Whenever I write about the struggles of single adults, there’s one sure-fire way to enrage the men: Hint that they carry any blame for the growing number of unmarried women.
I can’t tell you how many single men have earnestly looked at me in frustration and explained that they simply haven’t felt the “spark” with anyone. But none of these guys can seem to articulate what the “spark” is. They just know it isn’t there, and they can’t imagine moving forward without it.
As I listen to these men and reflect on my own days as a single man, I think I know what they really want. They want a woman with inner beauty, sure; but they also want that beauty to be matched by her outward appearance.
I know it’s easy to hear that and reflexively start preaching about unrealistic expectations, but I’m not sure how much that helps. We can’t shame men into letting go of their desire for beauty, nor should we. Because desiring physical beauty isn’t their problem — it’s their inability to see it.
Drowning in Beauty
A few years ago, my wife and I took a trip to Italy during which we visited some of the world’s most famous art museums. Neither of us were art connoisseurs, but we were open to being educated. So we rented the audio tour equipment and began our journey into art appreciation. We didn’t know what we were up against.
Despite our best intentions, we eventually reached saturation point after walking past hundreds of masterpieces. Room after room, piece after piece; it was just too much, and it all started running together. By the time we reached The Birth of Venus, we barely even glanced at it. We didn’t care anymore.
It reminds me of the endless exhibition of females that young men have at their fingertips today. They’re bombarded with thousands of pretty faces in Facebook profile pictures, Instagram selfies, dating apps, and advertisements. There’s no shortage of women who will pose for them in exchange for a few seconds of being noticed. And eventually, all the faces run together — even the ones in the real world, where the habit of indiscriminate viewing continues.
Pretty face, but big arms.
No spark. Click.
Nice body, but plain face.
No spark. Click.
Sweet girl, but too short.
No spark. Click.
No spark. Click.
A few years ago, I worked a block from the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. It’s a smaller museum with a few quirky pieces, and when I first visited it, one piece stood out: It was a grandfather clock with a sheet draped over it and a rope tied around it. I was not impressed.
When I returned to the museum months later, the sheet-draped clock was still there. This time, I was annoyed.
Oh, I see. This is some experimental art project where we’re all supposed to pretend this makes sense. Whatever.
But on my third visit, I finally decided to read the small description at the base of the clock’s platform. That’s when my jaw dropped open.
It said, “At first glance, ‘Ghost Clock' appears to be a grandfather clock hidden by a large white sheet tied with a rope. A closer look, however, reveals a masterful deception: this entire sculpture was hand-carved from a single block of laminated mahogany.”
I could hardly believe it — there was no way the sheet and rope were wooden. I got as close as I could and examined every curve and contour of the sculpture. And as I gazed at it, I realized that the artist had done something very risky: He created a masterpiece that would likely go unnoticed.
The Eye of the Beholder
If you’re a single man, I know you want to marry someone who’s beautiful, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as you interact with single women, just remember the old proverb, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Stop. Did you catch that? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Beholding is something that’s essential to appreciate a great piece of art, and women are God’s loveliest masterpiece, because they’re the prototype for His bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). So what does that mean for you, as a single man who interacts with a variety of different women?
Consider the advice of renowned artist Makoto Fujimura, who explains how to behold artwork in his moving essay, “How to See My Painting.” Fujimura says people have trouble seeing beauty in artwork because they’re too quick to categorize art as useful or unuseful and then move on. But according to Fujimura, truly appreciating artwork takes patience and humility. He says,
It usually takes at least 10 minutes of sitting, quieting our hearts, and beholding the work before our eyes start to see, and our brain stops [trying] to categorize.
“My friend and fellow artist Bruce Herman says: ‘If you want to understand something, learn to stand under it. If you stand over it, you are “over-standing” (bringing in your preconceptions and presuppositions) and not “under-standing.”‘
Unlike a static piece of art, all of the women in your life are living, active masterpieces. Each one is wonderfully crafted in ways we could never grasp, even if we spent the rest of our lives studying them. So if we’re even going to begin to appreciate their beauty, we must approach them with great respect for their Creator and behold.
Beholding is a departure from our yearslong habit of categorizing women as “hot or not.” It calls us to be curious, to seek to understand, to become students, to let go of our reflexive preconceptions of what beauty is. Because beauty isn’t something that immediately emerges in every masterpiece. Sometimes God eventually reveals it to the one who will humble himself and wait in wonder until he notices the intricate fingerprints of the Artist.
Beauty is all around you. Will you give yourself time to see it? Will you do more than look at a single woman and reflexively assess her desirability? Will you take time to study her interests, the corner of her smile, the softness of her voice, the way she positions her hands when she’s nervous? Will you simply behold the living masterpiece God has sovereignly placed before you?
If you will, it does not necessarily mean you will suddenly find that elusive “spark” and be on your way to marriage. You will, however, be much more likely to see beauty emerge before your eyes and find that you’re unable to break your gaze.
1. “Ghost Clock,” by Wendell Castle, 1985, is a part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The above photograph is used with permission from the Smithsonian Institution.