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Green Flags: A Letter to my Daughter About Marriage

February 22, 2024, in Articles > Baha'i Life, by

In the week before our wedding, I found a list on my desk buried under piles of unopened mail and half-full notebooks. It was a list of green flags–things I was looking for in a partner. I had made the list weeks before I met your father to help me make decisions about who to date. I had forgotten all about it, but as I looked it over, I realized my list almost exactly described your father. It felt like a confirmation.

Maybe the things that mattered to me won’t matter as much to you. Everyone’s list will look a little different, and no human being will be able to measure up to a list of ideal qualities—I’m sure you’re aware of your father’s faults and mine all too well! But here’s what helped me know your father would be a good partner for me. I hope they help you determine what’s important to you as you near adulthood and want to start dating. In the Writings, Baha’is who are interested in getting married are counselled to

“… exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever.”1

Your father and I were both youth group facilitators. I wasn’t necessarily looking to date a fellow Baha’i. Just because someone is a Baha’i doesn’t mean we have the same expectations or will be compatible. But here was someone who really cared about the youth in his group, who truly wanted to be of service. He thought deeply and had interesting comments when we studied the Writings. He showed up. He tried hard. He cared.

When I asked your dad out to coffee, he was a bit surprised. But he said yes. On our first date, I asked him questions about himself, and he asked about me. We talked about our work, our interests, and our service activities. We talked for hours and didn’t want to leave. I could see already that this might work. He was kind. He listened to what I had to say and seemed genuinely interested. He asked questions. He never said a disparaging word.

On our third date, he asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

It makes me laugh to remember, because it’s such a serious question! But to me, that was the best question he could have asked. It showed me he was interested in a serious relationship. We both indicated we were looking to get married, wanted to have children, and wished to center our lives around service. We agreed: this might work. We decided to continue getting to know each other purposefully, and to read the Writings on marriage together with the aid of a workbook. Over time, we worked our way through questions about finances, child-rearing philosophies, home life, and so on. It seemed that although we didn’t have exactly the same ideas about things, we might be able to work together to build a life we both loved.

“… loving consultation should be the keynote of the marriage relationship.”2

Hopefully this is obvious to you, but the biggest green flag was that your father respected my boundaries, and had his own as well. Not just physical boundaries–though of course if someone crosses those that would be a huge red flag–but also around my time, the way I’m treated and things I don’t like. When other people did things that bothered me and I ignored it because I didn’t want to make anyone feel bad, he would speak up and ask people to stop. He not only didn’t push my boundaries, he actively reinforced them.

“They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.”3

When we had been dating for some time, I attended a workshop with my youth group about dating. The facilitator asked a question that has stuck with me all these years: What would Abdu’l-Baha think of this relationship? I reflected. We were chaste. We tried our best to consult and be generous and loving with each other. We attended Baha’i activities, studied the Writings, and prayed together. We challenged each other to be better people with love and compassion, not judgment and harshness. We’d made our fair share of missteps, but when I thought about standing before Him, hand-in-hand with your father, I felt strong, confident, and full of love. I thought–yes, I do think He’d be happy to see this relationship we’ve built.

I also felt confident bringing your father to meet my family. He met your Auntie first. She’s the one I cared about the most. If she had concerns about him, I knew she’d be frank. And of course, as big sisters will be, she’s very protective. Her verdict: “He seems normal.” We laughed about it, but coming from her, that’s high praise. And she’s rarely wrong in her character judgements.

When your Omi and Grandpa met him, my mother told me, “He seems like a good complement for you. He balances you out.” That is a perfect description of our relationship. Where I slam on the gas, he pumps the brakes. I pull him forward out of stagnation, and he keeps me from running headlong into trouble.

I don’t think I believe in soulmates. Maybe there are many potential partners out there for any given soul. But we chose each other. He had what I was looking for. I felt his imperfections were things I could live with. He put up green flag after green flag, and when obstacles appeared, we worked together to turn them into stepping stones to growth. Day after day, choice after choice, we’ve built a fortress together, and inside it I feel secure. I know we will have to work hard to keep our fortress strong–marriage is a lifelong marathon. But even on our hardest days, when our base natures rear their heads and we struggle to transcend them, I would rather be with him, doing the hard work of building our fortress, than leave it behind.

“…He established the law of marriage, made it as a fortress for well-being and salvation…”4

God willing, I wish for you to have the same. When you start to look for a partner, your father and I will be here. We’ll do our best not to interfere, but I hope you’ll come to us to consult and ask questions and share struggles. Because we love you so much, and we want you to find someone who loves you as much as we do.

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 86.1 []
  2. From a letter dated 26 June 1996 written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer []
  3. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 92.1 []
  4. Baha’i Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha (Wilmette: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 2002), page 118 []
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Maia James

Maia is a new mom, graduate student, and public librarian in the United States with a passion for community building. You’ll often find her writing in coffee shops, reading with her lap cat, and exploring backroads with her husband.
Maia James

Discussion 1 Comment

Thank you for sharing your list of green flags. There are so many people out there who don’t know what their green flags should be and this inspires them to make those flags.

Veda Rawhani

Veda Rawhani (March 3, 2024 at 6:04 PM)

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