A few days ago a young friend asked me if I could recommend reading material on what a person should look for when dating. Being a serious-minded Christian gentleman he’d consider any serious dating partner to be a serious candidate for his future spouse. So what should someone read to get an idea of who to date/marry?
Having given it some thought, there are two things I’d recommend reading: Proverbs 31:10-31 and the dating partner’s credit score.
Let’s start with the last chapter of Proverbs. The book of Proverbs ends with a heroic poem, a type of Hebrew poetry that recounts a hero’s mighty deeds. Rather than recounting great battles or courageous military exploits, though, the poem describes the domestic and economic work of a woman in heroic terms. “A heroic poem for someone engaged in domestic labor is remarkable in the ancient world,” says Peter Leithart, “and shows something of how God regards the work of women.”
Although this poem is written to a man, to show him what traits should be sought for in a spouse, it also speaks to women, providing a model for how to become a “wife of noble character.”
Instead of listing the traits a noble wife should possess, the poem shows us what such a woman would look like in action. Within the poem’s 21 verses, a number of action verbs are used in describing what she does for herself, her family, and her community (e.g., considers, (over)sees, trades).
If we examine each verse of the poem, we find that the ideal wife possesses the following 20 character traits: She is virtuous (v. 10), trustworthy (v. 11), loving (v. 12), industrious (v. 13), resourceful (v. 14), responsible (v. 15), entrepreneurial (v. 16), vigorous (v. 17), financially astute (v. 18), skillful (v. 19), charitable (v. 20), prepared (v. 21), elegant (v. 22), supportive (v. 23), productive (v. 24), confident (v. 25), wise (v. 26), vigilant (v. 27), praiseworthy as a wife and mother (vv. 28-29), and God-fearing (v. 30).
“The description is an ideal,” notes Old Testament scholar Tremper Longman, “and should not be used as a standard by which to measure and critique women.” While we certainly shouldn’t expect any person to possesses all those qualities the poem does provide a model of godly virtue to which women—and men!—can aspire to become. (I believe women should expect to find many of those same traits in a husband.)
We must keep in mind that Proverbs is not praising the woman for her hidden character traits, for the Bible makes it clear that a noble character is not merely an abstract quality we possess internally. Our character is revealed through our actions — both in what we choose to do and how we choose to do it.
Which brings us to the credit score.
A credit score is a numerical assessment of a person’s credit risk. It uses historical data about debt and payments to determine how likely a person is to meet financial obligations in the future. Credit scores are often used by banks and landlords, by potential employers, and even to determine whether someone qualifies for a security clearance. It can also be used to determine whether a person is a relationship-risk.
A new working paper by the Federal Reserve presents “novel evidence on the role of credit scores in the dynamics of committed relationships.” As the authors note, “Broadly speaking, our results point to a quantitatively large and significant role for credit scores in the formation and dissolution of committed relationships.”
In summarizing the findings, Svati Kirsten Narula explains,
For every additional 100 points or so in a couple’s average credit score at the beginning of their relationship, their odds of separating during the second year of the relationship drop by 30 percent, the researchers found. Also, if the difference between a couple’s individual credit scores is greater than 66 points at the start of the relationship, the couple is 24 percent more likely to split up within the second, third, or fourth year of the relationship. The study also noted that a pair’s credit scores are likely to converge slightly over the course of a relationship.
The authors of the paper conclude that the credit scores tell us a lot about a person:
These results lead us to hypothesize that credit scores, in addition to measuring an individual’s creditworthiness regarding the repayment of debt obligations, reveal information about an important relationship skill. We argue that one such skill could be an individual’s general trustworthiness and commitment to non-debt obligations.
This finding isn’t all that surprising, of course. A person who has a high credit score is likely to possess many of the qualities highlighted in Proverbs 31: trustworthy (v. 11), industrious (v. 13), resourceful (v. 14), responsible (v. 15), financially astute (v. 18), prepared (v. 21), vigilant (v. 27), etc.
As a diagnostic tool for judging the trustworthiness of a potential spouse, the credit report could potentially be extremely useful. But as helpful as this study may be, the researchers failed to answer one of the most important questions: “How do you ask someone about their credit score on the first date?”