What takes a relationship from “like” to love? How does a man know the girl he’s dating is the woman he wants to spend his life with? What does the discerning process look like before a guy asks for her hand in marriage?
The responses to these questions are as varied as the men who’d answer them. As the apostle Paul wrote: who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?
I’ve asked 5 men to share how they determined their girlfriends were the kind of women they wanted to marry. (I’ve taken the liberty of adding a bit of my own story too.) What follows isn’t so much a “how-to” list to identifying a potential wife, but rather a look at how men with marriages ranging in length from a decade to a little over a year, processed their desires, their faith convictions, career goals, and more before they proposed.
My hope is that guys wondering, "How will I know?" will find some encouragement from those who've been there before. So with that, here’s six guys in their own words, explaining how they knew.
The realization that I wanted to marry Becca was less like that ‘eureka’ moment when the clouds parted in a sudden, dazzling burst of illuminating brilliance than it was like having coffee on the front porch while the sun rises: a slow, steady brightening—almost unnoticed—until you look up to see that the whole world has filled with light while you weren’t paying attention.
Marriage was simply the next step in a natural progression. We loved each other and God, we enjoyed spending time together, and we had gone through our share of conflict and come through the other end with hands held tight. Tying the knot was as simple and inescapable as conceding that 1 + 1 does, in fact, make 2. Always has.
I don’t mean to imply that our marriage—pictured here as inevitable and unassuming—is without delight and joy and pain and struggle and the deep wells of love and grace that make this, our deepest relationship, so worthwhile. It has all of these in spades. It’s just that I looked at her, and she looked at me, and we looked at the world and knew that we wouldn’t want it any other way.
I met Becky as a senior in high school. She was new to our school and in need of friends, and I, the extroverted class clown, was happy to oblige her. I remember picking her up one night for a church function, perhaps our first time alone together, and we just fell into conversation. It was the most natural, easy going conversation I’d ever had. It was like a revelation to me--this is what friendship can be.
As a freshman in college I was confronted with the question “what do you want?” The life script I had in mind didn’t include getting married while in college, but as I wrestled with that question, the answer I came back to over and over was: to make her my wife. We had a shared faith, a desire to start a family that included children, and the same priorities. She was beautiful through and through, and I loved her mind. And if that wasn’t enough, she believed in me. She thought I could do anything, and her faith in me pushed me to be a better man--to be worthy of her. It still does. I couldn’t imagine doing life without her, and I knew that I didn’t want to.
I didn't have a moment when the clouds parted and the sunlight danced on my face. I had prayed for a godly wife since late in college. When I got the chance to meet and know Bethany, I knew I would be a fool to not risk it all for her. She loved the Lord and wanted to serve him, she wanted to be a wife and a mom and find counter-cultural joy in that, she had a lively sense of humor and a very sharp mind, and she was beautiful.
I was familiar with the kind of "twisted-into-knots" courtship of famous evangelical Jim and Elisabeth Elliot. That always seemed a little tortuous for my taste. In God's kindness, I had the opposite experience. The Lord answered my prayers and sent me an "excellent wife." I've never looked back, and I never will.
I met Moriah in high school, but it wasn’t until our first year of college that we began dating, which kicked off a plodding four years of long-distance romance. Our friendship always had a peculiar potency to it, and thus, after exchanging those impenetrable I-love-yous, it didn’t take long to connect the dots.
Discussions ensued, and though neither of us boasted one of those charming ‘n’ cheeky Future Spouse Checklists, we figured out fairly quickly that the biggies were mostly in synch. She had all the features one hopes for in a woman: Godly, virtuous, generous, compassionate, committed, and beautiful. I foresaw a career trajectory that was unconventional and uncertain, and she, for reasons that still escape me, was eager to support it. She felt a deep calling to children, to mothering, and to being a steadfast presence in the home — a dream I am now blessed to see fulfilled over and above each and every day.
Yet beyond the typical signs — the chemistry, the vocational fit, the shared beliefs — I wanted to know it was more than just the logical choice. And so, the summer before I proposed, I suggested a relational fast of sorts, a month-long respite from the passions to serve as a season of prayer and petition. It was hard for her to understand, indicating anxiety or nervousness, neither of which I felt. Yet for all the good I saw around me, and for all the prayer I had done up until that point, I felt compelled to go a step farther.
I’m not sure why it happened that way. But regardless, the time I spent wrestling kicked off an inward preparation that bore fruit. It matched my peace of mind with the peace that passes all understanding, but even beyond that, prepared my heart to begin the normative, formative trajectory of marriage: Death to Self, and through consecration to God, sacrifice to spouse.
She was the one. I was prepared. And I proposed three months later.
How did I know Abby was the one for me? I’m a romantic, yet I must unromantically reject the concept of The One as it is usually understood. The notion of your Point B existing somewhere out there in John Cusack’s big, wide world is stifling and undermines the reality of love, commitment, and responsibility.
There is a One - the one you choose. Prayer, wisdom and prudence based on a foundational desire to do God’s will are necessary as you sort through your options. Once you find someone who fits, you make the decision to love them forever. In hindsight, we often see that the pieces fit perfectly, that God has blessed us with a love story that looks a lot like destiny. In my case, Abby and I shared a faith, priorities, sense of humor, and attraction to one another. It turns out my mom had been praying that I would meet “a nice girl from Kansas” and I did. That’s not how I knew she was the one for me, but it proves that God blesses those who trust their lives to Him.
I once had a friend who was determining whether to propose to his girlfriend. She was beautiful and a Christian. Both had a sexual past—together—but had repented of their sins. There was the appearance of spiritual connection, but at the end of each discussion with him, I realized something: I was having to persuade him to propose. If you’re a man considering proposal and you have to be convinced, you shouldn’t be proposing. Walk away. You shouldn’t feel guilted or obligated to propose. You must be in the scenario where not proposing isn’t an option.
Deciding to propose to my wife wasn’t mystical. It was natural. There were no contingencies, only inevitabilities. She was first and foremost, a strong evangelical Christian who knew Christ. I was physically and sexually attracted to her. She desired to be a godly wife and mother. But most of all, I loved and treasured her. I still do.Media: