Can you help who you fall in love with? Can you be sure of marrying the right person?

A few years ago I wrote a short comment about a news article from the time and entitled the post ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with?’. Since writing it, it has become one of my most read posts. For some time, I’ve been meaning to flesh it out a little, and while the toddler is asleep it seems like a good opportunity…

Last week, Relevant magazine posted an extract from Tim Keller’s upcoming book on marriage, entitled ‘You never marry the right person’. Each marriage, he claims is a matter of making choices, and compromising.

We are lured into thinking that we will find a soul mate, another half, or someone to complete us. The movie Jerry Maguire brought is the phrase ‘You complete me’ which is a nice sentiment but it is untrue. This idea that a partner should bring us the ultimate in self-fulfillment comes from self-first consumer culture that we live in. We are used to self-help books, we are brought up to be fiercely independent, and we are used to doing things and buying things that fulfil us.

Yet when we apply this thinking to marriage, dating and partners we are on dangerous ground. The thinking is that love should not be hard, it should come naturally if you are truly soul-mates.

Tim Keller’s response is

“Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball’? Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative’?

When one flawed human being relies on another flawed human being to complete him or her, it is never going to be completely straight forward. We are all less than perfect in different ways and we are never going to find a perfect partner to fill in the gaps of our own deficiencies.

The Bible talks about marriage as being, one flesh. The married couple are a single unit, but this is a unity that has to be worked at in relationship with God.

Nowhere in the Bible is love seen as a self-completing thing. It is always spoken about in relation to others – God, marriage partner, family, church and society. Love is not self-serving but others-centric. Love is a verb. The grand list of loving characteristics of 1 Cor 13 (written to a church, not a couple) are all acts of the will which involve putting the other before yourself – love is patient, kind, not self seeking etc. They point towards the character of God, who supremely demonstrated this love in Jesus. As we choose to love, and are given the power to do so by God, we identify with God’s character.

So, what do you do if you are attracted to someone? 

You will then need to decide what to do with that attraction. Attraction doesn’t need to lead to love.

Attraction, I believe, can’t be helped. We are attracted to all kinds of different people. Some may simply be people who happen to be nice to look at. For others it is an aspect of their character that appeals to us. Often we are attracted by characteristics that we don’t have, or that we’d like to get better at.

Before acting on this attraction, it is always worth asking whether this person would be a good match for me. Are they a nice person, fun to be around, interesting? Do they have some of the same values that you have, such as attitudes to money, family, faith? These are all things that would help any potential relationship go more smoothly. In these cases, the attraction can be helpful and we may decide to pursue it.

Sometimes, pursuing  the attraction is not a good idea.  What if the person is unavailable to you such as they are married already? For example, if a married man is attracted to another woman (this itself is not a crime) but he must choose what to do with that attraction. He may want to put in boundaries to remove or reduce the temptation, for the benefit of his marriage. He may avoid that woman and make sure he is never alone with her. Or if he has to meet her and part of his job or something, he could always meet in a public place. He could also confide and be accountable to someone else. There are many ways to reduce the temptation that would inevitably destroy his marriage, and avoid the attraction turning into something else. Each little step is a choice. It is worth asking the opinion of those who are close to you, and who know you the best.

There may be other reasons why the person is not available to you – for example, parental pressure or culture or distance. These situations can be emotionally painful. I remember falling for a person of another faith. In hindsight, it was absolutely right for s not to get together, but it was hard at the time. Is the barrier a good or necessary one? Your family may disagree for good reasons, or not. You will need to discern this. You may need to walk away and consciously choose not to pursue the attraction any further.

But it is always crucial to remember that the other person in a relationship is not there to complete or fulfil the other. Each is there to learn to love one-another in ways that they could not have imagined at the outset of the relationship.

Keller again:

The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level.

We never marry the right person. Love is a verb. Love is a choice


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