Monday, December 17, 2018

Anonymous Asks (18)

“How do you know when you’ve found ‘the one’?”

There is a relatively modern disease out there in the world called oneitis. It’s as visible as dermatitis, at least as distracting as tinnitus, and it can probably do a great deal more damage than either in the long run.

The idea is that there is one person on the planet who is a perfect match for you; one who completes you, and only one, in the absence of whom you will never quite be completely fulfilled. Ergo, oneitis. It’s a common Hollywood trope and the subject of romance novels, but it does not come from the Bible, I can assure you.

Christians who let the quest to find “the one” fill their thoughts and prayers, or worse, dictate their choices, are likely to find themselves not only disappointed but less productive for Christ than they might otherwise have been.

Any yet-to-be-consummated relationship about which you come to the conclusion that “He’s the only one for me” or “I’ll never be happy unless I have her” is dangerously close to oneitis.

Old Testament Oneitis That Didn’t End Well

Israel’s history is full of men who suffered from oneitis, and made others suffer along with them:
  • Jacob had oneitis. Unfortunately, he found himself married to Leah, not Rachel. As a result, two competitive sisters sparred over their husband for a lifetime. Who wants to go through marriage as a series of “mighty wrestlings”?
  • Shechem had oneitis. It ended painfully for not just him, but for Dinah and all his male relatives.
  • Samson had oneitis. “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” She was a Philistine, of course, and she ended up with Samson’s best man. Not ideal.
  • Amnon had oneitis. Poor Tamar. It didn’t work out so well for Amnon either.
The Consequences of Monomania

Now of course the argument can be made, and surely will be, that all these men did not merely display a single-minded focus on the object of their affections to the exclusion of all other possibilities, but they also had to either sin outright (or at very least exercise poor judgment) in order to land the object of their desire. That would be a perceptive argument, and it points out a major problem with oneitis: no man can serve two masters. Just as you cannot serve God and mammon, you cannot serve God and your own romantic obsessions, except perhaps inadvertently and unhappily, as Samson did.

One is hard pressed to think of a single story in scripture in which a man or woman’s monomania about a potential partner ended well. I’ll let you work on that. In any case, infatuation is not love, and it’s a poor foundation for a life partnership. Husbands are to love their wives; they are not to worship them. There is certainly no verse or passage I know of in the Bible that can be accurately interpreted to support the notion God has a specific person in mind, specially created for each of us, that is our perfect relationship counterpart — “the one” — and that our job is to figure out who he or she is.

That is simply not how the word of God talks about relationships.

Finding the Will of God

Marriage is not a “will of God” issue, except in its moral aspects. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are full of indications God leaves the non-moral components of our choices entirely up to our own preferences. Language like “if you do marry, you have not sinned”, “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you” and “let him do as he wishes” all suggest that who we choose to marry, and whether we marry at all, is very much up to us. It is not predestined. All things being spiritually equal, God does not prefer one godly choice of partner over another.

That being said, some choices are genuinely better than others. Of course, nobody can see the future, and we are all responsible to make decisions based on the information we have at hand, not on the information we don’t have. So in the interest of helping young Christian men and women whittle down a world of possibilities and zero in on criteria by which they might judge the suitability of potential partners, I offer the following series of practical considerations:

For Young Men
  • Is the object of my affections emotionally or physically fragile? Is she characteristically needy?
  • Does she show even the mildest indications of narcissism?
  • How does she spend her free time?
  • Can she manage money? Does she show the ability to be frugal?
  • Does she like stuff? Is she a chronic shopper? Does she buy things she doesn’t need?
  • Does she show the potential to be hospitable?
  • Has she been trained to cook and clean without complaining? If not, what is she doing to acquire those skills?
  • What does her room look like?
  • Does she want children?
  • Is she career minded? (In case it’s unclear these days, careerism in a woman is a red flag, not a desirable quality.)
  • How does she treat her father?
  • Is she characteristically respectful?
  • Is her family clingy? Do their wishes strongly influence her? Can she make major decisions without having ten conversations with family members?
  • Does she care too much what others think of her? Does she care too little?
  • Does she have outstanding school debt?
For Young Women
  • Does the object of my affections have marketable skills?
  • Does he defer to me too much? (Yes, this is a bad thing. A husband in need of constant direction is looking for a mother, not a wife.)
  • Does he have a consistent work history?
  • Does he have employment goals for the future?
  • Is he diligent? Does he finish what he starts?
  • Is he dependable? Does he do what he says he will do?
  • Is he a videogame junkie? How much time and money does he spend on entertaining himself?
  • Does he have outstanding school debt?
  • How is his relationship with his mother? Is it respectful and warm? Is it clingy and exclusionary? Is my prospective mother-in-law likely to become my competition?
  • What does his bank account balance look like? Is he constantly borrowing from friends, or does he have money to spend on others?
  • Is he charitable?
  • Is he an independent thinker or does he follow the crowd?
  • Is he able to act independently of his family?
  • Does he want children?
  • Does he panic easily?
  • Would he take a second job if necessary, or would he want me to work outside the home and send our kids to day care?
The Complete Stopper

You have probably noticed I am (mostly) leaving out spiritual criteria here. This is because one ongoing failure in any spiritual area should be a complete stopper for Christians considering marriage. If a young man or woman is characteristically dishonest, a substance abuser, someone who uses others, has anger issues, lacks self-control, has no interest in their local church or the people of God, doesn’t show any signs of spiritual leadership, doesn’t read the Bible regularly, is obsessed with making money by any means necessary, is disloyal or sexually precocious, OF COURSE you should not consider them as a potential partner, even if they display other worthy qualities and even if they are stunningly physically attractive.

When you see obvious signs of major spiritual problems in a relationship right up front, don’t look at them as hurdles to be overcome through prayer, patience or maturity. Don’t get oneitis. Look at them as God’s gracious caution to stay away. He may well be trying to preserve you from a lifetime of unhappiness.

In short, RUN! God is under no obligation to preserve you from unhappiness against your will.

Jesus taught that our Father does not serve up live snakes to his children when we ask for dinner. But over the years I have noticed that one or two of God’s children seem to prefer snakes to fish.

Those who end up bitten should not claim they were ordering from the menu.


  1. "There is certainly no verse or passage I know of in the Bible that can be accurately interpreted to support the notion God has a specific person in mind, specially created for each of us, that is our perfect relationship counterpart — “the one” — and that our job is to figure out who he or she is."

    Agree that God is not specific in that sense. However, I think he may be specific in accomplishing certain goals in the two people's lifes that do depend on how they can influence each other by way of tension, which comes down to their compatibility AND incompatibility. The resulting tensions can help shape and reorient the person's outlooks and attitudes and may serve to bring them closer to God by way of example, new behavior and new insight. To achieve that does require God to consider potential matches and mismatches between two peoples with, in my opinion, the possibility to achieve a benevolent long range outcome. Just as a parent would hope to do for their children.

  2. It would be unwise to rule out the occasional act of God in specific lives and cases for the accomplishment of his greater purposes and, yes, some choices in a partner are definitely better than others. But it seems to me that generally speaking in scripture, this is one of those decisions he leaves to us.