[photo by Ashley Crutcher Photography]
It was a sticky day in July. Campers would be arriving in just a few short hours and there was a lot to do before then. As we sat at brunch, I could tell he was nervous. “What’s wrong?” I asked after we prayed over our rice bowls. “I don’t know if he actually told me ‘yes’ straight up,” he said. Luckily he confirmed the answer at some point, because as we were in the throes of gearing up for another week of camp, he excitedly looked at me and asked: “Will you be my girlfriend?” Of course I said yes. We had been talking seriously for weeks. We had very similar goals, interests, and sense of humor. This was just the next sensible step on our journey to become one.
I love reminiscing and talking about the beginning of my relationship with my now-husband. The memories of when we first met, he first asked for my number, he first told me he loved me, and so many more still make me smile. I can’t believe it’s been over three years since we met. But this post isn’t necessarily about the shared laughter and coloring books and peanut butter that filled up the sweet start of our courtship.
The other day a young person asked me, “How did you know that he was the one? You probably prayed but what made you sure?” And I thought, maybe more people wonder that than we assume. Not how I in particular knew, but how DO you know? With divorce statistics through the roof (roughly half of all marriages in the USA end in divorce, and remarriages are a whole other story), young people want to make sure they don’t mess this up. I’ve heard several young ladies say they don’t want to ever get married, either because they’ve seen their parents’ unhealthy/abusive marriage, or they are afraid they’ll marry the wrong person.
When I was a teenager, I wondered how I would know almost constantly. My parents have had a wonderful relationship, but as a young person I saw marriages ending, or just very unhappy couples. I poignantly remember when I was in elementary school my mom telling me that the parents of one of my best neighborhood friends were getting divorced. I didn’t even understand what it meant back then. We didn’t talk about divorce in the Wilson home because it wasn’t an option for Daddy and Mommy.
As I grew up and got a job and had friends who were older and married, suddenly divorce became more real because my friends were leaving their spouses. I was shocked by the reality that hit me in the face. What is happening? WHY is this happening?
Please understand me: I am not judging these people. I’m not necessarily saying that if they had prayed more and made right decisions, this could have been avoided. I know some of their stories and understand why they left their spouse. What I am saying is that our teenagers look around and marriage either isn’t appealing, or is extremely terrifying; which leads them to wonder, “How will I know I’ve found the right person?”
On the other hand, maybe you’ve skimmed this and thought, “Ok Bethany, but I already know someone great/am in a relationship and have been for x amount of time. What if I think he is the right person? How do I know for sure?” I was like that (a couple times, oops), and it can be tricky!
So with all of that said, I want to share a couple principles along with examples from my own life. Keep in mind, this is simply my perspective. Also don’t think that Josh and I have made perfect decisions every step of the way. We are human just like you. I simply want to share some things that helped us as we navigated the murky waters of “Is he/she THE ONE?” None of these should be your reason by itself; it should be a combination of several or, hopefully, all of these.
This is probably the least important so we’ll mention it first to get it out of the way. Where did you meet the person you think you’re destined to be with? And have you seen them face different challenges and go through ups and downs? We met at a Christian camp which was a blessing for several reasons. First of all, it meant we had similar goals and intentions. We had both given up our summer to serve as camp counselors with a bunch of sweaty campers, which meant we were both ministry minded. Secondly, we got to see each other in various situations, including challenges, sickness, exhaustion, elation, delirium, and the list goes on. If you think you know that person, but you’ve only seen them at a couple church functions, you probably don’t know them that well. You have to see them respond and react to lots of different circumstances to really see what kind of a person they are.
What were the circumstances surrounding how you met this person? Did someone set you up? Did you throw yourself on them to make them adore you? I read a great quote once that said, “If you gotta force it, just leave it. Relationships, friendships, ponytails. Just leave it.” (Reyna Biddy) Did you guys meet WITHOUT expectations? Personally, I believe that’s the best way. I spent so many teenage years chasing boys and trying to make them worship the ground I walk on; and it just wasn’t worth it. Even if they finally noticed me, it was a shallow acknowledgement of “wow you are pretty.” To what end? It made me feel good for a couple days. Big deal.
