Recently, I received a call from my good friend Americo, who I’ve known since I was 11. First he was my brother’s youth minister. Then mine. And by the way he is brilliant.
That day, I had emailed Americo a dating question: How do we know that our standards are solid and not a sign that were hesitant to make the act of faith that marriage requires? It’s the “how far is too far” question, standards edition. An effort to reconcile having standards and faith, without using one to negate the other.
He replied. Then he called. When Americo calls (regardless of his claim not to be an expert) you take notes.
What I read in them after actually gave me heart palpitations. This is gold. This is vital information we must know if we’re single. It’s what we have to tell our single friends if we’re not. Stuff I have to share with you:
We discussed the most important standard in dating.
“To what extent does one have standards and even prerequisites for their future spouse or potential candidate? That is a little tricky,” Americo said. “But all things in order.”
As in—there is an order. A hierarchy of standards, if you will. So what is the paramount standard?
I think I used to believe that the paramount standard was attraction. I thought that’s where you start—you pick from the pool of people to whom you’re attracted, and see which of them meets your standards. Americo proposed a different standard:
“I think the person has to bring out the best in you,” he said. “And you’ve got to be committed to bringing out the best in them.”
The paramount standard in a potential spouse is his or her commitment to your becoming a saint. That is where you start. You pick from the pool of people whose association with you makes you a better person, and see to which of them you are attracted. If somebody doesn’t bring out the best in you and doesn’t desire the best for you, then an attraction to him or her is irrelevant.
We discussed other standards in dating.
“Sometimes, if our list of check boxes is too extensive, we might jump to an assumption and make a decision prematurely,” Americo said.
If you rule out people who bring out the best in you because they physically aren’t your type, he said, “you might miss out on somebody beautiful because you don’t see them that way, at first.”
Then he said that Holy Spirit goggles are a thing, as opposed to beer goggles. He went on to propose that if we’re open to looking at people like God looks at people, then people who once were too tall, or too short, or too whatever else, suddenly can become beautiful.
He also concluded that whether somebody brings out the best in you makes a difference because how a person makes you feel about yourself can affect how you see him or her.
We also discussed why it’s important to focus on Jesus.
Our needs have to be fulfilled by Jesus (which implies that we have to be focusing on Him, seeking Him first). If we aren’t focusing on him, we are going to hunt elsewhere for other people to meet the needs that Christ is supposed to meet.
“And those people are going to let you down,” Americo said.
We have to find wholeness in Christ so we can give ourselves wholly to our spouses. We aren’t supposed to search for spouses because we are empty, but because we are filled by Jesus, and therefore have love to give.
After we ended the call, I read my notes. I texted excerpts to friends. One of them — seminarian Mark LaBelle—profoundly summed up what I discussed with Americo this way: “Attraction as path to pleasure vs. attraction as path to virtue.”
Imagine a world in which what propels us to act on attraction is the pursuit of virtue instead of the pursuit of pleasure. A world in which pleasure is the bonus, not the goal.
That gives me heart palpitations, too.
Arleen Spenceley is author of the book Chastity is For Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin. She works as a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in counseling, both from the University of South Florida. She blogs at arleenspenceley.com. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.