[This post was inspired by a young woman who my wife and I are proud to know, Malia Jones. A multitalented dancer and writer imbued with a deep faith, she recognizes the vital confluence of the mind, body, and spirit, all whose maturation stem from a life surrendered to Jesus Christ. We particularly converse often about the sad state of affairs in the "dating world" and explore how things can be improved. This is an extension of our ongoing exchange.]
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a black man who has been married to a black woman for almost six years. We are both Christians in our early 30s who have never been married before and have no children. We are quite candid with those we mentor about our relationship struggles before and after marriage. By no means has marriage been a cakewalk for us. We tussle daily to better understand the sacrificial, lifelong commitment that marriage is. It is because of God's ongoing intervention, wise counsel from trusted mentors as well as "professional" counseling, and our love for each other that we are still married. And so, we are passionate about helping people live godly lives with relationship being a big part of that dynamic.
Even with bestselling books to their credit, I am clueless why so many women are captivated by what comedian Steve Harvey and actor Hill Harper, for example, have to say about relationships. Are their contributions really that helpful or distinctive? Speaking of celebrities and relationships, have you ever listened -- really listened -- to the lyrics of Beyoncé's popular tune, "Single Ladies"? To say the least, it isn't the most creative or empowering piece of songwriting. I mention all of this because relationships these days are often based on shallow interpretations of love. This is unfortunate, of course, but we always have the option to live by a different standard.
Therefore, single ladies, let me offer a few firm suggestions that point in that direction.
1. Don't waste your time or play games. Life is simply too short to spend time with a man who doesn't share similar values as you. Of course, you want to ensure that your values are noble to begin with. Even so, if he doesn't possess the fundamental qualities that a woman (whether the gender in general or you as an individual more specifically) needs in a man to eventually end in marriage, then what does investing your precious time in that relationship accomplish? If you want to run around with a "game recognizes game" mentality trying to parking lot pimp the doggish men that you choose to share your life with, then so be it. You are grown. Just don't say that you weren't warned. Read a book, solve some quadratic equations, hit the gym, or something, anything other than wasting your life away entertaining or being entertained by a man who doesn't cut the mustard. Don't be so desperate for company that you lower your standards or expose yourself to people (and places) that aren't good for your emotional, spiritual, or physical health.
2. Don't pursue him. In the backdrop of feminist influences, this seems to be really hard for today's woman to comprehend. I don't mean that if you are in a healthy relationship hat it is somehow okay to never exhibit a mutual sense of deference, compromise, or initiative towards him. Be sure, however, not to trek around the globe (or your city) chasing a man, soliciting him to spend time with you, to define the relationship, and such. If he isn't that into you (shown by his actions), although you have been clear about your feelings and intentions, then "chunk up the deuce" and roll out. Call it old-school, but it isn't becoming of a lady to pursue a man in these ways. By all means, yes, introduce yourself, be upright in your conversations, and crystal clear about what you are looking for. But all while recognizing that the kind of man you want is the one who can earnestly communicate to you -- without any games or manipulative prompting -- that he desires to be in a serious relationship with you. And the end goal of the relationship should be marriage. If you don't accept that as a natural progression, then maybe you need to pump your breaks on all of this relationship business to begin with. Don't engage in a juvenile cat-and-mouse scrimmage, but also don't get overly invested in or excited about a man who hasn't (for whatever reason) taken the initiative to consistently extend himself to you.
3. Be the change. Perhaps on a bumper sticker, odds are that you have heard the axiom, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." One of the main ways that a woman can "be different" in this regard is to remain celibate until marriage. For clarification's sake, yes, that means no hanky panky of any kind until the preacher says to your husband, "Now you may kiss (or salute) your bride." I am not suggesting that this is easy. In fact, it will be extremely difficult, but regardless it clearly eliminates a slew of pre-marital issues and in the process honors God really whether you do it because of religious convictions or not. And for the record, please don't do the "single, saved, and having sex" thing. That is just silly. Especially for you (if you consider yourself a Christian), it is a sustained act of disobedience to God, and that is never a good posture to take with the Creator. Furthermore, if you desire a man who is unique, above-average, and committed to values higher than "going half on a baby" or merely stockpiling money with marriage as a corporate merger of sorts, then make sure that you too are working from the inside-out also to be all that God intends. If you abhor loud-mouthed abrasives who think that they are God's gift to humanity, then make sure that you aren't guilty of the same characterization.
4. Be observant. Not all, but some women talk way more than they listen, and in the relationship realm this puts them at a severe disadvantage. For sure, the world is well aware of your gifted multitasking abilities as the backbone of civilization, but in this moment, for your own benefit, dial that down a few thousand notches. Yes, relax, relate, release, exhale, "woosah," and observe. This is a crucial skill because - and I say this with respect to my own gender -- men aren't the most complicated or complex creatures. I think that women take the cake on that one. Generally speaking, with a man what you see is what you get. Not that we are dumb oxen incapable of growth. Nevertheless though, who we consistently present ourselves to be usually is who we are and will likely remain for a good while. If you are observant you are more likely to discover quickly what this man is all about, which then enables you to determine if that presentation is compatible with your values. Don't get lost in the sauce of emotion or attraction because that will cloud your judgment, and if you allow sex to enter the picture you will be even more confused. A quick note though, if the man is more concerned about the color coordination of his outfit (or yours), then please immediately run for the border.
I strongly believe that women ought to desire a man whose delight is in the Lord. (Psalm 1) In short, that means a man, beyond any biological definitions, is one who dedicates his life to God and biblical truth -- for real though, not for play-play. He isn't Jesus and so most certainly will be far from perfect, but you can work with someone who is focused on the right things in life, someone who has the right tools.
Young lady, you can't give a man character or a strong sense of identity. These are core competencies that (the level of which understandably has much to do with his age and experiences) come from God, and primarily godly men can help him sort out. Through the years I have heard countless women express their desire for a "good man," but you strangely never see them with good men. Instead, they hang with wanna-be pimps and thugs (who come in all shapes and sizes) and men who otherwise generally mistreat them. They are often immature, irresponsible, dishonest, or ignorant, but may have swagg. However, the harsh reality is that you can buy a good man new clothes if necessary, but you can't buy a bad one a new attitude or heart. Swagg is a fool's game. Forget swag. Remember substance.
Contrary to popular opinion, good men do exist. They may not, however, have the college degree, "good hair," sculpted physique, or socioeconomic pedigree that you deem important, not to mention they may not hail from the ethnic or racial group that you feel would best complement yours. But if you deem a man a scrub or otherwise unworthy of pursuing you in a committed relationship (again that moves towards marriage) simply because he isn't from your side of the tracks, well, then you have some issues that need to be addressed. There is no shame in seeing a licensed counselor or therapist to help you address whatever baggage might be holding you back. And talking to a godly pastoral leader is a good idea too.
Being in the club for happy hour percolating to Beyoncé's latest hit, wearing a skintight ensemble and sipping an apple martini or mimosa probably isn't best if you want something more than the norm out of life, not to mention a relationship. If you want something better then you must try better approaches (which are often uncommon and thought of in popular culture as lame) to romantically interacting with the opposite sex.
It can be complicated, but it isn't rocket science.