I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, how well it taught the lesson. Anne turned down a silly farmer who asked her to marry him via his sister. She said no to Gilbert who’d been her rival all through school. She was disappointed when her best friend agreed to marry the ordinary local, Fred. But maybe her friend Diana was onto something. Maybe Anne’s tall, dark, handsome, charming ideal wasn’t what Anne really needed. As fiction conveniently wends its way, Anne met with such a man at college. They courted for months. And in the final breathless moment when he asked her to be his wife, she realized that she’d been wrong. Her girlhood husband list had been dreamy and foolish. There was nothing so wrong with this man. But her heart wasn’t in it. The truth was, she had been meant for Gil all along, only her stubborn fantasies had kept her from accepting it.
Having a list seemed to help me when I was in high school. It reminded me that love and marriage were about choice, not just feelings. I still like my lists, even if only for self-knowledge. In my case I was over 20 years old when I realized that a man doesn’t have to have a career plan for the rest of his life to make a good husband. Many of the men I have ever respected (including my own dad) have been hard workers, caring for others, but trying different things, or whatever work they could find. In a changing world, myself even desiring a bit of adventure, how could I demand stability? So my list has been modified. As I've gained humility about my own certainty of how the world should be, I've grown a bit more relaxed about some of the things.
Never mind the unforeseen and unknown; what selfish attitude is it that tells me that I can decide what I want and demand that I get that or else? How was that affecting my relationships with men? Is that what marriage is about? Is that what life is about?
I know lots of examples of people digressing from their lists as they matured:
A friend said she’d never marry someone in the military. Then she met her husband on a military base in
and she changed her mind.
Another friend said her husband would have to own a top hat. Would she really turn down an otherwise perfect match because he didn’t own the ideal accessory? (The answer was “no”, she wouldn’t turn him down!)
Some friends wrestled with more serious questions. Could they marry someone who was not a virgin? What if his views on finances (debt, saving, spending) was different from hers? If God was calling her to ministry, could she marry someone who didn’t have that same calling?
I suppose it goes both ways. No doubt men have their own hang-ups. One man I know struggled because his family owned many animals and the woman he was interested in had severe allergies. I’ve heard that many men planning to be missionaries look only for women who are pursuing the same goal.
Some of these things are generally good wisdom. A pastor I know counsels people to marry only if they’re physically attracted to one another (successful legacy of arranged marriages notwithstanding). I know couples who were not attracted at first, but as they proceeded with their relationships, gained such feelings. I myself would rather not marry someone in the military because of the demands on time and loyalty. It’s a good idea to be unified about things like money and children and ministry. But they’re not essential. And sometimes, especially when we’re young, we don’t know what we need. One artist friend knew God would provide her with an artist-husband, whose soul could understand hers. Another artist friend has been married for decades to a man who’s good with numbers instead.
Still other friends now happily married look back and think their "lists" or ideas were lacking some significant points, like respect for parents.
In our society we barely know what marriage is really about, let alone what makes for a good one. Sometimes parents and mentors advise us. Sometimes they’re just taking a guess and pioneering new territory they never ventured on in their own relationships. Some of it is good advice, general wisdom. A lot of it is promoting self-interest. Some of it is universally-useful advice about trusting God and loving others.
Are there legitimate deal-breakers? Is it wrong to have a list of things we’re looking for? What guiding principles are there for deciding to get married? What is marriage? What contributes to a good marriage? If you choose rashly at first, is there hope for a good marriage in the end?
But the fuss we make about who to choose…
~ Miss Austen Regrets
To God be all glory.