We know it sounds like a cliché, but in this case it's true: single women are often initially attracted to qualities in a man that become problematic in marriage. Most won't realize this until the fog of infatuation lifts. How can you single women be sure this won't happen to you?
Let's take one example: women are more likely to experience romantic love with highly dominant men—not dominant in a healthy, let-me-serve-you way, but dominant in a controlling kind of way (which, at the start, looks like he's just taking care of you). These men often demonstrate less ability to express the kind of companionship, relational skills, and emotional attachment that women ultimately desire in a lifelong mate. In other words, women, if you simply follow your feelings and get swept off your feet by a take-charge guy, he's likely going to thrill you for 12 to 18 months as a boyfriend, and then frustrate you for five to six decades as a husband.
Why 12 to 18 months? Because that's the average neurological lifespan of an infatuation. At the end of 18 months, you start to actually get to know the person you're dating. The fog lifts, your eyes open, and suddenly, you see the man you thought you'd been seeing all along. If you doubt this, just ask yourself how many of your married or dating friends explained the ending of a relationship by telling you, "He's not who I thought he was"? That's a true statement. During infatuation, the "idealization" of your affection is so strong you don't see him for who he is. It's not that he's changed—it's just that your eyes have been opened.
So what do women want? Speaking as a happily married couple who together as a pastor-and-wife team have talked to thousands of married couples, our goal with single women is to get them to care about their boyfriends' godliness as much as a wife cares about her husband's godliness.
Yet many single women are not seeking men of character first. They may say they are, but what turns their heads isn't a man's character as much as the fact that when they're with him they feel "in love." And they will excuse most every fault they see in their man, trying to make the relationship work. If they don't feel in love, they won't seriously consider the man as a potential mate. So the primary factor in their choice is literally something that has the lifespan of less than 18 months—not exactly the wisest of lifetime investments.
Infatuated girlfriends are quick to justify seemingly bad behavior in their boyfriends and try to explain it away: "I know you think he's angry, but really he's just passionate." "No, I don't think he was cussing out that man; actually, he may have been speaking in tongues. He's very spiritual, in his own way."
But this won't continue. Not long after they become wives, the same women who defend their boyfriends to the death will fault their now husbands for the very things they overlooked and defended as girlfriends. Would that it were the reverse, with girlfriends seriously discussing with their friends their boyfriends' weaknesses so that they could make a wise decision, and wives seriously defending their husbands' honor so that they could make a lasting marriage. Unfortunately, ignoring your boyfriend's weaknesses and gossiping about your husband's failures is a sure path to divorce.
Women, ask yourself, what will you most desire in your man 10 years from now, when you have kids and a house and are sharing a life together and the infatuation has faded? Find that. Look for that.
Most married women we talk to desire their men to be godly, to have a good sense of humor (life is tough—laughing helps), to be an involved dad, to remain relationally connected to them, and to have a strong work ethic. And yet those five qualities sometimes take a back seat with many single women. Some are more attracted to the dreamer who has lots of plans than they are to the workhorse who puts in lots of effort.
They value immediate sexual chemistry over a man who keeps his word and lives a respectable life. What so many single women want is a guy who makes their hearts race, their palms sweat, and their sexual chemistry boil, while so many wives want a man they can count on, who will be there for them and their kids every day, who listens to them when they speak, and will faithfully deposit a check in the bank at least once a month.
If you don't deal honestly with this discrepancy—what you value now, and what you'll value 10 years from now—you're setting yourself up to live with many regrets. Making a wise marital choice begins with giving proper weight to more significant issues rather than sexual chemistry or romantic intensity that will fade within months.
This isn't to say sexual chemistry doesn't matter. Sexuality is a wonderful and important aspect of marriage; if there's no sexual desire, you'd be unwise to agree to marriage. But you're not marrying him primarily for the sexual attraction. There may be more to finding a man of character, but there should never be less. This isn't a compromise worth making.
Acts 6:3 sums it up perfectly: "Select men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom." This is what the early church looked for in leaders of their congregations, and it's what you want to look for in leaders of your home. Men who are filled with the Spirit—they are alive to God, and God is active in them—and men who are full of wisdom. You won't regret making a choice founded on that basis.
Can you honestly say your boyfriend is a man full of wisdom and the Spirit? If not, are you sure you want to settle?
Gary and Lisa Thomas have been married 28 years. Gary is the author of Sacred Marriage and The Sacred Search: What If It's Not About Who You Marry, but Why? Connect with Gary on Facebook, Twitter @garyLthomas, and on his website.