We have all seen greeting cards like this one: The perfect man: sweet, rich, dark and handsome; and if he says anything wrong you can simply bite of his head and unwrap another! Wish relationships were really that simple!
The search for the perfect mate is a very personal and emotionally draining one, so I aim to write this blog carefully, lightly and humorous. Even as I am writing about “finding your life partner” I think of my friends whom I love dearly, that are suffering in what is described as the epidemic of with loneliness. I have previously written on marriage and our culture and do not wish to repeat everything I have written about, so I recommend you to read on the intent and definition of marriage I unpacked there.
I now invite you to laugh with me at popular crazy ideas and sentiments we hold onto in our pursuit of “finding the perfect life partner”.
In Plato’s The Symposium he writes that humans originally had four legs and four arms, and that they angered the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them fully, fearing the loss of their tributes and Zeus therefore split them in two as punishment (while doubling the amount of tribute given). Humans would forever wander miserably in search for their other half – their soul mate – and once they had found that soul mate there would be perfect understanding between and happiness between the two. Thus “love is the desire of the whole.”
In a study by Rugters University 94% of unmarried people agreed that the primary search for a marriage partner is one’s “soul mate”. This ancient myth has been popularized in contemporary movies, novels and even preaching, that there is a person “destined” for you to find and marry. While non-believers bank on “fate” to find their soul mate, authors and preachers have “christianed” this fable to sound Biblical, stating that God has created you for one mate. Although this statement sounds good, the core of the assumption is you’re your happiness rests in finding that one which God created you for, thus putting the thrust of your energy into “finding the right one.”
This popular theory has two major contemporary relational consequences. Firstly, loneliness and late marriages singles persistently search for their “soul mate”, or the one to complete them. This search for a mystical satisfying union provided in a specific individual person “out there somewhere” is in my opinion one of the greatest contributors to the loneliness epidemic of young adults. Secondly, the belief that there is “one perfect soul mate for me” out there somewhere causes even people in steady relationships to doubt the legitimacy of the that relationship, wondering whether everyday conflict and the normality of the relationship are indications that they are not with the “wrong one.” Counseling professionals warn that this myth is very destructive relationally, some going as far as saying “nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of the soul mate.”
What does the Bible say about this? The whole counsel of the Bible teaches very little about who to marry, except that that person should be a Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39). The one clear instance in the Bible where God instructs someone to marry a specific person is the prophet Hosea – and it is because God commanded him to marry a prostitute, something immoral and foolish! (This marriage was meant to display prophetic significance of the character of unfaithful Israel, to their own shame).
I personally know of one or two individuals to whom God spoke directly about their marriage partners, but this is by no means normative, as we can see from Scripture. The Biblical text says a lot about marriage, but very little about who to marry. The focus of the Scripture is on who you become and how you ought to conduct yourself in marriage – because love and fulfillment in found in how your marry, not who you marry.
“The Consumerist Gambling” – there must be a better one out there
The second popular trend is what I like to call “consumer-based relational roulette”, where potential life-mates are compared with each other as we do with clothes or cattle or cars, weighing up their apparent strengths and weaknesses, dismissing those who fail to meet our standards. This comparison happens either virtually by viewing an online dating catalogue, Facebook pages or in real life interactions. Consumer-based relational roulette results is either serial dating as the “consumer” tries out the “products” or in passivity where “buyers” wait for the perfect specimen to “procure”.
Where does the gamble come in? The gamble comes in when one disengage from a promising relationship or dismiss a potentially good life-mate in the hope for a better one, just like gambler would bet all his winnings in hope of gaining more. The relational result is the same as in the previous section: late marriages with agonizing loneliness, and break-up of good relationships (even marriages) in the hope of better ones.
What does the Bible say to this myth? The answer is simple: marry a Christian, and be faithful and be content with whom you have.
“The Cupid deception” – all you need is love!
