So, I'll be turning 38 in a couple weeks, and I'm still single. That's not something I ever expected, and it's not always easy to remain hopeful, especially when it seems like finding "that special someone" is about as likely as congress finding a solution to health care that makes everyone happy. :-)
But, I have grown a lot (I think!) and I am certainly grateful for all the blessings in and throughout my life. Still, the realization that in all likelihood I will be in my 40's before I'm married and starting a family (assuming that's what God has in mind) is a bit disappointing. So, with this as a backdrop, I now want to make a few observations about Christian relationships from my current vantage point:
I think it's pretty clear that as one gets older, it becomes more difficult to meet (in my case) available Christian women. That is just the expected outcome of a smaller pool of singles who share with each other the qualities/characteristics that make for a potentially successful relationship. There are many reasons why people are waiting longer to get married, but the basic point is that as people get older, they have fewer options. Or, perhaps different options. Options that you wouldn't have considered before suddenly seem viable. Either way, it requires a shift in thinking.
But, there are still a few characteristics foundational enough for me that I won't budge on them (which isn't to say I've perfected any of them!). I'm not sure if these are "Christian" qualities, or that they are the same for everyone. But they apply to me. For example, honest communication and being "real." That is just fundamental for me. Now, most of the women I've dated are this way, and I'm not trying to suggest otherwise. I just can't help but think that life as a whole would be a whole easier if we didn't all pretend so much. But not pretending has a social cost. It makes people uncomfortable, and has the potential to create conflict.
Never mind that often the conflict is a necessary development for growth, many people would rather avoid the pain or embarrassment, so they just avoid it. This is a problem for both men and women. Nothing shocking there. But it's truly unfortunate that Christian people often won't communicate honestly with each other, especially when it comes to relationships. Learn to know yourself and be honest with yourself. Then tell people what you think and how you feel!
[A caveat: DON'T do this if you're aware that it's obviously selfish! Unfortunately that is often the case with people searching for a meaningful relationship. It happens to the best of us. Don't pretend that you aren't aware of that. :-D]
Being honest means facing the reality of a situation from all angles. This has a lot of ramifications, but here's the one I want to mention: Not all Christian men, or women, think alike! Shocking! hehe. But seriously, don't base your assumptions about all men or women on just a few experiences. This can be difficult because it makes sense that having a bad experience will lead one to try and avoid similar experiences in the future. But all relationships are difficult, and running from problems - or trying to avoid the pain that could be beneficial in the long run - is behavior that we must learn to change, if we are to experience truly positive relationships.
This next statement is probably a bit more controversial, but I'll say it anyway: Women, it's OK for men to NOT be a stereotypical "real Christian man," because often those men aren't real either! Let me explain this a bit more. First, I fully agree that many men have shirked their responsibilities and are not living up to their callings as husbands and fathers. But I also know quite a few Christian men (myself included) who would like very much to be husbands/fathers.
Here's the thing about us "non-real" Christian men. We don't want to feel like we're being forced to get married out of guilt, or constantly scrutinized and told that we don't yet have what it takes to be a man. Many Christian men simply need encouragement, but often what we hear is something more like: "A man needs to be mature, have a good job, and the spiritual/emotional steadiness to care for his wife and family!" Well, duh. But not all of us are investment bankers, and most of us don't look like Johnny Depp or write brilliant love poetry every day of the week. That doesn't mean we aren't excellent men.
Additionally, many of us want to be with women who think for themselves and have their own dreams, goals, and visions. I don't want to be in a relationship where I have to pretend like I have everything under control, just so my girlfriend/wife thinks I'm a real man, and feels "safe enough" to have kids. I have nothing against safety, I tend to like it myself. :-) But if love is really a gift from God, that makes it the most dangerous, unsafe thing in the world, and I want to be in a relationship where both of us push each other to love in a dangerous way.
What does this mean? It does NOT mean being irresponsible or foolish. But it does mean developing a relationship where two people have the same desire to build a life together, out of a love that sees such immense value in the other person that it wants to follow Christ by living sacrificially for that person. When two people are living that way for each other, it is really scary, but - if God is True - it is the only way to live in true intimacy. I'd like to find a woman who feels the same way, and, yes, challenges me when I'm wrong. But not one who just wants a man to make her life safe and comfortable. I don't believe that the man bears all the responsibility for directing the relationship, or that the man is required to "lead" - spiritually or otherwise - in all situations.
Now, men: This does not get us off the hook! Too often we are too fearful, lazy, distracted, irresponsible, etc. So, as a man, I say to you (and myself) - Let's not allow ourselves to be less than what we can be! A first simple step in this process (yeah, it's best to make things as simple as possible for guys): Get to know women! Really, honestly, get to know them.
We men (although I''m sure women do this as well) are very good at playing the odds; we may think some girls are "cute" or "sweet" but we are pretty sure that if we hold out a bit longer, we'll find someone who is exactly what we've been hoping for. And, in the meantime, we are missing out on many great opportunities to get to know amazing women.
Maybe some of those will end up being people we marry, maybe they'll just be friends. But what I've grown to realize - and I wish I had realized sooner - is that whether we are married or single, if we really get to know women and treat them with dignity, respect, and love in Christ, then even if they aren't meant to be with us, we are providing a foundation to make their futures even better. That is the true value of Christ's love - even when it doesn't necessarily make us "feel good", it brings about transformation.
If we, as men, could learn this lesson, I have a suspicion that many of the issues women struggle with might start to slowly evaporate. After all, it's no secret that, historically, men have tended to treat women quite poorly. That can only change when we realize that women are worth caring about regardless of whether they will be with us or not.
Anyway, all of this leaves me where I began - approaching 40 and single. It's not what I expected or wanted at this point in my life, but it's where I am. And, whatever happens, I am learning to trust that God is good, and love is only worth sharing when it comes from a place that expects nothing for itself, but only the good of the other. That, thankfully, is a lesson that carries a joy which has the potential to sustain one in times of loneliness and frustration.