Compared to What?

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Dear Darla,

Now there are some strategic and tactical implications of what I wrote in my last few letters. It is time for us to game some of this out. Let’s get practical—or a bit more practical in your thinking, at any rate.

You are in your mid-twenties now, and so you may have noticed that requests to go out with guys are starting to taper off. If you haven’t noticed that yet, and if you don’t get married in the next few years, you can be assured that at some point you will notice it. Forty-two-year-old women don’t get the same attention that twenty-two-year-old women do. And complaining about things like this is a fool’s game; it is like complaining about gravity. Wise women work with the way the world actually is, and not the way they would have liked it to have been.

Now I do need to emphasize something at the front end of all this. I have no desire whatever to be involved in pressuring any girl to say yes to some guy that she doesn’t want to say yes to. Nobody needs authority figures (parents, pastors, or even uncles) to be leaning heavily on young ladies under their charge just because the authority figure went to college back in the day with Murgatroyd B. Schwartz’s parents, and that is why they would like her to give him a second look. Look. The world has enough sorrow in it.

However, there are different kinds of sorrow in the world. There is the sorrow of unhappy marriages, whether caused by sin or by a marital mismatching of gifts and personalities, on the one hand, but on the other, there is also the sorrow of loneliness. I have written elsewhere on the fact that undesired singleness is an affliction, not a gift, and so that must be taken into account as well. That possible sorrow needs to be one of the variables in the calculation.

And so this is how to frame the question to yourself. Now during the era when the guys are still clustering around, it is natural (and right) for you to want to sort through them. There is no way to say no to some and yes to another without comparisons. You don’t want to inject snark into your comparisons—because no guy ought ever to be snarked at just because he paid you a compliment—but at the same time, if you say no to Bill and yes to John, the unavoidable conclusion is that you thought that John was “better” for you. He offered more of what you were looking for, and Bill did not. Don’t chafe at this—this is how God decided to govern the world. Bill shouldn’t chafe at it either.

But here is something that you need to seriously consider. It needs to be one of your thought experiments. You preferred John to Bill, and you had every right to do so. But now change the comparison. What about Bill over against nobody? If you are forty and unmarried, is that situation to be preferred to being the wife of Bill? It is not just Bill v. John. It is also Bill v. ten years from now having yet another a glass of wine on your deck in the evening by yourself.

I do not bring this up in order to worry you, terrify you, or panic you. This loneliness prospect is one that some young women think about far too much, while others don’t consider it much at all. Those who think about it too much will face the temptation to give into what we call “settling.” This conjures up visions of Charlotte settling for Mr. Collins, and you imagine yourself in that position, which is why you then wake up from your nightmare, gasping for air and in a bad flop sweat. Yeah, so don’t settle. Don’t do that.

Because settling is bad. But you have known me for long enough that perhaps you might anticipate my next question. By what standard? If Elizabeth had asked herself, ten years after the Mr. Darcy thing didn’t work out, if she had done right by spurning Mr. Collins, her answer would be just as decisive then as it was the day she first shut him down. She wouldn’t have second thoughts about it. You should prefer loneliness to some matches.

But there are many young women who say no to a real live Bill because they expect that there will be a John who shows up any week now. However, at the moment, John is still imaginary, and for many girls, that’s the way he stays. So what is it that keeps this ethereal John (who stands her up for every date) in the running?

And this is where I might get to meddling a little bit. There is a modern doctrine going about that tells young people that they should hold out for “the one,” and that they will know “that one” when he arrives, and they will know it “in their heart.” Or perhaps, if they were catechized by Cher by means of the Shoop Shoop Song, it needs to be found “in his kiss.” The road to many a broken heart was paved with wisdom like that, right there.

But this is the dogmatic foundation of the entire chick flick industry, and a lot of damage has been done by it. “The one” looks into your eyes and discovers the depths of the real you. “The one” is your best friend forever. “The one” is a true soul mate, appointed as such by your guardian angel, or perhaps by Gabriel. “The one” takes you as you are without ever requiring you to take him as he is. And therein lies a tale.

A whole lot of this is just pornography for the emotions. And, while I am sorry to be rude, take a moment to compare how similar it is to sexual porn. Actual women complain that guys are idiots to be attracted to the women of porn, who are just airbrushed cartoons. They say, with a justified grievance, that “real women” aren’t like that. How could anybody be lured away from real relationship by some two-dimensional twinkie? Well, the answer is simple—it happens the same way that women are lured away from real relationship with an actual guy by the contrivances of some smooth-talking scriptwriter.

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

“Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you added them all up, they meant we were supposed to be together . . . and I knew it. I knew it the very first time I touched her. It was like coming home . . . only to no home I’d ever known . . . I was just taking her hand to help her out of a car and I knew. It was like . . . magic.”

“When I saw your eyes that first time, I realized that looking into them was the only possible way I could ever see into my own.”

Out of those three quotes, I made up only one of them. If you ever meet a guy who talks like that, please take the advice of your uncle and run.

At that part of the movie, all the guys mutter sheesh to themselves, but do not say anything. They do not say anything because this is currently an approved lie. They mutter this the same way that the women say sheesh at the nudity of the movies. What this double standard means is that men must not be lied to in the same way that women can be lied to. But the real standard is that no one ought to be lied to.

The problem is that what women often mean by “real relationship” is just as artificial and contrived as the porn is. Imagined conversations that are dark roast coffee for the morning, with a sensitive swirl of gentle cream on the black surface, or settle down like dying embers at the end of a pleasant evening’s fire, are conversations that do not reflect how the mundane flow of regular life usually goes. Those conversations more frequently have to do with mashed potatoes, how work was today, and who’s picking up the kids?

This is not meant to slam an appropriate poetic element in our lives, or a romantic sexual element either. That kind of thing really is part of real life. The thing I am targeting is unrealistic expectations, and when someone has unrealistic expectations, they generally get applied to all of life. More specifically, on the point were are discussing, they are applied to prospective suitors, and the young woman wonders if he could live up to the levels she has been imagining for herself. And if he is a typical young man of godly character, the answer to that is “almost certainly not.” But what that should reveal is the inadequacy of artificially constructed expectations.

When I ask by what standard?, the implied answer to my rhetorical question is always to be Scripture. A young woman should always be asking if a particular young man has the capacity of character to be a biblical husband to her. Those last two words, to her, do bring in a subjective element. Can his pick-up truck pull her trailer? If she respects him, and if others in her life also respect him, and she knows the value of their respect, that is something to take seriously.

Provided they are biblical standards, it is essential to have high standards. Don’t settle for “a little” dishonest, or “a little” lazy, or “a little” bit of coasting in his reading of the Word. Don’t settle. But notice that these are all character issues, and scriptural standards. Whether he is “dreamy,” or as outgoing as your brother, or prepared to accept you as you are, are not in the same category.

And since I have mentioned it again, let me say just one thing about this “accepting as you are” virtue. Why is it a virtue for men to accept their women as they are, but not for women to do the same? If it were truly a good thing, as all women appear to appreciate, then why don’t more women accept men as they are? Because that would be a bad idea, that’s why. Bad idea both directions.

Your uncle,