This post has been majorly revised, the new version is available here:
I initially drafted out this post back in March 2016, but for some reason forgot about it until recently reviewing old posts! Hence the reference to months and months since last submitting a post!
Well before I start, let me first talk about how long it has been since I last submitted a post here! Wow, it has been months and months and months! (Sighs!) This is largely because I’ve been so busy – in fact, it is entirely because I have been so busy! Even though these thoughts have been consuming my mind as usual. And thinking about this reminds me of a point I’ve made here before about modern life: that it is so easy and possible to get caught up on the busy treadmill of work etc that it can be hard to find time to invest into things that really matter. Recently I’ve been struggling to find time to write about relationships. However this same busyness could equally impact on an actual relationship, not just writing about one. So once again, I’m sitting here and thinking how I would deal with this…Hmm?
OK, well back to the topic at hand!
This is an idea that I’ve been meditiating over in some form for possibly the last few weeks or even months, but it is only today that the ideas here truly crystallised in my mind.
For anyone who is new to this blog, I have spent a very very long time time thinking about relationships and marriage, and trying to grow myself into the best wife I could be. However, my challenge has been to find someone whose commitment to marriage is truly the same as mine. Many people will say things, but on digging deeper…More sighs!
So these are thoughts that occurred to me:
Because of so many unexciting experiences that I have been through, in very everyday situations, rather than romantic contexts, I have become very careful about the way I interact with people, especially about making myself vulnerable to people. This has led me to think up the two year rule, which basically states that I believe it is good and wise to get to know someone for two full years before you start dating them. The two-year figure is not just made up; it was chosen because it is widely recognised that it takes two full years to get to know someone, or to feel that you have an accurate perception of their character.
In a way, what I am going to share in this particular post might seem kind of obvious, following on from the two-year idea. However, such is the nature of these things, that there might be quite obvious ideas that naturally follow on from other ideas I’ve already had, but it will take me a long time to see these things and looking back I’ll be asking myself why it took me so long to make such obvious connections!
So anyway this is it: when I as a person am evaluating a man for two years, I am looking not for what he could become, but rather I am looking for what he has already built himself up to be, in that time before he met me. (I know that when I talk about “evaluating people” it makes it sound as prescribed as a job interview – I guess in some ways that is what it is!!! I’m all about the lovey-dovey, (within marriage!) but please let us not make any mistake about it: I definitely do evaluate these men, and I encourage them to evaluate me too. Marriage is for a loooooong time!) I am making this specific to me because it is specific to me: I am talking particularly about what I am looking for, although different people might be looking for something different – however I encourage everyone to use the “two-year rule”.
The two-year thing is also about cutting out pretence from the interaction between us: it is quite obviously human nature for each party to pretend to be better than they are, or to be a nicer person, in the hope of winning the affections of the other party. But over the period of two years, whoever that person truly is – or is not, will inevitably come out.
So what does that mean in practice? So many things!
At the risk of making very broad generalisations, I think that, simply put, men do not expect to be assessed on their characters – and definitely not in as much depth as I would evaluate them. This is one overwhelming reason why I as a person find it hard to find a husband who is truly and uncompromisingly outstanding in terms of character. From my very limited experience of men in romantic contexts, and from my much broader general experience of men in everyday (Christian) situations, I can’t help thinking the following: on the question of character, most men think that they are fine or they are acceptable as long as they don’t do anything really bad like (highly frowned upon in my Christian community) getting drunk all day every day* or…any other negative extremes of character.
So what this means is that as long as they are not doing these “really bad” things – they think they are fine! So that means that those other things such as “being less than candid about the truth”…and other consistent failings of character, just fall into the “we’re not perfect” aspect of their life – that they don’t even have to work on. In fact, they act as if they expect me to be grateful for who they are, and for these ugly traits, just because they don’t (for instance) get drunk all every day. [*I’m not knocking anyone who has problems with alcohol – please see below.]
