List for a Future Spouse

List for a Future Spouse: A method for encouraging young people to practice patience and fidelity to a future spouse by listing the qualities that they hope that person will have.

Somehow, one of us got this idea that it would be good to list out the qualities that we wanted in a future spouse, and it caught wild.

We were a generation of young, Christian girls, fed on a diet of Freddie Prinze Jr. movies and Saved by the Bell. In the Christian romance novels we kept bedside, the heroine’s love interest was a surfer with blue eyes and missionary ambitions.

We knew exactly what our future husbands should be like, and we were madly ripping out college-ruled notebook paper, planning fairy-tale futures in loopy cursive. My future husband will love God. Buy me flowers on Valentines Day. Pray with me every night. Open the car door for me when we go anywhere.  Occasionally, hearts dotted our i’s.

What we understood about marriage was that it was a kind of finish line, the place you wanted to get to, that line on the horizon where all the pinks and oranges swirl in the hazy pre-dawn. It was far. It was perfect.

In an evangelical culture that tied faith and sex so inextricably, there was a lot of pressure not to settle. Not to choose wrong. To wait for The One, to keep you heart wholly together until you found him.

He would be a kind of Christian Prince Charming, Zack Morris’ hair and Billy Graham’s faith and the two of you would get married, work with the youth group, get your own little tent when you chaperoned future trips to the Cornerstone Christian music festival.

At least that’s what we wrote on our list.

And it is sort of darkly ironic, this list of expectations in a faith that’s supposed to be about grace. About our inability to be perfect.

We fail, we fail, we fail, and Christ comes down anyway, lets his feet grow dusty on our weary roads, chooses us, settles for us who cannot live up to the List, settles deep into the pain and love of it all.

Here is what I know: the man I married does not match the list I made at fifteen. That list, buried in some journal, in some big Rubbermaid in the storage room, is hollow. Your voice echoes, lonely, under the high ceilings of the unattainable.

The beauty of marriage is in the reality of it, in the pain and the drudgery. He is handsome in his hoodie sweatshirt. He is throwing our children high in the air, getting them all riled up before bedtime. He is sometimes doing the dishes, sometimes not; he is watching The Bachelor with me; he is bent over his remote, playing a video game I don’t understand.

Our shared journey of faith does not look like hands folded together in bed during long evening prayers. It is a conversation that we are always having; it is the way we keep at it when things are difficult; it is going to church and it is sometimes skipping church to read the newspaper at the kitchen counter and eat monkey bread straight from the pan.

I say something cutting; he is silent, distant in his anger. We settle for each other’s imperfections, each other’s failures. We ride it out.

His shaved stubble trails along the bathroom sink; the leftover spaghetti sauce is getting crusty in the unwashed pan, and this is love—real, messy, beautiful in its complexity, in its drudgery, in its brokenness.

17 thoughts on “List for a Future Spouse

  1. Loved this post. In some ways, I think the making the list idea isn’t ALL bad; it was good for me to remember that I wanted to marry a Christian, and someone who would help me love Jesus more.

    I had a whole lot of other things too, some of them sensible, some of them more Christian-fairy-tale. I thought I went into marriage pretty much with my eyes open, and that I’d chosen rather well.

    What I didn’t know was that I’d chosen amazingly well. (or perhaps God had chosen for me?) There were so many things that I discovered over the years that I didn’t know about Jon when I married him; his depths, his steadfastness, his love for children. These are the things we have discovered in the mess and brokenness of life, far from the logically worked-out pre-requisites I had.

    Thanks for this – I really connected with it.

    1. “These are the things we have discovered in the mess and brokenness of life, far from the logically worked-out pre-requisites I had.” – Lovely, Tanya. So glad you added this.

  2. Love this. I remember my lists. I’m still single, but I figured out long ago that list wasn’t a good thing for which to be looking

    1. I always wonder what amazing things I miss when I’m zeroed in on the things I imagine I want or need. God’s most amazing gifts rarely look like I think they will.

  3. OH. MY. DEAR. GOODNESS. Thank you so much for this post. I just found your blog through your article on Relevant Magazine and I am loving everything I’m reading. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. This is beautiful.

    “In an evangelical culture that tied faith and sex so inextricably . . .”

    Do you think this is just an evangelical proclivity? Is it general Protestant? Is it Christian since the dawn of Christianity? Is it actually carried over from Judaism?

    Anyway, your vision of marriage in reality is powerful. “Christ . . . settles for us who cannot live up to the List, settles deep into the pain and love of it all.” Oh, grace.

    1. Thank you so much. I’m not sure if this is an evangelical thing…that is such a good question. I do know that people I know who’ve grown up in other denominations have (often) not felt the same level of intensity around the discussion. It seems like with the birth of family-driven Christianity (thank you Focus on the Family), personal purity became sort of tantamount to faith. And I just don’t think that’s necessarily true.

  5. Loved this.
    Of course, I’m one that wrote a list (I believe it had about 30 things on it) but thankfully, I also experienced the deepening and changing that happens when one experiences pain and hardship, BEFORE I married my husband.

    And I was able to look at my list with different eyes. And look around and see all the godly men who actually filled it. And watched as God gave me a husband who was everything I {should} have wanted, showed up in a way I would have never expected, and loved me in a way that I couldn’t have even dreamed about.

    And the list became something precious to me because when I surrendered it, God used my surrender to show me himself.

  6. I absolutely loved this post! I remember in 8th grade at Trout Lake Camp one of the instructors in our purity class (eye roll) told us to make lists of what our future spouse should be like. She told us that on her list was a requirement that he underwater basket weave….

    Later, when my husband and I started seriously dating, I realized that people are not checklists. They are fallen humans. I’m so glad you brought it all back to grace.

    Thank you for this lovely post!

    1. I hope that “underwater basket weaving” thing was a joke. Come on now, camp counselor! 🙂 Thanks for the note!

  7. Addie,
    I know this is an old post but I need to comment anyway and tell you how beautiful it is. I love this line about your future spouse list at fifteen, “That list, buried in some journal, in some big Rubbermaid in the storage room, is hollow.” That’s it…hollow.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, hollow. And yet, then it seemed so spiritual and perfect. So glad we grow.

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