This year I celebrated my second Valentine’s Day as a married man. I remember imagining days like this when I was single. I dreamt of a time when Valentine’s Day wouldn’t be a cold, dark reminder of my celibacy. Instead of drinking cheap Scotch and hiccuping my way through 50(ish) renditions of Katy Perry’s ‘The One That Got Away’, festivities as a married man would include good food, hearty laughter, star-crossed eyes and (of course) sex.
All this would take place, I pictured, with the girl of my dreams. Ah, yes! She’d be the moon to my sun, the Juliet to my Romeo, the Kim to my Kanye.
But the thing is: I didn’t marry my dream girl.
Now let me be clear: my wife is an incredible woman. She’s smart, not in a
kind of way. But with academic subtly. The kind you can’t appreciate unless you regularly read books with titles like “The Hermeneutic Spiral of Decentralized Rhetoric.” She’s also kind, funny, encouraging and charming. She’s even pretty- gorgeous really. She’s the kind beautiful that, whenever we walk in public, prompts passer-byes to go: “What…does he have a lot of money?”
I cannot say it enough: my wife is an amazing woman. I’m lucky to be married (at all but especially) to her.
But I didn’t marry my dream girl.
Let me explain: when I was younger, I knew exactly what I wanted in my wife. Youth retreats taught me that my wife should be Biblical. They taught me that I ought to desire a ‘Proverbs 31 woman’, one who espoused biblical virtue but was archaically sexy (based on Song of Solomon). To be honest, I didn’t really want a woman with breasts like two fawns. But I figured that deer-ish breasts were better than no breasts at all, which was what I currently had access to. Thus the church gifted me with a vague framework for desirability in a spouse: one derived from equally vague notions of purity and godliness.
Culture also taught me a thing or two about the girl I should marry. From Jane Austen I learned that the perfect woman was bookish and independent though ultimately submissive to my desires. How I Met Your Mother taught me that the ‘perfect’ one is out there- ‘perfect’ meaning she was the missing factor in an equation for an idealized marriage, one I deserved. Magazine covers told me what body type to expect. 500 Days of Summer showed me how the ideal girl would be quirky- but in all the right ways.
The point is, life as a single person was filled with aspirations about the woman I would one day marry. I cherry-picked attributes from cultural and religious influences and compiled the various parts and traits- like a virtual snow(o)man- to craft my perfect girl. I even threw in a couple of traits from people I’d dated; carrying over positive attributes from failed romantics while conveniently forgetting the human imperfections that accompanied them.
And, thus, I waited. I dated. I waited some more. I dumped and was dumped. I laughed and I cried. I became ‘an adult.’ I was ready to get married. Ready to meet my dream girl.
And on the day I first met my wife, sparks flied. She was visiting the graduate school where I was a student. And from the moment I saw her I knew she was about to swoop in and homewreck my long-term relationship with Greek vocabulary cards. The first time she smiled at me I felt as though all the angels in heaven were singing my name. On our first date we finished each others
It was bliss. A fairy tale. I’d found my dream girl.
But then a startling thing happened. As our relationship progressed the dream girl I’d begun dating started to unravel before me. My dream girl would love me; this girl needed love from me too. My dream girl would understand that I was introverted, that I needed alone time; this girl needed quality time-not on my schedule but on hers. My dream girl was Biblically certified; this girl came with baggage and needed grace.
There was a time when I reached the height of disillusionment. I got the stage where I felt like
And I thought about ending our relationship. About moving on. There were other girls out there. This relationship had started out well. But, ultimately, it failed the litmus test. It was not my ideal. Not my dream.
But what I was reminded of then, and realize more so every day, is that I was never going to marry a dream. It wouldn’t be a dream I’d hold hands with, dance with, laugh with. It wouldn’t be a dream walking down the isle, climbing into bed and growing old with me. It would be a woman. And no woman is perfect- kinda like no man is (anywhere close to being) perfect.
Kinda like me.
My idea of a perfect woman reflected an understanding of marriage that evolved around me. While I never would have admitted as much, I saw marriage as a kind of self-fulfillment, the final piece of the puzzle of my ego. What I was looking for in a spouse was someone who catered to exactly what I wanted, what I desired. Someone with whom I could be myself. Someone who didn’t require that I change, who didn’t suggest that I had imperfections. Someone who didn’t demand work.
But marriage is the acknowledgement of a love which is greater than two people, greater than all humanity. It’s the acknowledgment and expressed commitment to live out that love with another person. Not an ideal. Not a build-your-own-spouse. Not a dream.
What I wanted was someone who would cater to me. What I got was a woman who’s imperfections have merged with mine and created a marriage that is equally imperfect. And thus it demands that I be less selfish and more selfless; less prideful and more sacrificial; care less about my desires and more about someone else’s needs. It’s a marriage that is less about the god of me and more about the God of love. I’ve learned that a healthy marriage demands these things. Otherwise it’s like a leasing a car, though there’s more paperwork to fill out when the other person stops living up to expectations.
And so I did not marry a prototype, a build-your-own wife that I could adapt with custom settings on humor and looks alike. I did not marry a figment of my imagination, a character from a 90-minute indie film, or someone who checks every box on a list of requirements. Rather, I married a real girl with real quirks, real problems, real pain, real ambitions, real sins, real selfishness, real beauty and real love. Love to be developed, cherished, fought for, and shared.
I did not marry my dream girl. And I’m so glad.
Because the woman I woke up with today is real. And each day she looks more beautiful than the last. And each day she’s sanding down my rough edges; her presence in my life demands that I be a better person, a better husband, a better follower of Christ. Our relationship may be messy, may require work, may involve fights and tears and heartache and apologies. But it’s better than anything I could have ever imagined.
Because she’s the real deal, the real girl.
She’s better than the girl of my dreams.