Those of you who have been single for a while now: have you heard any of these lovely statements or questions from well-meaning family members or acquaintances (because your single friends know better)?
“That last one was really nice. Why did you let them get away?”
“Don’t you think your standards are too high?”
“I think you expect too much from men/women.”
It’s like if we aren’t married “by now,” something is wrong with us. And what is wrong, we’re told, is that we expect too much. Our standards are unreasonable, and we need to lower them to catch a mate so we can become complete and accepted in a church culture that caters to marriage.
Then we start second-guessing ourselves and wondering if we need to rethink our list of qualifications for potential dates or throw it out completely.
We may not need to change or throw out our lists just yet.
Maybe we simply don’t understand the difference between standards and expectations.
Understanding the difference between dating standards and expectations will help us to understand ourselves, make realistic adjustments and save ourselves preventable pain, disappointment and drama.
Standards come from the core of who we are, our personal and spiritual value system. Standards form the basis for important decisions like who we will enter into a relationship with, especially a long-term one. Standards direct our relationship search, dictating the minimum we will accept.
Let’s say part of your value system is that your future mate must be a verified follower of Christ. You would not go to a strip joint to meet someone of that caliber. You might be more inclined to look for a verified follower of Christ in a church, ministry, missions or Christian singles activity setting. (I know going to these places to look are not guarantees.)
Expectations appear once we enter into a relationship, are heavily influenced by our history, and dictate what we look forward to, or anticipate, in that relationship. We develop expectations even if we enter into a very short relationship with a complete stranger.
If we pay for something at the register with cash, we reasonably expect to receive correct change because honesty is industry standard.
The problem with Christian dating is that there are very few actual “industry standards” and lots of expectations.
Stand-ations (Standards and Expectations)
Now let’s put standards and expectations together: Standards set up the boundary, or the fence, defining who you will go into a relationship with. Expectations are the unwritten social rules, the anticipation, of what we think should occur once inside the fence.
For instance, do your standards for your future mate include their having a secure, solid, well-paying career? That might mean your expectations for a financially strong mate include living comfortably in a nice house, new cars and lots of exotic vacations. There’s nothing wrong with that if you both agree and if it’s not based on self-centered indulgence.
If one or both of you don’t know yourselves well or don’t agree with each other as to standards and expectations, the reality check is jarring.
One of my teachers, whose father was apparently the ultimate handyman and mechanic, told us how she married a man who could barely use a screwdriver. She shared how jarring it was to discover that this expectation for her husband to fix things would be forever unfulfilled. She didn’t feel comforted for the longest time that they could afford to hire someone else to fix things.
If you are self-aware — meaning that you know yourself well and understand what’s really important to you and why — you will develop healthy boundaries from healthy standards. You will then be less inclined to make emotional decisions that will hurt you and dishonor the Lord.
Example: If you don’t realize that having an emotional connection with your mate is important and you start dating someone who seems unemotional and unreachable, you’ll have to ask yourself why am I hanging around this person?
High Standards, Flexible Expectations
If you keep your standards high and have healthy boundaries, you’re less likely to violate your standards — and your conscience. Train yourself to focus on what you want and what the Lord wants to give you instead of wasting time on distractions and destructions.
If you keep your expectations low and flexible, you will develop a healthy appreciation for what your date brings to the relationship. As you stop demanding and fussing about what you expect your date to do, both of you will become more willing to communicate and negotiate differences out of love and not defensiveness.
So don’t throw out your list of “qualifications” yet. Compare the qualities you’ve said you want in a mate to the type of people you’ve actually dated. See where the conflicts lie between your value system and your dating standards. See what you might need to change to remove any discrepancies. These discoveries will help you develop realistic expectations of yourself and your date.
You’ll both be happier in the long run.