Don't Wait for God to Bring You a Date
Psychologist Henry Cloud explains the mistakes people make when they're dating--especially thinking God will do all the work.
BY: Interview by Rebecca Phillips
Psychologist Henry Cloud is a best-selling author and popular Christian speaker. His newest book, "How to Get a Date Worth Keeping," comes with a guarantee: "Be dating in six months or your money back." Cloud's approach is strikingly different from other recent popular Christian dating books. Instead of searching for "the one," Cloud encourages his readers to develop a plan to meet and date as many people as possible. His advice is rooted in Christianity, but single people of all faiths will find his dating tips useful and inspiring. Cloud recently spoke with Beliefnet about common mistakes people make when they're dating, whether God has a role in singles' dating lives, and the kind of values Jesus would want people to look for in a mate.
What do you mean when you say dating should not just be about marriage?
People tend to look at dating sort of like a safari--like they're trying to land the trophy. There are a number of things wrong with that. Number one, they're looking for "the one." When they get in that mindset, it keeps them from meeting lots of different people that may have attributes or aspects to their personality and character and spiritual lives that that they need and would love, but never would be open to because of this type they have in their head.
If you talk to most happily married couples and just ask them, "Did you think you would end up with somebody like him or her?" usually they just laugh and say, "No, he's the last person in the world [I'd have expected]." They got outside their type. God surprises people. So when somebody is kind of on the hunt, they get locked into a type. There are also lots of wonderful growth experiences people have in the course of their dating lives that really prepare them for the one. They learn about relationships, they learn about different kinds of people, they learn about themselves. It takes the pressure off.
You mentioned that people tend to stick to a certain type. What other common mistakes do people make in their dating lives?
Many times somebody's attraction to a type is pathological. Some people turn out to be nightmares, yet they continue to go after the same type over and over and over. That gets them locked in.
One of the main other areas that gets people stuck, especially people of faith, is that they don't really treat dating like the other areas of their lives that are successful. In all areas of their lives, they'll take ownership of making those areas of their lives work for them. If you're building a career, you work on yourself: you get your skills up, you get healthy, and you go on a lot of interviews to find the best company. Sometimes you use headhunters. That's the same way that you find a community, the same way you make friends, the same way you go about all of life.
But in this one area, people tend to think God's just going to drop this person in their lap. They think there's nothing that they have to do. They end up very passive about it. What I call on people to do is to take ownership and go about it purposefully. This is why I thinkSoulmatch
[Beliefnet's online dating service] and ideas like that are so great--it's a place for people to say, "I'm going to think about my dating life, and I'm going to look for certain things, and I'm going to examine my traffic patterns. I'm going to treat this area of life like I treat the other areas of life that work."
There have been a lot of other popular dating books in the Christian market, such as "I Kissed Dating Goodbye," that take the opposite approach, that encourage people to focus only on marriage. Is your book in any way a reaction to those books?
I didn't write it in reaction to those books, but rather in response to a need that I continued to hear over and over. But there are some very stark differences [between my book and the others]. I don't think it's wise for people to assume, from just being around people in groups, that they can really decide that they want to marry someone, without a graduated exposure to them. Those philosophies do move from groups to courting, but it's courting for marriage. I don't think that gives people the exposure to different kinds of people that they really need. As a psychologist, I can tell you that there are people who look very good in a group, but they're very different in a one-on-one situation. You don't start to see how kooky people really are sometimes until you are in a one-on-one relationship where control issues, intimacy issues, and fear issues really begin to emerge that don't emerge in a group.
The difference between that school of thought and mine is, I believe, in some ways theological. I believe the Christian faith teaches a parallel track of responsibility between us and God. I think that God is the source of everything; I think he's the provider, He guides us and leads us, in the same way that he secured the Promised Land for the Jews. But then he told Joshua, "You've got to go out and possess and claim and fight for and move into the land that I've secured for you."
When Jesus says, "Don't worry about your life because God is going to provide," he says, "Look at the birds in the air, and how he provides for them." I think that God will provide opportunities and people and experiences, and everything we need to date and ultimately to find the one. But the birds have got to get out of the nest and fly in order for God to [do His work]. He feeds them, but if they're not in the air, they're not going to catch the mosquitoes. So my call is for people to get out of the nest and do their side of the story while they're trusting God.
That reminds me of what you say in the book, that God is not going to bring you "the one" unless he's the FedEx guy.
Yeah, if you think that FedEx guy is cute, you might have a chance.
You must hear people say things like "Maybe God doesn't want me to be married" all the time. What's your first piece of advice for people who think this?
Generally when people say that, it's a conclusion they're drawing from the results that they're getting. I think that answer is often given out of despair and not out of a providential calling. There are people, and Jesus said this, that for the sake of the kingdom they choose a life of singleness or service. Paul wrote about the same thing--if you're single, you have a lot more time to devote to serving and a lot more energy.
But when you hear people make that comment, it's usually out of the feeling of wanting to be married or wanting to be in a relationship, but it's not happening, so people think, "I guess God doesn't want this for me." I do believe there are things that we desire that are not in the cards. But more often than not, when people have a desire for a relationship and it's not happening, there are probably issues to be resolved and issues people could work on that would ultimately end in that desire being fulfilled.
You write a lot about the importance of finding people with similar values. How can you help people define exactly what values they're looking for?
That's a really good question because what I find in working with a lot of Christians and people of faith is that they're very good at defining what they think are their spiritual values. But they define them too narrowly in religious content. I've heard Christians say, I'm looking for someone who really loves God and [for whom] God is the most important thing in his or her life, and who goes to church and is involved in service. These are all very important spiritual values. But what they omit is looking for some of the relational values and character abilities that actually make relationships work, which in my view, are also spiritual values.