Searching for a ‘Sole’ Mate
Our culture has embraced a rather absurd notion that there is just one person who can, in the words immortalized by Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, “complete us.” This is a disastrous mindset with which to approach a lifelong marital decision.
The notion of a “soul mate” is actually pretty ancient. Well over two thousand years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato surmised that a perfect human being was tragically split in two, resulting in a race of creatures sentenced to spend the rest of their lives searching for that missing other who can complete them. 1
The real danger in this line of thinking is that many people mistake a storm of emotion as the identifying mark of their soul mate. How else can you identify “destiny”?
Such individuals marry on an infatuation binge without seriously considering character, compatibility, life goals, family desires, spiritual health, and other important concerns. Then when the music fades and the relationship requires work, one or both partners suddenly discover that they were “mistaken”: this person must not be their soul mate after all! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so much work. Next they panic. Their soul mate must still be out there!
Such people can’t get to divorce court fast enough, lest someone steal their “one true soul mate” meant only for them. When we get married for trivial reasons, we tend to seek divorce for trivial reasons.
Good and Bad Choices
In a biblical view, there is not “one right choice” for marriage, but rather good and bad choices. We are encouraged to use wisdom, not destiny, as our guide when choosing a marital partner. There is no indication that God creates “one” person for us to marry. This is because Christians believe that God brings the primary meaning into our lives. Marriage — though wonderful — is still secondary.
Consider, for example, Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 . He clearly leaves the choice of marriage up to us; there are benefits to singleness, and benefits to being married. If you’re unable to handle sexual temptation as a single, Paul says, then by all means, get married.
There is no hint at all of finding “the one person” that God created “just for you.” It’s far more a pragmatic choice: do you think you’ll sin sexually if you don’t get married (1 Corinthians 7:2)? Are you acting improperly toward a woman you could marry (1 Corinthians 7:36)? If so, go ahead and get married — it’s your choice, and God gives you that freedom.
Soul Mates or ‘Sole’ Mates?
A sole mate is someone who walks with us as together we apply biblical love.
Making the Choice
The reason it is so crucial to adopt the Bible’s view of “good and bad choices” over your destiny of finding “the one” is that the former attitude allows you to objectively consider the person you marry. There is no objective measurement of “destiny.” Powerful emotions can blind us to all sorts of clues; when we adopt the biblical attitude of making a “wise” choice, we can use all that God has given us to arrive at a solid decision that should be based on a number of factors:
- Scriptural mandates. Is the person a believer who fears God (Proverbs 31:30) and who is biblically eligible for marriage (Mark 10:11-12)?
- Wisdom. How do they handle their money? (Proverbs 31:16, 18) Is this person a hard worker? (Proverbs 13:4; 26:13-15) Do they live an upright life? (Proverbs 13:6, 20; 25:28) Does this person wound people with their words, or are they an encourager? (Proverbs 12:18;18:21) Are they peaceful, or quarrelsome? (Proverbs 17:19; 29:8)
- Parental, pastoral, and wise advice. Your parents know you better than you may realize, and even if they aren’t believers, they generally want the best for you. Also talk to your pastor and people you respect for their counsel: “Does this relationship seem like a ‘fit’ to you? Are there any areas you’re concerned about?” If the people I most respected had serious reservations about a relationship, I would assume I had lost my objectivity due to infatuation and put all marriage plans on hold.
- Prayer. Rejecting the notion that God creates one person just for us doesn’t discount the reality that God can lead us toward someone, and help us make a wise choice when we seek him in prayer.
What is a ‘Sole Mate’?
The search for “the one” is often an idolatrous pursuit. As Christians, we must believe that our primary meaning comes from our relationship with God: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV, emphasis added). Thus, a Christian should not consider any marital union that would not feed this primary relationship with God. You’ll bring great misery into your life if you ignore this command.
But also — just as importantly — we mustn’t enter into a marriage expecting more than another human can give. If my wife looks to me to be God for her — to love her like only God can love her — I’ll fail every time and on every count. I’m trying, but I fall short every day. Tragically, I see too many young people wanting to get married in order to find this God-acceptance and God-love. Infatuation can initially feel like it approaches this God-love, but eventually it fades, disillusionment sets in, and the once “fabulous” relationship soon becomes an excruciating prison.
