One of the most common questions I get about my book for singles, The Sacred Search, which gives a lot of advice about what to look for and what to avoid when choosing someone to marry, is “What if you can’t find a person like the one you describe?”
Singles who ask this question, and married people who are still asking this question, show by that very question a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage. Since this question is as relevant for married people as singles (it speaks to your satisfaction within marriage), I hope both groups will stay with me in this post.
In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, C.S. Lewis tells an imaginary friend (“Malcolm” never actually existed), “You and I have both known happy marriage. But how different our wives were from the imaginary mistresses of our adolescent dreams! So much less exquisitely adapted to all our wishes; and for that very reason (among others) so incomparably better.”
The real will never equate to the imaginary, but in one very true sense, that makes the real even better. How so?
When we “dream” of a spouse, we don’t dream of things to overcome; we dream of battles already won. We dream of the victory, not the fight; the ecstasy, not the moments of doubt. We dream of the moments of tenderness, not the chasms of misunderstanding. We dream of intimacy, not nights of distance. But it’s the battles, the fights, the doubts and the chasms that make up so much of what marriage actually is; and their presence makes overcoming them all the sweeter, richer, purer, and ultimately vastly more fulfilling.
LeBron James would get zero satisfaction out of beating me in a game of one-on-one basketball; yet he wept on national television when his team beat the Golden State Warriors to win the NBA championship. It was the intense struggle and a worthy opponent that made his victory worthy of celebration.
Coffee never tastes better than when you first wake up after a long night, on a dreary day, feeling completely out of it. It’s the negative context that makes the positive solution feel so wonderful.
The question, “Where do I find someone like this?” (or, for marrieds, “Why didn’t I marry someone like that?”) fails to take into account that marriage is a journey, not a destination. It’s a journey toward each other, toward God, toward growth, toward maturity, toward children, eventually, toward heaven.
Some of you expect to inherit heaven immediately by making a wise marital choice; the only way to get to heaven is to die, not to get married. Here on earth, we travel toward heaven, and I’ve found, as many have, that my preference is to travel with a lifelong companion.
Stop looking for (or asking your spouse to be) the destination; look for (or accept) a traveling partner. Can I grow with this person? Can I struggle with this person? Will this person hang in there with me? Will they fight the battles with me instead of against me?
Singles, you need to learn what most every married person already does: you won’t find any fantasy man or woman who actually exists, because just about every relational strength comes with a corresponding weakness—the patient man may be, at times, a little too passive. The fun woman may, at times, be a little too irresponsible. The pious man may, at times, seem to hold you back. The organized woman may feel controlling. These are the layers of relationship and they’re what makes growth possible.
That’s why singles must die to the fantasy of arriving in order to begin the journey of becoming. Until you desire the real more than the phantom, you’re not ready to be married. You will bury your partner with your expectations and then cover them with your disappointments.
Here’s the hope behind this view: by viewing your spouse as a traveling companion, you continue to focus on and to pursue a fulfilling life, and a fulfilling life is the surest avenue to a fulfilling marriage. Nobody thinks Kevin Love is a perfect basketball player, but he helped LeBron James and Kyrie Irving win an NBA championship. You don’t have to have a perfect spouse to win a marital “championship.” You just need someone who’s willing to be your teammate in an important pursuit (and those who follow this blog or my books know I’m talking about Matthew 6:33). http://www.garythomas.com/got-mission/
When you finally start walking with a real spouse, enduring real disappointments, talking through real misunderstandings, you begin the journey toward real awakenings that lead to real understanding and real growth. Then, finally, you’ll see the brilliance of C.S. Lewis’ observation that though the fantasy is so much less “exquisitely adapted to all our wishes,” for that very reason “they are so incomparably better.”