The A – Z of Dating

O is for Openness

This month’s topic is Openness – and we are again focusing on openness in Christian Dating which also incorporates openness in relationships, although there is a distinct difference between the two.

Consider first how open you are as a person. And when I say open I am not talking here about a deep sharing of yourself, although we’ll come onto that, I’m talking about openness to things around you, new experiences, new people.

It’s very easy to blandly think you are an open type of person (because no-one likes to think of themselves as closed with its rather negative connotations) but the reality is, most of us are not hugely open to all that’s new. Perhaps that’s because we all like to be in our comfort zone – and anything outside that – which is new – makes us uncomfortable.

All this is very subconscious – but we come across it all the time in our dating agency.

For example when we are encouraging people to stretch their age range of the people they’d like to meet – we often meet resistance. Or perhaps it is the distance you are prepared to travel to meet someone – again we meet resistance, let alone changing the type of person you might like to meet. Or perhaps it’s the acknowledgement that you might need to learn or brush up on some skills that will affect how you do your dating.

When you don’t want to change any aspect of your dating behaviour (thinking what you are currently doing is just fine thank you) then really you aren’t being open to what else might be out there for you.  It’s possible one of the most common traits we see in our members is an unwillingness to be open, and it generally comes from a root of “I’ve tried that before and it’s not worked”, or “I just am not prepared to do that”.

Which is fine in one way – but only if you are willing to accept that your lack of openness may just be the thing that is holding you back from finding that wonderful relationship you really want.

There are lots of ways to be more open in dating.

I’ve written before your dating criteria – be open to changing it – expanding it – considering people who are different to your criteria. We have already talked quite a lot about this in earlier episodes of the A-Z of Dating so I won’t say more on that now.

Be open to new experiences – if someone invites you to their church and it’s a different denomination from the one you’re used to – be open to trying it out. You may be pleasantly surprised by the experience and even if you massively dislike it, chances are it will still teach you something useful.

Be open to trying new interests. Perhaps the thought of doing dancing fills you with horror. Be open to the fact that if you try it and give it a good go, your thoughts about it might change. And remember that just because you tried something in the past – it doesn’t mean it’ll be like it in the future. This applies to so many areas of life.

Often we are closed to things because a view about them has been passed down from our parents – and because that view is so strong we have never challenged it ourselves – and we may well be missing out as a result.

Be open to suggestions from friends, family members and associates about your dating experiences. It’s easy to think we know best and to discount suggestions from those around us – but sometimes a suggestion from a friend could be just what we need. Again it’s about openness here – openness to try something new or something we have never considered before.

Be open to expanding your social circle – perhaps mixing with different people than you are used to. Perhaps you could expand the age of people you are mixing with – go radically different here. If you are young actively seek out some older people to have as friends. And vice versa – if you are old, seek out some young people. At both ends of the spectrum there is a lot to be learnt. And if you are thinking, well what’s the point in that I’m never going to go out with them, then remember no-one stands alone – everyone has friends and family members – and that old man you befriend may have a young grandson he could introduce you to, and that young woman may have a much older aunt on her own who could be just the woman you are looking for.

Maybe you’ve had an experience in the past that didn’t go well for you that has made you closed to anything like that again. Let us take a concrete example. Maybe you once went to a Christian conference and you found it a very lonely experience and you disliked the teaching. So you decide never to go to any such thing again. This could be looked at as being closed to an opportunity like this. It’s a hard one but being prepared to open yourself up again to going to conferences could be the time you meet that person you are looking for. It’s how I met my husband and you do meet people in the most unlikely places and when you are least expecting it. Openness is the key.

Or take going to dancing lessons – which is a great way to meet new people – especially if it’s a type of dancing like ceilidh dancing when you get to dance with a whole range of people. Perhaps you weren’t very good at it, or perhaps you just didn’t get on with the instructor. So now you say to yourself, I’ve tried that once before and it I couldn’t do it so I’m not doing it again. Big mistake. You are closing yourself off to a great way of meeting new people.

Then there is the whole openness of yourself. Now this is a trickier area in some respects because although it’s good to be an open sort of person, there are some things  you don’t want to be open about in the early stages of a relationship and some things that you’ll only be open about when you really know you can trust someone.

For example being too open about past relationships – especially relationships that have gone wrong wouldn’t be the best policy in the early stages of dating. No-one really likes to hear others people’s dirty linen being aired and however much you were not to blame for the relationship failing, it just doesn’t do you any favours bad mouthing another partner. So keep these sorts of things to yourself. The time to share them is when you are in a trusting safe relationship that has some miles on the clock and that can withstand some of the less positive sides of your past coming out.

Perhaps you’ve had some difficulties in your life, or a difficult upbringing. Again, you probably will want to share this with someone who is a long term committed partner – but being open about these things on a first, second or even third date is probably not the place to do it.

It is generally thought that women are more open than men. If someone is not open to you about all sorts of things don’t assume it’s because they don’t trust you. Perhaps the timing isn’t right for them and there are things they would like to be open about but can’t be just right now. The important thing is to be as open as you can be yourself and not push anyone to be something they can’t be at any point in time.

Like so many of these dating topics, you can’t just hear the theory and make your mind up about it. You actually have to put it into practice to see the effect it can have. Time after time we speak to people who are sceptical about something we are teaching or suggesting but then think, you know what, I’ll give it a go. And then the magic happens (for want of a better word), the transformation happens and they go ‘wow’ that really does make a difference. You only have to read the article about Nina and  Steve at the beginning of this issue to see the truth of what I’m saying here.

Let’s now turn to the area of openness in a relationship. Openness comes down to good communication and that is a real art when two people with all their uniqueness, complexness and history come together. Being open with your partner is the way to develop an ever deeper and deeper bond between you – and the way to create a deep intimacy between you.  That’s why the topics of openness, good communication, intimacy, honesty and trust are all very closely related.

Not everyone finds it easy to be open. It’s generally thought that women find it easier to be open than men – and that may mean that men have to feel even safer than women to be able to open up and talk about their feelings. Sometimes this feeling of safety will take longer to build due to past hurts or circumstances, or a feeling that if something is revealed it may jeopardise the relationship.

Again don’t push anyone else to be more open – you can only work on yourself in this area, and if you are open with your feelings, then you give others the permission to be open with theirs.

Being open and sharing of yourself takes trust – trust that what you are sharing will be safely shared with the other person. If this is an issue for you, but you see the value of being open, then try sharing small things first to test out that trust. Once you feel safe with the small things, you can then build to the bigger things you want to share.

It’s always a process – something that is never static – but something that is definitely worth working on.

So to wrap up this topic of openness, if anything I have said has resonated with you, i.e. you think that perhaps you could be more open in your life and that this might have a beneficial impact on your dating success, then take a good look at yourself, do a little assessment and see which areas you might most like to work on to become more open. Choose one or two in the first instance and work on those. Give yourself a time frame to work in and then at the end of that time see if being more open in your chosen area has made a difference. I’m a pretty confident you will see a difference and it will be a positive (even if not easy) experience for you.