In a previous post, we outlined some overarching principles to guide our thinking on courtship. Now we begin to lay out a practical model for the courtship process.
Step 1: Make A List
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice has an exchange with the Cheshire Cat that goes like this:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
Most people who get married are exactly like Alice. They have virtually no idea what they want or where they want to go, so virtually anything, or anyone, can get them there.
This is why people who get involved romantically with the opposite sex in a traditional “dating” approach so often make bad decisions that result in heartbreak and divorce. There is an emotional attachment that creates blindness to all the reasons their love interest is a terrible fit as a spouse, and they don’t emerge from the fog until it’s too late.
Therefore, step one of the courtship process is to create a list.
Let’s remember our definition of Courtship: A purposeful process for men and women to evaluate their compatibility for marriage, and for men to strive to win the affection of a woman found to be compatible that maximizes the capacity for objectivity, wisdom, and godliness, thereby creating the highest probability of marital success.
Whether you are ready for marriage or not, it is important that you develop a list. The list is going to help us address the “purposeful” part of the definition.
What kind of list? A list of the things you are looking for in your spouse. This list establishes the “destination” you want to reach and thereby establishing a road map to get there.
The Benefits of a List
The benefits of a list are manifold. First, it can keep you sane early and prevent you from getting too far down the path with a person that is clearly wrong for you. As you are meeting people of the opposite sex, your list is in the back of your mind. If something sparks you, making you think (or feel) you might be dealing with “the one,” or even “a one,” you can begin observing silently and comparing the person to your list. This can happen long before you’re “ready” to be get serious about marriage. I know of a bride and groom and their parents that had developed a list in adolescence. Because they had a list, they all began to silently make note several years before they were ready for marriage that they were compatible. When the time came, moving to the next step was seamless.
Which brings up another benefit. An objective written list enables you to engage the wisdom of other people. As we’ll emphasize throughout this entire discussion, the theme of Proverbs 15:22 is foundational. With a multitude of counselors there is safety, wisdom, and success. We’re going to need 3rd party advisers (parents, friends, pastors, mentors, etc.) to assist us in courtship. Courtship and arranged marriage are not the same. A wise father doesn’t pick the husband for the daughter. Rather, the father seeks to understand his daughter’s heart, her unique makeup, and come along side her to ensure that a man who meets her desires while also being compatible with her composition becomes the man who takes her hand in marriage. When your 3rd party confidants have a list of what to look for they can be infinitely more helpful in giving counsel and feedback.
Last, a list creates awareness. We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of purchasing a new car that you think is a unique choice, only to drive off the lot and see them everywhere. What happened? Because you are thinking about that car you are now aware of them. Before the purchase, the vehicles were on the road but they never grabbed your attention. If you have written down “kindness” as a quality on your list, you’ll start noticing when it is present and maybe more importantly, when it is not. This has a bonus benefit. You will begin to observe the real world benefits or lack-there-of of different traits. You put down, “highly educated” on your list. Now you start to notice people who are educated. You are aware of the educated spouses in your social circle. How much does their education help or hurt their marital relationship, if at all? Should it stay on the list? Should it be moved up or down in priority? Once you have them written down, the list of qualities becomes much more useful.
How to Make the List
Start by making a list of everything you are looking for in a spouse. Don’t filter. Just write. Whatever you dream of in a spouse, put it down.
Once you do that you want to make sure you have two elements in your list. First, make sure you’ve got attitudes and worldview items on your list. For instance, items like “wants kids,” or “loves jazz,” or “is a Christian,” need to be on your list. Lots of people will make a list comprised only of attributes: tall, funny, charming, good dancer. You want those kinds of things on the list, but they aren’t enough. What are you looking for regarding their heart, their interests, their desires, and the way they view the world?
Second, make sure you’ve got the “nots” on your list. These are things that you want them to not have. “Not a smoker, not a cat lover, not a socialist, and not an Eagles fan,” would be examples.
After you have the master list, you are going to divide the items into two categories: Negotiable and Non-negotiable.
Negotiable items are nice to have. Non-negotiables are just that; you can not under any circumstance move forward unless they are there. Here’s an example:
– Good cook
– Likes to travel
– Into Yoga
– Wants children
– Prioritizes Personal Growth
– Not an Eagles fan
Once you have the list written down, pray over it. Pray that God will show you what is missing. Pray that He will show you what is misprioritized. Remember that this can be a “living” list, meaning that it should be modified over time as you mature and learn more from your observations, preparation, and study.
Don’t be like Alice. Know what you want. When you do, you’re done with step one. Now we’re ready for step two.