Can I suggest a more biblical pattern? Instead of following Plato in a wild pursuit of our soul mate, we should seek to find a biblical “sole mate.” A sole mate is someone who walks with us as together we apply biblical love. The most accurate definition of true love is found in John 15:13 (NASB): “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
This love is not based on feelings, but on sacrifice. The Bible calls men to act like martyrs toward their wives, laying down their own lives on their wives’ behalf (Ephesians 5:25). Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy and a commitment that we choose to keep. Such a love is not based on the worthiness of the person being loved — none of us deserve Christ’s sacrifice! — but on the worthiness of the One who calls us to love: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Settling for a Spouse
The real danger in pursuing a spouse is that we will “settle” for the world’s vision of self, love and marriage.
I can’t begin to tell you how many single believers I have spoken to and counseled who are trying to avoid settling, worried that they are settling, think it’s “wrong” to settle, etc. Good relationships have gone down the tubes or never gotten off the ground because of this issue. The question for us is whether that approach to dating and marriage gels with the biblical approach to life and love.
It doesn’t, for at least three reasons:
A Selfish Premise
The first is that worries about settling reveal a selfishness approach to marriage that misunderstands the Bible’s idea of love. “Holding out for true love” as the above quote defines it means demanding a person to whom I am completely attracted in the secular sense, somebody who meets all the qualifications on my “list,” and whom I believe is the “best I can do.” In the author’s mind — and unfortunately in the minds of many single Christians — anything short of finding that perfect match created in one’s mind falls short of “true love” and constitutes the sad and unwise act of “settling.” Such an approach to love and marriage fundamentally misunderstands the Bible’s idea of both.
In the world’s version of attraction, I’m a consumer, not a servant. I respond to attributes of yours that I like because of their potential to please me. Again, this is not malicious or evil — it’s just not how we’re primarily called to treat one another in Scripture. It’s not the Bible’s idea of love.
Marriage is incredibly fun; it’s also incredibly hard. For most people it is the greatest act of ministry and service to another person that they will ever undertake. Husbands are literally called to “give themselves up for” their wives. Wives are called to submit to, respect, and serve their husbands “as to the Lord.” Though husbands and wives receive countless blessings from a biblical marriage, the very idea of biblical marriage describes an act — many acts — of love, service, sacrifice, and ministry toward a sinful human being. According to Scripture, marriage is anything but a selfish endeavor. It is a ministry.
What sense does it make to undertake that ministry based primarily on a list of self-centered (and often petty) preferences? If your idea of attraction — whatever that is — dominates your pursuit of a spouse, consider this: Is your approach biblical?
The Bible calls us to reject the world’s approach to love and marriage. That may require a pretty radical rethinking of your own approach. If it does, join the club. If you can manage that rethinking (with the Lord’s help), it will drain much of the angst from any discussion about “settling.”
Another problem with the usual discussion on settling is that it usually reflects two unbiblical beliefs: (1) we can strategize our way around the effects of sin in human relationships and the reality that marriage is hard work, and (2) we can hope to be perfectly, ultimately fulfilled by marriage — or any other earthly relationship.
If you have a biblical understanding of human nature, then you will realize that in one sense, everybody settles — even the people who think they are refusing to. Every person who decides to marry makes the decision to marry a sinner. That means you will marry someone who is at some level selfish, who has insecurities and an ego, who has annoying tendencies that you will only discover after marriage because they will only be revealed in that intimate context. And don’t forget, your spouse will have married the same type of person.
As sinners, we all “settle” for marriage to a person who will not always meet our sinful, individualized, selfish whims, who will not be the spouse we “dreamed of” every day, and who likely entered the bargain with some level of expectation that you were going to be the one for them.
Finally, deep worry about settling for less than one desires or deserves in marriage fails two acknowledge two fundamental biblical truths that apply to all areas of the Christian life — not just dating and marriage: (1) as sinners, what we deserve is condemnation from God; and (2) we have been given greater gifts than we could possibly deserve or attain on our own. In other words, compared to what our lives should be before a just and holy God, no believer in Christ ever settles — in marriage or in anything else.
