WiW: Engagement Advice

I have a friend who is in human resources and one of her jobs is to conduct engagement surveys. Her roommate teases that this involves going about to all of her employees and asking them:

“Are you engaged? Are you engaged? Are you planning on becoming engaged?”

I am not engaged (to be married, that is), nor am I planning (er…expecting) to become engaged anytime in the near future.

But I’m all for storing up little bits of engagement advice–and it just so happens that I’ve read some this week.

From Lane Maitland in Grace Livingston Hill’s Maris:

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying,” broke in Merrick. “….That’s why I say marriage is a mess and I hope I never fall in love.”

“Say, you know marriage wasn’t meant to be a mess, and God planned the first marriage to be helpful to both the man and the woman. It wasn’t till the man and woman tried to be independent of God that sin came into the world, and happiness was spoiled. It’s somebody’s fault when marriages go wrong.”

“Oh, is it! And whose fault would it be?”

“Well, people ought to be careful who they pick to fall in love with in the first place. You don’t have to fall in love with everybody you admire. You have to watch yourself. You have to choose the right one. You have to get the one God planned for you.”

“Oh, yeah? And how would you know who that was?…”

“Well, in the first place, if I found I was getting really interested in a girl I’d find out whether she was a real sincere Christian or not…That would be my first step in deciding….In a true marriage both parties would have to qualify, wouldn’t they? It’s only as two people are dominated by the same Spirit, and are surrendered to the same Lord, that they can live together in harmony, isn’t it?”

Such good advice for anyone considering marriage. I think that last bit is so important.

I see so many people who are content to say that the person they are interested in professes Christ. But the Christian man or woman who is looking to marry someone should be concerned that whoever they marry be dominated by and surrendered to the same Lord.

I think that if this condition is met, matters of preferences and temperaments and hobbies become much less important. One could marry someone who is otherwise “incompatible” (by the world’s standards) so long as both are completely surrendered to the same Lord–the Lord Jesus Christ.

It just so happens that my pastor is blogging on the topic of preparation for marriage–and I think he’s got some really great insights. You can find his posts at justinerickson.org. Please pass them along to someone who could use them.

The Week in WordsDon’t forget to take a look at Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

A Dose of Cold, Hard Reality

“There is no such thing as a perfect man,” Evan basically tells her, “and if there was, he wouldn’t marry you.”

Lori Gottlieb was on her way to a new way of looking at dating and marriage–thanks to a dose of cold, hard reality.

She shares her journey in Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. (See my review here.)

Along the way, she provides a dose of reality for her readers–and I couldn’t stop noting down fantastic quotes.

“Clampitt matches people like this: ‘Number one,’ she said, ‘I look at whether the two people have common relationship goals. Number two, I look at values. Things like independence, family, religion, loyalty. Number three, what are the key qualities this person needs? You get no more than five. Things like, he has to be very intelligent. Number four, I look at shared interests. Interests are great because it’s bonding and stimulating and fun to share those, but the other things are more important for the long-term. I put shared interests last for that reason.”

My dad said something similar when I was reeling from a breakup with a guy with whom I shared a lot of interests. Dad, of course, was saying it as an “other fish in the sea” type comment. But the fact remains, shared interests are only one aspect of a happy marital relationship–and a small aspect at that.

“Ferman says she took immediate physical chemistry off her list when she realized that, given a certain level of attraction, she could find someone very attractive over time.”

I tried to explain this concept to a friend. It took a while, but I think she eventually got it. At least for women, physical attraction is about a lot more than the physical. Physical attraction is just as much a function of shared values, experiences, thoughts, emotions.

You say you won’t date someone you’re not attracted to, I ask how you know you’re not attracted to him. Do you know him well enough to know that, really?

No, I’m not saying you should marry someone you’re not physically attracted to. But I am saying that there is a very real sense in which someone you are not attracted to initially becomes very attractive as you get to know them. And I’m not talking about “He has a beautiful mind–so what if I can’t stand his body?” I’m talking about real, honest to goodness physical attraction–but physical attraction that doesn’t exist until other connections have been made.

