What Car Shopping Taught Me about Relationships

Here’s an unusual factoid about me: I’ve never had a boyfriend. Yes, you heard me right, 5th-grade girls from summer camp. It IS possible to pass the age of 18 without hunting boys for sport. Promise.

But though I may not have much experience in the area of romantic relationships, it doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about them. Sometimes a 3rd-party perspective is the most credible, and I certainly have a degree of objectivity. So I’d like to share some things I’ve learned about relationships…from the process of buying a car.

Free image courtesy of stock.exchange

What do a car and a potential marriage partner have in common, you ask? One is a high-tech metal machine that takes you places, while the other is a human being, full of opinions and dreams, with whom you will spend the rest of your life learning to meld. But both cars and lifelong relationships are huge decisions. And most involved decision-making processes have things in common. So as I was learning about transmission fluid and PSI, the writer in me was noticing things that could be cross-applied.

So here are the results:

    1. Don’t start test-driving until you’re actually in the market to buy. 

    Though I’d saved enough money to buy a car long before this year, I decided not to start shopping until I knew I had the income to support it (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.). Now I’m glad I did–because once I put my hands on Baby’s wheel, I was so dazzled that it would have been hard to let go, even if I’d been financially unready for her. You kind of have to stay away from Craigslist entirely until you’re ready for the possibility that you might buy a car. I think the same goes for dating and marriage. Yes, my dear 11-year-olds–I’m talking to you. Not in the market to buy, don’t start shopping. 


    2. Get plenty of advice from plenty of sources–especially some with credibility. 

    From the adult friend who coached me on used-car salesmanship techniques to my cousin who listened for rattles in the engine to the fellow Corolla driver who proudly declared that the trunk was large enough to fit 2 bodies…I got lots of advice before making my decision. Almost everyone over 16 has a story about buying, or at least driving, a car. No one person has all the answers, but by talking to lots of people, I got a big picture of some do’s and don’ts. Most helpful of all was the advice of my mechanic, a man who has made car health his profession for decades. When I got the go-ahead from him, I knew I could rest easy about buying this car. Similarly, when considering the possibility of a relationship, it seems sound to get all the input and advice you can, especially from those who are experienced judges of character. 

    3. Know the flaws you’re buying. 

    One of the people I asked for advice told me, “When you buy a used car, you’re buying somebody else’s problems.” Since I didn’t want to end up stranded on a highway somewhere, from the moment I saw Baby, I started to look for what those problems might be. Sure, it made me feel like a cynic as I cranked all the knobs, pushed all the buttons, and  made sudden sharp turns, but I didn’t want to rush into a purchase only to regret it later. Baby (even I will admit) isn’t perfect, but her flaws are mostly minor and cosmetic. I can live with those things, knowing I can rely on her to take me places reliably and safely. Likewise, evaluating a potential mate thoroughly at first can help prevent breakdowns on the highway later.

    4. Take time to make your decision. 

    Since Baby used to be a rental car, the company let me rent her for the weekend to do an “extended test drive.” Lesson learned: extended test drives are really, really good. I had time to discover Baby’s strengths and weaknesses, imagine myself driving her everywhere, and sleep on the decision before entering negotiations. I loved not being rushed or put on the spot. And I’ve had almost no buyers’ remorse. If taking time to make a wise decision is so important for a car that will last 8-10 years, how much more important is it for a marriage that will last a lifetime! 


    5. Sometimes you do buy the first car you test-drive. 

    People told me to expect to drive 10-12 used cars before finding “the one,” and to be ready to walk away if a car wasn’t right. I was ready to walk away. I honestly didn’t expect to find the ideal car the first time I called about a Craigslist ad. But all my prerequisites were in place: I was in a position to buy, I had lots of advice, and thanks to the extended test drive, I had a pretty good idea of what flaws I was facing. So when the first car that zipped into my life turned out to be perfect for me, I was ready to make an offer. It felt weird that I hadn’t experienced more options, but I know I would have been crazy to turn Baby down. Maybe it’s not necessarily about how many people you date, but about being ready when the right one comes along.

    Free image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono and Freedigitalphotos.net


    Rhinestones and Diamonds

    I am blessed to have some of the world’s finest girls as my friends. They volunteer with the deaf, they start small businesses, they cook up exotic dishes with unpronounceable names. They’re going to graduate school, writing books, getting internships around the world. But not only are they energetic and talented; they are kind, loyal, dedicated, and faith-full people as well. They won’t tell you about the time they spend behind the scenes, supporting tired parents, making cupcakes for church events, encouraging their coworkers, starting conversations with the “fringe kids” on campus. They are the quiet gems in their communities, and I am honored to know them.

