Melissa had dated Jason for five years. “He’s a pretty good guy,” Melissa said. “He has most of the qualities you talked about tonight.”
There’s usually a “but” when someone starts out like that, and here it was: “I was concerned about his relationship with his mom and family—she always came first. I’m not sure he could really break away from her. And he has a bit of passivity about him. I just didn’t think he was stepping up where he needed to.”
So they broke up.
Five months later, Melissa hadn’t found anyone else, and Jason wasn’t looking so terrible. Then she heard me talk and listened as I described the essential qualities for a strong marriage—many of which Jason possessed.
“So what should I do?” Melissa asked. “Am I being too picky?”
I’m always going to dodge this—it’s not my right to tell someone I don’t know whether they should marry someone I’ve never met. But she wanted some general advice and here’s what I said.
“I’m usually wary of people who have dated for five years and aren’t eager to get married. Ideally, I’d like to see you over the top eager to finally become husband and wife. The fact that you’re still not so eager after such a long time isn’t a good sign.
“Even more, I think you may be facing what so many singles face: you’ve found a ‘good’ guy, but not a ‘great’ guy. Jason will probably be a very good husband to someone. But for what you’re looking for, he doesn’t qualify as a great husband. And you’re a bit young to settle.”
Singles have to avoid the trap of thinking, “Unless he/she is a wreck, I should be open to marrying him/her.” Instead, if it’s a very solid match, your thinking should be, “This is a person I really don’t want to lose. There may be someone even better—because no one is absolutely ideal—but he or she is so strong in so many areas, I think this is a very wise choice. It would be hard to do much better.”
I’d rather singles spent time talking themselves out of a relationship than talk themselves into staying in one. It’s never a good sign if you have to keep talking yourself into staying in a relationship. More often than not, if you’re consistently doing that, it’s a sign that you lack the courage to make a needed change that you already know, deep down, that you need to make.
It’s okay—even wise—to conclude, “He could be a good husband, but I want a great husband.” “She’ll be a good wife, but I want a fantastic wife.” The fact that you can’t commit, even knowing him/her so well is probably evidence enough that you need to spend a little more time looking for someone else.
It’s entirely possible that Melissa may spend a couple years and not find anyone as strong as Jason. There’s nothing wrong with her then thinking, “Okay, he was more excellent than I realized” and check up on him. That’s of course a huge risk—Jason may find someone else. But given Melissa’s age (26), and relative lack of uncertainty even after five years of dating, I think she’d do well to keep wrestling with the question rather than settle with someone she’s not quite sure about. My guess is that if she went back to Jason now, five years after they’re married she’ll still be wrestling with the thought, “Did I really make the wisest choice?”
What I’m saying in shorter form is this: it’s okay to pass on someone who’s a “good” match if you’re still looking for a “great” match. You don’t have to declare that someone is a total wreck to let them go.
Remember: the first step to building a great marriage is often breaking off a mediocre dating relationship. It doesn’t have to be tragic or miserable, just mediocre. If you keep hanging on to “almost good enough” you may never find “great enough that I never want to lose it.”
Check out more in The Sacred Search: http://www.garythomas.com/books/sacred-search/