply a dating relationship.

Most mainstream Hollywood movies and primetime television shows portray the common practices of casual, recreational dating. The music swells as the two individuals share their first kiss. The climax of the plot comes with the couple’s first sexual encounter, with little or no reasons for compatibility beyond romantic feelings and sexual tension. Watching those same movies as a married woman in my mid-twenties,I now find those love stories one-dimensional and lackluster. Filmmakers rarely show us the negative consequences of dating. Here are some pitfalls of casual dating, and how Hook and Emma avoided them. Hopefully, we can all glean some valuable relationship advice from these two.

(WARNING: The following will have plenty of spoilers. Be sure to get caught up on the series before reading on!)

1. Dating focuses on one-on-one interactions, stunting the get-to-know-you process.

In a dating relationship, it is all too easy to put up a façade. After all, it’s all about presenting the best version of yourself. On a typical date, a couple is completely absorbed in each other; rarely do they interact with each others’ families. Hook and Emma went on exactly zero dates–count ‘em, zero–yet somehow, they were successfully able to get to know each other. How? They learned each others’ character traits while spending time with their family and friends. By the Season 3 Finale, Hook has become a part of Emma’s trusted community: Emma allows Hook to babysit her son Henry, and in turn, Henry enjoys Hook’s company. Several times, Emma runs away from family discussions upset, and her parents allow Hook to run after her. Contrast this with Emma’s relationship during the year she was away from her parents (and away from their better judgment). SPOILER ALERT: It ended with an almost-engagement to a flying monkey.

In his book, Choosing God’s Best, psychoanalyst and Christian Author Dr. Don Raunikar writes of the benefits of including one’s community in the dating process: “What people are like within their own families before marriage can be a reliable indicator of how they will act after marriage[…] How people treat others is a good barometer of how they will treat you when the honeymoon is over.”

Keep in mind, Hook and Emma are not officially a couple when Hook starts spending time with her community. This makes it easier to be friends, without the potential temptations to be overly romantic and infatuated, which brings me to my next point.

2. Dating fuels intense romantic attraction at the beginning of the relationship at the expense of a stable foundation of a slowly built-up friendship.

Ask any long-time married couple what has kept their marriage strong and they’ll tell you: it’s not the big romantic gestures or the “butterflies.” It’s the friendship. It’s easy to overlook this important pillar of a successful relationship. But when infatuation and fleeting romantic feelings run their course, what remains is a friendship…or lack of one.

According to Dr. Raunikar, there are four levels of friendship involvement in the courtship process, each leading to the next:

1. Acquaintance

2. Casual friendship

3. Close friendship

4. Intimate friendship

As acquaintances, two individuals discover they have mutual interests. Soon, the relationship grows and they begin to build trust and understanding. Finally, they become friends.

“A solid friendship will be the springboard for beginning a healthy courtship,“ says Dr. Raunikar.

We witness Emma’s emotional wall finally crumble right before their first real kiss in the Season 3 Finale. (Sure, they kissed in Season 2, but Emma recoiled, claiming it was a “mistake” and a “one-time thing”). Hook had just revealed that he gave up his most prized possession, his pirate ship, in exchange for a rare chance to cross realms and get to Emma. According to the Bible, "Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). READ: friendship equals sacrifice. And our dear Hook clearly demonstrates his ultimate sacrifice for Emma.

I love how the producers withheld the big kiss until after a two-season long courtship. This brings me to my next and final point.

3. Dating encourages premature sexual interaction before trust and commitment are established.

Alas, in direct contrast to most movie and television couples, Hook and Emma have never gone further sexually than kissing (GASP!), yet their love story is so likeable.

In most mainstream films and television, the sexual encounter comes before the couple gets a chance to develop trust and establish a commitment to each other. Therefore, we viewers are supposed to come to the conclusion that a relationship is never official until two lovers seal the deal with sex.

In an earlier post I wrote:

Sex without love and commitment is like the life-sucking hell of chemotherapy. Dose after dose, one hookup after another, casual sex seems to be the best antidote for the unbearable cancer of loneliness. But under the surface, the chemo is indiscriminate: healthy cells are destroyed right alongside cancer cells. One’s ability to connect and relate well with others weakens with each “score” divorced from emotional intimacy and commitment. (Source)

Generally speaking, Dr. Raunikar explains, dating “disproportionately exalts physical and romantic attraction” and “emphasizes emotions, lust, and sexual desire–all of which demand a sexual response.“

Therefore, he says, it’s no surprise when singles fall prey to sexual intimacy without commitment. “One-on-one dating is designed specifically for sexuality and physical attraction.”