    But here’s a mystery. Most of them spent a lonely Valentine’s Day this last week. I know that most of them came home that night to reheated leftovers, a movie by themselves, maybe some homework or e-mail. Why? While there’s certainly nothing wrong with singleness by choice, many of these girls haven’t even been offered the choice. In a world where their initiative and servanthood is exceptional, why on earth weren’t these young women of character, intelligence, and sincerity asked out to dinner by every available man on February 14?

    A couple of weeks ago, I needed to clean a few pairs of earrings. I love shiny things, but I am a writer; thus, my jewelry is made mostly of tinfoil and rhinestones. To my chagrin, the Internet informed me that it is difficult or impossible to clean rhinestone jewelry. It comes down to the difference between rhinestones and diamonds.

    Rhinestones, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, are imitation diamonds made from crystal, glass, or acrylic. They get their glitter from a reflective backing that refracts the light, creating sparkles and rainbows. They can be cheaply mass-produced, which makes them attractive options for impoverished English majors (and people looking for ridiculous stilettos):


    This budget glitz is all fine and dandy as long as its reflective backing doesn’t get wet. Water washes away the glitter, revealing rhinestones for the plastic they are underneath.

    Diamonds’ scintillating coruscation (dictionary break!), by contrast, will never wear out or wash away, no matter what they go through. That’s because their legendary luminescence comes from within one of the world’s strongest crystal structures, used for grinding metal tools or containing high-pressure lab experiments when it’s not perched atop engagement rings. Peerlessly beautiful and virtually unbreakable. I guess you get what you pay for.  

    So if diamonds are where the real value lies, why is it rhinestones are so much more plentiful? And in higher demand? And for that matter, why were many of the best girls I know single on Valentine’s Day?

    Cost, I think, is the answer.

    It’s definitely easier to be a rhinestone than a diamond. A nice haircut and new heels are far less expensive than a heart of integrity and sacrifice. Developing those is back-breaking work that will take every day of your life and constant prayer to build. And when just a little lipstick and a flirtatious smile seem to garner instant attention and admiration, why go the distance to become a diamond on the inside?

    Key word here is seem. To seem is to have one thing going on the outside and another on the inside, a double life—the opposite of integrity, being one person within and without. As women, are we all about the fragile falsehood of appearance? Are we nothing more than painted paper masks? Or can we say, with Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “I know not seems…I have that within which passes show” (I.2)?

    So if it’s more costly to be a diamond, why do the boys so often choose the rhinestones? This question is even asked in the 1936 novel Gone with the Wind (which I have at last begun reading; only 1,215 pages to go!): 

    Scarlett: “Why is it a girl has to be so silly to catch a husband?”

    Mammy: “Ah specs it’s kase gempmums doan know whut dey wants. Dey jus’ knows whut dey thinks dey wants.” 


    Cost again. It’s far easier—and seems more attractive—to accept the first girl who waltzes into your arms than to labor to win a woman who has a strong character and developed beliefs.

    But rhinestone beauty washes away under pressure. I know for a fact that life will throw you curveballs (if it hasn’t already). When you lose your job, when a family member is diagnosed with cancer, when you have to make a hard choice between the easy thing and the right thing, which do you want supporting you: glitter-backed acrylic, or the world’s hardest rock (which also happens to be one of its most beautiful)?

    I have met these women: those who choose God’s will even when it means laying down their own, who believe in His big-picture plan and are willing to wait for it, who sacrifice for their families, who show kindness to strangers. They may not always have time for makeup, but they make time to listen to friends in need. They practice the discipline of putting others’ good before their own and seize singleness as an opportunity to serve God. They are beautiful even through suffering, through service, through sacrifice. This is the kind of beauty that withstands hell and high water. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

    Men, I’m not going to lie to you. You’re not going to win the heart of a woman like that easily. It takes a lot of work and prayer to become a person worth having—believe me, these women know. But set your sights high, because their value is beyond price. Diamonds, as the ad says, are forever. No water, no hardship, no struggle can wash away the radiance that comes from within such jewels. No amount of bad hair days or wrinkles can ever touch their beauty. Time cannot tarnish them; no storm can shake them. Many women do noble things, but such diamonds surpass them all. 

    So here’s to the diamonds, the ladies who are of such great beauty in God’s sight. Here’s to the single women who choose to spend their time giving, laughing, discovering instead of wallowing in self-pity. Here’s to you who keep on serving even when nobody sees; who keep on praying even when God doesn’t instantly say yes. To you who reject a superficial life of mask-wearing and take the hard road of integrity: your worth is far above rubies. 

    Happy Valentine’s Day.

    Who are the diamonds you know? What makes them so special?