I’m the Bomb: A Reflection on Dating

Cara Strickland

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I'M THE BOMB

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I grew up in the evangelical church, one of the Jesus Girls, one of the ones who was on fire.

I learned quickly that I wasn’t like everyone else. I certainly wasn’t like the other girls. Instead of being afraid of the boys, or even particularly attracted to them, I wanted to hang out with them. At youth group parties, you might find me playing Halo, jumping on the trampoline, or playing spoons with the boys. In their company, I felt like I was taken seriously, I felt a part of something.

It was nice to be different, when it was in that context. We had frank discussions, talking about God, about life, about girls. I grew comfortable with that role: the confidante. I became the quintessential sister-figure, loving every minute of it.

But no one wanted to date that girl, and after a while, I wanted a date much more than I wanted to be myself, so she got lost somewhere along the way.

…..

When I was a teenager I read every Christian dating book I could get my hands on.

I wanted to be ready. I read about how a nice Christian girl should act, what she should say, the way that she should come across.

I read the chapters that were supposed to be only for the guys, too. They were, perhaps, even more informative. Here were instructions to the Christian guy in selecting a date (or mate). I soaked up this information, along with the occasional tidbit from the salacious pages of Seventeen, and, later, He’s Just Not That Into You.

I learned, a little at a time, that if I ever wanted to attract anyone worth attracting, someone worth marrying, I had a box to fit into.

But I didn’t fit in the box. I did my best. I crammed myself into it with the same practiced skill as that acrobat in Ocean’s Eleven, stuck in a duffel bag for hours on a plane

You get used to it.

…..

It worked pretty well. That’s the thing.

I didn’t upset anyone by speaking my mind, I was infinitely agreeable. I gave all the boys the benefit of the doubt, over and over, until I couldn’t anymore. But when they broke up with me, I knew they weren’t really breaking up with me. They didn’t know me. 

You see, I’m a bit of a spitfire. I think all the time. I’m bold and passionate and interested in things that matter (and many things that don’t). I struggle to have a conversation on the surface. If I love you, I want to tell you. I’m frank and honest in a way that either horrifies or disarms people.

For a long time, I watched those girls, you know the ones: unconcerned, silky hair that did what they wanted it to do (remember the perfect “messy bun”?). It didn’t seem like they cared about anything, especially the attractive guys buzzing around them.

But I did.

I could do everything the books said, but in high school, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t care. I didn’t learn that until later. That was all it took, just a little indifference, a little freaking out on the inside, with my girlfriends, in my journal, instead of in front of him. A little distance, a little delay when he texted, or asked if I was free.

And I wondered, from time to time: will there come a point where I can get excited about us? Will there come a time when I can sing a little off-key when I want to? Or quote Star Wars? Or talk about the future?

…..

I obeyed the rule of initiation to the letter.

After all, I was a woman. It was the man’s job to reach out, to call, to ask, to text. I worked hard to be responsive, to match (but not exceed) his level of interest, so as not to scare him away.

I didn’t want to appear too eager.

All of this has followed me here, to the present. It might have held me still, except for one thing: I started to see something new.

I’ve been reading the Bible since I was small, but there was something I never noticed, perhaps it was the lens I was using.

…..

I noticed that the Bible is full of women who initiate.

All of a sudden, I was seeing Martha rushing to meet Jesus, challenging and questioning him. I watched Mary anoint Jesus’ feet with costly perfume. Here comes Ruth, uncovering Boaz’s feet and proposing. Rahab tells the spies that she and her family must be saved. And what about Tamar? Her quest to honor her husband and his memory goes beyond anything I can imagine. I can’t read about Tamar without crying.   

And they don’t stop.

These stories keep going through the whole Bible. Deborah, Esther, Leah, Rachel, Jael, Rebekah, Naomi, Abigail. The list goes on.

Honestly, I am pressed to find very many women in Scripture who did not initiate. These women were bold, they were thinkers and prayers, prophetesses, lovers, sisters and saints. I began to get glimmers of recognition. I began to resonate with what I was seeing and reading, as if something long asleep was coming alive.

…..

It wasn’t ever spoken out loud, but the message was clear: you’re the bomb. 

My strength, my exhortation, my hard, true words, the very core of me, were not a gift to the rest of the Body, they were a danger.

For years, I’d hidden it away inside me. My passion, my personality. Not just in romantic relationships (though that was a big part) but in friendships and churches and Bible studies and small groups.

