How discriminatory should I be about personal preferences in dating?

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Scott Croft

How discriminatory should I be about personal preferences in dating?

Apr 12, 2016 |Scott Croft
Question

A godly couple recently approached me and asked if I would be interested in getting together with them and a young man whom they want to introduce to me. I am 25, and marriage and companionship have been increasingly on my mind and heart.

I agreed to the meeting. The couple told me he is 24, lives in California, and they believe him to be spiritually mature and zealous to share the gospel. His parents are no longer together.  

Of course the man I marry must have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and a relationship with God, but is it OK to have preferences beyond that? For example, because my father died when I was little and because I live very far from my mother and any other family, I would like the man I marry to be from a whole family. I also would love to stay in the same state or at least the same area of the country, and California does not qualify.  

I feel frustrated that most of the eligible single men I know of are 24 or younger. I know a year isn't much of an age difference and I don't think I would turn someone away based on that alone, but is it so much to ask that the person I marry be 25? While I hope to be open to whatever — or whomever — God has for me, I am wondering how discriminatory I should be based on preferences of this kind.

I do have a close church family and people to turn to for advice, but I would appreciate your input on this subject.

Answer

Thanks for writing. This is an important issue when it comes to finding a spouse, and I have gotten variations on this question many times over the years. Let me start by offering you some broad theological principles; then we’ll get more practical.

First, as a theological matter, you want to make sure that you’re approaching this life decision as I hope you would any other, by thinking through what God’s Word has to say about it. More specifically, single people seeking a spouse should check their own desires against what Scripture commends. In that sense, your conviction that the man you marry must be a genuine follower of Jesus is certainly correct, but there’s more to consider from the wisdom in Scripture about what God commends, both for men in general, and for  husbands in particular.

In Ephesians 5:25-30, Paul instructs that husbands:

[L]ove your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.

In seeking a husband and evaluating whether it would be wise to marry a particular man, a woman should consider whether the man in question is aspiring to be and growing toward being the husband described in Ephesians 5. Is the man mature enough in this faith to lead you spiritually? Is he leading the dating relationship well? Has he shown a capacity and tendency to put your needs and desires above his own? Does he tend to think of your spiritual good in how he has conducted himself in the relationship? No single (or married!) man will check all these boxes perfectly, but the Bible is quite clear that husbands are called to spiritual leadership of, and sacrificial love for, their wives. Whether a potential husband shows that capacity and trajectory should be of primary importance in your decision.

More generally, the Bible also talks about what God commends in men concerning their manhood. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give us insight into God’s vision of manhood because those passages set forth the qualifications for elders — leaders in the church. Accordingly, all men should aspire at some level to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money”  (1 Timothy 3:2-3). By the same token, women who are seeking a husband will be wise to value and prioritize these characteristics. While no man will be perfect in any of these attributes, as a woman observes a man she is dating day after day, she will be able to tell what that man is aspiring to and growing toward.

So, in addition to being a genuine believer, it seems that other attributes God would have single women prioritize in a potential spouse include godliness, character, and spiritual leadership. Does that mean matters of “second importance” can’t be considered at all? Of course not. It just means such considerations shouldn’t, as a practical matter, be the driving force in a decision or prioritized over more biblical considerations.

Now, let’s get really practical about your specific question. I would not encourage you to let the concerns raised in your question determine or even significantly influence a marriage decision.  As I wrote earlier, it’s not that you can’t consider or desire those things at all, but none of the things you listed have anything to do with this man’s godliness or character or what kind of husband he might be.

Also (except for the age issue), the preferences you listed might very well be short-lived. Your husband’s family circumstances could (and eventually will) change, and even if you find a husband who is from your same state and pledges to stay there, those circumstances may very well change over the course of your marriage — either by choice or otherwise — in God’s providence. Speaking of which, as I read back over your list of preferences, it also occurred to me that they might reflect a desire to control your specific circumstances in a way that doesn’t quite gel with life as a finite being in a fallen world. And it certainly doesn’t gel with marriage, which is a wonderful adventure full of unknowns and turns you never expected — all ultimately for your good and God’s glory (Romans 8:28-30). You can trust our good and sovereign God with your spouse and your circumstances.

One final thought: though none of the preferences you mentioned are bad in and of themselves, they are really limiting. Not to dwell on the obvious, but there are many godly single men who would make wonderful husbands but who do not currently meet those criteria. If you really want, as you wrote, to be open to whatever or whomever God has for you — and if you really want to be married — I would encourage you to broaden your thinking a bit.

I will pray for the Lord to give you and those you love and trust wisdom as you seek a husband.  I will also pray that you find one!

For his glory,
Scott Croft

Copyright Scott Croft 2016. All rights reserved.

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