“So when these matchmakers ask their clients to consider the guy who is too-this or not-that-enough, they’re actually saying something quite simple: You can have rigid expectations and try to find someone who meets them, or you can let go of preconceived notions and find someone you’ll fall in love with.”

I’ve seen the lists a mile high, with dozens of non-negotiables. It’s the Goldilocks phenomenon, except that there’s no “just right” to be found. The problem is, these lists might be lists of what we want, but they’re only occasionally lists of what we need. In the quest for the fantasy man, women are not even giving a first glance to the many real men who might be around–and just might be “Mr. Right”–but who fail to live up to the standards of the non-existent fantasy man.

“Dr. Broder says he sees a heightened sense of entitlement that previous generations didn’t have. Our mothers might have wished, but certainly didn’t expect, that their husbands would constantly want to please them, be attracted to them, entertain them, enjoy sharing all their interests, and be the most charming person in the room. Instead, they knew that marriage involved failing health, aging, boredom, periods of stress and disconnection, annoying habits, issues with children, and hardships and misunderstandings of all sorts. But many women today seem to be looking for an idealized spiritual union instead of a realistic marital partnership.”

Have I ever mentioned that I’m a big fan of Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Marriage? Well, I am. The major question that book asks is “What if God intended marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy?”

If you’re looking for a marriage in which you can continue living as you please without having to make adjustments, without having to be sanctified, without having to love sacrificially, you’re sadly mistaken about the reality of married life. Marriage requires you to learn selfless love, to lay down your life for and submit to your spouse. The quest for the “perfect” man belies this truth–and sets up marriages for failure. Because even if you manage to find the “perfect man”–and he decides to marry you, marriage is still going to be a challenge, it’s still going to be a process of sanctification.

“If this sounds unromantic, when I look at my friends’ marriages, with their routine day-to-dayness, they actually seem far more romantic than any dating relationship might be. Dating seems romantic, but for the most part it’s an extended audition. Marriage seems boring, but for the most part it’s a state of comfort and acceptance. Dating is about grand romantic gestures that mean little over the long term. Marriage is about small acts of kindness that bond you over a lifetime. It’s quietly romantic.

Compared to the “dream world” of chick flicks and romance novels, reality can seem pretty cold, pretty hard. But compared to the reality that living in the dream world creates, facing reality is a lot more pleasant.

Dating isn’t for Kids

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I kissed dating goodbye when Josh Harris’s book came out in 1997. I was 12.

Somewhere around 2007 (actually 2006), I started wondering if I’d kissed marriage goodbye along with dating. I was 21 and I was rethinking my stance on dating.

My conclusion?

Kissing dating goodbye at age 12 was a good decision. Inviting dating into my life at age 21 (okay, actually age 23) was also a good decision.

Because there’s one thing I’ve decided for certain: Dating isn’t for kids.

Please humor me as I discuss this in question and answer format.

What do you mean by dating?
I mean a romantic relationship. I don’t care if you call it dating, courting, or being “friends”–if it’s a romantic relationship, that’s what I mean.

Wait a sec. You don’t think courting is for kids?
Nope. More on that later.

Why not?
Because I think that defeats the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances.

What do you mean by that?
Well, I think that the purpose of dating/courting/pre-marital-romances–
Are you beginning to see why I want to just call it dating?
–Anyway, I think the purpose of dating is to discover whether you and the other person should marry–so I don’t really think you should do it until you’re ready to get married.

Oh. I see. But I was ready to get married when I was 14.
You might have thought so. But marriage at age 14 is legal in only 7 states without direct judicial intervention. And beyond the legalities, research indicates that couples who marry at a young age (generally less than 20 years old) have significantly less stable marriages than those who marry in their early to mid- twenties (references available on request–sorry, I’m already behind on getting this post up.)

That doesn’t sound good. So dating isn’t smart until you’re 20?
I didn’t say that. I’m not sure that you can set a specific age limit on dating.

