In one scene of Seinfeld, Kramer barges into Jerry’s flat to find him lying on his couch, heart-struck. Kramer asks, “What’s with you?”
Jerry responds, “I think I’m in love!”
“Oh, come on!”
“She’s incredible,” Jerry says. “She’s just like me. She talks like me. She acts like me. She even orders cereal in a restaurant. We even have the same initials! Wait a minute. I just realized what’s going on. Now I know what I’ve been looking for all these years — myself!”
Kramer: “Stop it, man, you’re freaking me out!”
Later on in the episode, Jerry becomes engaged to his twin, and he immediately regrets it. Wistfully he admits to Kramer, “I think I may have made a big mistake. If anything, I need to be with someone completely opposite of me. It’s too much! It’s too much — I can’t take it!”
Few would argue that marrying a veritable clone is healthy or even possible, but some of us choose only to date people who mirror our own habits, tastes and talents. And while we’ve heard opposites attract, do such relationships actually last? The key question here is pretty simple: How many similarities do people need to share in order to set themselves up for a healthy marriage?
Show Me the Money … and Your Calendar
The core traits you’re looking for in a potential spouse directly parallel your values. Many of us may claim we’re limiting ourselves to a few non-negotiables (“He just needs to love Jesus, work hard and serve in the church”), but is this actually true? More often than not, these aren’t the only standards informing our choice to x-out an online match or not pursue that woman in small group.
So how do we determine what’s important to us? Practically speaking, our values are seen in how we spend our time, energy and resources. It’s easy to tell what we value by looking at our calendars and bank statements.
I deeply value overseas missions. My first experience with cross cultural ministry was being part of a team to help a church in Haiti. It wrecked me. Experiencing the country’s overwhelming poverty left an indelible mark on my heart for those who suffer. A few years later, I joined a missions organization, and I traveled to dozens of places attempting to bring God’s hope to those who suffer. Even now, I continue to regularly volunteer with that group. Whether it’ll be living abroad for a decade or taking yearly two-week relief trips, I know overseas missions will always be a part of my life, and thus a similar heart for other nations is for me a non-negotiable in a spouse.
Don’t Settle for Surface Similarities
The interesting thing about this discussion is that there aren’t hard and fast rules because many things about us change as we age and experience life. How can we know the person we’ll need in five years, much less fifty? And how do we know who we will be?
Even our values are persnickety. Many of them will fluctuate in intensity and duration over time. Several years ago, a powerful testimony from a missionary tore at my heartstrings. He was sneaking Bibles into a closed country, and that Jason Bourne part of me welled up. I was ready to sell all my possessions and join his covert team. A month later I forgot about his message, and my desire to smuggle Bibles had vanished.
Values can range from staying engaged in politics to eventually pursuing overseas missions. These are all good. Don’t feel like you can only hold “holy” things as non-negotiables. Just make sure you’re being honest with yourself.
Examine and re-examine your non-negotiables to ensure they’ll withstand the test of time. Then act accordingly — make choices as if those are your only deal breakers. Sharing surface similarities casts the illusion of connection, but sharing core values actually creates that foundation. If they hold similar values, a devoted fantasy novel reader and avid romantic movie viewer can make a go of it, even if it makes that first-date conversation a little more difficult.
The Line Between Values and Passions
Apart from sharing values, what about matching our passions with another? It’s one thing to give up hope for someone with a perfect body or great singing voice, but should we also sacrifice our specific desires to serve and minister?
One woman I know has a heart for adoption and refugee ministry, and she seeks these same passions in a man. Is it reasonable for her to expect to find these in a future husband? In short, yes and no. If my friend waits long enough, she might find a man who shares her unique passions for adoption and refugee ministry. But she might not.
However, if she’s able to dig deeper and uncover the value driving these passions — in this case it could be a desire to love those who are hurting and needy — that might allow her to accept a much broader understanding of where these passions could lead her (and allow her to date a much larger group of men). Her non-negotiable list won’t pigeonhole her into finding a clone.
For the longest time I thought I valued running. It’s an important part of my life, and I devote time and money to it. I assumed it was something I needed to share with my wife. But, as I discovered with a former girlfriend, that’s not necessarily the case. She and I just couldn’t get into a good running routine. Our paces were different, and she preferred walking or hiking. During this process, I realized it’s not running I value — it’s an active lifestyle. And someone else can share this value but manifest it differently, perhaps through healthy eating and getting outside. If I had clung to my running value without seeing that running was a passion growing out of valuing a healthy life, I’d be limiting my dating pool considerably.
If some of your non-negotiables are a little too specific, see if there’s a deeper desire at play. Then, relate to your dates on this broader level. Doing so will leave space for God to work.
Find a Perfect(ly Flawed) Person
So how much do we need to have in common with a potential spouse? I say we don’t even begin here, because depending on your list, your “strongest match” (you know, that beautiful girl who watches football, cooks like your mom, and shares your love of niche sci-fi books) doesn’t exist. God willing, you’re going to marry a person — someone loved by God but deeply flawed. And flaws notwithstanding, he or she will most likely be different from you in many (good) ways.
My advice is to wrestle with other questions first: What traits won’t you negotiate on? What do you value, and how does that play out in your life? What does your spouse need to value? Are you willing for these values to be your only non-negotiables?
Then live with these answers. Don’t let comic books or compulsive organizing be a deal-breaker. Embrace your values without shame and fear, and force yourself out of your comfort zone as you accept dates with people who may surprise you.
Copyright 2016 Eric Demeter. All rights reserved.