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The girl was about 23, and was arguing with her mother in hushed tones. But, because it was a quiet bookstore, everyone around could hear them.
“You keep telling me he has potential,” the girl said.
“Well, he does. He’s bright, he’s committed to the gospel–” Her mother was clearly campaigning for a specific young man.
“Have you seen how he dresses? And the food he eats? He’s socially awkward around my friends–”
“Like all men his age,” his mother said. “Your father was all those things, too.”
“Dad? No way.”
“We all have weaknesses,” the mother said, pausing perhaps in hopes that her daughter would realize she’s in that group. “But people learn. They grow and mature.”
They continued talking as they left the store, and several shoppers exchanged smiles. Wisdom meets inexperience again.
I imagined a similar conversation between the young man and his father. It might start, “But she criticizes me for such petty things, like how I dress.”
“She needs to learn what’s most important,” the dad might say. “But she has potential.”
It seems more and more young people today are postponing marriage, often because they want to marry someone who’s perfect now. Unlike attitudes in years past, when people expected to work together and accept differences, I wonder if our instant gratification mindset has permeated the search for love, and people are expecting a mate who has already conquered all of life’s personal growth challenges and met all their goals.
We hear the word, “entitled” bandied about, but I wonder if young singles feel entitled to a finished product, minus the years of effort the rest of us have invested in one another.
I recall the story of Camilla Kimball when asked about how wonderful it was to be married to a prophet, and she said, ‘Yes, it is wonderful to be married to a prophet, but I didn’t marry a prophet. I just married a returned missionary.’”
Every couple grows—often dramatically—as the years stack up. And while wives often polish and refine their husbands, so do the husbands influence their wives for good. Ideally both people improve as they learn to be less selfish, more compassionate, easier to please, and closer to Christ.
Elder Robert D. Hales said, “… none of us marry perfection; we marry potential. The right marriage is not only about what I want; it’s also about what she — who’s going to be my companion — wants and needs me to be.” I like that he says it bluntly—we marry potential—but that he also emphasizes that it needs to go both ways. We sometimes make a long list of what we want in a spouse, but forget to make a list of what we can bring to the table, ourselves.
And while it’s true that you shouldn’t settle for just anybody, especially if there are serious red flags, too many are being too choosy.
When I was in my teens my friend and I compiled a list of what we each wanted in a husband. My friend’s list even included height, hair color, and many other details. I remember her showing it to her father who read it, then sighed, “Christ has not yet returned.”
When putting together our mental “wish list” we need to ask ourselves, “Would this person be attracted to me? Do I offer as much as I demand?” As Elder Neal A. Maxwell put it, “The key is to have our eyes wide open to our own faults and partially closed to the faults of others — not the other way around! The imperfections of others never release us from the need to work on our own shortcomings.” And, after all, aren’t we all just bundles of potential?
I look at the difference between my husband when I first married him, and the man he is now. He was spectacular then, but has grown in delightful ways I never could have imagined. After he gave a Sacrament talk recently, a young friend of mine blurted, “He is so fantastic! How did you get so lucky?” And I thought of Camilla Kimball. Yes, he’s wonderful. But he grew to this stature. We’ve even had chats about how the years have changed us both for the better.
Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “There are lots of limitations in all of us that we hope our sweethearts will overlook. I suppose no one is as handsome or as beautiful as he or she wishes, or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech or as wealthy as we would like, but in a world of varied talents and fortunes that we can’t always command, I think that makes even more attractive the qualities we can command — such qualities as thoughtfulness, patience, a kind word and true delight in the accomplishment of another. These cost us nothing, and they can mean everything to the one who receives them.”
I think there are three keys to remember when choosing an eternal companion. First, pay attention to your own shortcomings, and spend your energy working to overcome them.
Second, align your priorities so you don’t choose style over substance—don’t worry about taste in music over temple worthiness. Or a flashy car over patience with children. As the saying goes, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Third, involve the Holy Ghost. He will never lead us astray. And if, like the girl in the bookstore was saying, a candidate is lacking in some way, see if the Holy Ghost thinks it matters enough to steer you away. Take your options to him with the faith to follow promptings. You may become one of those grateful people who later exults that it paid off to follow inspiration, and you’re so glad you didn’t let this one get away, on the fruitless quest for perfection over potential.