In graduate school I lived with three close friends. We shared a four-bedroom house, groceries and a strong desire to find husbands. Though we didn’t discuss it in mixed company, we talked about it a lot in the safety of our home. It was probably the subject we talked about most. Sitting in the hallway, eating popcorn in our pajamas, we’d admit that our deepest longing, even more than career success, was to get married. Then we’d bemoan how most of our male classmates were either not marriage material or already taken.
We’d often wonder if, in the midst of our clumsy attempts at love, we weren’t making matters worse by getting our master’s degrees. We knew we were prepared to give it all up — the career, the big salary, the trappings of success — should the right man come along. But the men in our lives didn’t know we felt that way. What if, we worried, we finally met someone and he interpreted our ambition the wrong way?
That’s where Mary Morken came in. The wife of one of our professors, she encouraged us to be honest with ourselves — and our male friends. Hearing it from her made sense: “Initiate conversations about marriage among your friends — not as it relates to you and the guy you’re interested in specifically, but generally, the same way you’d have a group discussion about politics or religion.” We didn’t shy away from other tough subjects when we were together; why not bring up something even more important?
Mary’s encouragement really came down to one word: intentionality. American women are known for high-achievement in every area but the one we say we value the most: relationships. Sadly, we’re members of a generation which, on the whole, desires marriage, but doesn’t know how to get there or believes there’s no rush to make it happen.
When it comes to committed relationships, we tend to be drifters. I know I was. I spent nearly a year as Steve Watters’ buddy. It took me a long time to finally ask for something more.
It turns out there are things you can do to move a relationship forward. But you have to know what not to do first.
Resist the counterfeits. A few bad habits can sabotage a relationship, yet single women seem to miss this. Some hang out with buddy, content with mere friendship, never daring to require him to state his intentions. Others have pre-marital sex and don’t understand why their “partner” has no momentum toward marriage. Most spend all their time with the same group, even after they’ve decided that no one in that group is a possible marriage partner.
These habits are pretty good for preventing weekend loneliness. But the very things singles do to avoid being alone on Saturday night may keep them alone for the rest of their lives.
If you want a mate who respects you, you’ve got to respect yourself. That means setting high standards for your relationships. Are you the gal guys come to for advice about other women? Do you spend all of your time with a guy who’s not your boyfriend? Are you an open book with a man who hasn’t asked for a commitment? If you’ve answered yes to any of these, you may need better boundaries to protect your time and your heart. This will help you resist the temptation to spend your prime years and best self on counterfeits.
On the flip side, approaching the opposite sex in a principled way can only enhance your relationships. Develop high character: Treat men with kindness; be honest; don’t lie, gossip or manipulate; be trustworthy. Any guy worth marrying will notice.
Retain sexual power. It’s an old cliché but no less true today than when it was coined: Men don’t buy a cow when they’re getting the milk for free. If you’re having sex outside of marriage, you’re diminishing your sexual power and your ability to find a good match. Instead of enhancing your relationship, sex will dictate it, setting the agenda and biasing all of your decisions.
Unmet sexual longing is a powerful motivator for men and women alike. Many of our parents, and especially grandparents, had short courtships thanks to this natural force. Men having their sexual needs met casually have fewer reasons to sign up for all the responsibilities of marriage.
Sex should flow from a godly relationship. It was designed to sweeten a life of commitment. When couples partake of it prematurely, it tends to sicken, much like eating dessert before you’ve had dinner. Many Christians who’ve had premarital sex eventually marry, but this does little to alleviate their consciences and often results in disaster.
Reassess your options. A lot of women have good friends who are men. They describe them by saying, “Oh, we’re just friends; we’ve never thought of dating; we’re not romantic.” Too often we overlook men in the “just friends” category because we’re not “attracted” to them. (My roommates and I were guilty of this.) Instead of asking who you’re attracted to, start asking, Of my friends, who would be a godly husband, strong partner and good father? Looking at men this way, you might be surprised who you’re attracted to!
Parents used to choose their daughters’ husbands for them. You can be sure the last quality they considered was physical appearance. They knew externals played a minor role — if any — in creating a healthy family.
I’m not suggesting a return to those days — they had problems of their own — but we can borrow a principle from them: If a woman is paired with an upstanding man, love will have a chance to grow. We should look for men of outstanding integrity and pray for God to make the soil fertile for love to grow.
Check your expectations. The annual State of Our Unions report for 2002 detailed a trend among single men who date for recreation with one eye open for someone else. They have sex with their girlfriends but admit they’ll never marry these girls because they’re not “soul mates.”
Most people want a mate who knows them at their deepest points and loves them fully. But the problem with the soul mate expectation is that you risk setting yourself up for failure. When asked to describe their soul mate, many singles imagine a person who “completes them” and vice versa. They assume their soul mate will love them exactly as they are and never ask them to change. But what happens when those two soul mates encounter the turbulence of marriage? These expectations cause them to doubt that they’ve found their “soul mate” after all.
Human relationships will always be flawed because we’re fallen creatures. To expect otherwise is a setup for divorce.
Despite fantasies of marriage as an endless date, a lifelong partnership is actually about thriving in the day-to-day stuff of life: raising kids, paying the bills, cleaning the house, etc. A lasting marriage requires commitment, no matter what. You have to go into it expecting highs and lows. A good marriage can make the lows a lot more bearable, though.
Ask the people you know for help. Until recently, marriage enjoyed culture-wide support. It was, for most people, a primary purpose of life. Friends and relatives were willing partners in helping singles meet the eligible bachelors in their lives. That’s why it was beneficial to know people of different ages. If we only spend time with peers in the same season of life, the competition for available men will likely be fierce. But if our friends span the generations, it’s probable they will know or be related to eligible men. And if these friends are believers in marriage — and they know you have marriage as a goal — they can be helpful allies.
Changing your way of relating to men may seem unnatural at first — and for some, not worth the effort. But if your goal is marriage, it makes sense to do what’s in your power to achieve it. Don’t misunderstand: You can’t force it. There’s no formula for making two people fall in love and commit their lives to one another. Besides, for singles who’ve committed their life to Christ, the timing is ultimately up to Him. But you still have a part to play. And if you’re doing things that lead you away from the altar, why not purposefully change direction?
Copyright 2003 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.