I've Always Relied on the Kindness of Strangers

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By Camerin Courtney
March 6, 2002

I was giving a single guy friend some asked-for female perspective about dating when I recognized a singleness pitfall I hadn't noticed before. It was a surprising oversight considering how many times I've fallen prey to this very trap.

It all started when "Justin" told me about a personal ad online he'd responded to. Justin and this cyber-girl had been conversing back and forth by e-mail until he sent her a photo of himself, as requested. Suddenly her e-mails stopped. "Is this a bad sign?" Justin asked me. Though I hated being the bearer of bad news, I told him it didn't sound too promising, especially since just days ago she'd hinted at the prospect of meeting in person and now wasn't even returning his e-mails.

Justin's response was understandable. He felt rejected and deemed unlovable, both of which dealt a sucker punch to his self-esteem. I tried to offer scenarios that could explain her sudden "disappearance" (she could've gotten hit by a bus!) and reminded Justin that this was one girl who'd seemingly rejected him as opposed to all the friends, coworkers, and family members who obviously think he's a great guy. But as I gave this little pep talk, three words kept flitting through my mind: Pot. Kettle. Black.

I suddenly found myself in a sort of mental episode of "This Is Your Life," with scenes of past interactions with potential dating partners scrolling though my mind. For example, after I was set up on a blind date by my sister and brother-in-law this past Christmas season, I checked my e-mail for communication from this out-of-state date several times a day for weeks until he finally wrote. I was happy he'd written, suddenly feeling affirmed as a woman because a guy I'd spent a whopping five hours with one night felt compelled to jot me a quick hello. And then, after crafting a breezy and question-filled response, I was a bit crestfallen when the same guy never e-mailed me again.

There have been other similar scenarios-times when I've felt affirmed when I've caught a stranger noticing me, and times when I've felt like chopped liver when similar guys have seemed to notice every person with a uterus within a block radius except me. Times when I've lobbed unreturned hints at my interest in a guy or waited endlessly for a call from a certain someone that never comes, all the while thinking, What's wrong with me that this guy hasn't called/e-mailed/flirted back?

Somehow sitting on the conferring and comforting end of things watching someone else go through such interactions gave me sudden clarity. The absurdity of the situation hit me like so many doors slamming in my face. In obsessing over the apparent lack of interest in me by someone about whom I know next to nothing and who knows next to nothing about me, I'm giving the keys to my self-esteem to someone who doesn't deserve them. It's shocking how I can be surrounded by friends and family who know all my quirks (from the cute to the annoying) and amazingly enough love me anyway, and yet I can get hung up on the seemingly interesting guy on the other side of the room (who could be a satanist or a fan of Britney Spears, for all I know) who doesn't seem to care I exist. When did I start giving so much power away to so many undeserving strangers?

I finished my pep talk with an admission that I'd been there and had obsessed over that too. And the next time I walked into the corner coffee shop feeling especially snazzy yet the ringless man in line in front of me was too caught up in the blonde behind the counter to even notice my existence, I reminded myself that the Creator of the universe knows every thought in and every hair on my head (even the growing number of grey ones!) and still thinks I'm groovy. And when I had dinner with friends recently and the good guy buddy in the bunch who's joked about us getting married someday flirted openly with a woman 10 years younger than me while I tried to enjoy my spinach ravioli, I thought of the verse that tells me we're engraved on the palms of God's hands (Isaiah 49:16) and that he rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). Armed with these miraculous truths, I didn't feel slighted, but savored.

Now, I'm not nave enough to think I'll never again notice a man's attention-or lack thereof. We human beings were created to love and be loved, and romantic expressions are definitely a part of that. But I'm learning not to limit my scope of loving and being loved. I'm cherishing the Snoopy Valentine my parents sent me last month and the party my sister wants to throw me to celebrate my upcoming book. I'm jotting in my thanksgiving journal my appreciation for caring e-mails from friends checking to make sure my sore throat is gone or spontaneous phone calls from friends wanting to catch up over coffee. That these people whose opinions I highly value find me worthy of sharing both lattes and life warms my heart. And that the Lord of lords loved me enough to send his Son to die for my salvation fills my heart to overflowing. I'm beginning to suspect that this is the only source that will truly quench our need for love-whether single or married.

These are the truths on which I'm trying to stand and on which I'm attempting to base my self-esteem, no matter how many men may make a pass or take one.

Camerin Courtney

2003 Christianity Today. Used by permission.