Legend goes – no one is sure whether it is true or not – that once a beautiful dancer suggested to George Bernard Shaw that they should have a child together. “Would it not be wonderful if we could have a child who had your brains and my beauty?” Shaw’s reply became an urban legend: “Yes, but suppose it had your brains and my beauty!”
This anecdote spring often in my mind when I talk with single friends. Sometimes our conversations, after some rounds of small talk and (my) half-funny jokes, veer toward the topic of romantic pursuits. The person confesses the desire to find a person to date and marry but (the reason is almost always the same) “there are no good people around”. Girls complain about the guys. Guys complain about the girls. I usually agree with the girls, but that’s a conversation for another day.
I empathize with single folks’ dilemma. On the one hand, it is a major decision. You don’t want to marry just to say you’re married. To impress peers. To please parents. To get revenge on an ex. To have sex. To have children. To move ahead in life. Because time is passing by. Not to feel lonely. It is a crucial decision, you want to marry the right person for the right motives.
On the other hand, however, our society places such a crushing idealism on us. Our contemporary romantic beliefs make us long for someone who probably does not exist (with very few exceptions, like the super woman that somehow agreed to marry me.) You have to find a girl who is intelligent, light-hearted, hard working, takes care of the home, raises the children, is low maintenance, impresses your friends, volunteers on Saturdays (but then stops when you start dating), bakes the most amazing cookies (but doesn’t eat them), loves you more than anything in the world, makes all the sacrifices for you, and, of course, is super hot. She has to read The Economist and be enough in shape for a Fitness magazine cover. She has to have Shaw’s brain and the dancer’s body (and, if you’re Christian like me, almost have Jesus’ heart).
Tim Keller raises this point in The Meaning of Marriage:
Never before in history has there been a society filled with people so idealistic in what they are seeking in a spouse… And that creates an extreme idealism that in turn leads to deep pessimism that you will ever find the right person to marry. This is the reason so many put off marriage and look right past great prospective spouses that simply are ‘not good enough’.
If I may venture to read your mind, your reaction to this thought is something like: “I see your point. I admit that this Wonder Woman does not exist. Uh… I can be flexible with The Economist part.” Thanks for the flexibility, bro. That’s very thoughtful of you. (I told you that I’m usually on the girls’ side). We negotiate our ideal mate a little, but the logic stays the same, the unrealistic idealism stay the same, the pessimism stays the same.
I don’t have the space here to unpack the sugary presuppositions that lock us in this idealist/pessimistic cage. Not can I give an opinion whether you should marry that specific person. But notice three points please:
- You have to escape that logic, not only because it hurts your pursuit of someone, but especially because that hyper-criticism will hurt the relationship you’ll eventually start.
- You have to turn the table: do you read The Economist? Volunteer? Are willing to make sacrifices for another person? Be the person Wonder Woman/Prince Charming would like to marry. (And, if you cut yourself come slack, do the favor also to the person you hope to love.)
- Here’s more food for thought: other articles on what motivates us to love, on how marriage is a calling to personal transformation, and whether you should get married young.
Have a great week, folks.
 Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 2011), 33-34.