Our kids live in a culture that promotes the idea that the only ideal man-woman relationship is one where two people are so in love that nothing else in life matters. And anyone who has ever been in that dawning moment of attraction to someone else knows what a thrilling and addictive feeling that can be.
Our culture idolizes the pleasure principle. Grabbing what brings you joy, bliss, happiness, or pleasure is the guiding principle in modern life. And being infatuated with someone is extremely pleasurable. In fact, feelings of infatuation mimic the effects some drugs have on our brains. So, indulging this infatuation and basing your decisions about marriage on it is the societally approved method of finding your soul mate. People would be taken aback if you told them that you aren’t head over heels in love with your fiancé, but you think he will make a solid husband. We observers all like a good romantic story.
The Fervor Never Lasts
And yet married people know these fabulous feelings of fervor do not last. We know that beauty fades and that edgy, dangerous persona that was so alluring while dating becomes tiresome and pointless when you just need a hand with the groceries. Marriage is not perpetually standing on the rail of the Titanic crying, “I’m flying.”
I understand the power of the idea of romance. I was enthralled by it as a young single. I had a Sunday School teacher back in my twenties who tried to tell us single women about the difference between romance and marriage. She said the romantic songs were wrong. She said if we wanted to have a good marriage, we needed to look for a godly husband we could live with for the rest of our lives–and it might not feel like fireworks. I did not like to hear this. I longed for a relationship that would have Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart“as a soundtrack. I wanted to feel the effects of the love drug. I was hearing this teacher say “Get ready. You can’t have what everyone else in the whole world is going to get to enjoy. God wants for you to live a life of married drudgery to a dull and boring man.” Update: God did not decree that for me. Dull and boring does not describe my husband. And I found out everyone else in the whole world is not married to Jerry McGuire, who completes them.
The Sacred Search
So how do we Christian parents counteract the enticement of our children to this alluring, romantic ideal? Gary Thomas has written a great little book called The Sacred Search: What If It’s Not about Who You Marry, But Why? that you should give to your kids who are ready to think about romance. My 23-year-old son received it from his church and avidly recommended it to my college freshman daughter. I read it and avidly recommend it to you.
Thomas doesn’t ask young people to avoid romance and infatuation. In fact, it’s a feeling that is pretty involuntary. He says “Neurologically speaking, it’s easier to say no to physical sexual passion than it is to regulate the rush of emotional infatuation.” So trying to keep your kids from experiencing that feeling is a fool’s errand. Thomas instead warns them about the effects of the love drug and tells them to be wary of making marriage decisions while under its influence. If you wait, it will wear off. Infatuation only lasts at most about two years (it’s been scientifically studied).
Thomas is very pro-marriage and encourages young people to leave the dream world of meet-cute romantic movies and actively seek opportunities to meet suitable mates. While God may have someone particular in mind for your child, He may also have a range of suitable mates that He wants your child to consider. Thomas says it can be hard work to find someone you want to spend the next four or five decades with. I should think so! And facts prove this to be true: too many people don’t put enough effort into this life-changing decision.
What to Consider in a Spouse
Thomas lays out some things to consider in a mate and how to find out what kind of person your intended is. The number one consideration is someone who is seeking God’s kingdom first and “who is passionately committed to getting married for the glory of God first and foremost.”
One interesting thought-experiment Thomas proposes is to ask yourself what kind of person your intended mate would pursue if you weren’t available. Would he pursue another godly mate, or is he just conforming to what you want him to be because he wants you (or vice versa for a man thinking about a particular woman)? And in regard to marrying for physical beauty, he counsels “marriage is about growing old together more than it is about being young together.”
Thomas emphasizes how important it is that both partners understand what each is looking for in the marriage. He lists several “marriage patterns” and asks you to think about what you want and what your spouse might be wanting. It’s not that a romance-desiring partner can’t marry a utilitarian-thinking partner, but you both need to know what you are getting in to.
Bad Boys Are Fun
Thomas is best when addressing how dating fun and attraction are not the basis for marriage. It’s a timeworn cliché that women are attracted to “bad” men. We want to date a Porsche, but we need to marry the minvan. Thomas notes that “it doesn’t take great character to accompany you to a movie.” You need to think about what the long haul is like and who can go the distance with you.
He also has wise advice about not going through with marriage commitments if you, the committed, realize it’s not a good idea. He counsels don’t “accept a life sentence because you don’t want to endure a difficult season” [his emphasis]. The presumption is that you as a Christian are committed for life to the person you marry, for better or worse.
The best thing about this book is that Thomas is not you. As you know, you can say wise things all day long, but if someone else says them, your kids will repeat them to you as though they had never heard the same things come out of your mouth. So let Thomas do the talking for you. And help your child think through this life-altering decision before they get caught up with the love drug.