I'm a Christian guy in my 20s who is convinced of the value of courtship for intentionally considering marriage. I'm done with college and have been working at a professional job that suits my degree. A few months ago, after getting her dad's permission, I started courting a wonderful, godly girl from my church.
How do I determine whether we're compatible, or more specifically, if we're not?
I've heard someone suggest that the required qualifications to pursue someone are: they are of the opposite sex, attractive and godly. And this girl aces those (admittedly simple) criteria. She's a compelling example of godliness, quite pretty and indeed a woman. But as I get to know her better, I'm very aware of our differences.
I understand that all people will have differences, even spouses, and even people with common interests and similar strengths will disagree. I hope I'm not trying to sugarcoat the idea of being married in my head. But the two of us seem to be on very different pages, in a lot of areas.
One of us is musical, the other not. One of us is very nerdy, the other not so much. We have radically different diets. We don't disagree on many doctrines, but have different approaches to the out-workings of our theology. She also tends to balk at my tendency to want to discuss things very deeply.
The differences range from unimportant, to potentially significant; most tend to be practical rather than ideological. This leaves us enjoying one another's company when we're together, but leaves me struggling to feel like I know her very well or that we have a solid friendship throughout the rest of the week.
She's a great girl, and I don't want to waste her time or lead her on, but I don't know if that means ending things now or continuing to patiently get to know her. Should I be considering ending this relationship in the hope of pursuing someone with whom I see more eye-to-eye? I think that through courtship I should be establishing patterns of sacrificial love, but at what point do I point out that she's only my girlfriend and not my wife? Should I enjoy the general process of courtship rather than just the time I spend with her? Is my entire line of thinking terribly selfish?
What you’ve described are things I would consider as at least yellow flags. They are areas that raise enough concern to explore them further.
Your challenge will be getting below the surface of these disagreements and see what’s at the heart of them. Having different tastes in foods or styles of music is nothing unusual; my wife and I have plenty of differences there. The deeper issue, with food for instance, would be do we differ on our values of staying healthy? Or with music, do we differ on values of lyric content?
Whether one likes burgers and the other salads, or one likes jazz and the other country, is not nearly as important as differences on core values regarding health and media messages. It can be a little tricky parsing values from styles or tastes, but that’s what you need to do.
The thing that sort of rose to the surface as I read your letter was the difficulty you described that the two of you have “discussing things very deeply.” That could mean one thing to you and another to her, but that’s where I would go first.
Again, the job is to try and discover whether the difference is at a core value level, which is more serious, or at a common interest level, which is normal.
I think it’s important to have some common interests that you share, but you won’t have all the same ones. You need a few to intersect, but not everything. And part of loving someone is studying her and her interests and valuing those interests, too. My wife had no interest in golf before we got married, but valuing my interest, she signed up for lessons to check it out and discovered she likes it, too. To love is not to share all the same interests, but it is to value those the other person has.
If your friend doesn’t like “talking deeply” about some topic that interests you, it might just be that she doesn’t understand it. That’s normal. But if she doesn’t value the things that energize you, that could be a potential problem down the road.
Values and interests aside, though, the greater concern to me would be if she has trouble connecting at a heart level with you. If that is what you meant by her not wanting to “talk deeply,” I think that issue has more potential for being a problem than any other you mentioned.
If marriage is anything, it is a deep-level connection. Now wait, before you think I’m suggesting there is a problem there, hear me out. Connecting at deeper levels develops over time as trust grows and as an individual feels they are in a safe place to share at that level. Eventually, though, that depth must come into a relationship if it is to be anything other than a surface-level acquaintance.
Enjoying one another’s company is a great starting place for any relationship and obviously a requirement, but we can only talk about the weather for so long. But talking at the heart level is not something that comes naturally to a lot of people, especially if they’ve not been around it much. Sometimes people need a little help getting there.
You might find that if you get on the right topic, your friend will start to open up. We’re all made in the image of God; we all have that capacity for heart connection. But you might need to draw it out of her.
Think of a few questions that might get her sharing a story or a fun memory, and the next time you guys are hanging out, pop one. “What’s your favorite memory as a child? What’s the earliest memory you have? What was your favorite vacation growing up? What was the best and worst thing about growing up in your city? Tell me something that has stirred your emotions the most in the past year or two?”
Conversations that touch at the level of emotions, ranging from joy to pain, are the ones that create heart connection. Start with the joyful ones — everyone likes talking about joyful times in our lives — and when she feels safe she’ll venture to other emotions. But it will take a little homework and preparation (and patience) on your part to get you guys to that conversation.
Remember what you’re doing: First, you’re trying to discern whether you’re in unity on core values and second, whether you can connect at the level of emotions.
Let me know how it goes.
Copyright 2011 John Thomas. All rights reserved.