The waters of dating and romantic interest can be muddy and unclear. I used to think it was straightforward, but after the past fifteen years or so of experience, I can tell you it’s much more complicated than I once thought.
I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends that include comments like, “But I was so sure he liked me!” “I totally thought we had a connection,” or “Why won’t he just come forward and ask me out??”
But as we sit there trying to analyze the mysteries of guys’ emotions and why they won’t match up to what we want them to be, we – as girls – forget that we can be just as enigmatic with our own emotions and signals that we send (or don’t send) the guys’ way.
So I’ve come up with a little scale to measure the range of interest that we might have in another person:
0 – Ignorance/Rejection – Utter disregard, dislike or disinterest toward the other person
1 – Attraction – Acknowledgement that they exist and are somewhat attractive
2 – Friendship/Fondness – Basic friendship with some potential interest
3 – Flirtation – Seeking their attention intentionally
4 – Infatuation – Can’t stop thinking about them
5 – Admiration – Admiring their skills, beauty, and/or personality for its intrinsic value
6 – Trust-Building – Building a rapport with them because you want them to care for you as well
7 – Affection – They are dear to your heart and you care about them on many levels
8 – Commitment – Choosing to be in a relationship with them exclusively
9 – Deepening the Waters – Becoming more serious about them
10 – Love – Caring about them so much that you want them in your life for as long as you live
And in reality, the complexity of our interests might range all of the following –
- We think we might be interested in another person (maybe a 2 or 3), but after getting to know them, we realize we like them only as friends.
- We might actually have a tiny passing interest in them, but it’s bound to stay at a fondness (2) rather than progressing to true affection (7).
- We’re actually more interested in their attention and admiration, so we keep up a light flirtatious camaraderie because we don’t want to lose it (3) – but we also don’t want to commit to something more (7-8).
- We value them dearly as friends (2 or 5) and no matter how hard we try to care for them as more, we just can’t for whatever reason.
- We start out marginally interested in someone (2-3), and the more time we spend with them, our interest deepens and grows as their soul becomes ever more precious to us (6-7).
The problem occurs when two people are at different places on the scale and they assume the other person is at the same place as them, but they fail to communicate how they truly feel. This can then lead to devastation if one person cares more deeply than the other who moved on to someone else without telling the first person.
In reality, we don’t owe an explanation to every person we’re not dating [I can’t tell you how many people I’ve “considered,” then changed my mind about, grateful that they never knew]. But if it’s clear that one person – or both – are somewhat interested, then there should be honest communication between the two of them about it.
Sure, we might think it’s awkward – or even rude – to tell a friend, “I thought I might be interested in you, but I realized I’m not.” But let me tell you, it’s a whole lot better than pretending you never liked them or acting shocked that they could have thought you liked them. And it’s a whole lot healthier to be open about it than to keep giving mixed signals and leading someone on when you’re not actually interested in committing to them.
As we grow older and more mature, we realize not everyone will be interested in us, even if they appear to be at first. And furthermore, they’re not obligated to be interested in us, even if we start a dating or pre-dating relationship. As much as it hurts to feel more deeply for someone than they do for you, it’s the most loving thing they can do to gently tell you the truth and set you free to love someone else. Especially if it means apologizing for loving their attention more than them and leading them on – intentionally or unintentionally.
So with all of these variables, I find it pretty amazing that anyone actually does end up together – mutually falling in love and finding one another just as delightful as the other does. I suppose it does happen since people get married all the time – I just find it astonishing when it works out so well for those people.
But when that happens, may we be brave enough to speak the real words, return them in kind, and say yes to the incomparable gift of being found treasured by another human being. It might take awhile to come to that place of recognition, but when we do, let us not be afraid to boldly accept it and communicate it with kindness and gentleness.
And if someone is brave enough to tell us that – and we don’t feel the same way – may we be kind and gentle back. May we handle their hearts with care, being grateful that they saw something of value in us. It’s never something to be ashamed of, to say we admired someone enough to feel great affection for them.
Life – and our affections – can be messy and not play by the rules. I guarantee my emotions have not made sense according to charts, scales, and the like over the years. But things like the little scale above do help me to make more sense out of where I’m at and where others might be at – and they help me to give more grace to others who might still be figuring it out.
It also helps me to be more careful with my emotions because if I realize that I’m entering the infatuation and admiration stage, then I know I need to offer it up to God and ask Him to help me hold it with an open hand. I learn day by day to give it to Him as a sacrifice and not pin my hopes on one person, but rather on my Savior, the One who loves me more than any human being.
Even this process is a gift and one He uses to refine us, even if it feels painful at the time. Surrender and trust are key, and as we surrender our hearts to Him and trust Him with them, He promises to guide us each step of the way. May we be brave enough to wait for the right time – and brave enough to take that step forward when it is time.
Thanks be to the God who gave us the gift of love and who governs it all with His ultimate example of love.
To Him be the glory.