On Avoiding Romantic Reverie

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Dear Darla,

In my last letter I talked about the surreptitious competition that women tend to engage in, as opposed to the “out in the open” competition that is preferred by men. Men tend to compete about everything, women included, while women tend to compete over men, in a way that extends into everything.

Not only is this the case, but there are gradations to that surreptitious competition. Take a hypothetical case, the one I used earlier. Say that an eligible bachelor moves into your community, into your circle. One of the first things that people do is that they start matchmaking in their heads, and they start doing this almost immediately.

This can be done in a way that exhibits really bad manners, and it can be done in a way characterized by modesty and good taste—but it is going to be done. All the older church ladies immediately begin wondering if “he would be good for . . .” The bad manners come in when they start wondering this out loud, or if they fail to give the young gentleman a minute to unpack his suitcase.

The younger women do the same thing, but will usually be more reticent to talk too much about it—because their circle of friends includes others who might be lining up the options differently. “I hope he gets to meet Suzy Q. . .” That is less likely to be said if you are present and you are not Suzie Q. And of course, it might be said, and loudly, if you are present and you are Suzie Q’s main rival.

Now all of this can be done in a way that is gossipy and wrong, and done by people who seem to think that pairing people off is the most important thing that God assigned to us in this life, which is not the case. But meeting members of the opposite sex is one of the more important things we do, and for those who are in your age group, it should be one of the top three.

Nothing is served by pretending that this is not the case. If an activity is inevitable, then we should be trying to figure out how to do it biblically and well, which is quite a different thing than pretending that it can’t be happening because we think that somehow it ought not to be happening.

So the trick is to do this intelligently, without investing all sorts of emotional capital into it. In other words, you do not want to start daydreaming—you are evaluating whether or not a man could be a good fit, and not running headlong into a romantic reverie.

But here is the thing. This temptation is likely to come from outside you, from your circle of friends, and if you are not guarding the combustible materials in your heart, you are setting yourself up for some real grief. You do not want to be Marianne in Sense and Sensibility, but rather Elinor.

Excitements are contagious, and if your friends are all in a doo dah over the arrival of whoever this guy is, and if two of them have nominated you for the lead role when it comes to attempts on capturing his heart, you might be tempted to remain placid on the surface, but to give way to woolgathering in the midnight hours. That kind of thing is really unfruitful. If you don’t have anything to go on, don’t go on.

Daydreaming is occurring when you skip over certain preliminary things, like him actually showing an interest, or him exhibiting the kind of character that would make it wise for you even to be interested, and, having skipped over those things (to be “settled” later), you find yourself thinking about the wedding day, or a honeymoon in the Bahamas.

The whole situation is taking shape in a competitive environment, even though not everyone is competing the same way. Think of it this way—there are the players competing on the court, there are different teams, there are the players on the bench who go in and play periodically, and then there are the season ticket holders at court side, playing vicariously. These people sitting court side could well be running various kinds of proxy wars—she is not after this guy herself, but she wants her friend to have a shot at him, and not you. And that is why that snide comment was made at church two weeks ago. She had never been rude to you before.

Now your responsibility in this kind of situation is to always act, never react. You should want to act on principle, and not to be reacting to circumstances. And because you are the woman, your range of activity when it comes to how you “act” is going to be fairly limited. You don’t get to ask him out, in other words.

But even though you don’t ask him out, you have every right to be in places where he is likely to be—just so long as it does not look like you are in hot pursuit. In other words, if he goes to the early service, there is no problem with you going to the early service too. These things happen. You are not stalking, or chasing, or taking the initiative. You are simply giving him the opportunity to initiate, if he so desires. But if he is taking a welding class at the community college, and you take up a sudden interest in welding, finding it fascinating, then that would be rhetorically problematic.

But prior to all of this should be the thoughtful, prayerful deliberation about the characteristics of the kind of man you would like to marry. You can do this with no bachelors in sight, and you can do this if a candidate has appeared on the horizon. You are not out of line to ask yourself questions about a particular guy. This is due diligence. It is a godly activity. It is not ridiculous, and you are not being brazen. This is all between you and God, remember?

Most of your responsible actions will be centered on how you think of him, and what you allow your emotions to consequently do. You want to think like a godly Christian woman, one who has a godly set of Christian priorities.

So if you are avoiding daydreams, and if you are avoiding bad manners (e.g. where you were the one who made the rude comment at church), then you are simply being a responsible Christian woman. Make a list. Describe the kind of man you would be interested in. Share it with no one, except perhaps your mom or dad. Pray through it. Feel free to make adjustments as you learn more.

You are making a working list, not pouring a concrete foundation. What sorts of things should be on the list? Well, that is largely up to you, but here are some suggestions. Some would be obligatory for any intelligent Christian woman, while others would be a matter of personal preference.

Is he Reformed? Is he a reader? What kind of a work ethic does he have? Do the other men look up to him? Is he taller than you? Is he athletic? Could he serve as an elder in the church some day? Does his family have a similar culture to your family? What is his view on Ephesians 5? And so on.

And, of course, you should do this realistically, remembering what I have mentioned before. A man who fit the description of this list is a man who could well have a list of his own. How would you do with regard to that list?

“For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

Romans 12:3 (KJV)

Your uncle,