When I was a sophomore in college I was the children and youth intern at a church in western Iowa. One Sunday I was invited to eat lunch with one the families and they asked me questions about my life and if I had a girlfriend. When I told them no, they asked if there was anyone at college that I was interested in, and again I told them no, and I added that I wasn’t interested in just dating, but wanted to find a woman I could see myself marrying. They responding by saying, “Paul, did you ever think your standards might be too high?”

I remember leaving that conversation shaking my head in disagreement.

One of the reasons I disagreed with the advice they were trying to give me was because their whole frame of reference was that people needed to be in a romantic relationship. That is not true.  In fact, the wrong romantic relationship can be detrimental to our lives. We have to be very discerning about our relationships, especially ones that are close and intimate like romantic relationships are.

A second reason that I disagreed with the advice is because I understood standards are important. I knew that I didn’t have to date a lot of people to discover the type of woman I wanted to marry. I already had a good idea of the character and faith that I desired in a wife, and that is what guided my search.

Fast forward 15 years and I was still unmarried, but I was dating someone. There were a few red flags in the relationship, but I was ready to overlook those warning signs, because I was ready to be married. I told myself that I could make it work. Looking back on that situation I can see the flaw in my thinking. For a relationship to work it requires two people. I could work hard to make a relationship or a marriage work, but if the other person doesn’t put in that same effort the relationship will still fail.

Graciously, she ended the relationship. One of the reasons she gave for the break up was because the relationship was too much work. You see, the fact that I was willing to lower my standards to make the relationship work didn’t matter. Time and experience eventually revealed that we did not share the same values or have the same level of spiritual maturity, and this meant the relationship was destined to fail. It wasn’t about a lack of trying or even a lack of love, rather it was about not being compatible and having different standards.

When I met my wife Jenny, it didn’t take long for me to realize that she was a woman I could marry. She measured up to the standards I was looking for in a wife, which made our relationship night and day different from my previous relationship experience.

In other cultures arranged marriages, agreements between families, are the way marriages happen. In our independent and individualized  culture we use dating to form our marriage relationships. Dating provides each person with the choice of who they will marry. In this situation we have to have some way to make a wise choice in the person we marry. This why our standards are  crucial. The role standards play in this process is to provide a measuring stick to help us evaluate the other person.

It is not enough simply to have standards. We also need to know what standards are non-negotiable and what standards are mere preferences.

For example, one of my non-negotiable standards was a woman involved in ministry. I knew that if she was actively involved in some sort of ministry we would have a similar spiritual maturity and that we would be able to share an important part of my life.

An example of a preference I had was that she would have the same Christian Church/Church of Christ background that I had. Though this was harder to give up than I thought it would be, marrying Jenny and joining the Free Methodist Church opened up new avenues for ministry.

When it comes to identifying your standards for dating and marriage it is important to know what are the things that you must have in a spouse, those things that you can’t stand in a partner, and those areas that it would be nice to have but  you can live without.

Dating is dangerous because you are giving another person access to your heart. Having standards gives you a level of protection in your life. That is not to say that you will not be hurt. Any time we are in a relationship there is the risk that heartache will happen. The protection our standards offer is discernment.

In the infatuation that accompanies romantic relationships it is easy to be blind to the the character of the other person. Your focus is on the thrill of new love. This excitement is one of the reasons we get hurt in relationships. We  allow our hearts to lead and we ignore the warning signs of incompatibility the pop up along the way. Our standards can help us see past the emotional high of an exciting relationship and decide if there is truly a future for the relationship.

Don’t let go of your standards. They are a crucial tool in helping you make one the most important decisions in life.

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