My job was to make sure it was hidden far within me, cushioned from anything that might rattle it, causing it to go off and hurt someone.

My job was to meet someone who could disarm it, for good.

…..

Recently I realized something that has changed the way I look at relationships: I am a good idea that God had.

It seems simple. It seems too simple. I couldn’t believe it.

After all these years of trying to seem a certain way, I stopped trying to “seem” and started being myself in relationships.

I’m not quite the girl that I was in early high school, playing Halo with the boys, but I’m comfortable in my skin like she was.

Still, at least once a day, I remind myself to be me.

I remind myself that I don’t need a boyfriend or an excuse to say no to a date if I don’t want to go. I remind myself that if I want to send a text, I can.

When I waver about being honest about my feelings, I draw a deep breath and speak the words out loud. I take my own face in my hands and tell me that I don’t want the kind of life lived in a box: no room to relax, to spread out, to be excited. No room for me. 

I’ve spent my life thinking that the things that made me unique were like wrinkles that just needed to be ironed out. I’ve tried, and they don’t smooth. Now I’m so glad.

The wrinkles are part of the art. They are on purpose, and so am I.

Cara Strickland

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52 Comments

  • Amen. And as a man, this is something I need to hear as well just as strongly. Life is changing for me, and posts like this remind me everything is going to be ok and I’m heading in the right direction.

  • I’ve appreciated so many of your pieces but this one, this one is my absolute favorite. Can so relate. Thank you.

  • I continue to be amazed with the clarity of your writing, Cara. You need your own reality show–“Keeping up with Cara”! I’d watch!

  • Yes, yes, yes!! This so has to be said. As another lady who has never fit the mold, I’m so thankful you wrote this! And sad that it takes so long for us to realise that God thinks we’re a good idea 🙁

    • Thank you so much, Lydia.
      It is sad, and I think it’s also sad that we struggle so hard to remember, even once we do know.

  • Thank you Cara for identifying the elephant in the room! Presumption that initiation and response are gender assigned realities contributes to unhealthy expectations and relationships in the Body.

    Recently I heard a pastor embellish the few NT references to Lydia by ADDING that she was considered a prostitute because she was able to outsell men in the fabric market….But according to divine inspiration, Lydia was recognized by Paul for her initiation that glorified God.

    Rather, it is the realities of jealousy, envy and coveting operating in fallen men (and women) that explain the lack of unity on the who/why/and how of initiation and response in Christ’s unfettered church.

    I pray for courage and humility for you as you continue to initiate as the Holy Spirit leads you.

    • This is a delightful analysis of a need all women have to be set free to be all that they can be, in Christ! I really identified with it, even at my fairly old age! What a joy to be free and strong, at last!

      May God spare us from pastors who SPECULATE, like this one M.J. Greene described, about Lydia and other women in the Bible!…there is far too much OPINION from the pulpit, instead of “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”…and often the result is a lie…too much playing fast and loose with scripture. A pastor I knew, like this one, also used his speculation to try to put women in their place and demean Bible women as well…like painting Abigail as a ‘disobedient wife who went against God in not submitting to her husband’ and Naomi as the perfect obedient wife!!!…or the one who told me my husband, my pastor and the whole church were also, along with Christ, Mediators between me and God…a Reformed Pastor, no less!

      I guess his Reformation was for men only!

      • I so agree with you about speculation. Some of my least favorite words are: “The Bible clearly says.” It is so necessary to sit, discern and allow a perspective to grow.
        Thanks so much for being here, Judy.

      • Hello Judy:

        I actually gasped when I read in your post,

        “…the [pastor] who told me my husband, my pastor and the whole church were also, along with Christ, Mediators between me and God… I’d be interested to hear what was your response……

        I’m sorry to say I believe all of this (the Comp-Egal disagreement) is much more about unchecked evil than mainly philosophical differences among those who claim saving faith. Oppression of humans by other humans is not principally about different interpretations of the Bible. It’s about the spiritual forces that control those who are not submitted to the corrective hand of the Holy Spirit and therefore do the work of the adversary. The effect of 1 Cor 3 carnality combined with the effect of the natural man can be quite damaging when foisted on the one walking as a Spiritual believer.

