So you want to tie the knot—great! Before you start scanning dating profiles, make sure you’ve done the proper “housecleaning.”

It’s ironic that in our culture we prepare for everything but marriage. We go away to college and study for four years to prepare for our chosen career. A new driver in my state must have a learner’s permit for six months before obtaining a driver’s license. Stage actors rehearse for months before the opening night. First-time parents have nine months to prepare for the big debut in their own lives, often going to parenting and birthing classes well in advance. Yet somehow we expect that everything will just fall into place where love and marriage are concerned. 
 
Dr. Cara Whedbee, a psychologist I interviewed for my book Where Have All the Good Men Gone?, has counseled many single people who come to her asking “Why can’t I find a mate?” (you can reach her at www.thepointsys.com). She told me one of the biggest mistakes people make is rushing into relationships without making themselves ready, or what I like to call “housecleaning.” Even Esther, the beautiful Jewess of biblical history who won the favor of a king and became queen of Persia, had to undergo twelve months of “beauty preparations” before she was presented to King Xerxes—or, symbolically, made ready for marriage. If we as singles take seriously the idea of entering marriage someday, whether for the first time or in a remarriage, we must also take seriously the process that will make us worthy lifelong companions.
 
Never Marrieds:  Don’t Be a Jerry Maguire

When I asked Dr. Whedbee what is the most important advice she would give to singles wanting to prepare themselves for marriage, she reminded me that her answer would differ for never-married singles versus divorced singles wanting to marry again. “For someone who has never been married, you need to figure out who you are first and what you want,” she said. “You do this so that when you finally get married it’s because you’re a whole person—you’re bringing two whole people together. You have to complete yourself; you can’t be a Jerry Maguire, saying ‘You complete me.’ Know who you are. Know what you like and don’t like, what you need in a mate and what you definitely could do without. Know where you want to be in five years and how much older a potential mate you are willing to look at, because love can come from anywhere. Maybe you need to move, maybe you’ve exhausted all the possibilities in your community and are ready to move somewhere else. Mature, whole people know who they are and what their purpose is in life.”
 
This “knowing” may take time. Ask God to give you spiritual insight into the areas of your life that you’ve been blinded to up till now. Consider asking a trustworthy friend what are your best—and worst—traits. With their input, take an honest self-assessment. Are you a little too selfish? Too demanding? Do you still expect everyone to please you, or have you matured to the point where pleasing others brings you joy? “If you know who you are and the person you’re dating does not, then you’re not on the same spiritual level and they’ll know it right off the bat,” says Whedbee. “If you do know all this and are still having issues, you’re probably finding men (or women) who don’t know who they are yet.”
 

Divorced:  Getting Over the Blame Game

For those who have lived through a divorce, Whedbee’s advice takes a different—and perhaps more painful—tack: one of asking ourselves the big question, “What went wrong?” Once we’ve honestly asked ourselves that question, we must be willing to take ownership for our part in the failed marriage. “Even if you think it was all his fault, or all her fault, it still takes two to get married and it takes two to make a divorce,” says Whedbee. “It could be that you picked a wrong guy or it could be that you choose cheaters. You need to figure out what caused the disconnect, what happened there. Then you need time to heal.”
 
She recommends talking with a good Christian counselor who can help you untangle your knotted romantic past, point out destructive patterns in your life that you need to eradicate, and teach you coping skills. “I always tell people they need to develop that muscle, figure out what went wrong the first time, and fix that before you start looking for somebody else.”
 
Most often it’s wise to wait and be single for a while before leaping back into the dating fray. The passage of a year or two will give you time to work through the issues cited above, and you’ll be in a better position to look for love again. Go easy at first, and get to know other singles as friends before leaping into love. Even if someone sweeps you off your feet, a good friendship foundation will put solid footing under your relationship.
 
For those divorced men and women who are also parents, Whedbee cautions against dragging your kids into the picture too soon: “Once you feel ready to start looking around, you have to be really careful involving the people you date in your kids’ lives. Kids are a lot more aware than their parents think they are. Be open with them so you’re not sneaking around or lying to them. Until you’re really comfortable with a guy or girl and think they have potential, don’t introduce them to your kids. That’s the hardest part about dating again after you’ve been married.”