When I was in college the big event of the year was the Valentine’s Banquet.  It was the occasion that often marked the beginning of a dating relationship.  I had heard stories of upper-classwomen who had been asked to the banquet and knew from the moment their dates picked them up at their dorms, that they had met the man of their dreams — the man they would marry.  From the beginning of my freshman year I dreamed about this event — the dress I would wear, the corsage I would receive, and the joy I would feel at being a member of the “dating club.”  But as February 14 drew near, the possibility of this being a life-changing date for me grew further and further away.  I had not been asked.  I wrote in my journal on 2/10/78, “Waiting must be one of life’s greatest frustrations . . . waiting for a date, waiting to be asked, waiting for the right time and the right place . . . always waiting and wondering if waiting is all I can do.”

At the college I attended everyone was required to eat dinner in the Dining Hall and everyone was assigned a seat at a table — 4 boys, 4 girls (They were trying to “help” everyone become a member of the club!).  One evening, the week before Valentine’s Day, I was leaving the Dining Hall when I felt someone following close behind me.  It was a guy from my table.  Now I need to tell you that “Jim” was not the most desirable man on campus, but apparently I was not the most desirable woman either.  My children would have referred to Jim as  “dork.”  Jim caught up next to me and started talking, “Um, Sharon. . . I mean . . . ummm . . . Sharon, ummm, I was wondering if you would be my date to the Valentine’s banquet?”  I didn’t know whether to feel relief or reluctance, but I had been asked!  I said, “Sure,” and Jim said, “Whew!  I already asked every other girl at our table!”

Ugghh.  Humiliation still fills me as I write that story.  I seldom hear anyone talk about dating as a wonderful time.  It is a time of not only waiting, but wondering, “Am I loveable?  What do I need to do to make someone want me?  How can I belong?”  It is a season of stark-raving vulnerability.  Most people are grateful to be out of the dating club and into a committed relationship.  I know I was.

And then that commitment fell apart.  I couldn’t imagine even thinking about dating again.  I was too hurt, too busy, too exhuasted, and too afraid to ever be that vunlerable again.

For many of us the opportunity to be a part of this club again comes at the most unlikely time.   I never imagined I would be even thinking about dating at midlife.   At midlife I imagined I would be growing old with someone and together we would joke about our shoulders hunching together, our teeth spending the night in a liquid solution as we walked laboriously from one room to another to accomplish taks we would fail to remember once we got there!  I never thought I’d be thinking about going on a date — what would I wear or talk about?

And who would be in this club to date anyway?  I always laugh at my father’s joke that good single men are like the parking spaces at Walmart — either taken or handicapped.  But as I laugh, I’m afraid that it’s true and also wonder what that joke says about me.  Once again, I am aware that I’m not the most desirable woman available.  I can quickly list my liabilities — a paltry checking account, a history of addiction, and car that’s over ten years old!

A few weeks ago someone sent me a video clip of a sociologist who had done extensive research about people who live “wholehearted” lives.  She described this type of life as one marked by honesty, a sense of worthiness, compassion, and generosity.  That sounded good to me until she got to the one quality that she had found in everyone who lived wholeheartedly — vulnerability.  I realized that I had structed my life so that I didn’t need to be vulnerable.   I felt pretty safe going through my daily routine doing the same things with the same people in the same ways.

The idea of living wholeheartedly entices me, though.  I want to live more rather than anticipating living less.  I want to take risks, not give up.  I want to feel, not numb out.  I want to choose adventure, not look for escape.  I want to be available, not looking for someone or something to blame.  I want to be suprised, not always on guard.

And so, I have decided with heart pounding, and palms sweating, that I will be open to joining the dating club once again.  I have made an appointment on Tuesday to join a dating service called It’s Just Lunch.  I’m already stressing about what I will wear for the interview and what I will tell everyone if they don’t even let me join the club.  I still remember that Valentine’s banquet my freshmen year in college when I barely squeeked into the club, asked at the last minute by the least likely man on campus.  I have no doubt that dating in midlife will feel just as vulnerable as it did all those years ago.

And then I think about the vulnerability of God.  I ask everyone else at the table to be my source of life and love and He waits humbly for needy, lonely, vulnerable people like me.  And the thing that never ceases to be amaze me about God is that He never gets tired of waiting and He is never ashamed that He asked me first!

“We, though, are going to love — love and be loved.  First we were loved, now we love.  He loved us first.” 1 John 4.