He arrived two minutes early, blazered and buttoned up, with shoulders, as he put it, as wide as my hips. Finding our table, we exchanged compliments on how improved the date versions of ourselves were over our post-workout versions who had met the Saturday before on the edge of Chinatown. Had I not chosen the booth-side seat, he seemed the type to have pulled out my chair.
38. No kids. Never married. Second son of a Nigerian diplomat with a fluid understanding of “home.” University of Michigan MBA holder. Founder of a nonprofit empowering youth through sports in Africa. Director of Operations for a locally-headquartered international development agency. Calloused yet gentle hands, as I would discover later. Dashing.
Our first look over the menu, I asked if he liked spicy food and, having never eaten Lao spicy before, he said yes. Wearing my widest Cheshire cat grin, I turned to the waiter and said “คุณเป็นคนไทยใช่มั้ยค่ะ? อยากเผ็ดมากๆ.” We’d see about that.
Over dinner he made a suspicious number of trips to the bathroom. I checked to make sure he’d left his coat to assure myself I hadn’t scared him off. On his last return to the table, he was followed by a waitress carrying a plate of mango and sticky rice with a lit candle on top for my birthday. He told me to make a wish not related to finding a job so I wished silently I’d be able to bless people through my writing and blew out the candle.
He paid for the meal then suggested we go out dancing. As we walked to his car, he offered me a piece of gum. “I don’t suppose you’ll need this since you don’t plan on kissing me.” “I don’t plan on kissing you, but I’ll take a piece anyway.” Plans are a funny thing.
I have always been that girl with “a list.” Over ten years ago, it began as a multi-volume tome that included a clause about frisbee golf abstinence but has since been whittled down to a handful of requirements: a bachelor’s degree, an interest in the world, generous and hospitable, socially-conscious, an overlap in musical tastes, loves dancing, a touch (or more) of soul, open to foster parenting, and a deep fruit-bearing love for Jesus. There might be a thing or two on there I could live without, but not the love for Jesus.
We eventually made our way to our own little corner of a dance floor and I felt like a lady in a perfume commercial. A few songs in, those calloused yet gentle hands cupped my face and I was finally, as I’ve always termed it, within striking distance of someone else’s lips. For 34 years, 7 days and twenty-two and a half hours, I had wondered what kissing would actually be like if I ever got the chance. It had always looked to me like eating a hard shelled taco, how you had to angle both your head and the taco just right to avoid an avalanche of toppings. How would our noses stay out of each others’ way? How do you breathe? Like freestyle swimming where you come up on the side? Can you breathe through your nose? What if I cough? What do I actually do with my lips? My arms? Will I be so self conscious I won’t enjoy it? “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I confessed. Turns out it didn’t matter.
Now I get some of what the big deal is about. I’ve had friends struggle through singleness because they longed for kinds of physical affection I had just never had. With my recent induction into the world of kissers I can see now how regular access to that would make for happier days. A few months ago at church they preached about marriage and singleness. One of the things the pastor said that stuck with me is that some people are called to an easy singleness while others are called a difficult one just as some are called to easy marriages while others may be called to difficult ones. I’ve always felt like I’ve had a relatively easy singleness and attributed that in part to a lack of experience with anything else. I have been single my whole life minus six months.
But also when I look back at how I’ve used my singleness I am most grateful for the investments in legacy I’ve made. When I was younger I did pursue singleness out of fear that romance and relationships might derail my career ambitions and keep me from grad school and living abroad. I saw that men were far less likely to put their own careers on hold for their women. But I also have emails, cards and recountings from people who I helped introduce to the Lord or who I inspired to live differently. That’s not insignificant to me. In fact, these things have made it worth it.
One of the things that has saddened me over the past several years is watching Christian friends compromise when it comes to dating. True, it’s their lives, but months before, they themselves would have gone on record against the very choice they’d later make. I’d watch as their biggest time and energy investment failed to draw them closer to God and in fact, drew them further away. Time in these relationships, rather than Biblical wisdom, recalibrated what it meant to them to love God with their whole lives. It saddens me not (just) as a matter of disobedience, but because of the relative value of what they are choosing versus what they lose by making that choice. I realize it is a choice they and not I will have to live with, but by the same token, it is a choice that they will have to live with.
When I think about my future partner—if such a person exists—I weigh whether this person will stunt or expand my capacity for ministry. I think about being with someone whose example, motivations, words, and deeds lead me to a deeper understanding of Christ. For me, the question is not will that man make me a “better person” but can he help make me a more Christlike and Christ-compelled one? When I am at my most selfish and proud will he point me to the life and death of Jesus and advocate for a reordering of my priorities based on and empowered by that?
This guy couldn’t. He didn’t know Jesus and no amount of perfume commercial moments could overcome that. We won’t be seeing each other again.
Because I don’t see singleness as a curse, I see swapping a singleness exhilarated by devotion to the Lord in both body and spirit with a marriage not also exhilarated by shared devotion to the Lord as an unequal trade. For me, selecting a partner who doesn’t bring to the relationship their own commitment to growing in Christ and helping me grow in him essentially says I am ok with not optimizing the rest of my life for God’s kingdom. That’s not a future I feel I could comfortably chose.
But, you argue, dating doesn’t have to lead to marriage and doesn’t have to be serious. True, but dating someone is indisputably a large investment of time and our time is finite. The time it takes to make dating someone worth it means that for every hour you say yes to them you are potentially saying no to something else.
I recently read a chapter from Tim Keller’s book on marriage and among many of the brilliant things he has to say in the chapter “The Mission of Marriage” these two quotes stick out the most.
“What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations God will eventually make us. The common horizon husband and wife look toward is the Throne, and the holy, spotless, and blameless nature we will have. I can think of no more powerful common horizon than that, and that is why putting a Christian friendship at the heart of a marriage relationship can lift it to a level that no other vision for marriage approaches.”
“Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating and to say, “I see who God is making you and it excites me! I want to be a part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne.”
Singleness, to me, has been a blessing that has allowed me to bless others in ways I might not have been able to had I not been. Though a blessing, it has not been without moments of loneliness or disappointment because my feelings for others have gone unreciprocated. That’s not to say that women in dating relationships don’t bear fruit and that married women don’t have legacies through their children (if they have them) and outside the home. However, even without kids, I’ve been able to honor the call to be fruitful and multiply through the ways I’ve invested the resources God has given me right now without putting life, adventure, and service on hold for the end of what many consider an inferior season. Sure, I wouldn’t mind two incomes and a regular supply of sugar but I would still chose an obedient fruit-bearing singleness over a romance that couldn’t bring me closer to God.