I was sitting in my office, talking with a woman whose marriage was a wreck. Her husband was lying. Their daily conversations often spiraled into nuclear war. Her resentment was growing. There was no peace, and she was holding off the possibility of divorce, but you could sense it hovering like a dark cloud.
At one point she said to me, “When we were dating, he never initiated spiritual conversations and we never talked about the Bible. I just figured that things would change after we got married.” I just about fell out of my chair, carefully lifting my jaw off the floor. You thought he would become more spiritual after you got married?
I wasn’t angry or judgmental when she shared that. I was simply sad. In my experience as a pastor, I’ve seen single women make many similar mistakes. I feel for them as they sit in my office and ask themselves (and me) an important question: Why was I willing to settle? Why did I push down my doubts and pick the “wrong” guy?
Why Women Choose the Wrong Guy
There are reasons why single women settle. Consider a few that I have witnessed firsthand in my counseling office.
Putting Marriage First
When my girls were just entering elementary school, but you could already see the initial stages of them thinking that getting married is the most important thing in life. Every episode of Ken and Barbie ends in a happy marriage. Playtime often includes a wedding ceremony (where their brother is forced to be the pastor or the groom). Disney movies end with the prince giving the princess a long kiss. It only continues as they grow up: a teenage interest in boys springs up, Hollywood rom-coms fuel dreams of romance, and even Christian fiction is packed with love stories. Add to this how churches (rightfully) teach a high view of marriage, and how within a few years of college graduation most of their closest friends will pair off with boyfriends and get married.
Is it any surprise that Christian women grow up idealizing marriage? And that sometimes they allow that good desire to become the most important thing in their life? The Bible uses an old-fashioned word to describe a desire that has taken center stage in our lives—idolatry. It might be hard to understand how that applies to the desire to be married, but stay with me. This is important.
At its core, idolatry is worshipping something created rather than the Creator. It is elevating it (whatever “it” is) to a status it never deserved. When it comes to marriage, idolatry looks like building your hopes, dreams, and goals around getting married and of course, living happily ever after.
The institution of marriage was never meant to carry this kind of importance. In and of itself, marriage is a temporary good. In heaven, there will be no marriage (Matthew 22:29–33); and our focus will be on God, the one who made all things (Genesis 1; Isaiah 44:24; 66:2), including marriage. And yet from an early age, many girls develop an idolatry of marriage that gives birth to full-blown lies: “Happiness is found in marriage,” “I won’t be satisfied until I find a good guy,” or “If God loves me, he’ll give me a husband.”
The Bible commends the desire to be married and says that a godly spouse is a good gift from God (Proverbs 18:22; James 1:17). But for many women I’ve counseled, these good desires morph into demands. A woman may never use theological terms like “idolatry” or “worship,” but her thoughts and emotions reveal what’s going on in her heart (Luke 6:43– 47). When her closest friends get married and her dating relationships are not going anywhere, her disappointment and fear take center stage. From there it’s easy to question God and wonder: Does God love me? Why doesn’t anyone notice me? Does God want me to be alone forever? Her doubts about God’s goodness to her reveal that her hope is in marriage and not in God.
Women also settle because of their past experiences. Every woman has a past, and much like a well-prepared traveler, she carries plenty of personal baggage on her adventures. What does she carry into her dating relationships?
Maybe it is the you-complete-me syndrome, where there is no sense of personal identity apart from relationships with men. Perhaps her fear of rejection is so overwhelming that she doesn’t feel worthy unless a man finds her worthy of his attention.
Some of her luggage might be crammed with poor role models. Her parents fought all of the time and ended up divorced. Everyone she knows is divorced. She can’t think of a single marriage that goes the distance.
Others internalize convoluted messages from family, friends, or the culture about what relationships are for, what she should look for in a man, and how to get into a relationship.
Another reality is that many women have been abused. It’s difficult for them to form an honest, open relationship with a guy. Often, they are simply afraid to believe that good men do exist.
Love Is Blind
Sometimes smart women settle because when it comes to relationships, they have blinders on. I don’t usually like clichés, but “love is blind” often holds true. It might start out with something small. Janet told me how her then soon-to-be husband used to leave the orange juice out on the counter and forget to put it back in the fridge. She said, at the time, she thought it was “cute.” After marriage, it grated on her. Her perspective changed. She was no longer blind to his little mistakes because she started to run into them more often. Of course, leaving the juice out is a small oversight and we all make mistakes. And love does overlook many faults. But what happens when you overlook a more serious issue? And you overlook it because you are afraid to lose your relationship? That’s when “love is blind” becomes a serious problem.
If a woman lets herself get emotionally attached to the wrong kind of guy, principles that she thought she would never compromise on—like looking for a mature, godly man—no longer are her first priority. Because the relationship is fun, the guy is courteous and kind, and he pays attention like no one else will, a woman lets her priorities slide. It doesn’t matter that he calls himself a “Christian,” but doesn’t go to church regularly. Or maybe he is an atheist or agnostic. Because she is growing more attached to this guy, she downplays or ignores that his lack of Christian values poses a barrier to the relationship. The woman’s “blindness” is deliberate because she desperately desires to be married.
