“How do I know if she’s the one?”
I can’t think of a question I encounter more often among single Christian men. The point of the question is clear enough. But a rich irony dwells beneath the question. In a culture that allows us to choose the person we’re going to marry, no one wants to make the wrong choice. Especially if, as Christians, we understand that the choice we make is a choice for life.
The question is not merely ironic. If what you’re after is a marriage that will glorify God and produce real joy for you and your bride, it’s also the wrong question. That’s because the unstated goal of the question is “How do I know if she’s the one … for me.”
The question frames the entire decision-making process in fundamentally self-oriented — if not downright selfish — terms. And it puts the woman on an extended trial to determine whether or not she meets your needs, fits with your personality and satisfies your desires. It places you at the center of the process, in the role of a window-shopper or consumer at a buffet. In this scenario you remain unexamined, unquestioned and unassailable — sovereign in your tastes and preferences and judgments.
The problem of course is that as a single Christian man, not only are you going to marry a sinner, but you are a sinner as well.
From a consumeristic perspective, no woman on this planet is ever going to perfectly meet your specifications. What’s more, your unexamined requirements for a spouse are inevitably twisted by your own sinful nature. The Bible reminds us that though our marriages are to be pictures of the Gospel relationship between Christ and the church, none of us get to marry Jesus. Instead, like Hosea, we all marry Gomer; that is to say, we all marry another sinner, whom God intends to use to refine and grow our faith in Jesus.
So what’s a guy to do?
Ask the Right Questions
To begin with, start with a different question. Instead of asking if she’s the one, you should ask yourself, “Am I the sort of man a godly woman would want to marry?” If you’re not, then you’d be better off spending less time evaluating the women around you, and more time developing the character of a disciple. Start by considering the characteristics of an elder that Paul lays out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and work toward those.
Then you should ask another question: “What sort of qualities should I be looking for in a wife so that my marriage will be a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church?” If you’re not sure what those characteristics are, then spend some time reading Proverbs 31, Titus 2:3-5, 1 Peter 3:1-7 and Ephesians 5:22-33.
Once you’ve asked the right questions, and once you’ve found someone you suspect fits the biblical description of a godly wife, you now need to decide whether to get married. And men, though this is a big decision, it’s not a decision that should take too long. How long is too long for a dating relationship? The Bible doesn’t provide a timetable (after all, most marriages were arranged during biblical times). But it does provide principles that point us in the direction of making a decision to marry or break up in the shortest appropriate time.
Think Like a Servant, not a Consumer
In 1 Thessalonians 4:6, Paul warns the Thessalonian Christians against “taking advantage” of their brothers or sisters. The larger context in the first eight verses makes clear that what Paul primarily has in view is sexual immorality, in which you take from one another a physical intimacy not rightfully yours.
But the text also suggests that there are other ways you can take advantage of one another in a dating relationship. And one of the primary ways men do this is to elicit and enjoy all the benefits of unending companionship and emotional intimacy with their girlfriends without ever committing to the covenant relationship of marriage.
Too often in dating relationships we think and act like consumers rather than servants. And not very good consumers at that. After all, no one would ever go down to his local car dealership, take a car out for an extended test drive, park it in his garage, drive it back and forth to work for several weeks, maybe take it on vacation, having put lots of miles on it, and then take it back to the dealer and say, “I’m just not ready to buy a new car.”
But so often, that’s exactly the way men treat the women they’re dating. Endlessly “test driving” the relationship, without any real regard for the spiritual and emotional wear and tear they’re putting her through, all the while keeping their eyes out for a better model.
The Scriptures are clear. We are not to take advantage of one another in this way. Instead, as Paul says in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Remember That Love is Never Easy
One of the myths out there is that if you just spend enough time searching, if you can just gather enough information, you’ll find a woman with whom marriage will be “easy.” The fact is, such a woman doesn’t exist, and if she did, she likely wouldn’t marry you. And that means that you don’t need as much information as you think you do.
No matter how long you’ve dated, everyone marries a stranger. That’s because fundamentally dating is an artificial arrangement in which you’re trying to be on your best behavior. Marriage on the other hand is real life. And it’s only in the context of day-in, day-out reality, with the vulnerability and permanence that marriage provides, that we learn what another person is really like. Some of the things we learn about each other aren’t easy. But who ever said that love and marriage were supposed to be easy?
Men, the point of marriage is that we learn to love our wives as Christ loved the church. Yes, as Revelation 21 and Ephesians 5 tell us, one day, Christ’s bride will be perfectly beautiful, without spot or blemish, altogether lovely and loveable.
But the church is not there yet. First, Christ had to commit himself to us, even to death on a cross. This is the model we’re called to follow. It’s not an easy model, but it’s worth it.
So your goal should not be to date her long enough until you’re confident marriage won’t be hard, but to date her just long enough to discern if you’re willing to love her sacrificially and if she’s willing to respond to that kind of love.
Remember That to Commit Does not Mean to Settle
Does this mean you should just “settle” for the first Christian woman who comes along? No, not at all. You should be making this decision in light of the qualities held out in Scripture for a godly wife, and you should marry the godliest, most fruitful, most spiritually beautiful woman you can convince to have you.
But you also need to be aware that you live in a culture that says the ultimate good in life is to always keep your options open and that any commitment is inevitably “settling” for less than you could have tomorrow. You must reject that kind of thinking for the worldly garbage that it is. Did Jesus Christ settle for the church? No, He loved the church and gave His life as a ransom for her (Mark 10:45).
Marriage is fundamentally a means to glorify and serve God, not by finding someone who will meet our needs and desires, but by giving ourselves to another for their good. So if you find yourself hesitating about committing to a godly, biblically qualified woman, then ask yourself, “Are my reasons biblical, or am I just afraid that if I commit, someone better will walk around the corner after it’s too late?” Consumers are always on the lookout for something better. Christ calls us to trust Him that in finding a wife, we have found “what is good and receive favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22).
Marry True Beauty When You Find It
Finally, the Scriptures call us to develop an attraction to true beauty. First Peter 3:3-6 describes the beautiful wife as a woman who has a gentle and quiet spirit, born out of her faith and hope in God, and displayed in her trusting submission to her husband. Men, is the presence of this kind of beauty the driving force for your sense of attraction to your girlfriend? Or have you made romantic attraction and “chemistry” the deciding issue?
Now don’t get me wrong. You should be physically attracted to the woman you marry. This is one of the ways marriage serves as a protection against sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). But we get in trouble, both in dating and in marriage, when we make physical beauty and “chemistry” the threshold issue in the decision to commit (or remain committed) to marriage.
Physical beauty in a fallen world is fading and transient. What’s more, the world narrowly defines beauty as the body of a teenager, and scorns the beauty of motherhood and maturity. But in which “body” is your wife going to spend most of her years with you? Personalities also change and mature, and what seems like “chemistry” when you’re 22 might feel like superficial immaturity 10 years later. Even over the course of a long courtship and engagement in the prime of your youth, physical attraction and chemistry are sure to go through ups and downs. We must resist the temptation to value the wrong kind of beauty.
No one lives in a perpetual state of “being in love.” But in marriage, our love is called to “always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere” (1 Corinthians 13:7). If mere worldly, physical beauty is the main thing attracting our love, then our love will prove as ephemeral as that beauty. But if we have developed an attraction to true beauty, then we have nothing to fear. Marry a vibrant growing Christian woman, and you have Christ’s promise that He is committed to making her more and more beautiful, spiritually beautiful, with every passing day (Romans 8:28; Philippians 1:6).
More Questions to Ask
How then do you decide, in a reasonable amount of time, whether or not to marry the woman you’re dating? Let me conclude with some more questions you should be asking.
- Generally speaking, will you be able to serve God better together than apart?
- Do you desire to fulfill the biblical role of a husband outlined in Ephesians 5:22-33 with this specific woman? Do you want to love her sacrificially?
- Does this relationship spur you on in your Christian discipleship, or does it dull and distract your interest in the Lord and His people? Are you more or less eager to study God’s Word, pray and give yourself in service as a result of time spent together?
- Do you think she will make a good discipler of your children?
- What do other mature Christian friends and family members say about your relationship? Do they see a relationship that is spiritually solid and God-glorifying?
If you can’t answer the questions at all, then you may need to spend some more time getting to know each other. But if you can answer them (and others like them) either positively or negatively, then it’s time to stop test-driving the relationship and either commit to marriage or let someone else have the opportunity.