“Notes on faith” is theGrio’s inspirational, interdenominational series featuring Black thought leaders across faiths.
A debate has taken the internet by storm all week as a social media list gained steam, cataloging restaurants and places women refused to consider for their first dates, with The Cheesecake Factory sitting prominently at the number one spot. While having all the makings of a joke, this seemingly innocuous ranking has ignited passionate discussions about dating preferences.
At a glance, an elephant is in the room: While it may be a chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a terrible place to dine. One knee-jerk response might be to explore why people attach so much significance to where they break bread on a first romantic encounter. But when we look deeper, we are struck by how centering such preferences in first dates loses sight of a chance encounter with destiny.
Personal culinary preferences aside, it’s important to remember that first dates are not solely (or even primarily) about the food but about discerning compatibility and establishing a connection with another person. Choosing a restaurant is just one part of the equation — and a relatively minor one, at that. It should not be conflated with a potential partner’s worth: their personality, character, grace, promise, adaptability or alignment. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of judging someone’s potential based on surface matters, leading to hasty conclusions about a person’s overall fit within our lives and missed opportunities to explore the world together.
In Romans 12:2, we are reminded that trends may tempt us to be focused on momentary issues, but clarity about what you value will cause you to redefine any encounter for the insights you need in learning about a person. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Instead of focusing on what we’re not going to do or agree to go, let’s shift the conversation to reflect on: What are you open to? What are your desires?
We are among several couples who, despite having our ideas of what we preferred on a first date or encounter, had that list upended when we met and embraced being life partners. Among the couples we admire, we have found that your person will make you stretch in ways unimagined, and it feels so good to find the one who is the exception to the rules.
The main point that was missed on that list is that when we are in love, those lists become a measurement and testament to how love makes us get out of our own way and goes to great lengths to find us and overtake us.
What truly matters in a first impression is not just the romance because that can be deceiving, masking personality flaws and character deficits. It is not just where they take you, but also where you take them! What are you exposing them to? It’s the ability to engage in meaningful conversation, demonstrate respect, display genuine interest in getting to know the other person, and exhibit contentment regardless of where you are together. Whether you’re sharing a gourmet meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant or enjoying a simple coffee at a local café, the real focus should be establishing a connection. In the grand scheme of things, it’s the shared experiences, interests and values that truly matter when evaluating a potential partner, not their restaurant choices.
Love has a mysterious knack for propelling us beyond our comfort zones and obstacles.
Let’s not forget that love often arrives when we are open, receptive, when we least expect it, in ways that defy our preconceived notions and plans — and often, in places as seemingly mundane as The Cheesecake Factory. After all, love’s true magic lies in its ability to transcend the confines of lists and expectations, guiding us toward those exceptional individuals who forever change the course of our lives.
As one of our elders forewarned us, “The issue with relationships today is that we have taken away the mystery.”
What are you open to? Are you open to a partner who knows how to make even the most common places extraordinary? Are you receptive to someone who finds a way to be with you no matter what? Are you intrigued by someone who has lived on food from their version of The Cheesecake Factory and is willing to try exploring your ideal restaurant? Can you find laughter together in the most undesirable situations? Are you open to someone who literally makes it a point to be where you are?
Changing our perspective and using our living, evolving and adjustable lists as tools for discerning one another is a more useful exercise to explore.
So, the next time you find yourself debating where to take someone on a first date, remember that a restaurant is just a backdrop. It’s the people and the chemistry between them that truly make a lasting impression. Don’t let societal judgments or viral lists dictate your choices; instead, focus on what really matters in building a meaningful connection with another person.
In between times, we leave you with this meditation.
I allow embodied love to find me, just as I am.
May my eyes and ears, all of my senses, be open to its energy, quality, care, and character.
May I be empowered to sense and allow love, a love that grows and moves me with great joy to places that I would have never imagined.
Help me to focus on what matters most, getting to the business of finding and being found with love wherever I am.
Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones is a faith leader helping people to find their groove in a fast-paced world, as a consultant for various arts and faith organizations and professor of music in contemporary societies at the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, England. She is an award-winning author of Flaming? The Peculiar Theopolitics of Fire and Desire in Black Male Gospel Performance (Oxford University Press). For more information, please visit DrAlisha.com.
Rev. Calvin Taylor Skinner is dedicated to empowering frontline communities in Knoxville, Tenn., and the United Kingdom. He uses Faith and Policy to address energy justice, criminal justice reform, voter education/mobilization, electoral politics, and global affairs. Along with his wife, Rev. Dr. Alisha Lola Jones, they lead InSight Initiative, a consulting firm focusing on capacity building and live events production.
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