Josh and I were both looking to AVOID a relationship when we met. We had separately been through some tough stuff about a year before, and wanted to serve God wholeheartedly without the distraction of the opposite sex. Thankfully God’s plans are better, and we were able to encourage each other in our ministry.
3. Talk . . . and talk . . . and talk.
Ladies, do not settle for a man who doesn’t open up about anything just because older women say, “Men never talk! They don’t know how to communicate! That’s just how they are.” It makes me sad when I see married couples where the wife gabs constantly and the husband is a “yes dear” kind of man. YOU NEED TO COMMUNICATE. And in the beginning of a friendship that could turn into a relationship, this should be the most important thing you do! So many people jump to the physical part of the relationship, or the dating part where you just go out all the time and he buys you things, instead of actually learning about each other.
I am blessed that my husband is a HUGE communicator. It was his major in college! But all young ladies and young men should engage each other in deep, challenging, enjoyable conversations. Don’t just learn his favorite food, favorite color, and favorite music and leave it at that. It’s a good place to start, but don’t end there. If the person you’re interested in has no interest in asking about your life AND talking about their own, including mistakes and struggles (as you get more serious), that is a major red flag. If he isn’t emotionally available to you right now, what makes you think he will be if you get married?
When I was about 13, I wrote down a list of qualities I wanted my future husband to have, including his character and his looks. (Got ‘im!) But one of the things I also wrote was “I want him to be different enough to be interesting, but similar enough to me so we get along.” One of the first things I noticed when we met was that he was HILARIOUS! Not saying I am a comedienne, but I love to laugh! We learned that we both loved Owl City, pizza, peanut butter, obviously camp, and went through a “punk Christian” music phase in high school. (Pretty sure he’s still in it honestly.) More important than our likes and dislikes though, like I mentioned above, we eventually talked about deeper things. When our conversations (and friendship) got more serious and dating became a possibility, we wanted to know where the other person stood on “big” issues.
Does the person you’re interested in have the same views and beliefs about the Bible, theology, church, and standards? You guys don’t have to be identical in every way, but differences in key beliefs can lead to issues later on in your marriage. Even something like disagreeing with how far you two should go physically before marriage can cause problems. What about your goals in life? Little goals like losing weight or trying to curate your Instagram feed may not push you over the edge; but what if he wants to be a farmer and you want to be a missionary? What if he wants to become a youth pastor and you want to become a neurosurgeon? What if you want fourteen kids and he doesn’t want any? Some differences in goals can be worked out and worked with, but it will take compromising on both sides. If your plans are vastly different than his, I would take a close look at where the relationship is headed.
This was one of the biggest ones for me personally. I realize with different home situations, you may be on your own and your family’s opinion means little. But for me, the fact that my family and Josh’s family have completely supported our relationship from day one meant the world. Guys, I have the best in-laws! They don’t feel like the cliche in-laws that people gripe about: they are my family now! Again, I know every situation is different, and sometimes you have to ignore the future in-laws because you love this person and are committed to them. However, the family of the person you like can be a large indication of future problems, both between the two of you and between you as a couple and his family. If he’s a “mama’s boy” who can’t make decisions on his own, that can be a major issue. If your parents have nothing good to say about your significant other when they come up in conversation, that can be a problem. My parents straight up told me about a former interest, “We don’t think he’s good for you. He drags you down.” And what did I do? I thought I knew best, so I kept chugging along in a very unhealthy relationship until God shook some sense into me. When they met Josh and loved him right away — honestly, just the fact that my dad let us start dating before he met him in person — was huge.
Does your family worry that he’s no good for you? Do your friends say you’ve changed for the worse since this person came into your life? Do your parents caution you about jumping in too soon, the negative affect he has on you, or potential problems? Get out before you get in too deep. It will only hurt more if you force it to continue with issues everyone around you can see.
What is this person like? Not just to you or around you, but how does he act around others? His family, the people he goes to church with, the waitress, his boss, his friends, strangers, elderly, kids? It’s easy to fake it around a person you want to make like you. But you need to see what he’s really like. Is he only friendly, compassionate, soft-spoken, and thoughtful to you? Or does he hold the door open and speak kindly to everyone? Does he put on an act of godliness and humility around you, but is brash, rude, and self-centered everywhere else?