We are well aware of the Roman Cupid myth as he is the popular icon of Valentines Day. The myth of this demi-god tells that he has the power in his bow and arrow to strike his unsuspecting victim with uncontrollable passion for the one he/she lays eyes on: instant infatuation as the victim helplessly “falls in love” and blindly does whatever it takes to be with the object of obsession. This myth is also popularized in contemporary films and drama, novels and poetry, and music. It is this love which quite literally makes people’s worlds go around.
Emotions of love are not bad at all – emotions are created by God and God himself expresses very passionate love and anger through the prophets in the Bible. The danger in this myth is when life-long relational decisions are based upon feelings alone. Infatuation causes people to say and do stupid things, like “I have to follow my heart” and marry an abusive man who was divorced three times, because “I cannot deny this feeling”. Love-struck people who follow this loving feeling alone can cause themselves tremendous harm; after all, “love is blind.”
We live in a society primarily lead by emotions; the anthem of our younger generation is “if it feels right, it is right!” But we know that emotions are fickle, evidenced by the many heart-aches and bitterness from people who woke up one morning released from the “spell of cupid” having “fallen out of love.” The Biblical teaching on this emotional desire is clear: be aware of luring emotions, since “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”(Jeremiah 17:9) and can tempt us to do foolish and sinful things (James 1:14). Secondly, love is not enough for a fulfilled relationship, as Paul teaches us that we need faith (shared conviction and trustworthy character), hope (a common or complementary vision or direction) and love (the bond of perfection manifesting in grace for each other) (1Corintians 13:7, 13).[i]
I must just point out that the our cultural understanding of love is far removed from the love we read about in the Bible. Contemporary definitions of love reads something like “
Loving emotions are not wrong, but left unchecked it has the potential to lead us into great trouble, as many of us have experienced in the past. Biblical love leads to loving actions for others, and that always leads to goodness and life. So if Cupid hits you with his arrow and the “poison tip” fills you with this second type of (Biblical) love, there is no harm in that!
“God will send her my way”
The last myth to be busted in this post is that of passive waiting: “if we are destined to be together, God / fate will make it happen!” But we know this passivity does not work in any area of life. We don’t say “if God wants me to be a doctor, He will make it happen” and then do nothing. We agree with the plan and then pursue it with hard work an excitement, recognising His grace along the way.
The writer of proverbs recorded a proverbs that instruct the young men to “find” a virtuous wife (Proverbs 18:22; 31:10), implying intentional, intelligent effort. I know many young men who spend hours behind computer screens or some odd hobby who desire a life mate, but make no visible effort. The same holds true for young ladies – make yourself known. If you seek you will find, Jesus said.
What to do
We have busted some destructive relational myths, but how do we respond? I counsel single people with these four things:
- Evaluate your expectations. Are what you want from a life partner, or the meeting of this life partner, fair and Biblical? How much of what you expect or desire is culturally informed and how much is what God intents? Re-evaluate your image of marriage and lovein prayer, study and discussions.
- Become marriable. Marriage is great when both you and your spouse are loving people, meaning you are patient, kind, gentle, humble, faithful, honest, etc. So grow to “have love” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1) – spend time with friends and family where you deliberately grow in the loving character of Jesus our example.
- Marry a Christian. Rather than building catalogues of potential mates to build through, marry a good Christian. Any good Christian whom you respect and can have pleasant conversation with. Re-evaluate your “check lists” – cut it down to “godly man” / “virtuous woman” who has friends and family that prove he/she can maintain healthy relationships. Don’t look for the perfect partner – find a suitable partner who share your convictions, because once you marry you find out that imperfections are part of relational life, which mainly get dealt with inside the marriage. [I don’t propose marry without discretion and counsel, I simply mean to
- Grow in contentment. In the pursuit of your life mate, learn contentment as Paul did with being single now. Use your flexibility and time well now to noble causes that you cannot do once you have family responsibility. Don’t allow the desire for marital intimacy consume you; learn contentment and find joy in your situation now. But never loose hope – God hears and God cares!
[i] From a teaching of Ps Fred May “Love is Not Enough” 2002 in Shofar Christian Church, Stellenbosch.