Nobody really “settles” in a biblical marriage because God has designed marriage as a wonderful gift that gets better with age. This is what people worried about settling don’t seem to get. They think joy in marriage is all about the original choice one makes about whom to marry, rather than how the nurture and build their marriage. Again, this misses the picture of biblical marriage.
Bottom line, the real danger for God’s people in pursuing a spouse is that we will “settle” for the world’s vision of self, love, marriage and even romance, rather than a vision of those things steeped in scripture and rooted in the love of Christ. Biblical love and marriage ask more of us than the world’s selfish pursuit of non-existent perfection. But the rewards are infinitely richer. “Keep your eyes on the prize”? Sure. Just make sure it’s the right one.
When to Settle
What’s needed is a new, objective standard for what makes a good match, because there are some non-negotiables for choosing a mate.
When Steve and I started dating, one of my close friends said she was worried that we’d end up getting married. What in the world? I thought. We’ve only been dating a few days. Marriage? And so what if we do? What would be so bad about that?
“I just don’t want to see you settle,” she said.
At the time, Steve was still planning to use his degree to go back to his small hometown to be the principal of his dad’s church-sponsored school. I guess in her eyes that was beneath me. Me, a soon to be holder of a master’s degree.
“You’ve got so much ambition,” she said. “I’d hate to find you, years from now, disappointed in him. A frustrated wife who ‘under married.'”
Not Wanting to Settle
My friend was a believer in the notion that to marry a man without certain traits or ambitions would be settling. And in her mind, settling was bad. No longer just a guideline, not settling was itself a goal. Something worth striving for. As in: Finish that report for work, lose 20 pounds, get a boyfriend, don’t settle.
And so we find ourselves in the midst of a massive shift in marriage trends: women waiting longer than ever to marry, all the while holding out for their soul mate — “the one.” When a nice guy asks a woman out, if the sparks of attraction aren’t hot from the start, she turns him down, reasoning, “Sure, I want to get married someday, but I’m not about to … settle.”
Have you ever known a man that you’ve thought about dating, but in the end, ruled him out because to do otherwise would be settling? If you’re holding out for perfection, or have a long list of must-haves, it’s possible you’re overlooking some good men who are already in your life. Knowing what about a potential mate is worth appreciating and what’s just eye candy has everything to do with when you should “settle.”
Choosing to marry a man — whomever he is — inevitably involves compromise (on his part, and yours). That’s why it’s not truly settling. It’s just making a decision. Something we do every time we pick one thing over another. In most areas, it’s called being decisive. For some reason, we’ve made indecision noble when it comes to dating.
A New Standard
What’s needed is a new, objective standard for what makes a good match, because, for a Christian woman, there are some non-negotiables for choosing a mate. That’s where Gottlieb’s advice falls short. Thankfully we have a standard that’s completely reliable.
- A man must be a believer.
- He must be able and willing to provide for his family.
- He must love sacrificially.
- He must be honest, have a good reputation and strive for the qualities of a spiritual leader. (See Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:6-9.)
If you’re measuring a man against that list, considering his aptitude for growing into full maturity in those areas, then marrying him is praiseworthy. Even if he is shorter than you. Or younger. Or bald. Failing to meet our worldly expectations — our romantic shopping list — is no liability if he meets biblical ones. That’s the only list that matters.
And marriage to such a man could hardly be called settling. In another day, it went by the much more pleasant, and desired, description: settling down. When faced with a big decision, my dad used to say, “Honey, you have to settle the issue. Make the best decision you can, in view of the wisdom of Scripture and prayer. Then move forward confidently.” Putting the unending list of options to rest is freeing. Once you make a decision, you can stop noodling, debating, and weighing the alternatives, and get on with the rest of your life.
