I am married to a wonderful woman. When I first met Shelaine I was attracted to her wit, looks, wisdom, and smile. Within six months we were engaged. The summer before we married I introduced her to a mentor couple from a church I used to attend. As we sat at their kitchen table the wife exclaimed, “So you found her! You found the one God planned for you. You are blessed.”
I recall grunting in agreement and relishing the moment. I had found the one.
But now I’m not so sure.
For those who may know me in person, please don’t start any rumors. Shelaine and I have a sound marriage, a strong bond, and a deep love. But I am no longer convinced that our marriage is strong because Shelaine is perfect for me, or that I am ideal for her. We are certainly compatible, and share similar values and ways of thinking. But we differ on all sorts of interests and skills. So why does our marriage work? I’m now more convinced that the success of our marriage is not because we “found the one,” but because we have “chosen this one” to love deeply and faithfully. There’s a big difference.
The Myth of Finding “The One”
The myth that there is one perfect person out there who will make the ideal mate shows up in our fairy tales, favorite movies, and video games. The myth goes something like this: You are a searcher in this game called love, and if you put your time in, and meet lots of potential mates, you’re bound to find “the one.” But it’s not all up to you, for Lady Luck will be on your side. And one day, cross your fingers, you’ll discover your very own one-in-a-million mate.
While this prospect may seem daunting, the myth also promises that you will know “the one” from special signals—a glance across the room, their drop-dead good looks, or magical words they speak. After meeting “the one,” you will fall for him or her as naturally as gravity drops stone. You will feel emotionally and sexually drawn to them, think about them, spend money on them, act crazy around them, and ignore others for love of them. Eventually you will fix your hopes and dreams on them, for after all, they are meant for you.
It’s a nice story but let’s look at this objectively…
What if Lady Luck really is in charge of us finding a life partner? This means that our lives are not much different from rolling dice in Vegas. Some get lucky, and win the jackpot. Most do not. But at least in Vegas the odds of throwing sevens with two dice (for example) are 6 out of the 36 possible combinations, or 1 in 6. Those are pretty good odds. Wouldn’t it be great if every sixth person we meet could be “the one”?
But the myth says there’s just one. Not one in six. So with eight billion people on earth the odds against us increase dramatically. Finding true love with Lady Luck makes for a slim chance it will happen.
Believing the myth leads to two harmful patterns
The first is to think that the more people we date or marry or love, the more likely we will finally roll a winner. In its honest form this makes us date-maniacs; in its ugly form it makes us promiscuous. In college I knew a guy who took one woman to a morning soccer game, another to an afternoon football game, and a third to an evening play. When I commented, quite smugly, “I date only women I think I might marry,” he smiled and responded, “Me too!” Maybe so, but to me it looked like he was fishing. And I probably was too.
The other bad pattern is that we begin to think that a series of failed relationships increases our chances of getting lucky the next time. This is called the gambler’s fallacy. Like a person who has not thrown a seven in thirty attempts, we are prone to think “I am due for a winner; the odds are now for me.” Truth is, in the rolling of dice, the odds of throwing a seven are always 1 in 6; always, no matter what came before. In relationships I suggest the odds of landing a ‘winner’ actually decrease, for a series of failed relationships probably tells us more about our choices than about the odds.
But what if Luck isn’t at work, but Fate?
What if our success in relating has already been pre-determined by some impersonal force in the cosmos? Or what if our past actions have in some way determined our current circumstances? Believing that our lives are planned out by an impersonal force can lead to other problems relationally.
Some readers may recall the song popularized by Doris Day that said:
When I was young I fell in love,
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead,
Will we have rainbows day after day?
This is what my sweetheart said:
“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be,
the future’s not ours to see; que sera, sera.”
There’s wisdom in the song. We don’t know the future. We don’t know if it holds rainbows or thunderstorms or drought.
However, if we think everything is planned out, beyond our control, we may hedge on our role to make wise choices or to own the consequences of choices we make. A fatalist, when encountering marriage problems, has an out and may think “I guess this was not meant to be. I can’t change; my partner can’t change.” We resign ourselves to inaction because, well, it won’t make a difference anyway. Que sera sera.
But what if neither Luck nor Fate guide our relational experiences. What if it’s up to us and we’re responsible for the choices we make? And what if God cares for how our relating turns out, and supports and guides us along the way?
I know that theologians have debated whether God predestines our entire life to the very last iota, or if He gives us real choice within the wider boundaries of his will. I lean more to the second idea, especially in relating. So to revise my opening idea, I will be bold enough to suggest that success of our marriage is not because we have “found the one” whom God planned for us, but because we have followed him in obedience to choose one person whom we love deeply and faithfully.
Why am I so sure?
The main reason is because we are made in God’s image, and God is a choice-maker. He didn’t set things up and then walk away. (That’s deism.) Rather, God has made, and continues to make, choices in human history—choices that have played out in how we relate to him. For example, he chose to create the first couple, chose to remove them from paradise when they disobeyed, chose Abraham to bless, chose David and other kings to rule, and chose Jesus to make right our estranged relationship with him. I believe he chooses to engage his creation, including us, as we depend on him and his Spirit within.
So what does this mean for Shelaine and me? It means that I not only chose her from among several potential mates, but that I continue to love her despite the presence of other women in my world. This is called covenantal love. I chose her, and continue to choose her, forsaking all others as the old vow goes.
It also means that our differences and arguments and misunderstanding are not a sign of us having married “the wrong one,” but an indicator that we have work to do, work such as active listening, honest validating of each other’s views, and clear communication as to our hopes and concerns. It means we make personal choices, and couple choices, in order to build a better bond. It means we make promises for the good of our relationship, and stick with those promises. Even if you find a mate through a values-based matching service, you may marry someone who is compatible, but still fallible, and requiring patience and grace. You still choose to love.
Finally, when we recognize that we choose one to love, one to whom we remain faithful, that we can’t hide behind flimsy and selfish reasons for abandoning ship when we hit rough waters. It may mean we humble ourselves and get counseling. It may mean we make hard choices about working less and relating more. It may mean we have to forgive and reconcile rather than carry toxic resentment.
One day Jesus explained to his disciples this dynamic of choosing to love. John records it this way in Chapter 15:
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. … My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. … You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
Let’s not look for “the one” to love. Let’s choose to love, especially our “chosen one.”