One of the things that impressed me so much about Josh, as I mentioned at the beginning, was how genuine he was. He may have been a little extra nice to me, like saving me a seat or offering to get me a drink, but I saw him do it for other people too. He wasn’t exclusive. He made everyone laugh, made everyone feel like they were a part of the friend group. Although I spent most of my time with him, there were always other people hanging out with us. And he was consistently outgoing, friendly, hilarious, and putting everyone at ease.
Get to know the people who know him. And spend some real time with him, not just texting or messaging. It’s easy to hide behind a computer or phone. I’ve been there–you can say whatever you want from behind the screen. But spend quality time with them and see what they are really like. Watch for signs of selfishness, bitterness, pride, and lack of godliness. You want a man who will be an example for you and lead you in your spiritual walk, not someone you need to fix.
In the end, after you’ve considered all these things, it ultimately comes down to a choice: Will you choose to love this person no matter what for the rest of your life? It’s a heavy decision, I know! Josh and I had only been dating for just under six months when he got down on one knee and asked me to become Mrs. Rushing. But I already knew, after working together for an entire summer and seeing each other almost nonstop, hours of phone calls and Google Hangouts while doing long distance, him surprising me with a weekend visit, and my parents’ blessing . . . he was the one for me. And I would choose to love him every day, no matter what.
I know you’re tired of hearing people say it, but love truly is not a feeling. It is a choice. Sure, I “fell in love” when I first met my husband. Sure, he was the cutest thing ever and made me laugh constantly and made me feel important and adored. Sure, feelings do play a part. But if you expect to “feel” happy and in love every moment for the rest of your life when you find THE ONE, you need to change your expectations, girlfriend. Feelings change. While I’ve never felt that we should not have gotten married, there have been times when my emotions are out of control and I get frustrated for no reason. If I made decisions based on every whim and fancy, who knows what kind of mess my life would be?
During the first session of our marriage counseling, we were asked, “Will you two being married increase or decrease your ministry?” WOW. I think more young people need to start asking themselves that at the beginning of relationships. Earthly marriage between a husband and wife is a picture of Jesus Christ and His loving relationship with the church. That’s why the devil is so fiercely attacking the ordinance of marriage! Divorce, adultery, premarital sex, the LGBT movement . . . all of it is an effort to destroy God’s gift of marriage that is both for our enjoyment and for an example of Christ’s love for His church and likewise the church’s love for Christ! Will you being in a relationship with this person — a relationship that may lead to marriage — help or hinder the Gospel? Will your partnership grow your walk with God, or harm it? Help your testimony, or dissolve it? Can you serve God better and more with your significant other?
I want to just put the entire passage of Ephesians 5:22-33 in here but it’s a lot of reading. Go grab your Bible and read it. And analyze your relationship. Can you submit to this man in your life, regardless of stupid decisions he may (read: will) make? Do you trust that he will do his best to make wise choices regarding you, your future family, your church, ministry, etc? Will you be able to support him and respect him? Will he love you unconditionally, provide for you, and support you as well? So many of us as teenagers just look for someone to tell us we are beautiful, take us out for dates, and talk about our future dreams with. But it should be so much weightier than that. You are choosing the person to spend the rest of your life with: choosing to love them forever, no matter what hardships, temptations, and sin struggles come to your home.
I know that was a lot to cover. Thanks for sticking with me until the end! Remember that these are simply guidelines. More important than all these principles is this: your goal in life is not to find “the one.” Your goal, as a child of God, is to bring Him glory and share the glorious Gospel. Relationships, marriage, they are just tools to do that. Keep your eyes on your first Love, Jesus Christ Who gave His very life for you, and the Holy Spirit will guide you with all wisdom and peace to the right man when it’s time. Let’s keep the main thing the main thing. Pursue God first. When you think you’ve found a man you can choose to love forever, make sure he loves God more than he loves you, will be your partner, best friend, and spiritual leader . . . and has also been praying and patiently waiting for the woman he will choose to love every day.