And my friend who said I’d be settling if I married Steve? She was looking at externals, so her ability to rightly judge was skewed. I saw beyond where Steve was at that moment, to the man I knew he could become. And because my faith was based on that biblical list, I knew it was well founded. Thankfully I followed the wisdom of Scripture.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Faith for the Man He’ll Become
There is a learning curve to a man’s leadership as a husband and father.
How would you describe the man you want to marry? What would he be like as a husband, father, and provider?
If you’ve had numerous godly male role models in your life — your father, pastor, boss, family friend, uncle, small group leader — you may already have a mental picture based on the qualities you appreciate in these men. You may see some of the husbands and fathers in your church and think to yourself that you’d like to marry a man just like them. Those are great aspirations to have!
But first you may need to talk to their wives.
Seeing With Eyes of Faith
Why? Because these women didn’t marry the husbands they have today. Typically, they married less seasoned men. Thanks to the Holy Spirit’s refinements over time, as well as the feminine counsel, influence, and encouragement of these wives, their husbands are different some 20-plus years down the line.
Now take a look at the young men you know. Can you see them with eyes of faith? Like trees in springtime with an impressionistic haze of buds, the potential for growth is strongly evident but it’s not yet fully realized.
So here’s what I want to impart to you: There is a learning curve to a man’s leadership as a husband and father. The qualities you can see in a 50-year-old man’s life were developed over 50 years. There are 25 more years of growth ahead for the 25-year-old man before it’s fair to compare them. While you are called to be discerning about the characters of the men you befriend or court/date, you also have a part in encouraging these men to grow. In fact, that’s part of your learning curve as you prepare for being a wife.
God has given women a position of influence, encouragement, and counsel. This happens in varying degrees in all of our relationships. Entire books have been written on this subject, but I will defer to the concise description of a godly woman’s example and influence found in 1 Peter 3:1-5 (NIV, emphasis mine):
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful.
The Lord has given women the opportunity to be holy influencers. Unfortunately, many of us try to influence change through the barrage of our words (read: nagging, whining, manipulating) rather than through the purity and reverence in our attitudes that is built upon a gentle trust in God’s ability to change people. Entire books have been written on this subject, but I will leave you with the testimony of a friend of mine.
Jared is in his late 20s and has been in a courtship for a few months. He is intentionally pursuing this relationship with marriage in mind, but he is not yet sure if this is definitely what God has for them. No matter the outcome of this particular relationship, Jared has already noticed the positive influence his girlfriend has upon him.
“When I’m with Bethany, I realize she spurs me on toward Christlikeness,” he said. “She is quick to confess sin, doesn’t hold a grudge, and engages me in true fellowship — not just entertaining conversations. I don’t mind being entertained, but what sticks with me is what she brings up when she talks about God.”
Jared has been preparing for marriage over the last few years. He has grown in his career and his ability to provide for a family, he has pursued accountability, he has taken on leadership roles in his church, and he has initiated other courtships. Bethany’s example, however, has also inspired another important revelation about their relationship.
Jared has noticed that whenever he begins to feel uncertain about the direction of their relationship, it is directly correlated to the status of his relationship with God. Whenever he has begun to be perfunctory or slipshod about his personal devotions, he also becomes uncertain about the courtship. His relationship with God profoundly affects his relationship with Bethany. But God uses Bethany’s example and faith to inspire him to keep going. It is an exchange of grace.
At this writing, neither knows what God has for them in their future. Whether or not they marry, the Lord has used this relationship to spur a brother and a sister toward godliness. By the grace of God, they are each building on the learning curves of servant-leadership and (to coin a phrase) “encourager-followership.” It is a solid trajectory for a fruitful future — one that requires of eyes of faith and trust toward God to see.
Is There One Man for Me?
The only real requirement Scripture gives for a marriage partner is that we be equally yoked.
Is there a predestined man for me or do I just get to choose from the possibilities that come my way?
Is there a “one” for you or is it just a matter of making a good choice among the options that present themselves?
These are all good questions, and I think they are issues that lots of single women ponder. Honestly, I don’t know if there’s only one for each of us. I think, theoretically, we could make a good life with a variety of husbands — if we’re willing to do the work necessary for any good relationship. The only real requirement Scripture gives for a marriage partner is that we be equally yoked. Beyond that, it’s mostly common sense and hard work.
