A married couple in my church once suggested my standards for a future wife were unrealistic. Their concern: I was expecting too much by hoping to find a single adult woman with a lived-out passion for Christ, a desire for family, and a commitment to purity.
Maybe, they insinuated, this was why I was still single.
As Valentine’s Day approached, two items brought my mind back to this tricky issue.
First, Lori Gottlieb’s book "Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough" was released in paperback. The book encourages women to settle for any available guy who can fulfill basic needs. Because the paperback is marketed to Christian singles, Bonnie Field recently wrote a Christian response for the Her.meneutics blog.
Second, a massive study - sponsored by Match.com and led by Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher - surveyed 5,200 singles aged 21 to 65. Headlines have feasted on the study’s assertion that men are now as likely to marry as women and that women are fussier about whom they'll consider for a partner. Somewhere, Lori Gottlieb is nodding in agreement.
This type of finger pointing isn’t anything new in the Christian dating scene, where people have long looked for reasons behind the increased numbers of singles over 30 who would like to be married. Despite the complex situation, most of those discussions - including the comment section of Field’s article - disintegrate into a gender vs. gender blame fest. Inevitably, men accuse women of wanting Brad Pitt looks with a Billy Graham heart and women accuse men of wanting Barbie with a Bible.
The situation warrants a deeper look. When Gottlieb writes, “Marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection - it’s about having a teammate," I think of Genesis’ description of the helpmate, as well as the Bible’s lack of talk about soul mates and true love. I’ve long felt our culture needs more talk about commitment and less about feelings. Gottlieb, too, seems in favor of stripping away our culture’s romanticized view of love. We’ve made finding a marital partner into a magical scavenger hunt for that irreplaceable and perfect other half of our heart. With that mentality, we analyze romantic partners like diamonds - any slight flaw and they’re downgraded. For Christians, we couch it in terms of God’s will: Would God send me a less-than-perfect gift?
This is not a gender-specific danger. Gottlieb claims the single men she knows seem to have an easier time settling for reality - an assertion backed by Fisher’s study. But honestly, it’s hard to quantify the degree to which entire genders settle. While not all men are looking for a supermodel and not all women are looking for Mr. Perfect, some of both are. Know why? We’re broken. Will we ever be able to get past the blame game and acknowledge the universal brokenness with grace?
One important note on the headlines coming out of the Match.com study: We need to look at what men are actually less picky about. Eighty-three percent called themselves flexible regarding religious beliefs. Only 62 percent of women said the same. Frankly, I’m far more concerned about Christian men with no standards for their mate’s faith.
So were my married friends right? Was I too picky to want a believing spouse? I don’t think so. We as a Christian culture need to recognize that healthy discernment and unhealthy judgment look differently - and we need to help each other identify the difference.
Image courtesy of Graur Codrin.