        Many believers don’t want to acknowledge the spiritual nature of faith that is subject to the Prince of the Power of the air. Later in my life I’ve realized how much I must hide in Christ for protection and wait on the power of the Spirit as He fights these unseen battles.

        Thanks for sharing with us.
        MJ Greene

    • So much of what I’ve learned about “traditional” gender roles lead me to believe that they are enforced out of fear. Relationships with an equal are a scary thing. I find myself wanting to be in control, rather than doing things as a team. It’s much scarier to walk slowly, listening to the Spirit.
      Thank you so much for being here.

  • Me too!! Now, at 70, I rather enjoy my role in my congregation as someone who challenges easy answers. God was good to me – I met a man who is very much like I am. He’s 51% logical and 49% creative. I’m 51% creative and 49% logical. It gives us stuff to talk about.

    I do try to be diplomatic, though, at church . One of the finest compliments I ever got came when the wife of one of our elders told me, “I enjoy your comments. You always say what I’m thinking.”

    • I hope to always be challenging easy answers. Thanks so much for walking that path before me, Joyce!

  • Good for you! Life is too short to pretend to be anyone else but who you are. I went through a different life odyssey to figure similar lessons for myself and have no regrets of being who I AM made to be on purpose…because it please God to make me this way. The world already has enough clones, who refuse their uniqueness.

    Unfortunately societal expectations plague males and females alike. The society looks at a man and says–you are supposed to be the bread winner, you are supposed to be tough, you are supposed to be the one who pursues, you are supposed to be the one with a tool set, etc., but there are many great men out there who do not fit into this mold, yet they are masculine nevertheless. By becoming who we are supposed to be (as women, better yet, as individuals), as opposed to who the society wants us to be, perhaps we can also free our counterparts to become who they are created to be.

    Great article. I read every word of it.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece, Elena.
      I’m thankful for this journey, and for the freedom that is coming along with it.

  • I am a good idea tha God had, how, brilliant! I too, am that bomb, sort of. Actually I am a little fire cracker that explodes here and there as God takes me. My mold was different to the average, going on camp and first to the flying fox or archery or air rifles. Didn’t step out of my true me, because I saw grown- up true to them selves women in my church. Sing, play piano, go to wotk, drive a sportscar in races, speak up at church meetings…oh the bun fights that caused, look after their families, or be part of the whole church community, single or married, defend their children and others….and this was 50 years ago!
    I married at 30, fitted somewhere between camps, teaching and youth work, so I think, be yourself, life is good when me goes out with me to meet the world, single or not.
    Romance novels and advice about teen dating always made feel silly even reading it, yes, I committed to stay celibate. Couldn’t imagine more than one partner, although who says being close isn’t fun? Go girl, be true to you and enjoy you, we do!

    • You ARE a good idea that God had, Ruth.
      I’m so glad that you had such good models of what women could be like. What a gift to you (and to the church).

  • I might just book mark this one for many of my coaching clients – when we come out of our shell & let the world (and the cute boy) see the real us – we SHINE! Thanks for being honest Cara.

  • Cara,
    I love this post! It’s the story I’m living right now, at 50 years old. I’m so happy that you figured this out young. You will be a better woman for it. Thank you for being real.

    • I’m thankful too. So glad you’re discovering these things too. I’m sure it will continue to be a process.

  • You are the bomb, no doubt about it. It’s tough (and ugly) that the idea of what a girl should be masks who she really is. I have so so many female friends who are smart and fun and good to look at (some of them are downright beautiful in face as well as on the inside) but no dates. It’s so damn hard to work out why!

    I’ll tell you this, living in the box is so confining, such a hindrance, and if it takes that to find your true partner, it’s not your true partner that you found…

    Be you… I know you are already and don’t need me to tell you that, but you are truly one of God’s best ideas and your future is enormous… and enormously fulfilling.

  • INDEED! I felt incredibly stifled, especially in evangelical/charismatic/pentecostalsettings. Being what God made me, I would deliberately say and do against the norm that would provoke people into discourse. Often I’m told I’m not a Christian because I don’t look like the quintessential Christian woman, nor do I behave as expected. But He likes us quite fine. And I like that He likes me. It is joyous.

    • It is joyous! So glad to have you on this journey Elspeth.

  • “I couldn’t pretend I didn’t care.” That’s power right there, Cara. If you care enough about something to know you can’t pretend otherwise, who knows where it will lead? You ended up with the realization that God had a good idea when he created you.