Of course you should look for the confirmation of friends and family that the man you’ve chosen is a good match. And you should be better as a couple than you are apart: emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Finally, since Scripture commands wives to respect their husbands, you should choose a man you admire and are able to respect (even when he doesn’t deserve it).
It’s tempting to think there’s one perfect man — a “soul mate” — for each of us. It’s certainly a romantic ideal, but not very practical. And this ideal carries a host of dangers; the most obvious being that if you think you’ve found “the one,” how do you explain the difficult times that arise — and they will — after you say “I do”? Even perfectly matched couples will encounter trials in their relationship. The Bible promises as much.
The answer to the question “Is there just one?“ remains a mystery. But you can know for certain that once you are married, whomever you’ve wedbecomes the one. At that point you are committed for life. Period.
Assuming that choosing a mate is about making the most of the opportunities you encounter — or in the manner of olden days, choosing the most eligible man in your village — you then worry that you “will make more bad choices.” This fear is why I believe so strongly in the importance of Christian community, including a Bible-believing and teaching church, a group of Christian friends and mentor relationships. Proverbs 13:20 says, “when you walk with the wise, you will be wise.” Good advice. Keep seeking wisdom from fellow believers and especially older women (Titus 2:3-5). These are the relationships that can help save you the pain and heartache of “more bad choices.”
The Woman I Should Marry
God will likely use two sources through which to communicate to you about such a decision: your head and your heart.
How do I know whether she’s the person I should marry?
Other than her willingness, it’s a combination of things — a little bit of art and a little bit of science. By that I mean God will likely use two sources through which to communicate to you about such a decision: your heart and your head.
Listening to Your Head
Your head helps you address the fairly obvious things, like:
- Are the two of you in sync on worldview and moral values?
- Do you share compatible views on family and parenting?
- Are your future dreams compatible?
- Do those who know you best, such as family members or friends, have any serious reservations?
These are the kinds of questions a couple might encounter in a pre-engagement class, which are becoming increasingly more popular, and from my view, advisable. I realize that relationship survey questions are about as romantic as, well, a survey, but a little planning can go a long way to helping a lifelong romance. If you’re serious enough to be discussing marriage with her, a formal way of addressing these important topics needs to be in the mix.
Listening to Your Heart
Now a few thoughts on listening to your “heart.” By “heart” I’m not just referring to how you feel about her emotionally. I assume you have strong feelings for her or we wouldn’t be having this dialogue. What I mean by “heart” is that intangible “peace” that God gives us when our life or our individual decisions are moving in accordance with His will. Paul describes it as a feeling that “transcends understanding.” The more we engage the Scriptures and commune with God, the more sensitive we are to His leadership, often in the form of that inward “peace.”
Pray over your relationship. Pray for God’s will to be done in her life and in yours, no matter what it is. And pray that you would be sensitive to His voice. He will lead you in the right direction. And if you’re going the wrong direction, he will let you know. Don’t ignore the red flags (or even yellow flags) that He may place in your way.
As for my own experience, I don’t recall wondering whether my wife-to-be was the person I should marry; all I knew is that I wanted her to be! I was crazy about her. The more I got to know her, the more painful it was to be apart from her. It wasn’t long into our relationship that I realized how difficult it would be to picture my life without her. To put it simply, when we were together, peace. When we were apart, no peace. Fortunately — and this is key — she agreed, and the rest is, well, you know.
Next Steps and Related Information
Additional resources addressing preparation for marriage
Popular questions on this topic:
- How do I find the right person to date?
- I’m interested in a co-worker but don’t know what his feelings are for me.
- Is it a good idea for a couple to get counseling before getting engaged?
- my parents haven’t approved of anyone I’ve ever dated, even those who were Christians. How do I respect their concerns but live my own life?
- Sacred Marriage (Paperback)
- Get Married
- Complete Guide to the First Five Years of Marriage (Hardcover)
- The Most Important Year in a Woman’s Life / The Most Important Year in a Man’s Life
- Five Essentials for Lifelong Intimacy
- Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide