I’m a 22-year-old guy. I recently graduated from college, I work a full-time job, and I desire to be married. I’ve had two previous marriage-minded relationships, each during college lasting about four to five months, and both I would consider “successful,” albeit resolving in a decision to break off the courtship. The most recent ended three months ago. While I certainly have much to learn, mentors and counselors whom I trust (including my parents), have affirmed that they believe I’m in a position in my life and at a maturity to pursue marriage.
That said, I’m receiving quite different counsel on how to go about it. Some counselors are saying since it’s the guy’s responsibility to “find” a wife and pursue, I should be proactive to the point of actively following up with any attractive young woman that is a Christian and shares some common interests. On the other hand, others are telling me that I need to be wary of making marriage an idol or trying to force it to happen and that I need to be patient and wait on God — that it may be too early since my last breakup and that I should let friendships develop naturally and see who God puts in my path. The first feels like I would be pursuing marriage like I would look for employment and treat finding dates like finding job interviews. The second feels like I’m sitting on my hands.
Where is the balance between a guy’s responsibility to find and pursue, and the concept of waiting on God as a contented single? Boundless has written a lot about women’s responsibility to trust and wait on God, how does waiting on God apply to men?
It’s a fair question, and the truth is there’s not one absolute answer. Judging how aggressively to pursue marriage as a man can be difficult. Obviously, I can’t speak to the specifics of your situation. Still, I can offer a few principles that might be helpful. And, as you wrote in your question, I will assume for these purposes that you generally desire marriage (that is, are not called to celibacy/singleness) and are in a position to marry should the right situation present itself. By the way, a fuller discussion of helpful and, I believe, biblical, principles for starting and conducting a biblical dating relationship can be found here on Boundless in my Biblical Dating series of articles. But here are a few ideas based on your specific question.
I believe men should generally be the pursuers/initiators/leaders in dating relationships and in the pursuit of marriage. The end goal of a dating relationship should be to evaluate whether marriage to that particular person is the right thing, and the Bible clearly calls men to be leaders within marriage (Ephesians 5:25-27), so why not begin the whole exercise growing into the role God has called us to as husbands?
What that means practically is that pursuing marriage probably will look different for you as a single Christian man than it would for a single Christian woman. I would not advise a woman to ask a man out on a first date or otherwise initiate a romantic relationship with a man. But I think single men who desire marriage (which should be the case for most spiritually mature single Christian men) should generally have a posture of “watchfulness,” for lack of a better term, and a general willingness to initiate with godly Christian women in their church community or other Christian circles in their lives. This brings me to the second principle.
Pursue Women Based on Biblical Characteristics
Obviously, the posture I’m suggesting doesn’t involve serially initiating in alphabetical order with every woman in your orbit until something works. In fact, when a Christian man is tempted to initiate carelessly or constantly with women, especially if he is tempted to pursue non-Christians, it can be a sign that he has made marriage an idol. Your question mentioned following up with attractive Christian women with whom you share some common interests. I suggest focusing on the “Christian” part as you evaluate potential dating partners and spouses. More specifically, you should be looking to pursue a woman who embodies — or at least aspires to — the characteristics the Bible extols as those of godly womanhood and of a godly wife. You can check out Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, Titus 2 and Proverbs 31, among other passages, for a good discussion of many of those characteristics.
That’s not to say that physical attraction, “chemistry” and common interests play no role in choosing a potential spouse — of course they do. But too often in our sexualized, romance-driven, self-focused society, those things play too large a role, often determining whether someone is pursued at all or the relationship moves forward to marriage. The Bible instructs us to pursue godliness ourselves and to value what God values. That principle applies no less in who we seek to marry than in any other area of our lives.
Pray, Observe, Initiate
So how does one go about all this? First, as with any endeavor, bathe your pursuit of a wife in prayer. Pray that you would pursue this good and godly goal without making it an idol. Pray that God would make you into a man who could serve a wife well and faithfully. Pray that you would desire (or grow to desire) and prioritize biblical characteristics in a wife. Pray that God would present an opportunity and give you wisdom in pursuing it. Pray about a particular godly woman you have noticed.
Prayerfully observe the single Christian women in your life. Primarily, this should mean your church, but you may know Christian women in other contexts as well. As I’ve written before, I don’t recommend that Christian men and women develop close one-on-one “friendships” in general or even as a prelude to dating, but that doesn’t mean admiration and attraction for a woman can’t come about organically. Observe the single women in your church or singles group as they minister and serve in the church. Hang out in groups. Notice how they treat people, how they serve, what they talk about, what their priorities seem to be. I’ve seen many, many relationships and marriages crop up just from people serving together in the church.
Obviously, as your question implies, you can get a little too deliberate about all this. Don’t view every woman in your church or life as a “candidate.” Don’t take notes. Don’t resolve to engage in a two-week official observation period, by the end of which you must initiate with someone. Beyond that, all this is more art than science. God is good and sovereign. Pray, pursue godly manhood, serve in the church, serve others, notice your faithful sisters in Christ, and see what develops in your own heart and mind. And then take a chance.
I will pray that the Lord will present you an opportunity and the wisdom to pursue it.
Copyright 2013 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.