One of my best friends, James, got engaged earlier tonight. I’m excited for him and his soon-to-be-bride and all the memories that life together will bring them. As a friend I get to share in their joy and be happy for them; they found the one they want to spend this life with. In that same breath, I remember being in college and James and I being jealous as our friends married off and found some woman to love on. We wanted so desperately to love and be loved. We wanted a “successful” relationship.
Now, just a couple years later and very happily married, I have learned a little something about relationships:
Every relationship can be a success. Every relationship should be a success.
As a young Christian growing up in youth group, I automatically assumed that every relationship was supposed to end in marriage. I would think that if I dated a girl and wasn’t thinking about a ring then I was wronging her and dishonoring myself. My perspective, and the goal or a relationship was wrong.
Every relationship can be a success; every relationship should be a success. I all depends on what you define as a success. My definition now?
Success in a relationship is determined by one little thing: Did I answer the question?
We befriend someone to answer the question: Should I date this person?
Now, that’s not to say the only reason we befriend someone is to figure out whether or not we should date them… instead, that before we decide “I want to date this person” we should at least befriend them. We should know some basics – do they have the same beliefs as me? Do we get along? Am I attracted to this person? Can I control myself around them? Do they let me be me?
If something happens here, if you aren’t compatible – it’s ok. We obviously shouldn’t be trying to date all of our friends – people perceive that as just being creepy and/or desperate. But look – if you decide that this person is not for you your time wasn’t wasted; it was a success! You answered the question and you are both wiser for it; and hopefully, you have a new, real friend.
If you do decide to date them… then you’re still successful! You answered the question. But after that success comes and even more important question…
We date to answer the question: Should I be in a relationship with this person?
So we’ve gotten the basics out of the way. You know you like each other, you get excited when they call and their sneezes sound cute. But now you’re asking something a little more serious. Being in a relationship is tying yourself to someone else. You begin to see them through rose-colored glasses. Because you want them to be right for you, because you want your time investment to be worthwhile, it’s easy to amplify the positive and pardon the real issues that are there. There are so many important things to still be discovered… do your friends like each other? Do your parents/mentors/guardians approve? Do your moral values line up? Is it comfortable to pray together?
If along the way you decide that no, I shouldn’t be in a relationship with this person that’s ok. It’s still successful because you answered the question. You were just dating, right? It wasn’t a commitment and hearts don’t have to be shattered. But if you answer the question and decide that yes – this is someone I want to be in a relationship with…
We are in a relationship to answer the question: Should I marry this person?
One of the most important decisions you will make in your life; is this the person I should marry? How do you even begin to decide this?
If you never had a clear answer on whether or not you should date this person, if you never had a clear answer on whether or not you should be in a relationship with this person… the ideas and thoughts in your heads are going to be so muddy that you won’t be able to answer this question clearly.
The relationship was a success if you answered the question “no” and ended the relationship. The problems come when the answer should have been “no” but you never decided the answer… or tricked yourself into thinking the answer was yes.
What makes you decide, “should I marry this person”? I think it’s different for everyone; you have to know what priorities are. If one of the pair has been called to international service work but the other doesn’t want to ever leave the country… there might be a problem there. If the girl has always dreamed of being a mom but the man can’t stand the idea of children… there might be a problem. Those are just surface issues.
Perhaps even better are the opposite questions: why should I marry this person? Can we do ministry together? Does he make you smile in the morning? Do your friends see the love you two share? Does she make you want to be a better man?
And if the answer is no; if you decide somewhere that you shouldn’t be married to this person… then the relationship is still a success. Why? Because you answered the question. Yes, it will hurt and your heart will be broken. But you answered the question and – ultimately – you can look back on the relationship as a success.
The goal isn’t to be married; the goal is to discover who you should be married to. Once you find that, the rest is easy.
Congratulations, James and Heather. I’m glad that each step along the way you answered the question. I’m honored that I got to pray with you and can’t wait for you two to discover all the joys, struggles, smiles and tears that marriage will bring. I’m excited that you discovered who you should be married to; I’m glad you had the courage to ask and I’m she already knew she’d said yes.