It was the weirdest dating advice I had ever received.
One of my friends was telling me about a recently-married, mutual acquaintance who had just two criteria. I figured simple = good, especially coming from this acquaintance, someone in ministry I respected.
‘He wanted a godly woman, obviously’ my friend said, ‘and she had to look good in a little black dress.’
As a single guy in my early twenties, I found his comment confusing. On the one hand, putting so much emphasis on appearance seemed really worldly. But our mutual acquaintance was a pastor I looked up to, and we’re supposed to be attracted to someone we’re dating… right?
Twenty years later, it’s easy to see that our acquaintance’s comment was seriously misguided. But it illustrates the confusion Christian guys are facing in how to evaluate the relative value of physical appearance when dating.
While we cannot – for any reason – approve of objectifying women, the culture around us makes that challenging. (For men and women.) Movies, television, and the internet are giving us the message that image is everything. Although most churches and Christian circles acknowledge that message is wrong, sometimes in practice they don’t give much guidance.
The Tension Between Character And Appearance
So if you’re a single, Christian guy, I can totally see why you’re wrestling with this tension. You want to honor God and the women you date. You don’t want to objectify them, and you understand that her character matters more than her dress size.
But you also want to have real desire toward the woman you may marry. After all, God created beauty.
And yet, you sense that physical appearance can be too important to you at times. Maybe you struggle with lust or pornography, and sense that your heart has the potential to lead you astray. (Good call; it does.)
To make things even more complicated, you have some female friends who are seriously godly, but you’re not attracted to them. And you have other female friends who are not so godly, yet – if you’re honest – are pretty physically attractive. You feel kind of guilty on both counts.
So what do you do with all this? To sharpen the point of the pencil, let’s ask two more specific questions:
- What roles do godly character and physical beauty play in pursuing a potential spouse?
- Should you date someone you’re not physically attracted to?
Let’s look at these briefly, in turn.
God’s Good Design
It’s hard to deny that men are visual creatures. For example, research shows that for men, vision is the dominant perceptual sense, while in women the different senses are much more balanced. When women lie in their online dating profiles, it’s most often by posting pictures of themselves when they were younger – and thinner. In other words, women know what guys want.
But Scripture makes it plain that physical beauty is part of God’s good design. For example, when we meet Rebekah, she’s described as a ‘young woman… very attractive in appearance’. (Genesis 24:16) And again and again, the Song of Solomon celebrates physical attraction, often in terms that make us blush.
When my wife and I do premarital counseling, we’ll often ask couples what first drew them to each other. The guy will always mention her godly character, but eventually admit that ‘she was cute’. (I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman mention that.) Usually, guys feel sheepish when they say that, but they shouldn’t. Guys, God made you that way.
At the same time, guys, we know that physical beauty should have a warning label.
The same bible that praises physical beauty also contains tragic stories of its misuse. Samson and Delilah (Judges 16), David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), Solomon and his thousand-women-harem that ‘turned away his heart after other gods’ (1 Kings 11:3-4).
Proverbs states the danger with classic simplicity:
‘Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.’ (31:30)
Beauty is vain in the sense that it will fade. As Pastor Matt Chandler puts it,
Gravity always wins. We are all wrinkling. Our nose and ears never quit growing. It is only a matter of time till that little component that we are basing so much on starts to vanish and must be replaced by attraction founded on character and covenant.
It’s also vain in that physical beauty has no value without a foundation of godly character. In what has to be one of the best bible verses ever, Proverbs 11:22 tells us that:
A beautiful woman who lacks discretion is like a gold ring in a pig’s snout.
Marrying a gorgeous woman without godly character doesn’t make any sense.
Younger guys ‘know’ this… in theory. In practice, with our culture’s obsession with appearance and our own fallenness, keeping physical appearance in its place is easier said than done.
Let’s go back to Proverbs 31:30 – the whole verse this time – for the proper relationship between character and physical beauty when we’re evaluating a potential spouse.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
There’s no contest. If beauty and character were to fight, character wins every time. At least in the long run.
I Know, But Should I Date Someone I’m Not Attracted To?
Great question. Lots of guys ask me if they should date a woman they’re not physically attracted to. They usually have someone specific in mind, a friend with godly character. They have a real chemistry, but ‘I just don’t find her attractive, and don’t want to lead her on. What should I do?’
My short answer is ‘no, you shouldn’t start dating her.’
No woman wants to feel like a consolation prize, someone you ‘should be’ attracted to, but aren’t. If you pursue the relationship, she will get hurt and you will feel guilty. Your hearts will get entangled, and disaster is likely to occur.
At the same time, I’m not just giving you an easy out. Here are two suggestions for what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
Pursue personal purity
If you’re not physically attracted to a godly woman, I don’t want you to feel guilty. At least not automatically. Different guys will be attracted to different women, and that can be from the Lord.
At the same time, we are broken and fallen, and we should be suspicious of ourselves. Is it possible that you’re not attracted to her because you’re taking your cues from the culture’s standard of airbrushed beauty?
If you’re using pornography or giving into fantasy, now is the time to stop. Repent when you fail, and receive the forgiveness and new power to obey that God loves to give (1 John 1:9). Confess honestly to a friend, and ask him to help you in your fight (James 5:16).
If we resist pornography and an impure thought life, if we ‘flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart’ (2 Timothy 2:22), we’ll be better able to keep physical beauty and character in their proper balance. So that we’ll be attracted to the right kind of woman.
Pursue regular friendships with godly women, and hope for more
Again, if you’re not physically attracted to a woman, don’t lead her on. Don’t spend (much) time with her alone, where she might get the idea you’re singling her out or have interest.
But that’s not necessarily the end of the story. Chandler gives some more great advice:
Godliness is sexy to godly people. And so, if you get in proximity, and you see the godliness and character of a woman, you begin to take compatibility and godliness and gospel partnership more seriously than just physical attraction…
So, pursue [godly women you’re not physically attracted to] as friends and hope that it grows into more. Want it to grow into more. And I am confident that, over time, character and godliness will win the day.
I can’t promise you that you’ll develop physical attraction for a particular woman, but there’s a good chance you might. And if you do, you’ll have confidence that it’s a relationship that’s grounded on what really matters and endures: godly character.
- What relative importance do you place upon godly character and physical attractiveness when you think about women? Be honest with yourself.
- Are you spending significant alone time with women you’re not attracted to? Do you need to step back, or change how you’re doing things?
- Who are some women you could get to know in group settings, prayerfully hoping God will take one of them in the direction of marriage?
For a great perspective from the woman’s side, check out ‘Should I Date A Guy I Don’t Find Attractive?‘ by Phylicia Masonheimer.