Dating can be scary, as well as fulfilling.

Meaning is found in the seasons of life, with cycles of birth and death and resurrection, of falling away and restoration, of hurting and healing. Even after the death of my father last year, even after moving my mother in for her recovery from spine surgery, even after my own adolescent running away years ago and my recent young adult conversion, I am alive. There is mercy in being brought full circle, in getting a fresh start and in being restored to yourself.

To me, my family is a miracle, and I am grateful for them, and love them more than anything.

It leads me, naturally, to submitting (finally) to the idea of repeating the process, to creation, to wanting to take what I have experienced in life and create my own family.

But then it stings, because I am very much single.

That's what I wrote a year ago while grieving the loss of my father and caring for my mother. After much prayer and study, I finally understood my own need for family.

I needed to go on dates, you see. Not real dates, I thought, but meet-someone-new-who-might-be-a-good-friend dates, or at a friend’s house, or with two other families there, so easy and fun and no pressure.

I hadn't been on a date since I got baptized. I was grieving the year I got baptized, and needed the time for healing and learning what I had gotten myself into, which was amazing and good for me.

Last year was full of imaginary boys. I mean to say, almost-dates. It was a year of set-ups by loving mothers or sisters or grandmothers that meant well but never informed the young men, dates that never showed, or dates that didn’t realize they were dating so got canceled as non-dates.

This is where the courage came in.

It is true that finding a date is the trickiest part of dating.

It reminds me of the part of the creation story retold in Moses 3. One by one, all the animals are introduced to Adam (by the Lord, who orchestrates all things), and by this process Adam is able to see (clearly) what type of creatures they are — and name them accordingly.

But none of them are his wife.

He needed his equal, his match, the one to inspire and love him beyond all those wonderful traits he loved in the sweet little animals. They made life easier, even better, but they did not make him truly happy. Not in a joy-and-peace kind of way.

This is why we have to date, so that we can name the animals.

Some scare us like spiders, some sting us like bees, some try to kill us like snakes and sharks. Some you know to avoid because they stink, like the skunk. There are sloths who move too slow, and there are opossums who never wake up, show up or step up. All of these break our hearts, because we did so want to love them.

Others are beautiful, like butterflies, and some have talents like colorful birds. Others we love, and grow fond of, like horses and puppy dogs. All of them need their names, but none of them are "just right."

Any sensical, logical person would not put themselves through the dating experience. It's brutal.

But all this naming-work is so that we are able to recognize which date makes us something more than we were before (as opposed to ripping your heart out, stomping on your soul and squashing your spirit).

That's why we have to be brave and keep trying, and that's why we aren't a fool (or insane) for doing so.

There is a challenge for those who are older and still single because there are so few opportunities for any kind of dating. There are so few potential partners (who are active and participating) that any possibility becomes a glaring one, and the pressure is added by the well-intentioned friends and loved ones. It makes any interaction so overly scrutinized by the prayer chain of gossip that most of us are afraid even to make eye contact, much less friends. Being afraid to even make friends makes dating pretty much impossible, and so the cycle repeats itself.

Dating isn’t diving in; it’s more like jumping feet first into the shark-infested waters of dating.

I was not very thrilled.

It was not very fun.

It was a disaster, actually.

But I did not quit or give up.

I learned my lessons through these dating disasters, even big ones like I have the right to use my own agency in dating. I am not required to date everyone who asks, or go out with each grandson or great-nephew someone tries to set me up with (usually without the boy’s permission, which has been part of the disaster).

I also received blessings full of promises, even girly promises about being loved and cherished, about being understood, about how kind and safe and good my husband will be.

There is hope for love pure like water, warm as the sun, as beautiful as a starfish.

But water has depth, too, and I am under no illusion that swimming is easy. Because I know this, I thought all of it had to be hard.

I grieved over the loss of fairy tales, not because of some illusion that life should be easy, but because I know that the best part of any long journey is the butterflies and the birds and the flowers and the trees along the way, and the songs that they sing.

This is what I was thinking when he came to sit beside me.

Not exactly beside me, but kind of at the other end of the pier, each of us on our own docks.

He sent a message in a bottle, and it made me laugh, so I wrote back to him.

He sent it back again.

This is how I found myself in conversation, quite on accident.

There was no sound, except the crash of the waves and the splashing of the bottle into the water.

I began to relax, and I learned, and I laughed.

I enjoyed.

This is what was delightful: not condemning myself to a future before the present had unfolded, or defining someone else before I knew them, or committing myself before I have expressed who I am, but learning that they are not all sharks.

We are not all sharks, said his message-in-a-bottle.

And I knew it was true because there I was, laughing on the dock, warm in the sun, with my feet splashing in the water.

Emily Christensen, Ph.D., lives with her husband Nathan in Owasso, Okla. Her blog is, and she can be contacted at [email protected].