For the unbelievers who ask you out, thank them for their invitation and politely decline. There’s no question this is the right answer if a man is an unbeliever. I’ve written about this before and often (see 2 Corinthians 6:14).
It’s a bit more nuanced if he’s a strong Christian but socially awkward. It depends, in part, on what you mean by awkward. We all long to be shown grace and given the benefit of the doubt in our worst moments — and who isn’t occasionally awkward in social settings? And if we are children of God, we’re called to love the brothers (1 John 3:10). But we’re not called to marry them all!
There’s a difference between unrefined or unpracticed manners that are at root, selfishness, and anti-social behavior. The first may be addressed and overcome in a discipleship relationship; the second (anti-social behavior) is much harder to change. Giving a Christian brother a shot at romance is not something you owe to every single man who asks you out. You are at liberty to decline a date with a man who makes you uncomfortable.
That said, remember that the sort of love that sustains a marriage is not a feeling, but a way of acting toward another for his good. First Corinthians 13 calls us to love by “believing the best, enduring, being patient, kind and never failing.” The fickleness of feeling-love disqualifies it as a true test of a relationship. That’s not to say that feelings don’t matter; often they’re a guide at the beginning. But they must be accompanied by facts. Is he a godly man, a mature believer? Does he have high character? Is he ready to take on the responsibilities of providing for and protecting a wife and children?
You may like a man with your feelings, but the answers to these questions are ultimately the trustworthy guide to whether you should date (and possibly marry) him. When you make those important decisions in light of more than just how you feel, you’ll have good reason to proceed on the days when your feelings change. And they will; they’re fickle.
You do need to like the man you marry and not think he’s weird. (It’s hard to respect a man who, in your mind, is a “weirdo.”) It’s true that many couples have married for reasons other than high-flying emotions — what we westerners commonly refer to as “being in love” — and have made good, lifelong marriages. But they haven’t typically done it holding their noses. They simply rated things other than that giddy, butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling as more important — things like friendship, trust, respect, character and a shared calling.
George and Mary Mueller and Adoniram and Ann Judson come to mind when I consider world-altering couples who prioritized eternal things. Mueller said of his future wife, upon an early meeting, that she had the biggest nose he’d ever seen, even among men. But that didn’t enter into the picture when deciding that she was the ideal candidate for wife.
Judson’s primary concern when courting Ann wasn’t how he felt, though both were attracted to each other, but if she was willing to go with him wherever God called him as a missionary. When writing her father to ask permission to court her he wrote, “I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure for a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life …” The life she agreed to when she married him was excruciatingly hard. She did so willingly because her primary motive was God’s glory, not the fulfillment of her own romantic fantasies (for her story, read the excellent My Heart in His Hands by Sharon James). Theirs was an arduous, though eternally fruitful, journey and life.
When our friends Brian and Ashley started dating, he was wowed by her, but she moved forward based on what she knew, not what she felt. “We were great friends,” she said, “but I didn’t feel the way I thought you were supposed to.” She moved forward because, “I looked at him and knew objectively that he had all the character traits I’d always wanted in a husband. I trusted God that the feelings would follow.” She and Brian did date, and eventually marry. She says now, “This topic is close to my heart. Brian and I rejoice over opportunities to share the uncommon path God used to bring us together. The longer we are married, the more I invest in our friendship because I’m seeing how friendship is foundational to a good marriage.”
My own story is similar. When Steve and I first dated, he wondered if there was enough between us to consider marriage. Knowing of our deep friendship, shared calling and history of working together, our professor and mentor, Hubert Morken, encouraged Steve saying, “Let love grow.” He wasn’t saying let it grow from nothing, but from the soil — different as it was from the cultural norm — that we had. I’ll be ever thankful for that advice!
You don’t need to be swooning, melting and appetite-deprived to say yes to a first date. But there must be something there to build on. It’s OK if that something isn’t of the sort that Hollywood praises in movies. It’s probably better if it’s not. But there must be something. You can’t not enjoy being together. Or be repulsed by each other. I pray God will give you wisdom to judge each opportunity based on what truly matters.
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.