Although I don't think about it often these days, I got married when I was 36 years old. As a 20-year-old who thought she was pretty smart, I prayed that God would teach me everything I needed to know about marriage before I got married. Marriages around me were fraught with things I didn't want to deal with, so I made the assumption that I could learn everything I needed to know about marriage first. Ridiculous. I later renounced that prayer and accepted that I'd never fully understand marriage, even after I got married.
I did learn a lot of things about what it's like to be single and dating in the church as I navigated 18 years of adulthood without a spouse, though. In this post, I've tried to touch on the five most important things I wish I'd known when I was starting out. So, for all you single ladies, or men, here's my ideas:
1. While marriage will resolve some of your issues, it will also create new ones. No matter how fantastic the person you've waited your whole life to marry is, after marriage you're going to have times when you wonder what you've done marrying THIS man. There's no way out of marriage, and if you think there is, don't get married. You need that security to truly give yourself to the other person, knowing you aren't being tested to see if you're good enough to marry. But being locked in like that can also make a person feel a bit claustrophobic. Don't glorify marriage in your mind as the end to all your problems. Life is always going to present us with challenges. You're marital status doesn't make them go away; it changes them.
2. Look for a man of godly character - stable, kind, helpful, and giving. Of course, you need to be attracted to him, but don't waste your energy trying to find a man who looks a specific way. When life gets hard (which it will), you literally aren't going to care how tall he is. You're going to care about if he helps you with the babies and the dishes, if you can count on him to be home and not out with his buddies after work every night, and if he's patient with you when you get overwhelmed. You're going to want a man who you can count on to make good decisions when no one is watching. A man who will be a good father is much more valuable than what kind of car he drives.
The way you determine character is to pay attention to the choices he makes when an authority figure isn't looking. Does he take opportunities to cheat the system? When it comes to money, does he wisely pay attention to it? He may give you extravagant gifts, but is he putting it all on a credit card he can't pay off? If he's extremely frugal with you, but then goes out and spends a lot of money on a toy he doesn't need, pay attention. How does he treat his mother? Does he push your boundaries constantly or does he help you protect your heart? Does he do stupid things when he's drinking, then blame the alcohol? A man of character takes responsibility for his actions, is honest when no one is looking, and handles money wisely. A godly man treats the women in his life with respect. He'll respect you and help you live out your faith so that you have no reason to be ashamed.
3. Look for a man who knows who he is and what he wants. It really doesn't matter how smart or wealthy a man is. It's what he does with what he's been given that counts. (A poor man with godly wisdom can be extravagantly wealthy in all the ways that matter. A rich man constantly seeking the next great high can be impoverished in all the ways that matter.) A man who understands his identity in Christ is a man worth considering.
When a man is young, it's normal to be unsure of himself for a while, but hesitate to marry him before he figures it out. He doesn't already have to be where he wants to get in life, but he should have a good idea of where he's going. If you're the one steering him, he may eventually react to feeling controlled and go the opposite direction entirely.
Along those same lines, recognize that a man who's interested in you but doesn't speak up isn't actually interested. Don't waste time trying to guess what a man's thinking or feeling about you. If he doesn't express clear romantic interest, he isn't interested. Don't try to analyze what he meant by what he said. Take him at his word. I've seen single women waste YEARS of their lives thinking a man in church was interested but just hadn't spoken up yet, only to watch him pair up with a new girl within a couple weeks of her arrival. That man is clueless that he left her with a broken heart. He thought they were friends.
I've also seen a man aggressively chase a woman he didn't think he could get, then decide that she must not really be all that great when she finally gives in. If you meet that guy, don't waste your time trying to convince him that you really are as great as he originally thought. He has no idea who he is or what he wants.
4. All of your needs don't need to be met by the man you marry. If he doesn't like coffee and you think it's heaven on earth, set up coffee dates with friends. The most important things are shared beliefs, support, loyalty, and trust. When life gets busy, you probably won't have time to sit and drink coffee together anyway. Now, if he doesn't want you to drink coffee because he doesn't, ew. Move on. If he makes you coffee even though it's not his thing - you may have found a winner!
Obviously, you want to marry a Christian who has similar beliefs. The way to judge a man's faith isn't in his outward expression. I've watched men in church sing their hearts out, hands upraised, and then turn around and get a stranger pregnant. My husband loves God with all his heart, but I've never seen him raise his hands in church unless someone told him to. He grew up in a church that valued stoicism. While he stands back and gives me some room to praise God with my entire body, he'd rather die. I study the Bible regularly and he's satisfied with what he knows after a lifetime of involvement in church and Bible studies. The glue that holds us together is our commitment to raising our children as Christians, attending church regularly, and making lifestyle choices that reflect our faith. You don't have to believe exactly the same way about everything. Figure out the essentials and let the rest of it go.
5. Look for someone who compliments you, not someone who's exactly the same. You want someone who brings strength to your weaknesses and appreciates your strengths. Don't choose a mate based on how you think people will feel about seeing you together. Have you repeatedly been attracted to one particular physical feature that reflects nothing about a man's character? How important is it, really? We often choose physical features due to our relationships with our parents. If one parent was absent and you longed to spend more time with them, you might choose to focus on men who look like the parent whose attention you sought. The same can be true of personalities. Do you repeatedly date men with problems you think you can fix? If you spent your childhood cleaning up the messes of one of your parents, that's why. Ask your friends to help you consider your patterns.
If you're a confident, outgoing, decisive woman, marrying a man with those same qualities might lead to a constant power struggle. If you're an indecisive, quiet person and marry another indecisive, quiet person, the two of you might never leave your house or decorate a room.
Don't despise your single years. Make the most of them. Have fun! Build a life you can be proud of. Make good friends. Travel. Get an education. Get involved in church and figure out what you're good at. If you have trauma or childhood hurts, get that resolved. Live with roommates so you have to learn to compromise and don't get too stuck in your own ways. Then, when someone good comes along and sees your rich and full life and wants in on it, they can join you.
Be the person now that you want to be when you're married. Some of the best people who've ever existed never married. Consider taking that benchmark of success off your table. Get out there and live. Let him find you.
Are you paralyzed with fear or indecision about how to spend your single years? Trying to decide what to do about a relationship (or the lack of one)? I'd be happy to coach you through your questions and concerns. Check out my coaching page for more information, or just shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I have a special place in my heart for this issue, so mention this blog post and I'll give you a 50% discount on my regular rate. Let's get you moving in the right direction. All the single ladies, all the single ladies, put your hands up...
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