by Jennifer Johnson
As a little girl, my favorite movie was Father of the Bride. This movie, starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, and others, tells the story of a father accepting the idea of planning, and carrying out a wedding. I would come home from school each day and watch this movie all the way through, and then rewind it so I could watch the wedding scene again. I dreamed of becoming a wedding planner when I grew up. From this young age, I started to fantasize about and plan my future wedding to my very own Prince Charming. Fast forward a couple of decades and thinking about my own wedding still excites me, but a large dose of reality has set in. After years of waiting, I am faced with the reality that finding Prince Charming is not going to be as easy and effortless as it is in every princess movie I watched growing up.
Dr. John Van Epp perfectly summarized the difficulty of the dating game in the title of his book, How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. So what does it mean to be a jerk? Dr. Van Epp makes it clear that both men and women can be jerks and that we all have jerk moments sometimes. What we need to watch out for are specific patterns and a resistance to change when confronted with these patterns. The first jerk identifier is a pattern of breaking boundaries, both physically and/or emotionally. Second is the pattern of being unable to see things from others’ perspectives. Finally, jerks exhibit the dangerous pattern of lacking emotional controls. Dr. Van Epp explains that “one of the most common ways people are set up to get involved with a jerk is by accelerating the pace of a relationship.”
In order to appropriately pace relationships so as to avoid falling in love with jerks, Dr. Van Epp provides what he calls his “Relationship Attachment Model” or RAM. It looks like a box containing five vertical sliders, lined up one next to the other. From left to right, they are labeled with different bonding areas: Know, Trust, Rely, Commit, and Touch. In order to stay safe in a relationship, one should never go further in one area than he/she has in the previous area. For example, one should know someone before trusting them, trust them before relying on or committing to them, and commit to them before getting sexually involved. As a safe relationship progresses, the sliders will all increase, but each one will never go higher than the one to its left.
Dr. Van Epp’s 300 page explanation of these bonding areas is well worth the read, but even this simple model is instructive and helpful. I would guess that the majority of women would agree that they most certainly do not want to have to face the harsh realization that their Prince Charming-turned-husband is actually a jerk. Therefore, we need to be intentional about our relationships and appropriately pace them.