Some of the most profound relationship advice I’ve ever heard has come from my baby sister. Although she is nine years younger than me, Bekah has seemed to understand, better than any other person, my longer-than-anticipated singleness.
“You’ll marry someone who is single for a good reason,” she told me matter-of-factly last summer. “Maybe someone who is an overseas missionary or in the military or still in school.”
You don’t know how her words encouraged me. More significant than the comforting prospect of “Mr. Right-currently-held-up” was the confidence in me her words expressed. Even though 28 and single, I was still deserving of someone great. My perfect match was still out there somewhere. In fact, he was probably in the process of improving himself!
At Christmas she mused, “You know. You’re probably going to marry someone smart, so he’ll probably be rich.” Although wealth has never been a major consideration for me, her words made me smile. She fully expected me to marry well.
Her latest gem came a couple of weeks ago while we were sharing the bathroom mirror during family vacation. We were discussing my current relationship, and I told her of a petty concern. A word my boyfriend used that bugged me.
She shrugged her shoulders. “You should start using that word,” she suggested lightly. “When he’s 50, he’s probably not going to still be using it.”
Her if-you-can’t-beat-’em-join-’em advice was typical of an easygoing baby of the family. But my oldest child do-things-perfectly tendencies wouldn’t let the matter rest. “Don’t you think that’s a bad sign — that something annoys me?”
She lowered the mascara wand and turned to me. “Suz,” she said seriously. “I think you’re using pickiness as an excuse.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve been waiting all these years to be in a relationship, and you’ve had all this time to think about what the perfect guy would be like.”
I nodded. The girl had a point.
She continued. “And this guy may not be perfect, but he’s pretty close.”
In talking with friends, I have discovered that I am not alone in my struggle to reconcile my expectations of a relationship with the real thing. How many times have you heard, “Don’t settle”? After being single throughout my 20s, it’s practically become my life motto.
But what does it mean to not settle? Does it mean that the guy must have the godly passion of King David, the looks of a movie star, the personality of my favorite comedian and the servant attitude of Mother Theresa? Not to mention, he should always be sensitive to my feelings, know exactly what to say in every situation, and have the ability to melt my heart each time we are together.
Sure, my mind rejects these ridiculous expectations, but when one of these ideals seems lacking — even in one situation — I get a bad feeling. I wonder, Is it right I feel this way? And, of course, I begin to worry.
It’s Just a Feeling
I remember early in my relationship, my guy and I had an awkward phone conversation. We were talking on a Monday night, following a really fun and connecting weekend. For one thing, his call caught me in mid-workout, so I was struggling to hide my huffing and puffing as we talked. On top of that, our conversation was peppered with awkward pauses. Even the ending was weird — he somehow hung up before I could say goodbye.
Later we both confessed that we had gotten a weird vibe from the conversation. Each of us had hung up the phone with a bad feeling.
My friend Kelly admits that she often jumps ship at the first sign of a “bad feeling” in a relationship. Because of childhood hurts she’s worked through, she has learned to respect her feelings as indicators of something deeper.
While it would be unwise to ignore gut feelings that may indicate a problem with the person’s character or your compatibility, putting confidence in feelings without digging deeper to see what they are actually indicating (if anything) is equally foolish.
After talking about the ill-fated call, my boyfriend and I realized that our “bad feeling” was indicating that I probably shouldn’t answer the phone in the middle of Pilates, and very possibly right after work isn’t the best time for us to connect.
“It’s just a feeling,” I concluded. And that was exactly what it was.
Working It Through
I recently talked to a guy friend who was describing a short-lived relationship he’d just ended. “It just shouldn’t be that hard,” he said of the toil that had accompanied the early stages of the relationship.
I agreed with him. If connecting with the person feels like hard labor — especially when you’re first getting to know each other — it’s probably not meant to be.
A couple should desire each other’s company and connect easily when they’re together.
That’s not to say there are never uncomfortable moments — moments where we realize that we are … different people (gasp!). The more we discover about one another, the more we see our similarities as well as our differences. This is the purpose of courtship.
As you get to know the person, you may discover dissimilarities that cannot be reconciled: different life ambitions, significant personality differences, disagreement on core values. But take it easy on the small stuff. Many of these things can (and probably will) be adjusted over time.
At Bible study a few weeks ago, I was telling the girls in the group how my boyfriend and I were striving to connect more through humor. We had discovered that while we both joked and laughed liberally with our friends, we had somehow established a more serious dynamic between the two of us. We recognized we needed to learn to laugh together more.
“I feel like I need to be taking notes!” one of the girls said. “I never thought of that as something that could be worked on.”
I pointed out that although some guys I knew could make me laugh harder than my boyfriend, the ways he connected with me were far higher on my priority list. And because I knew both of us had joyful personalities, I reasoned humor would grow.
Practice Makes Perfect
Learning to work out smaller stuff in relationships — instead of bailing at the first sign of discomfort — is good practice for marriage.
At Christmas, I talked to my college roommate who has been married for three years. When I asked her what the hardest thing about marriage was, Gretta laughed and said, “Turns out Jay and I have completely opposite personalities!”
The funny part is, they didn’t discover this until after they were married. “He always took personality tests marking how he’d like to be,” Gretta said. While Gretta is off-the-charts spontaneous — and married a man who claimed to be the same — as it turns out, Jay is definitely not.
“I’ve had to learn to have planned spontaneity to respect his feelings,” Gretta says. Her good humor in light of this discovery encouraged me. Differences — even major ones — will be discovered after marriage. Building patterns of flexibility and accommodation now will serve you well after you’ve tied the knot.
I believe my little sister’s advice was from the Lord. I was fixating on something that, in the long run, didn’t really matter. Her words shook me back into the reality of all the wonderful qualities my boyfriend possesses: a godly character, a calming presence, a joyful spirit.
Don’t hide behind a list of expectations. God may desire to give you something you weren’t anticipating. Allow space (and grace) for Him to reveal His best to you.
Copyright 2007 Suzanne Hadley. All rights reserved.