In a sense, I apologize for this post. Most people probably won’t relate to the premise. The title question only pops up in certain very conservative Christian circles, at least as I’ve been exposed to it. But I think that this idea has influenced enough people that I interact with that I really feel I need to speak to it.
Let me pose you a scenario. I’m going to paint it in female colors, because that’s how I interact with it as a guy, and you might draw the obvious conclusion as to why it irks me. This illustration is of no one in particular, but an idea in general.
Here we go: There’s a certain young, Christian lady. She was raised in a very solid home, and the chances are high that she was either home schooled, and/or went to a very conservative, likely country church (I don’t intend any of this to be demeaning, indeed, I was home schooled and grew up in a small conservative church). She hits the sweet spot age of 18-23, and is making decisions about relationships. She has been taught relentlessly to guard her heart and to not give it to anyone unworthy (not a bad thing). She has heard stories of God leading people together to be married. It seems that there is one that God has made for her, and she is to find him. She has also been taught that dating is a bad thing because of what the world has made it.
The logic follows: God leads his children, as the Bible says in many places. Breaking up is painful, and surely God doesn’t want that for his children. There are stories in the Bible where people get married on their first shot. These stories are given to us as examples. Therefore, this young lady determines not to date/court (probably court) anyone until she’s sure she has found the one she will marry. She might also have had the encouragement of people in her community to do this.
This might seem quirky to you. This might seem completely logical to you. There are a number of spiritual-sounding things in the rational that can make it seem legitimate. I see some fundamental problems with it, and I don’t like how it has influenced some of the religious groups I circulate in.
For starters, this is essentially a sanctified soul-mate philosophy. God has only one person in the world that is a match for me, and I won’t be complete until I find that person. And if I’m in a relationship, and that person doesn’t meet my expectations, they probably aren’t the one I’m looking for. My friend Dustin Hall has covered this topic.
God doesn’t work through the paradigm of a soul mate. He gives us principles that we use to make sanctified decisions after much prayer. We choose someone we like, and who we believe will be a good partner on the road to heaven. The weight of finding one human in all of earth that is our soul mate is too much to bear. God hasn’t required it of anyone. God does lead certain people together, but he doesn’t do that for all, or even most people. The biblical examples don’t count, unless you feel you should also subscribe to arranged marriages. But even then, the point is that the marriages were based on principle. And if God had specific people in mind for certain Biblical characters, it is His prerogative to create or bring those people together.
Next, this philosophy can bear out a fear of pain. “If I am in a relationship that ends, it will hurt, and that will be bad.” Or, “If I am in a relationship that ends, it says something bad about me. I have failed.” Both statements are false. The first statement is true on the surface, but intrinsically false. If we are in a relationship that ends, it will hurt. But that doesn’t mean that the relationship wasn’t successful. We successfully avoided marrying the wrong person. We all know there are a lot of people in the world that have gotten that part mixed up.
Along with not marrying the wrong person, a learning process has occurred. That says something good about you, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment. You learned something about what you are looking for in a partner, and that something was important enough to you to part ways with this other person over (even if you’re on the receiving end of a break-up, you’ll probably realize you avoided a big mistake at some point).
An inherent assumption in the philosophy at question is that we are apt judges of who to marry. This is not true for almost all human beings on the first relationship try. Or second. Honestly, in each relationship I’ve been in I’ve learned important lessons. There were the relationships where I learned the importance of personality types, of common interests, of the importance of chemistry, of the importance of communication, etc. I had to pay the price of relationship in order to learn those things. There was some pain (some had less, some had more) when they ended, but what I gained was more valuable than the sting I felt. Pain avoidance isn’t the goal. Marrying the right person is, and it might take a couple tries to figure out what you even want.
Possibly the thing I dislike the most about this philosophy is that it exerts a pressure on people who are in a relationship to marry that person, whether they are the right fit or not, because God, or other people, will be disappointed in you if you don’t. Honestly, that kind of makes me sick. God does NOT require such a thing from you.
Even if an engagement has been entered into without a full understanding of the character of the one with whom you intend to unite, do not think that the engagement makes it a positive necessity for you to take upon yourself the marriage vow and link yourself for life to one whom you cannot love and respect. Be very careful how you enter into conditional engagements; but better, far better, break the engagement before marriage than separate afterward, as many do. – The Adventist Home, p 48.
And finally, as I wrap up, my experience is that it causes people to avoid relationships that might be healthy, for fear of that person not being good enough to spend the ‘one chance’ coin on. We should be mature enough to not date for kicks and giggles, but sometimes it takes getting to know someone a bit before you can make weightier decisions. It might take going on a few dates before you have enough data to make an informed decision. To resist all advances until you are 100% sure that person is the one you will marry puts you at an information disadvantage in a lot of situations as to what the other person is really like. And then once you are in it, you feel you have to stick it out. That is plain and simply not healthy, and not what God wants for us. God doesn’t want us to date around with no purpose, but don’t be closed to the idea that you might need to open yourself up to get to know people in a low-commitment format before making larger commitments.
God loves us. He wants us to marry someone who also loves us, and who will be healthy (not necessarily perfect) for us. Perfection is more about personal expectations that about being a good, healthy match. Sometimes God has a path for us that travels through relationships that we thought would work out, but don’t. Sometimes God uses relationships and pain for the saving of our souls and our future marriages. Don’t lock yourself in to any relationship for the sake of the relationship itself. If it becomes unhealthy before marriage, jump ship for your sake, the sake of the partner, and to help your future children to avoid an unhappy home. And lastly, be open to low-commitment ways that you can get to know someone. Going on a date or two with a guy will not compromise your integrity, and can help you determine whether or not you want to spend more time with him.
God bless. May you follow the path God has for you, and may you find someone worthy to walk it with.