    I really like your list of women as well, and I’d add Jesus’ mother to the roster of initiators. She tells him that he needs to save the party. He tells her that now is not a good time. She tells the servants to listen to Jesus and follow his instructions to the letter. That’s initiating, facilitating and following through like nobody’s business, Cara.

    Nice job.

    P.S. If anyone’s interested, Cara has a guest post coming up at my place next Wednesday covering her entire dating life for the month of January. It’s a wild ride.

    • I love Mary, her role in Jesus’ life is always inspiring to me.
      Thanks so much for being here.

  • Oh, wow. “I am a good idea that God had.” Beautiful! I played the hang-back-and-never-initiate game to the point of absurdity and exhaustion as well. We are more than enough, just as we are. Thank you for putting such beautiful thoughts into such beautiful prose.

    • So simple, right? It’s amazing how long it’s taken me to get there. (And I’m not always there).
      Thank you so much for being here, Suzanne.

  • Thank you so much for sharing this! This could have been my story; yes, it was exactly me 45 years ago!! Like you, an eye-opening reading of the scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit freed me, too, and through God’s grace I was spared from making some bad decisions. Carry on, sister; you are such a gift in your wiring and your story!

    • Thank you so much, Kathy. It’s so encouraging to hear that others are also feeling these same whispers of the Spirit.

  • This could have been my story. While none of my attempts to initiate relationships have turned out the way I planned, I don’t regret any of them. I too, have learned as an adult that I will live with a lot less un-answered questions if I can just be myself and say what I feel instead of waiting around and playing ‘damsel in distress’.

    • You’re so right, Becca. I don’t want to “play at” anything. This is all real life. I want to be engaged in every moment.

  • I would add an AMEN! from pastoral counseling. The “people pleaser” who tries to be who the other wants them to be is soon eclipsed by the person they are trying to please and that person is no longer able to “see” them – they are simply a shadow of the other. But when a person interacts as a real person then the attraction is increased as the “other” is now of infinite interest for “they are not me.”

    • This is such a hard thing for me (and a constant battle) but you’re right, it makes all the difference in the world.

  • As a (gulp) older Christian woman who worked outside the home at a time when the general Christian community was lambasting that for putting materialism before your kids, I applaud your thinking. Just be careful, that the “you” you are being stays under the direction of the Holy Spirit. God DOES celebrate how He created each of us to be. But the Fall impacted that good creation, and it is no wiser to swing to the “I Gotta Be Me” side of the pendulum than it is to smack into the “I gotta Be You” side. NOT. AT. ALL. saying that’s what your post is about. It’s great – just be wise as a serpent and as gentle as a dove in its implementation, and I will continue trying to do the same:)

    • That’s always the struggle, isn’t it Diane?
      So much balance, and constantly checking in with my motives.
      Harder, but infinitely better.

  • I. looooove. this.

    I can completely relate. I have felt pressure in past relationships to fit into “the mold” of what a Christian girl should look like, act like, abide by, etc. But that was my own fault. I wasn’t being my true self in those relationships to begin with, so no wonder the expectations were different than what I wanted. I wasn’t even sure of what I wanted!

    I am grateful I didn’t rush into anything, because I’m still figuring it out. I am much closer, but I’ve learned to be honest. My boyfriend knows where I am on the Egalitarian vs. Complementarian issue, and he supports it, and believes in it himself. My previous boyfriends didn’t know my viewpoints because I didn’t know. I have always had leanings (My junior high Bible teacher asked me what I would do if my father pre-arranged my marriage as they did in Biblical times. I replied, “Well, I just wouldn’t do it!” Simple, right? She thought that was the funniest answer she had ever heard, and called me a “Jonah” thereafter because I was stubborn.)

    All this to say, I feel ya, girl! 🙂

    • So glad this found a home in you, Kass.
      Good to be in this with you!

    • Thank you so much, Cissy.
      Your words mean so much to me.

  • Sooooooo good!!! Makes me grateful to run in the same circles as you. Spokane is better because of you and your gifts. Thanks for sharing this post.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Eric.
      I’m thankful for those Spokane circles.

  • Oh, this so sounds like me! Bold Gold from the very hand of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Huzzah for this post! “I don’t want the kind of life lived in a box.” I think the older I get the more I am living into my true self, and who God has created me to be. We are all beautiful, complex, wrinkly people!

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