Hook and Emma have shown us that a simple kiss bears much more weight and significance (1) in the context of a relationship vouched for by one’s community and (2) with the foundation of an unyielding friendship.

For the benefit of those who may not follow Once Upon a Time (but more for the benefit of my fellow #TeamHookandEmma members), I’ll leave you with this gem: a fan-made montage of their love story.

QUESTION: Which aspect of the Hook and Emma courtship did you enjoy the most?

Resources:Choosing God’s Best by Dr. Don Raunikar

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Why God Isn't Obligated To Fulfill Our Desires

By Tracy Pierson

This is a guest post by my good friend Tracy Pierson. She is a fellow full-time missionary with Cru, serving middle and high schools in Chattanooga, TN. She is also a very talented singer/ songwriter. You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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I’m approaching my 30th birthday and I’m still single.

I was 27 on my first date, the age my mother was when she gave birth to her first child. I honestly enjoy being single, but my journey has also been painful.

I’ve watched friend after friend after friend after friend get married and start families. I’ve had to initiate a breakup because I was being led down a specific path of ministry—and he wasn’t. I’ve suffered through loneliness, questioned my beauty (inside and out), and doubted my sexuality and femininity.

Too many times, I’ve begged God to take away my desire to get married, but He hasn’t. I’ve read every book about being a “happy single girl” ever published (it’s a rather large section at Lifeway Christian bookstore). I’ve had people give me all sorts of advice when they have no clue what my life is like.

When I was in college, several of us were bemoaning our singleness—it was one of our favorite pastimes, right behind mocking our football team and descending like locusts on a Starbucks. In my deep theological wisdom, I cited one of the most misquoted scripture verses in our generation: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

My reasoning went like this:

  1. God gives you the desires of your heart.
  2. I want to get married. Therefore…
  3. God MUST send me a husband” (who played guitar and looked like Vin Diesel—we didn’t have Ryan Reynolds back then).

I’ll never forget what happened next. Like a toddler with a blow dart, my buddy Stephen lobbed the following sentence out into the universe. “You’re not guaranteed to get married.” I didn’t argue, nor did I punch him in the stomach. But I had never been so afraid.

Years later, I was driving home in the rain and I lamenting the fact that I was still UN-married. I started to wonder aloud, What if I never get married?  I heard God whisper back, What if you don’t?

Like during my college days, my immediate reaction was terror.

Quickly thereafter, God began to speak tenderly to me:

Tracy, what if you live your whole life with this longing on earth and you don’t get married? What if I’m the only husband you ever have? What if the only wedding dress you wear is when you attend the wedding feast of the Lamb? Will that be enough for you?

Suddenly, my desire to get married looked pathetically small and lackluster. I remembered the years of walking through the painful and joyful moments of my singleness with Him—seeing Him prove Himself to be working all things together for my good.

I was experiencing what my favorite Narnian, C.S. Lewis, had meant when he said:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased”

(C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses).

Whether it’s to get married, have children, or to “get out of this town once and for all,” the pull of our desires can nearly tear us to bits. We simply cannot imagine anything stronger. We see the invitation of Jesus as a quid-pro-quo business deal: if we follow him, he’ll give us our Christmas list. He extends his nail-scarred hand—the proof of his love and our freedom—and we assume it’s so we can shake on our agreement. We even look at God—the infinite Creator of time and space—and wonder if what He has to offer could match what we can see and taste and touch.

Contrary to my 21-year-old self’s understanding of Psalm 37:4, that verse is not a formula on how to strong-arm God into bringing me what I want (even if it’s something noble and good). It’s a reminder that God will faithfully give of Himself if indeed it is a relationship with Him that I seek. 

QUESTION: Have you ever tried to twist God’s arm into fulfilling your desires? Let me know in the comments below.

Don Jon Reveals True Purpose of Sex

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UPDATE/ DISCLAIMER: It has come to my attention that some readers are interpreting my publication of this article as an all-out recommendation for everyone to watch the film. Make no mistake, this film is not for the weak-hearted. The filmmaker transports the viewer into the mind of a pornography addict, and forgive the gross understatement, it is NOT pretty. Watch at your own risk. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.

