Two weeks ago, I wrote about the subject of soul mates, focusing on author and pastor Tim Keller’s observation that our culture places enormous expectations upon marriage when it comes to the subject of compatibility.
It’s been fascinating to read through the comment thread in that blog post and to hear the questions some of you raised regarding how much attraction you need to have from the outset to pursue someone or to say yes to someone who’s pursuing you. I like the way Renee put it in one of her comments: “Where’s the balance between holding out for the ‘soulmate’ versus settling for any Christian with a pulse?”
While I don’t think there’s one absolute right answer to that question, I thought sharing some more of my own story of pursuing my wife might be helpful in shedding a bit of light on it.
Jennifer and I were introduced to each other by a mutual friend named Andrea in 2001. I had been active in ministry to young single adults for nearly 10 years at that point, and Jennifer was ministering to the same group of people at her church. My friend thought that we had a lot of common ground in terms of our ministry goals and aspirations, and that we should meet.
So Andrea invited me to an event that Jennifer’s church was hosting and tried to introduce me to her there. It was at the end of the event, Jennifer obviously needed to help clean things up, and, well, let’s just say it wasn’t the best venue for an introduction. She didn’t have any idea what Andrea was trying to do, and that first conversation went nowhere.
Fast-forward two years, and I bumped into Jennifer again in line at a movie theater. I initiated a conversation, mentioned that we had met two years before and told her that I was helping get a new young adult ministry started at my church. I could tell she had no memory of that meeting, but she was politely responsive nonetheless. I suggested that we should get together and talk about our ministry experiences, or something to that effect anyway, and she said that would be fine. I’m fairly sure she never expected to hear from me again.
But she did. I called her at her office the next week, and we agreed to get together for coffee.
Our first “date” — we disagree about this because Jennifer thought she was just getting together with someone to talk about ministry — focused exclusively on that subject. By the end of that conversation, I had sparks flying a mile high because of how many commonalities we had in our desire to help young, single people grow in their faith. Jennifer’s first inkling that perhaps I was interested in something more than just talking shop came at the end of that first conversation when I suggested that we should get together again. Suffice it to say that sparks weren’t on her mind at all.
Let me accelerate the narrative at this point. I knew that I was interested, really interested, from the proverbial get-go. But it took my wife significantly longer to decide if she was interested, too. As in, nearly four months longer — four months in which I just about went crazy.
From the end of May that year until the middle of September, we went out five times. My attraction to her continued to grow, and I struggled not to sabotage things by being overly enthusiastic (a particular and repeated weakness of mine in the past). Jennifer seemed open to spending more time together. But it also seemed pretty obvious to me that her enthusiasm level for me wasn’t anywhere near mine for her.
And then, it happened: On our fifth date, our first movie together, something clicked for her, chemistry with me that she hadn’t experienced up to that point.
In our conversations about those early, tentative months of getting to know each other, Jennifer later told me that she had made a very conscious decision to give things with me a chance, even though her pattern up to that point would have been to cut things off if sparks of attraction weren’t immediately flying. In my case, she didn’t feel any emotional fireworks at all early on. But she also admitted that being single and 33, maybe she needed to intentionally alter her approach and her expectations toward dating compared to how she’d done things when she was younger.
Four months later, she began to feel things toward me that she hadn’t experienced earlier in the process — and we were both somewhat surprised and delighted by that outcome. A little more than a year late, we got married.
It won’t work that way for everyone, of course. Sometimes, when you don’t feel that spark, it’s for a reason, and no amount of time together is going to kindle it. But in our case, at least, my wife’s willingness to give things with me more space and time than she would have done when she was younger gave romance time to take, so to speak.
Call it love at fifth sight.