A father speaks with his daughters about what it means to achieve a real friendship with their future spouses.
Though part of me wishes you won’t need this advice for another two or three decades, the saner part of me knows, now that you’re both well into your teenage years, that, unless God has other plans for you, it isn’t too early to start talking with you about what to look for in a man with whom you will, one day, share your life.
If God is calling you to the married life, I fervently hope your marriages will be as blessed as your mother’s and mine has been. Remember that image at the end of the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice we love so much (and that your father quotes incessantly)? Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy are seated in the open carriage after their wedding ceremony. Against a picturesque snow they are surrounded by family and friends wishing them happiness. And as the music swells, they kiss.
Close-up and fade out.
It is a terribly romantic image of marital bliss–and it’s not wholly fanciful. True, Colin Firth is already married (and too old for you anyway). But if you go about the business of courtship right, you’ll be able to avoid the Mr. Collinses and find your own Mr. Darcy, and maybe even a better Mr. Darcy than Mr. Darcy.
But you might–and should–be wondering: “How do I know when I’ve met the right person? Will it be obvious to me when I’ve met my “true love,” the person who will be my “sturdy shelter” for the rest of my life?”
What you’re asking about is compatibility, the characteristics that make a marital friendship work over the long haul. I hope you won’t mind if I say a word or two about it. There’s a huge misconception about compatibility operative in our culture today, and I don’t want you to be misled by it.
It’s easy to think that compatibility is something that you find, ready-made, in someone else as soon as you meet them. You go out on a date, have a great time with a fellow you like, and you think, not unreasonably, “I click with this person. We’re really compatible.” I felt that way after my first date with your mother. She did, too. I don’t mean to brag, but it’s a plain fact that when she came home from our first date and her girlfriends asked her to rate our date on a scale from 1 to 10, your mother gave it an 11. Just sayin.’
But think about it. What is it that we actually find, ready-made, in someone else? Things like physical attractiveness. A similar family background. Shared faith. A good sense of humor. And these are all wonderful attributes and there’s nothing wrong with being happy about finding them in someone else. But here’s the thing: they don’t, all by themselves, make for compatibility between a man and a woman. True compatibility is not something that you “find” in someone else when you first meet them. True compatibility is something that you achieve with someone else as you face life’s challenges together and grow in virtue.
Think about Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s compatibility. When they first meet one another at the ball in Meryton, there is, at least in the TV adaptation, a flicker of attraction between them. But then other sparks begin to fly. Darcy insults Elizabeth in her hearing. Elizabeth upsets Darcy’s notion of feminine decorum. And the conflict between them rises from there.
So how do they end up married? Darcy becomes so infatuated with Elizabeth that, at one point, he overcomes his objections to her and her family’s manners and proposes marriage. But Elizabeth turns him down like a bedspread. So how do they eventually end up married?
You remember. Darcy seizes an opportunity to serve Elizabeth and her family by making sure that Elizabeth’s silly younger sister Lydia marries the man she has run off with, the odious Mr. Wickham. It’s that act of service, of virtue, that changes Elizabeth’s heart and mind and convinces her to accept Darcy’s proposal when he summons the courage to propose a second time.
My point is that Darcy and Elizabeth only become truly compatible when they begin to sacrifice for one another. That’s what true compatibility, true marital friendship, is. Not the initial flicker of attraction. Not the initial commonalities that two people may share. It’s the ability for common sacrifice especially in times of great challenge.
The greatest sacrifices a man and a woman can make for one another, however, are ultimately directed at those beyond them: their children and God. It’s a beautiful mystery: the more a husband and wife sacrifice their lives for their children, the closer their own friendship becomes. And with God the mystery becomes even more intense: the more a husband and wife devote their lives to doing the will of God for them, the more intimate and fulfilling and fun their marital friendship becomes. We find ourselves, even as couples, by losing ourselves.
Pride and Prejudice belongs in the genre of romantic comedies. Its conflicts are resolved in traditional fashion, with a marriage. But as any successfully married couple will tell you, the art of forging a real friendship with your spouse really only gets started after the wedding day and the honeymoon are over. The great romantic comedy of a marriage after the wedding day still needs to be written. My prayer for you, my daughters, is that if God leads you to marriage that you will find a man capable of great virtuous sacrifice and write such a comedy with your lives.
Meanwhile, fare forward with all the verve of Elizabeth Bennet. And don’t even worry about the Mr. Collinses. I’ll make sure they never even make it up the front porch.