Because dating is difficult, it’s easy for a single woman to think that she should simply take control. So she finds a man and makes things happen. God’s not in the business of making matches; that’s her job. She’ll find the right guy. No one else will do that for her.
Her closest advisors are a few single friends. Their advice is no wiser than her own. She is open to talking with married folks, but they are busy and she’s afraid of being a burden. Instead, she defaults to dealing with dating issues by herself or by talking to a few single girlfriends.
Her overall approach to dating is no different than a lone-ranger cowboy wandering the Wild West—no map to guide her, nothing but her own wit and intellect to rely on, hoping upon hope that she won’t run into trouble. She’ll figure it out, right?
Some women live under the tyranny of their anxiety. Ann hates that fear rules her life. She’s heard the Bible texts on worry: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27 NIV) and “Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). None of these texts seem to make a difference. She wrestles with fears constantly.
- She’s scared that she will be lonely for the rest of her life.
- She’s afraid that she won’t ever have children.
- She is fearful that no one will take care of her when she is old or feeble.
- She is nervous that once she turns thirty, or worse, forty, her chances at marriage will be nonexistent.
- She is worried that she won’t be loved for who she is.
- She’s concerned that others will look down on her for not having a relationship.
Fear of man, fear of failure, fear of discomfort or suffering or difficulty, fear of not getting what she wants—it’s all there. Because the fears own her heart, they also own her life.
Unhelpful, Ungodly Attitudes
A single woman’s attitude toward dating and marriage can make all the difference in whom she picks, dates, and marries. Persistently wrong attitudes lead to poor choices.
Maybe a woman has a chameleon-like disposition. Her colors change with different men. She’ll be whatever the man wants her to be, as long as he loves her.
Some women are fatalists. Their fathers were passive, or mean, or angry to their mother. Their boyfriends are not much different. So they assume that there is nothing better than this kind of man. They might say, “What’s the point of trying to find a good relationship? It’ll just end up the same way.”
Some women are exceedingly hard on themselves. If we were to overhear their inner dialogue, we’d witness constant self-flagellation. She settles for a guy who is a jerk because she thinks that she doesn’t deserve any better.
Quite a few women are determined to get what they want in life. They are confident, successful, and accomplished in their careers. If they are successful in the world’s eyes, why can’t they get what they want in dating and marriage? They apply the same attitude toward marriage, thinking, I will get what I want no matter what.
Looking for the Wrong Things
My wife handed me a notecard the other day. It was nestled between the pages of a used book that came in the mail.
What does this notecard say about what this woman wants in a man? Everyone’s got a list. The woman who drew this picture had one. You have one. On this woman’s list were some very specific physical attributes. The guy had to have short hair, but he couldn’t be balding. He needed to be well-built, etc., etc.
In church, everyone talks about godliness. But if we’re honest, physical attraction really matters. A woman might not say it or admit it, but godly men who are balding, short, or have potbellies, don’t get first consideration. They don’t even make the list.
Add a few other important criteria for most women: He needs to be successful. He needs to be well-educated. He needs to be caring, sensitive, and thoughtful. He needs to make her feel special. He has to be romantic and well-built. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to be a good catch, or else a woman’s not going to waste her time.
What’s Behind All of These Reasons for Settling?
If you pull back the curtain, you’ll find that for many a Christian woman, when it comes to finding a relationship, God is no longer center stage in her life. Her fears and desires show what’s most important to her. All too often when it comes to relationships, her small kingdom—the kingdom of “what I want out of life”—is really what matters most.
Surely there is a better way to find a spouse. A godless venture won’t produce Christ-glorifying results. But what will?
Don’t Forget Jesus
The answer is as simple as “don’t forget Jesus.” In your dreams, desires, hopes, and wishes, don’t forget your first love—the one who is for you and promises to be with you through all the ups and downs of life. Don’t let your desires or the values of this world take you away from your first love.
What about you? What distracts you from Christ? What tempts you and leads you astray from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ?” Has your desire to be married become a distraction from sincerely following Christ? Does your fear, unhelpful attitude, personal baggage, or emotional attachment to a guy keep you preoccupied with the wrong things? If this is true for you, then your goal needs to be to (first) renew your relationship with Christ and (second) find a better way to think about dating and marriage.
Ask yourself two crucial questions:
- Do I desire Jesus more than anything else?
- Would I settle for the wrong guy?
Ask the first question (“Do I desire Jesus more than anything else?”) because if you are a Christian, your relationship with Jesus should matter more than anything else in your life (Philippians 3:8–11). Ask the second question (“Would I settle for the wrong guy?”) so you can learn from the mistakes that others have made.
Excerpt adapted from She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle © 2017 by Deepak Reju. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
She’s Got the Wrong Guy: Why Smart Women Settle
In She’s Got the Wrong Guy, Deepak Reju offers a different kind of dating book, discussing the types of guys women should not marry and offering biblical reasons why they aren’t suitable spouses.