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The Chastity Project blog recently ran a piece called "When Attraction is Irrelevant (and Other Dating Truths)," in which author Arleen Spenceley recounted advice given to her by her former youth minister about dating, which she immediately took to heart.
"I had emailed Americo [the former minister] a dating question," Spenceley began: "How do we know that our standards are solid and not a sign that we’re hesitant to make the act of faith that marriage requires?"
"I think I used to believe that the paramount standard was attraction," Spenceley continued. "I thought that’s where you start—you pick from the pool of people to whom you’re attracted, and see which of them meets your standards."
Americo disagreed. “Sometimes, if our list of check boxes is too extensive, we might jump to an assumption and make a decision prematurely,” Americo told her, adding that by ruling out potential suitors who aren’t your preferred physical type, “you might miss out on somebody beautiful because you don’t see them that way, at first.”
This was an earth-shattering paradigm shift for Spenceley, who said Americo’s words of wisdom "actually gave me heart palpitations."
"This is gold," Spenceley wrote. "This is vital information we must know if we’re single. It’s what we have to tell our single friends if we’re not."
Now, I’m honestly happy for Spenceley that she feels like she has spiritual justification to date men who don’t look like the stars of the next Marvel film, or whatever aesthetic she prefers. But two things bothered me reading this piece: 1) I disagree that physical attraction isn’t a valid consideration when searching out a spouse (as long as it’s your own taste you’re considering, and not society’s); and 2) The fact that she was blown away by the very idea that dating a non-conventionally attractive person could be okay says something troubling about the Instagram generation. (Are they really just as shallow as they’ve been made out to be?)
To be fair, some of Americo’s advice was indeed pretty solid: "The paramount standard in a potential spouse is his or her commitment to you becoming a saint," Spencely paraphrased her former minister. "That is where you start. You pick from the pool of people whose association with you makes you a better person, and see to which of them you are attracted. If somebody doesn’t bring out the best in you and doesn’t desire the best for you, then an attraction to him or her is irrelevant."
Wise words. Unfortunately, he followed them up with this strained analogy: "Holy Spirit goggles are the opposite of beer goggles."
"If we’re open to looking at people like God looks at people," Spenceley summed up Americo’s argument, "then people who once were too tall, or too short, or too whatever else, suddenly can become beautiful."
It sounds to me like what Americo meant to say was that "Holy Spirit goggles" (where can I get a pair of these, incidentally? They probably look awesome!) are the spiritual equivalent of beer goggles, not their opposite; that just as beer goggles make physically unattractive people look better after a few rounds at the bar, Holy Spirit goggles do the same thing after a few rounds of Adoration or Scripture study. But here’s the thing: that analogy is terrible not just because of its poor construction, but because what spouse wants to believe that his or her beloved had to put on any kind of goggles in order to recognize the beauty with which God created him or her?
Look, we’re not all supermodels. I get it. But we shouldn’t have to be. I know the media (especially social media) tells us all day long that we’re not good enough – that it’s not just celebrities, the super-wealthy and the occasional freak of nature who can do the work and spend the cash to look magazine cover-worthy, we all can (and therefore should). Thanks to the wonder of photo editing software and filtering apps, it can often seem like the entire world is one giant studio lot, full of sets where we act out the lives we think we’re supposed to have – that we’re told we’re supposed to have. The problem is, that reduces the people in our lives to fellow actors or models at best … or props, at worst.
I’m reminded of one poignant sketch on an episode of FX’s Louie, in which a character named Vanessa takes the very average-looking Louis C.K. to task for writing her off as undateable because she’s overweight. He protests, telling her "you’re a really very beautiful …" before she cuts him off and states the truth in no uncertain terms:
"Come on. If I was a ‘very really beautiful’ then you would have said yes when I asked you out. I mean, come on, Louie, be honest here. You know what’s funny? I flirt with guys all the time. And I mean, the great looking ones, like the really high caliber studs? They flirt right back. No problem. Because they know their status will never be questioned. But guys like you never flirt with me because you get scared that maybe you should be with a girl like me. And why not?!"
"You know, if you were standing over there looking at us, you know what you’d see? That we totally match. We’re actually a great couple together. And yet, you would never date a girl like me."
C.K.’s "Louie" again protests, at which point Vanessa again calls him out, this time with much saltier language. She makes it unequivocally clear that having sex with a girl he finds unattractive is not at all the same thing as being proud to hold her hand in public. For Vanessa, "feeling attractive, feeling loved, having guys chase after us …" is one of "the basics of human happiness."
Something tells me Vanessa wouldn’t marry a man who had to don goggles of any kind to find her beautiful – even "Holy Spirit goggles."
The bottom line is, it’s okay to pursue people you find attractive. God made us that way; we’re meant to be hot for the person we marry. That’s how new life is created, after all. The key to finding the right kind of person beautiful isn’t to put on "Holy Spirit goggles." The trick is to lose the goggles altogether.
Are the Holy Spirit’s goggles better than Budweiser’s? Of course. But better than either of those are the eyes and soul God lovingly crafted just for you. We all have different tastes, and that’s by design. So maybe the important thing is to ignore the "tastemakers" and trust our own instincts … along with a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit – no goggles necessary.