War Stories: Leaving the Past Behind
- 2006 11 Oct
Susan and Jeff both had high hopes for their evening together. They met several weeks earlier at the singles program of their community church. They were immediately attracted to one another – a good first sign – and had enjoyed a few short conversations. Then Jeff stirred up his confidence and asked Susan out for coffee.
Susan and Jeff were not newcomers to the dating scene. Jeff had been divorced for several years but was fairly new to the singles group. Susan had been in the program a bit longer – her divorce from her twelve year marriage had been final for three years, and she had been actively dating for the past two.
Jeff and Susan were familiar with many of the common “rules” associated with dating. Only go for coffee on the first date. Keep expectations in check. Take time to get to know one another, go slowly and, above all, have fun.
With that in mind, they met at a local Starbucks for coffee after an evening program at their church. With youthful enthusiasm, they greeted each other and began the usual chit-chat of a first date. Everything appeared to be going well until Jeff felt the conversation slipping inexorably into a downward spiral.
“So, how long have you been divorced,” Susan immediately asked.
“Oh, about three years,” he answered.
“So, have you been dating long?” Susan asked. “I’ll bet you’ve got some stories to share about dating.”
Susan’s question sounded innocent enough, and Jeff slipped easily into talking about some of the problems he’d had with dating, as well as his ex.
“I’ve got a hundred stories, if you’ve got the time,” he shared, smiling.
Jeff and Susan’s coffee date continued as they both shared “war stories” from previous relationships. Each had humorous, as well as painful stories to share with the other. Rather than getting to truly know one another, both fell into a pattern of gossiping about previous dates and former spouse.
As Susan and Jeff drove home that evening, both felt strangely empty. While their conversation had been enjoyable, and both felt a sense of relief in sharing some of their war stories, they also felt letdown. What was the problem, they both wondered.
The problem was simple. Both had drifted into telling war stories – commiserating with one another – gossiping. Both shared intimacies about their past which left the other subtly uncomfortable. What they didn’t realize at the moment was that these intimacies were not only poor boundaries, but were also a “downer.” Their sharing was also a form of gossiping, which is a sin.
Wait a minute, you say. How is sharing our wounds sinful behavior? Because, sharing personal stories about others, including your ex, is a putdown to them. It is casting them in the worst possible light. When you listen to gossip, you’re tempted, and often do, “take up an offense” against that person. It’s tempting to become indignant against that person for the wrongs they’ve done to your friend. It doesn’t seem to matter that you’re only hearing one side of the issue.
It is so easy to talk negatively about others who have hurt you, and equally easy to listen. There is such comfort in finding someone who can instantly relate to all of the challenges you have faced. And the cathartic experience – wow! How can something this innocent leave you feeling down?
The Bible says much about this “little sin.” “Do not go about spreading slander among your people” (Leviticus 19:16). The Apostle Timothy says, “They get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13).
Finally, telling war stories does little to create a positive environment for dating. Who wants to hear about the bad, or the good, of previous dates or marriages? When we are truly honest, who really wants to hear all the wrongs their ex has done to the person with whom we’re spending the evening? Wouldn’t you rather talk about something upbeat and edifying? Consider the words of the Apostle Paul:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
I have a suggestion for Christian singles – let’s make a pact to move forward in our dating relationships. Let’s keep the conversation on the here and now, not where we’ve been. Let’s get to know one another on the merits of who they are today. We’ll all feel a lot better for it.
David Hawkins, PhD., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years.
He is the author of over 18 books, including "Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage," "Saying It So He'll Listen," and "When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You." His newest book is titled "When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit." Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on Puget Sound, where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
For more information, please visit www.YourRelationshipDoctor.com.