In 1997, a company called “Cherry Blossoms” found success in the poverty-stricken Philippines (the country from which my parents immigrated). For a fee, Cherry Blossoms provided “matchmaking” services between older American males and young Filipino women. For some of these women, a rich American husband was the only way out of the densely populated and filthy squatters’ towns populated by makeshift houses made of scrap metal.

One customer wrote to a potential bride:

There are two young ladies…who have written that they would do ANYTHING for me…if only I gave them… the opportunity to come to the United States with me. Tell me, Vilma, how do you feel about that?…Would you do anything I ask?“ He describes a particular sexual activity, then writes, "My preference is [for a] partner [who] would be willing, able, and skillful enough to perform that activity for me, at any time.

Christian Author Gary Thomas mentions this story in his book Sacred Marriage, and likens it to "lifetime prostitution.” For these men, sex is something they expect to receive, not what they expect to give.

Ask anyone to describe the purpose of sex, and you’ll get varying answers. Is it individual pleasure? Connection to another person? I would argue that true sexual fulfillment comes from giving up of oneself in body, soul, spirit and will; not taking and using someone as an object of satisfaction.

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In the film Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, the protagonist Jon Martello (also played by Gordon-Levitt) attempts to satisfy himself not only with a series of one-night-stands each weekend, but more so with his pornography addiction.

In an interview with RogerEbert.com, Gordon-Levitt, who is also the screenwriter of the film, gives some insight on his character.

Everything in Jon’s life is…a one-way street. He is not connecting or engaging with anyone…He doesn’t listen; he just takes. At the beginning of the movie, he is finding that dissatisfying because there’s the sequence where he brings a young lady home from the bar and he is comparing her to this checklist that he has got of what he likes to see in a pornography video. Obviously, a real human being is not going to map onto that because there is a fundamental difference between a human being and an image on a screen.

What follows are “unrealistic expectations that…lead [him] to objectify people or to not connect.”

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When Jon meets Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson), a “dime” on his buddies’ rating system, he expects to find a cure for his pornography addiction. He finds his viewings decrease, but somehow even real sex with “the most beautiful thing [he had] ever seen” doesn’t compare to the beloved women on his computer screen.

When an older woman and classmate Esther (Julianne Moore) befriends him, she offers him advice that takes him by surprise: “you have to lose yourself in another person. It’s a two-way thing.”

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Pastor Nate Larkin was married with three children when he became addicted to hardcore pornography. He shares his story with the Christian organization I Am Second.

“I think we’re all made for intimacy,” Larkin says. “But intimacy carries its risks. People can reject us. People can disappear. They can die. Pornography offers this artificial intimacy with no risks. Every day I said hello to the woman who wouldn’t laugh at me, or who found me attractive, engaging. And every day, I gave a piece of myself away. It left me emptier and hungrier every time.”  

Contrary to what most movies and pop songs purport, others do not exist to please me. Too often, we use each other as mere objects of satisfaction, instead of treating others as individuals made in the image of God. Each of us are human beings with intrinsic value, who deserve to be appreciated and accepted, apart from what pleasure we can bring to another person.

In The Gift of Sex, sexual therapists and authors Clifford and Joyce Penner (Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and R.N., M.N., Clinical Nurse Specialist) offer an alternative view to sex.

Lovemaking cannot be just physical…If there is to be a fulfilled relationship, there must be more to it than meeting physical needs. The total person–intellect, emotions, body, spirit and will–becomes involved in the process of giving ourselves to one another.

The Penners narrow down the root cause of sexual addictions like Jon and Nate’s to a lack of true intimacy: “Neither the Internet nor magazines demand a relationship. The images cooperate completely with the needs and fantasies of the addict, who never has to give of himself and his own needs.“

Although the average person may not struggle with pornography addictions like Jon or Nate did, many of us are still plagued with the temptation to use others as a means to satisfy ourselves, especially when it comes to sexual actions. Like Nate, we may avoid true connection in an attempt to experience “artificial intimacy with no risks.”

There is always a risk in putting yourself out there, always the possibility of not having our love reciprocated. But losing oneself in another person is the only way to connect and have a truly fulfilling sex life. We must be willing to lose ourselves in another person in the sexual experience, to be totally open and vulnerable.

As with most Christian principles, the biblical purpose of sex is paradoxical. If one pursues individual pleasure, he soon finds himself unsatisfied and lonely. Yet if he pursues a total connection of emotions, body, spirit, and will, he finds contentment.

The Penners summed it up perfectly: "Sex is not something we do to someone, neither is it something we do for someone. Rather, sex is a with experience.”

Resources:The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner

[All images from RogerEbert.com]

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3 Things I Learned From My Almost-Break-Up

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“I think I’m falling in love with someone else,” I told Moses, my then boyfriend, over the phone.

“I can’t talk to you right now,” he said with a trembling voice. Then he hung up.

It was one week before our first dating anniversary.

It had been a draining year for us. I was a full-time college student in Manhattan and worked 30+ hours per week. Moses was a first-year teacher in Queens, whose schedule was eaten up by never-ending lesson planning. We talked on the phone as often as we could, but we carved out very little time to see each other in person. The few times we did meet up lacked the depth, intensity and excitement of earlier days.

Hungry for companionship, I found myself confiding in another man. I knew it was wrong, but I was lonely, and I missed being needed. Upon hearing Moses say that he couldn’t talk to me, I braced myself for our inevitable break-up.

With swollen eyes, I woke up early the next morning to write an email.

Moses, I’ve made promises to be a committed and loyal girlfriend and I haven’t kept it. I have not given my best to you; I’ve only given you the leftovers. I’m sorry.

As I hit SEND, I realized that an email from Moses was already waiting in my inbox.

Marilette,

I didn’t expect to feel all the pain I felt last night. I felt that I was immune from it, but man, last night was tough. As much as I say I’m strong and secure and could be okay without a relationship, it is impossible for me to think like that anymore. I’m weak for you. I need you. And I want to be with you, struggling together, rejoicing together, honoring God together.

Babe, more and more, I realize that love is a climb, not a fall. I want to continue climbing with you. I wasn’t a good steward of this relationship, and ultimately, I’ve failed God in this. My personal failure has caused hurt and pain to myself, as well as to you. From this moment forward, I want to be a better boyfriend for you.

I know thoughts have entered your mind these past couple of days, thoughts of “What if things were like this? What if things were like that?” Babe, let me erase those thoughts from your mind. I want to be that person you always wanted. I may not be perfect, but when I say I am committed to you, I mean ‘committed.’

I learned three things about love from that whole ordeal:

1. True love is a risk.

Moses and I each had walls up that stunted the growth of our relationship. But behind every wall is a fear and lack of trust. It is not only selfish but stupid.

Emotional walls are paradoxical. “I fear heartache, so I put up a wall of protection. I have a wall, so I don’t fully trust. I don’t fully trust, so the relationship stagnates, or worse, implodes.” As the trite, yet true, saying goes, “relationships are built on trust.” And there is no trust without risk.

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis says it best: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.”

2. True love forgives even in the harshest circumstances.

Never in a million years would I have expected myself to be on the giving end of infidelity. I know some of you will not justify my “emotional cheating” as such. I would disagree. While I was never involved physically with another man, my time, emotions, and attention were given to someone other than Moses. These were parts of myself that should have been reserved only for him. As a result of my careless actions, feelings of jealousy and a loss of self-confidence erupted in Moses.

Moses had two choices: become angry and resentful, resulting in our bitter split, or forgive, resulting in a strongerrelationship.

It took a lot of humility for Moses to recognize his own faults. It took maturity to refuse to dump all the blame on me, the unfaithful one.

But Moses’ decision to forgive not only saved our relationship, it allowed a newfound sense of trust in each other to blossom and gave our relationship a fresh start.

3. True love needs constant, laborious effort to survive.

Moses and I got a wake-up call that day that a relationship is never stagnant. It is either moving towards oneness, or drifting towards isolation (Source). Moses and I had always prided ourselves in not being one of those “clingy” couples. But those days of not prioritizing the other person and “doing our own thing” allowed an emotional and spiritual distance to creep into our relationship. Then, at the first sign of loneliness, I attempted to compensate with another person.

It took almost losing each other to push Moses and I to take our relationship seriously. Since that day, we’ve realized the amount of vulnerability and effort it requires to have a relationship not only survive, but thrive.

What did you learn from your biggest mistake or hardest life circumstance? Let me know in the comments below.

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Resources:The Four Lovesby C.S. Lewis

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The Virginity Plague

By Marilette Sanchez

[NOTE:This is a repost from October 2010.]

Depression. Suicide. Abuse. For those floundering helplessly in such ailments, helplines have been a quality resource for counsel. In recent weeks, eye-catching posters on outdoor boards, bus shelters and subway walls in major U.S. cities have directed seekers to a helpline for those with a rarely discussed condition: virginity. The signs ask “Still A Virgin?” then direct people to a toll-free number for help. Within the first five days of the ad’s appearance, the hotline received 70,000 callers. 