And yet, I am not grateful. After encountering so many supposedly “Christian” people and their behaviour, I have come to understand of myself that I can only closely associate with people who are truly striving after phenomenal character, and especially Christ-like character. All those other grubby character traits just annoy me and frustrate me so much especially when they are directed at me! I unceremoniously and unapologetically cut out from my life people with those unexciting traits. This probably indicates a character failing on my own part, in that I need to be more patient with people. But there we are. And if this is true of people generally then it is all the more true of my husband. (Obviously I greatly believe in the commitment of marriage so I am not going to be casually cutting him out of my life… )
So that is essentially the issue in a nutshell. And what I have come to see, that should have been more obvious is this: when I’m evaluating a man, what I am looking is not how he could grow, even in terms of his character, in the future. What I am looking for is what he has been growing to become before meeting me, and the determination with which he has been pursuing Christlikeness. Absolutely nothing else is relevant, even if I wanted it to be.
Instant attraction, then evaluation!
I think it would be useful to examine a few things:
Let’s talk about 10 yrs!
What people (men) expect
How relationships often work
Let’s talk about 10 years!
On this blog I am often talking about long periods of time. The common length of time I talk about is 2 years. And yet in this post I am going to introduce the concept of 10 years. Now unlike the 2 year thing this is not scientific, and it is in no way set in stone. I’ve chosen this because it is a nice round number. However when I start talking about it, I hope what I’m talking about will become clear.
So this is how 10 years is important: When I am evaluating a guy, what I am looking for is evidence of who he has been building himself to become, by the grace and power of God, and by his own determination in pursuing God. This is where 10 years becomes relevant: as a rough estimation, a nice round figure, I would state that it takes about 10 years of determined pursuit of Christlikeness for someone to truly develop outstanding character that you can consistently trust; that is full of joy, beauty, grace, love and all sorts of lovely things; the kind of character where a person can evaluate their own behaviour, identify what is wrong and work on it, without needing to be told; in short, highly marriageable character.
10 years as a development period is much longer than 2 years, the evaluation period. And here’s why this is important: even if I met someone and he really likes me, and he knows that I am evaluating him, and he tries his hardest to grow to an appropriate level, the likelihood is that even if he gives it his absolute determination, within that two year period of evaluation he simply cannot grow to an adequate level of maturity, even if he wanted to with all his might. I always have to be aware of sounding arrogant. To be candid I have been investing a huge amount of effort into my relationship with God, into prayer, into my pursuit of Christlike character, giving 100% for well over a decade. And man, I have been through things thanks to supposed “Christians”. From what I have learned from experience, on a long term basis I just cannot make myself vulnerable to someone who does not have the same level of pursuit as me. I just can’t! Man, I so often itch to vent about some of these many, many, many situations that I have encountered, but I just hold myself and think “forgiveness, girl!” To be honest, it is God and God alone who has kept me grounded in Him even after experiencing such things from people who claim to be His children. (Further candour – I have actually vented, hugely, on my other blog, Tosin’s Bible Blog – but just without going into specific details and naming specific names! To be clear nothing really bad happened, but I rather encountered a mountain of minor – not micro – aggressions!)
Here is why this is relevant: sometimes I will meet someone, and the spark of attraction between us will be so very strong, and yet on evaluating his character I just have to walk away. If growth in character has not been his single-minded determination for the last 10 years, then even in two years he simply cannot grow
fast enough to be big enough. I am a born-again Christian, I believe that God can do the impossible. Let me make it clear that of course nothing is impossible with God so technically this is of course as possible as anything else but…I have not seen it yet. Also, Biblically speaking this does not seem to be the way God works, that He will instantly and miraculously pour Christ-like character down on anyone from heaven. It seems that God consistently grows His people in Christlike character by taking us through different challenges and various seemingly unexciting expressions of suffering. But as I say, technically it is not impossible (that someone should grow so quickly in two years) – shrug!
And this is why it might not have been his determination: maybe it is not fair to say (that) “no-one cares about a man’s character before marriage”. And yet the way marriages are often begun, I think in practice many people can manage to secure spouses with less than fantastic character, so that in practice a man, even a Christian man, might not imagine that
a deep an utterly relentless pursuit of Christ is utterly important for the sake of getting a spouse.