Well, then, how do I know if I’m ready to date?
That is a fantastic question (and the one I’ve been waiting for.)

I think there are a number of questions that you should ask yourself before embarking on any romantic relationship. Given in no particular order, those questions are:

  • Am I ready to get married?
    I urge you to soberly consider this question. And realize I’m not talking about “ready to get married” as in “want to have sex”. I’m talking are you ready to take on the roles and responsibilities of a married man or woman? Are you ready to support a wife? Are you ready to keep house? Are you ready to pay bills and deal with landlords (all by yourselves)? Are you ready to potentially have children? If you aren’t ready (or won’t be ready for longer than two years), you probably shouldn’t be dating.
  • Do I know what my mission/calling in life is?
    I’ve heard way too many sad stories of women or men who have experienced the call of God to be missionaries or pastors but have forsaken that call after marrying someone who didn’t share the call. If you don’t know what God wants you to do with your life–don’t go getting married until you’ve got some idea where you’re going. ‘Cause once you’re married, you’re not free to just pack your bags and head out–you’ve got to think about your spouse.
  • Will marriage right now help or hinder my mission/calling/goals in life?
    When I was 20 years old, I was plenty ready to get married (by which I mean, I would have loved to have gotten married)–but getting married at that point would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. I had two and a half years of school and a 6-24 month internship to complete before I could earn my RD. And earning the RD is important to (at least one part of) my mission and goals in life. (One note here: Keep in mind that no matter how you intend to “plan” your family, you need to be prepared to have children within 9 months of starting to have sex. Just sayin’.)
  • What do my parents and/or trusted mentors advise?
    We can’t make our decisions entirely based on what our parents, friends, and mentors say–but we should consider their input carefully. Are your parents urging caution? I’d take that seriously. Have you asked your parents or trusted mentors for advice? Do they think you’re ready to marry? Weigh their input wisely.
  • Is God giving you the green light?
    Have you been entrusting this to God? If so, what has He been saying? Has He said to go ahead? Has He said to wait? Obey. If you haven’t been giving this to God, give it to Him and get His input first. The last thing you want to do is rashly go out without God’s direction (remember the battle of Ai in Joshua 7?)

In my case, at age 12, I was DEFINITELY not ready to get married. I wasn’t really sure what my mission and calling in life was. Marriage would certainly have hindered my mission and goals. My parents didn’t think I was ready to get married. And God didn’t give me the green light. Time to kiss dating goodbye!

At age 23, I was ready to get married–I’d been paying bills for quite a few years, I’d lived on my own, kept house. I knew what my mission and vision was. I was within a year of earning my RD. When I talked about contentment in singleness and how this time of singleness has benefited me, my parents were starting to talk about it being possible to wait too long to get married. I’d been giving the whole thing over to God–and He certainly wasn’t saying no (even if I had a hard time deciding if He was for sure saying YES!) So I turned on the porch light and opened the front door and invited dating to stay awhile.

As I near my twenty-fifth birthday (less than three weeks now!), I am still a single woman. And I’m okay with that. (Of course, that varies day by day, as I’ve confessed already.) But God has me here for a reason and I trust in His sovereignty.

Maybe some might say that I jumped the gun on dating–after all, I opened the door a couple of years ago and I’m still not married (or even engaged). Maybe I did jump the gun–but I don’t think so. I have no regrets from my dating experiences and I’ve learned TONS and grown IMMENSELY (spiritually and emotionally, not physically :-P) through this mini-season of dating in my big-season of singleness.

So, dating… well, dating is not for kids.

Kids? Take note.

But adults don’t need to be afraid of dating, either.

Adults? Take note.

Only Human

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A reminder for all the ladies out there: Even the most amazing man on earth is still only human. He can’t meet all your needs. He can’t fill all your holes. He can’t love you like you desire. It’s not necessarily that he doesn’t want to. It’s that he CAN’T. He’s only human.