It was a hoax. In an unorthodox marketing move, Sony Pictures launched this billboard campaign to advertise The Virginity Hit, a movie about “four guys, one camera, and their hilarious experience chronicling the exhilarating and terrifying rite of passage: losing your virginity” [TheVirginityHit.com].

“The Virgin Helpline” gives callers semi-humorous advice from Zack, a lead character in the film (played by Zack Pearlman). The caller is directed to customized advice according to his or her gender, relationship status, and length of time in a relationship.

For the male virgin who’s been dating a girl for over a year, Zack tells him to check whether he is in friend mode or has reached the point of wearing matching fanny packs. He advises, “You’ve waited long enough….Some people say wait for marriage, but with a fifty-percent divorce rate, why take the chances? Close the deal with your lady.

To the female virgin who can’t get a boyfriend, Zack assures: “You know, you have all the power, when you want to lose it, any guy will take it. Really. We have no standards, you just have to readjust yours… The boy you like doesn’t like you? Who cares? Some guy will.

You’re a virgin who wants to stay a virgin? “HANG UP NOW. THIS IS FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO CHANGE THEIR LIVES.

If you are ready to change your life, go ahead and start the journey to becoming a real man. If you work hard enough, you can achieve your full sexual potential and become a Jonathan.

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Jonathan, Jack Nicholson’s character in the film Carnal Knowledge (1971), saw life as nothing but a series of sexual conquests. When middle-aged Jonathan and his college roommate Sandy (Arthur Garfunkel) reminisced, Jonathan presented a slideshow of all of his lovers. He described each woman in increasingly degrading detail. Beside the tally of notches on his bedpost, Jonathan’s legacy included a failed marriage with a model whom he almost drove to suicide, a spurned best friend of 25 years, and impotence. In an attempt to solve the latter problem, he role-played with a prostitute, to whom he fed a script about worshipping men’s masculinity and “domineering” behavior, while rebuking women’s manipulative and castrating nature.

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You know you’ve arrived at true manhood when you are solitary, shriveled, solo.

Sex without love and commitment is like the life-sucking hell of chemotherapy. Dose after dose, one hookup after another, casual sex seems to be the best antidote for the unbearable cancer of loneliness. But under the surface, the chemo is indiscriminate: healthy cells are destroyed right alongside cancer cells. One’s ability to connect and relate well with others weakens with each “score” divorced from emotional intimacy and commitment. Jonathan’s sex obsession stripped him of his wife, his best friend, and even his ability to enjoy sex in a natural way.

We see the sexual credo opted by Zack and Jonathan everyday: at the local dog run.

Think about it: A female dog in heat doesn’t take her time to weigh her options for the most compatible dog. She does what she needs to do and moves on. Quick, painless, satisfying.

Sounds great if you want to be a dog, but isn’t the goal becoming a man?

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After Christofer Drew Ingle of Never Shout Never lost it, he didn’t feel more like a man. He chronicles his first time in the song “Losing it.” He realizes “you’ve got your whole life to do these things…I just lost it/ I knew I was only sixteen/ But I thought I loved her”.

On a Myspace blog post (which has since been removed), Ingle revealed the story behind the song. After nine months of falling deeply in love with a girl, Ingle lost his virginity to someone he was sure he would spend forever with. He soon heard rumors that his girlfriend had hooked up with his “pal.” After confronting her, she confirmed the gossip. She also told him that she’d slept with over ten other people during their relationship. “I was mortified and heartbroken for the longest time,” Ingle said.

Unsatisfied. Mortified. Heartbroken. Regret. How can these coexist with the “exhilarating…rite of passage”? Is virginity really the “disease” that needs a remedy (and a hotline)?

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When one carelessly shares sex with just anybody, he ends up robbing himself of the joy of being intertwined with someone on all levels: mind, body, and soul. Because sex is not simply a physical union, but a spiritual and emotional one as well. Unfortunately, for individuals who value their “first time,” The Virginity Hit’s ad campaign scorns the concept of waiting for the right time with the right person.

The next time you are tempted to rid yourself of the embarrassing and painful virginity disease, remember this advice from Zack and his hotline: “Press 4 if you want your virginity back––Matt, do you want to give them the bad news?––Uh sure, you cannot have your virginity back.”

Do you know someone who could benefit from this article? Be sure to pass it along.