“How did you know that he was The One?”
I was 20 when I got engaged, and got this question from my college peers on a regular basis. Few people my age had marriage on the mind, and yet here I was, finishing up my senior year with a ring on it, a thesis to write, and a wedding to plan by the end of the school year.
I was never planning or hoping to be one of those ultra conservative, marry-young types. But when the right guy came along and asked the right question at the right time, it just made complete sense. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
When he first asked me to date him, I didn’t see it coming. Friends who knew us well didn’t see it coming. I don’t think he even saw it coming until it was there. Sometimes, that’s just how it is when you walk by faith. But when it was here, it was right, and we were both certain of it.
I’m not sure how he knew I was the one. He’s a man of faith and prayer, and I know the Lord just revealed it to him and made it clear in a way that only Ben could really understand. My journey was a little more complicated, but it came down to one thing in the end: respect.
Our friendship had started long before our romance ever did. He was my brother’s friend from camp; a senior I had often heard other girls giggling about in the cabins, memorably referred to as “eye candy.” So when my older brother introduced me to his cabin mate- this cute, older guy who exuded kpop coolness, it was all I could do to act like I had never heard of him before. That was when I was 13.
We continued as friends, and I like to think that I sincerely regarded him merely as an older brother… (but really, who knows the teenage heart?). He’s the one who taught me the word “platonic,” as in having a “platonic friendship,” and I was happy just to be friends with him. We kept in touch here and there, and we both dated others in the years to follow. I got wrapped up in a relatively serious relationship that lasted from high school to college, and it wasn’t until halfway through my freshman year that we broke it off. I don’t think I was really, truly emotionally unattached and single until the following year, though, and even that ordeal came down to one thing in the end: respect.
It’s not that I didn’t respect the guy. I did. He was kind, God-loving, Bible-reading, and servant-hearted. I respected him in all sorts of ways, which is probably what made our breakup feel so long and messy. But somewhere along the way, I came across a concept that revolutionized my understanding of love and marriage. It was the idea that for a marriage relationship to work well, it wasn’t true that “All you need is love.” As a matter of fact, all the sentiments that the movies, music, and media had been feeding me were only half-truths. Love was important. Love is important, but so is respect.
A New Understanding
It felt like a dirty word the first time I really considered it, especially because it came in the form of the word submission, as in “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” Words like doormat, passive, old-fashioned, weak and conservative rang in my mind. I was attending one of the most liberal universities in the world, and choosing to willingly submit to a guy was hardly on my radar. But the speaker on the message I was listening to gave a compelling argument. Here’s more of the passage for context:
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 4:22-28)
He talked about how a wife needs to submit to and respect her husband the way she submits to the Lord. Um. Wow. That’s a lot of submission, considering I claim to be a Christian (i.e. someone who commits their whole life to following Jesus). I was only comforted after understanding the man’s role in a marriage: Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. How did Christ love the church? By dying for her. So basically I was called to submit to someone whose primary aim as a husband was to do everything he could to love me and make decisions in my best interest- to the point of dying for me.
I guess that wasn’t such a bad deal after all. TBH, the guy’s job looked a lot harder. Still does.
Of course in practice, it’s not always so straightforward and simple. Like all human beings, husbands are sinful beings. It’s in their nature to look out for #1, and choosing to always put another person’s interests before your own is unnatural and requires a lot of work and self-sacrifice. And let’s be honest, we wives are not always that lovable.
But that’s still the ideal, and ideals are worth striving for.
It is noteworthy that the verse that precedes this passage also gives directions about “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” I think of that as an umbrella statement over my life in how I should regard everyone, not just my husband. In the ways that honor the Lord, we are all to submit to each other: wives to husbands, husbands to wives, children to parents, friends to friends.
This isn’t to say that love isn’t important. Of course it is. Love is arguably the central theme of the entire Bible, and everything in the Bible points to it. We are all called to love God and love one another. The climax of the Bible is when Jesus chooses to die on the cross to save us, the ultimate act of love and submission.
Without love, we are nothing. The Bible makes this clear, and I think we can all agree that our culture has sufficiently emphasized the importance of love in a romantic relationship. But I don’t think respect has gotten the same kind of airtime as love does. Like Dr. Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect says (and this is a paraphrase): During Valentines, the card aisle will offer all kinds of sentiments on love and romance, but have you ever seen a card that says, “Happy Valentines Day. I respect you!” on it? Probably not.
Respect isn’t a hugely popular theme in our culture, and generally the sentiment around it is that “respect is earned, not just given.” But the Bible doesn’t say, “Wives, submit to your husbands once they’ve earned your respect.” It says to submit to them as to the Lord. Period.
This is certainly not a popular theology, and one that might not be easy for others to swallow. I’m really glad I came across it before I committed myself to one person for the rest of my life, because it was a game-changer for me in the dating game. Instead of looking for a guy who I simply was attracted to, and who seemed to be a generally nice Christian guy who had his Christian act together, I found myself holding out for someone who I could really respect in any situation. When I thought about whether or not to let myself be interested in someone, I asked myself this question: “Do I respect him? Would I respect his decision over my own? Do I trust that he is a man striving after God to the point where, even if I disagreed with his perspective, I could choose to trust and ultimately submit to his decision without complaining?”
To be honest, when I first realized this was my new standard for Mr. Right, I was devastated. I was (can still be?) a fairly opinionated and proud person, and as I mentally thumbed through potential life partners in my circle of friends, I couldn’t think of anyone I would gladly submit to. I even reached a point where I was afraid I was doomed to be single forever. And this is why, when my friend Ben randomly asked me one day if I would date him, (seriously, I didn’t see it coming at all), a light went off in my head and I knew he was the one.
I remember looking at him quizzically, totally caught off guard by the suggestion, and thinking,
Wait… what? Wait… really? I mean… I’ve always just thought of him as a big brother… I’ve never even thought about dating him… but… hm. Why not? I mean, he’s attractive, and… I do respect him.
Wait. Yeah. I TOTALLY respect him! I always have! …HEYYYYYY I RESPECT HIM!!!! I just never thought of him this way, but now that I do… I have always respected him and his thoughts and his opinions so much. Dude. This is it. This is what it’s like to be with someone you would be able to gladly submit to. How did I not think of this before…
I think I ended up saying something more like, “You know, I don’t even know if I like you… yet… but… I respect you, and so… I think this could really work out…” or something confused but certain like that.
I know, so romantic, right? Don’t worry, we’ve made up in the romance department in the last decade. Even though our love story isn’t Hollywood material, I’ll take a marriage built on a foundation of love and respect any day over one built on attraction and romance.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought, whether or not we share the same faith. Love is foundational to any relationship, but we need to respect the importance of respect, too!