And for the guys? Even the most amazing woman out there is still only human. She can’t supply what’s lacking in you. She can’t respect you like you desire. She can’t meet all your needs. It’s not necessarily that she doesn’t want to. It’s that she CAN’T. She’s only human.

It’s sad news for those of us who have bought into the romantic notion that satisfaction can be found in the perfect love relationship. We think that if only we had the right guy (or gal), we’d be content, we’d be happy, we’d be satisfied.

But contentment can’t be found in any man on earth. Happiness can’t be found in any man on earth. Satisfaction can’t be found in any man on earth. Because any man on earth is only human.

The good news is, there is a man who is more than just human. There is a man who can perfectly satisfy our every need and desire. There is a man who can fill your every longing. There is such a man, a man who is more than just human–but He can’t be found on this earth.

John 1 speaks of this man saying “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)

Jesus Christ is fully human, but not only human. He is also fully God. (And the Word WAS God.)

While any man (or woman) on this earth will disappoint, Jesus Christ never will. He promises to “never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) Nothing can separate you from His love (Romans 8:38-39). He will “supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19) And, He “who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)

Fully God and fully man, Jesus Christ is the only one who will never disappoint.

As we begin our discussion of relationships, I’d like to start with a discussion of the MOST important relationship we can have–the relationship that puts everything else in perspective. I’d like to ground our whole discussion in relationship with Christ.

Because if you are looking for satisfaction in any other human, you will be disappointed. Today, and throughout this “Love Month”, I encourage you to seek satisfaction in the only man who is NOT only human–seek and find your satisfaction in Christ. He will never disappoint.

Talking Back: Love Month

I’ve written before of my distaste for youth group “Love Month” and all that implies. When February rolls around, I generally find myself in a high dudgeon about something or the other–and spurting out bits and pieces of my thoughts to various and sundry.

But despite a dozen years or so’s experience with “Love Month”, I’ve never undertaken to organize my own thoughts on the matter in any comprehensive sense.

Well, no longer. Presenting…

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This month in addition to some regular posts (about life, learning, and my Lord), I’ll be posting a whole glut of “Love Month” posts on such topics as:

  • The “gift” of singleness
  • Guarding our hearts
  • Female porn and the “M” word
  • No regret dating
  • Modesty
  • Myths about marriage
  • and much more

My goal in this “Love Month” is three-fold. First, I want to organize and share some of the things I’ve learned about male/female relationships and about singleness in my quarter century of experience as a single woman (okay, so I spent the first 6 years or so of my life oblivious to boys–still…) Second, I want to “talk back” at some of the well-meaning (or not so well meaning) myths that were promoted in the “love months” of my youth. And third, I want to encourage thought and dialogue about the various issues that affect us as we consider singleness, dating, marriage, and all the opposite sex relationships in between.

I invite you to join me on this journey as I take a look at what I think (and more importantly, what God thinks) about those “lovey-dovey” topics. And as you join me, I encourage you to do more than just read along. I encourage you to think along with me, to explore Scripture and experience along with me, to dialogue with your friends and family members (I love to discuss my theories on relationships with my mom), and to join the conversation by posting comments.

Undoubtedly, you’ll find yourself frustrated at some of the things I say–just like I have often found myself frustrated at the contents of youth group “love months.” But, here I offer you an opportunity to do more than just listen–I offer you an opportunity to talk back, to raise your objections, to discuss your thoughts. Please take the opportunity. Let’s make this a “love month” like no other–a love month that draws us closer into relationship with Christ and leads us towards a better understanding of how to live holy lives in whatever state we find ourselves.

**A note for married folk, men, and others unlike me: Please do us all a favor, and join in the discussion as well, adding your thoughts and perspectives. While I have plenty of experience with singleness, I have no experience with marriage ;-) And while I have lots of experience with being a girl, I am completely devoid of experience with boys (Wait. That’s not what I meant. I have plenty of experience with boys. Except that’s not what I meant either. I meant to say that I have no experience being a boy.) You can help me (and other readers) out by sharing what you know and have learned from your unique perspective(s).**