How marriages might often occur:
I believe that the ideas I speak of on this blog are quite unusual. Chiefly this one – the two year thing. Not just the length of time, but the idea of coolly and calmly checking someone out, to systematically check out signs of his character, before embarking on any kind of relationship? To me, that is unheard of. No-one expects to be evaluated to such great depth before a relationship. This following, I believe is closer to what people expect: that you meet someone, there is that undeniable spark of attraction; you get to know one another a bit more, that spark grows, you get talking, you discover a great affinity between the two of you; things somehow progress until you fall madly in love; things progress further in various ways and in various possible permutations until you finally get married…and you accept one another knowing that neither of you is perfect. In all of this there is no time when character will carefully be examined; a deep pursuit of character is not one of the criteria on which people expect to be turned down. The thing about this is that it is so possible and even easy in all the throes of lovey-doveyness for either or both parties to deliberately hide away unappealing aspects of their character behind a laughing facade of charm. So theoretically a man thinking ahead to wooing a wife might plan to do just this (as the woman might equally plan to do the same thing) – bluff it – to simply pretend to be amazing and lovely and kind and altogether charming. But charm does not equal character – oh no it does not! The Bible specifically addresses this point: “Beauty is vain and charm is deceitful…(…but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised).” – Proverbs 31 v 30. The Bible verse is specifically talking about women but I believe that it is quite clearly as true for men as it is for women that good looks and charm are not representative of good character. I actually think that this is the way most people plan to get married: it is not that they are bad people, it is just that they have not made any deep, systematic, unyielding investment in Christ-like character. I resent the idea that a man will get my outstanding effort for free, while I have to put up with his mediocrity. It is just not going to happen (by God’s grace!)
Another thing is that all of this can be so quick. Sometimes people get so consumed by yearnings and the desire to be in a relationship that they essentially sprint up the aisle without really taking the time to get to know one another – I mean really know one another. Sometimes these marriages turn out beautifully, yet that just cannot be a consistent recipe for marital success.
So anyway, I suggest that obviously many people would not make any real effort in terms of character, if they think that they can simply bluff their way into marriage in terms of character.
There is also the fact that even churches do not hammer on the need for outstanding Christ-like character. Character is absolutely central in the Bible, but it is simply not fashionable in Christian circles – at least not in my experience. I’m talking about really deep integrity; telling the truth, acting fairly, being honest with yourself about your failings and working on them; putting others first; cultivating sincerity in your heart, recognising envy and malice within yourself and ridding your heart of these things where they exist. In so many churches that I have been to, even the pastors are utterly devoid of integrity, for instance in terms of telling the truth. So unsurprisingly these churches are not places where really deep pursuit of character is presented as all-important. So if a man has been going to these churches, and depending on the pastor for his spiritual growth, to put it bluntly character will not have been an aspect of that growth.
Many men do not even think of their wives as people to whom they need to give excellent character. Rather I suspect that for many men their marriage is something that they need to tick off in their life, and each one might regard his wife not even as a real person in her own right, but rather as someone who exists merely to help him fulfil his dreams, and the way he might choose to treat her is irrelevant, because after all, she exists for him; and the only thing he has to do to win her is to apply some fake charm and buy some posh meals.
Someone could be outstanding in every other way, and perhaps by everyone else’s standards. But to me, if he is not outstanding in character, then he is not outstanding at all! It does not matter how successful he is in his job, whether he owns his own home, what position he holds in church or how highly he scores in any other metric that men use to measure themselves. (What car he drives – seriously?!) This is one reason why a man might demonstrate outstanding character: because, for whatever reason, God has taken hold of his heart, and he has made up his mind, that come what may, he will pursue God on God’s own terms, and give God the utmost of his determination. It is not about getting a wife: he might never get married. But come what may, he has to be found in God; he has to be deeply rooted in Christ, the character of Christ has to be resoundingly evident in his life.
So what this tends to mean is that when you do get someone who does demonstrate this level of pursuit, it will not have been for the sake of getting a spouse that they started out on that journey of deep pursuit– but that is just an aside! In fact, thinking more about it, some of the personal challenges I have faced for the sake of my faith have been so great that there was no way that I could have carried on if I was doing it merely for the sake of becoming an excellent wife or romantically impressing any particular person. As it is for me, I believe it is the same for everyone: that you have to pursue Christ for the sake of Christ and Christ alone, the prospect of a beautiful marriage is almost incidental.
*Please understand that I am not knocking anyone who has problems with alcohol. This is just an example of something that is very highly frowned up in my own immediate Christian community. In truth, looking back on my life, it is only by the grace and mercies of God that I myself have been able to avoid such issues or similar ones in my own life. To be honest, negative attitudes to people struggling with substance abuse are an example of gracelessness in the Christian community.