I don’t know if you feel this way, but one of my largest struggles is that now it seems people are only as valuable as they are marriageable. Some days it feels like once a guy knows you’re not wife material, he decides you’re not worth knowing at all.

It’s hard enough when it feels as if this whole dating scene is a crazy, drawn-out game of musical chairs. In the beginning, when you’re 16 and carefree and only a little boy crazy, the game is still fun. But year after year, round after round, that music still plays and you see your friends scrambling a little faster to ensure they have a seat. You start to realize there are fewer and fewer chairs, and yet so many people. Suddenly your best friend since second grade elbows you in the ribs to get a seat as the music screeches to a halt. And with all that anxiety and pressure and sweating, the game’s not as much fun as it used to be.

Dating is really exhausting. And when you have those days (and nights) where the difficulty catches up to you and you’d rather bury your head under a pillow, lounge in your leggings, and cancel on your latest blind date, know that you can join me for a Golden Girls marathon anytime. As long as you bring takeout.

The Only One We Were Made For

I wonder if all this floundering is due to the fact that there’s so much pressure to choose the right person. You have to feel that too, right? You have to search high and low to find that person who’s a good fit for your strengths and weaknesses. That person whose life plan lines up with yours. That person who is patient enough and kind enough and spiritual enough. That person you’ve stopped calling the One but still secretly long to believe in.

Now, I love you, but if you believe this—this idea that God made you and another person as a perfect complement to each other—I need you right now to put this book down, take out a piece of paper, and list all the biblically sound reasons you believe the One or soul mates or other halves exist. Because here’s what I know: God did not make us for each other. God made us for himself, for his glory, and for communion with him. The only person we were made for was Jesus Christ and to give that position to any human is to elevate a bond far higher than it can sustain itself. That relationship will disappoint you. It will break your heart over and over again.

The One is a mirage we’ve constructed to romanticize the very real, sanctifying process of marriage, and it’s hurting us, y’all. This idea is eating away at a true, beautiful view of marriage that has less to do with wooing and more to do with dying. Marriage is best seen in our weaknesses colliding with each other, not in completing each other.

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Isaiah 43:7 reads, “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory” (NLT). Did you catch that? For I have made them for marriage … Nope. For I have made them for full, happy lives … Nope. For I have made them for my glory. And this should be a comfort to us. You don’t have to find the One or even happiness; you only have to glorify God.

But it’s hard not to buy into this idea when people like Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, say that the most significant career choice you’ll make is who you marry. Others word it differently but with no less pressure: whom you choose to marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make.

That feels like a pretty heavy weight to carry on a first date, but we do it. Over and over again, I hear friends (and, okay, myself) analyzing a dating or Facebook profile and discussing it in terms of “husband potential.”

“He’s got three part-time jobs. I mean, I’m glad that he’s working, but where’s the stability in that?”

“He spends a lot of time with his family. I love that. Being family oriented is really important.”

“We couldn’t fit a car seat in the back of a Camaro!”

You get the picture.

All this commentary, however, only highlights the fact that none of us knows what we’re doing, do we? The pressure is too much. The stakes are too high. The thought of having to choose a partner who will help (or haunt) me for the rest of my life when my brain is barely fully developed? That’s incomprehensible.

Consider that maybe you’ve embraced this courtship mentality because you’re scared. Maybe you think, through overanalyzing, praying, and marriage-centered dating, you can actually take control of this situation. But you should know this method is self-defeating. In seeking the perfect relationship, you will eschew genuine, intimate relationships that develop as a result of grace, patience, and love being required and extended.

What Dating Takes, and What It Gives

Perhaps the advent of the internet, and consequently dating sites and apps, has acted as a catalyst for one of your deepest fears as it has mine: There’s always someone better out there. Are you picking the right person? What if you’re settling, and a better guy shows up in a year? Will this person be worth the sacrifice of your freedom? For women, these fears are only heightened by a race against the clock, an arbitrary expiration date that all good Christian women should be wed by or lose the possibility of starting a family altogether.

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When you browse dozens of profiles while wasting time on a Monday night, you see exactly how many people are out there. Instead of only being exposed to the three eligible bachelors in your small church, you have access to handsome, eligible bachelors from around the world! You may find yourself standing at the largest buffet known to woman, and with that empty plate in hand, you wade between rows and rows of options. Do you want the egg roll or the cheeseburger? The blond who can play guitar or the skinny youth pastor in Daytona? And as you reach to grab a pair of tongs, something tastier, better, catches your eye. Maybe you’re like me, paralyzed by options and scared to death of choosing the wrong one.

But the truth is, when we only choose to engage in relationship with people who are sure things, with people who fit easily into our lives, with people who don’t require work, we lose something. There is much to be gained in loving people who aren’t the easiest to love. So as hard as dating is, it’s worth it. And as much as it takes from you, it gives you something too: It gives you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and your needs. It gives you the chance to show God’s love to another human being. It gives you affirmation that the less Axe spray used, the better. There are all kinds of gifts that come from dating.

We can’t keep dating the way we have been, and we can’t keep pretending we’re going to meet a man and instantly know he’s our future husband. (Though, Jesus, I’m not putting limits up here. You can make that happen for me.) So as hard as it is, and as messed up as we are, and as broken as the system seems, you know that you’re not alone in wading through this mess. And sometimes people meet right there in the middle of the muck. I’ve got a closet full of taffeta bridesmaid dresses to prove it.

Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness
Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness
Thomas Nelson
240 pp., 5.25
Buy Party of One: Truth, Longing, and the Subtle Art of Singleness from Amazon