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A reader recently asked me, regarding my relationship with Tall-Shadow, “How did you know you weren’t having the wool pulled over your eyes again?”

The woman who asked this question represents every divorced woman I know, including me.  One of the reasons I had come to a place of deciding I would more than likely be single forever was that there was no way I wanted to put my heart out there again only to have it trampled on again.  I had been so hurt before; why in the world would I want to risk reliving that kind of pain?

But I went through a season where I was awakened to my desire for partnership, and then my girlfriends nudged me to try online dating, and then I stumbled upon Tall-Shadow, and now here we are, engaged.

So, here is how he earned my trust, how I know that I am not being fooled.

Questions before. Before he and I ever met in person, I had riddled him with questions through Match.com email, then through text, then over the phone.  I felt like, in part, I knew him before I met him.

Questions at the beginning. Our first date was one question after another, going both ways.  And our second date was a round of mini-golf where we each had to ask and answer a question on every hole. And then I bought a couple books of questions for dating couples and would pull it out on long dates.

Questions still. Just last night we were out, and I said, “Tell me something random about you I don’t know.” I do that a lot. I keep asking questions.  Little questions, big questions.

Okay, but those are just words, you might be thinking.  Words are important, don’t get me wrong. But how they line up with actions and with their lives is what really counts.

How he is with people in his life. I have hung out with him and his sisters, with him and his parents, with him and his kids, with him and his friends, and I’ve seen him in his workplace.  How he is with me is how he is in all his other relationships. He is who he is across the board.

Two quick stories.

On our sixth date, I drove out to him so we could spend the afternoon at Starved Rock. But before we did that, he wanted me to meet his parents, who lived in the next town over, the town he grew up in. It’s the cutest little town. And it was parade day. In fact, he said to me, “Umm, I think both of my parents might be in the parade.” And sure enough, they were. His Dad was pulling one of the floats and his Mom was handing out flyers and tossing out candy. I felt like I was in Mayberry, expecting Aunt Bea to come walking up to me at any moment. But here’s the best part. It was “Hey, Buzz,” this and “Hi, Buzz” that. Everyone knew him. Everyone liked him.  He couldn’t have paid for a better endorsement.

And a few weeks later, we were at his church one Sunday morning.  And mid-service, his pastor walks up to him, looks him in the eye, and said, “You’re a good man, Buzz. I know you’ve been through so much pain, but I’ve been following you two on Facebook. I’m so happy you’re getting a second chance.” She was tearing up, I was tearing up, he was tearing up.  It was a beautiful moment, and again, nothing he ever could’ve orchestrated.

People just like the man…a lot of people. (And you know why? Because he is a genuinely good man.)

Counseling. At around week two of dating, he said to me, “Let me know when I can propose to you.” I sort of laughed it off but he was pretty serious.  So at around month two, I suggested what I thought was a bit crazy: that we do premarital counseling.  That we see upfront, before any talk of engagement, if he and I would really be a good match. We aren’t spring chickens. I wasn’t looking to date just for fun, I was looking for a husband.  And I didn’t want another broken engagement. In my mind, if I were getting engaged, it would mean to me that I was committing to marry that person.  Part of me thought this would separate the wheat from the chaff, that there was no way he would agree to something that intense that soon.  But he said yes.  And we did about eight sessions…long, intense sessions…with my counselor.  I consider my counselor to be an extremely wise and discerning judge of character, and he immediately liked him and affirmed our relationship. This was huge for me.

Time. At the time of this writing, Tall-Shadow and I have been on 186 dates.  Most of our dates last between four and twelve hours.  And at this point, it’s a lot of just living life together, running errands, going to church, things like that.  Though we have not put in the time as in a two- or three-year courtship, we have absolutely put in the time quantitatively.  We have spent a lot – and I mean a lot – of time together.

I remember hearing someone say of her husband of fifteen years, “Sometimes I think I know him all the way through, and sometimes I feel like I don’t know him at all.”

I think that’s just life, that’s just marriage. Humans shapeshift. Just when you think you’ve got someone all figured out, they go and grow and transform on you. It’s a beautiful thing but a scary thing.  But I like to think the mystery is part of the beauty.

All of life is a risk. All relationships are a jumping into the unknown.  For all Tall-Shadow knows, I could be nothing like I’ve been representing myself to be this whole time, and he may wake up one day, post-wedding, to a Jekyll & Hyde situation.  (Not that I’m planning on that or anything.)

None of us really know what tomorrow holds, or what the other human beings in our lives are capable of doing to us.  But if we lived out our lives as if the sky were about to fall any minute emotionally or physically or relationally or spiritually, none of us would ever leave our beds.  And we’d be missing out on so much good stuff God might have for us.

Just like anything else in life, I’ve done my due diligence, and now I’m having to trust. I’m making a choice to believe that the man I have been getting to know and falling in love with and intertwining my heart and life with is the same man I will wake up to the day after our wedding.  And if he’s not, well, just like they say science only takes us so far, and then comes God. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, but only you can decide for yourself if you are willing to risk some potential pain for some potential goodness, for some potential love.

Before you consider dating, make sure you’re healing up. You’d benefit from Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage.