I can’t remember if I’ve discussed this article from MarryWell before, but even if I have, it’s worth a revisit. I bookmarked the article a couple of years ago in anticipation of blogging about it, but did I ever get around to the blogging part? ANYHOW…it’s your basic “how important is physical attraction?” Q&A, wherein a thirtysomething single female MarryWell-er gets an answer from Candice Watters. (Longtime readers of my blog can probably tell you Candice Watters’ opinion on the topic, and my opinion of Candice Watters’ opinion on the topic.) Basically, the reader says she forwarded the infamous “Brother, You’re Like a Six” Boundless article to a single male friend whom she felt needed the ~advice, and he wrote her back a lengthy reply that basically reads like typical manospherian reasoning on the subjects of looks, chemistry, and attraction. Since this reply from the horse’s mouth wasn’t good enough for Reader, who believes men are “swayed heavily by…our culture” and “secular standards about who to pursue,” she went to Candice to get the answer she wanted to hear.
Candice wrote a reply that encapsulates the aspects the I find most infuriating about Christian dating advice: namely, that physical attraction is this sort of either/or thing that you can only count on for a couple of years, and then you plummet directly into companionate love for the rest of your life, never to feel any heat again, but that’s okay because your companionate love is so rich and deep that you’ll never miss being hot for each other except those six times you have sex per year. Okay, that’s my paraphrase, but what other conclusion can one draw from a reply that begins thusly:
If only it were that simple! Find a gorgeous woman (or man), marry her (or him), and live happily ever after. Of course that’s how it works in the movies. But movies always end before the fireworks (what your friend calls “zing-pop”) die down. And they do. Always. Every marriage moves beyond the new-love, high-octane phase eventually, according to Psychologist Dorothy Tennov. The longest it can last is three years, and often it’s less. On average the emotional highs last between eighteen months and three years. Then what?
If what he’s looking to hold his marriage together for “many, many, many years” is sexual attraction, he’s setting himself up for disappointment. The only way to keep the high-jinks of new love going is to keep starting over with new lovers.
But it need not end this way. When two believers come together in marriage, they have the potential, when the giddy feelings ebb, to leave what C.S. Lewis calls the “thrill” phase of romance for the “quieter and more lasting kind of interest … and happiness that follows.” He encourages this process, noting it is “one little part of what Christ meant by saying a thing will not really live unless it first dies.”
What I do not understand is this churchian insistence that marrying out of sexual attraction is this zero-sum, either/or proposition, like either you marry because you want to BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG and do pretty much nothing else, or you marry because you’re pure and holy and mainly interested in doing taxes together and making sure your future children are raised in the faith, and the sex appeal is just sort of this little side bonus. Why can’t people marry because there’s sexual chemistry AND they are well-suited to each other in temperament and other values AND it all comes together in a complete package that includes sex, kids, and life? Why must one preclude the other? Why can’t you grow in companionate love and the security of stability, and still find each other sexy and attractive? How is this “well, don’t think you’re going to find each other sexy forever, ’cause that never lasts” view of marriage going to encourage young men to marry? I mean, what young guy (or young woman, for that matter) is going to hear this and be like, “OH YEAH, BABY, SIGN ME UP!”??
I agree that singles looking to marry need to be realistic about the mundane aspects of married life (someone who needs constant romantic drama/stimulation is not a wise marriage prospect), but I find the constant downplaying of the importance of sexual attraction really irritating. Most men aren’t going to marry – or even begin pursuit – for lack of sexual attraction, and most women would be depressed to find out a man would pursue them without having any sexual attraction. Marrying someone SOLELY due to sexual attraction is obviously unwise, but how many people are really doing that? Especially in an era where you can have sex and not be judged socially without having to marry the other person – even within the church? How many singles really get removed from churches these days because of fornication? If anything, the current sexual and cultural climate in the U.S. is forcing men to consider other reasons for marriage, just to reduce the risk of divorce.
Other reasons this article irritated me:
- Watters’ assertion that Reader’s male friend has a “consumer mentality” about sexual attraction and the insinuation that making sexual attraction really important is per se BAD.
Your friend’s thinking mirrors our consumer culture far more than it does the Bible. God designed marriage for a purpose, several actually. And all of these purposes: “procreation, remedy against sin, mutual society, help and comfort” are achievable even if physical attraction isn’t the primary driver. That’s not to say there’s something wrong with pursuing a mate you find attractive. But it is to caution against giving looks and “chemistry” pre-eminence in the decision process.
- Watters’ slamming of Song of Solomon as an example of the importance of sexual attraction.
I suspect your friend would say his desire for a “zing-pop” connection is consistent with Song of Solomon. There certainly was chemistry between Solomon and his bride. But nowhere in Scripture is that given as a condition for a God-glorifying marriage. You can build a strong, godly, world changing marriage on many things. But you can never build that simply on looks. Good looks are a bonus. They’re like icing on a cake. And as the saying goes, if all you eat is icing, you’ll get sick.
- Her church lady-ing of Reader’s friend for his desire to be sexually attracted to his future spouse.
I worry for men like your friend who may miss out on highly productive marriages and families that are fruitful for the kingdom, simply because the women God brings to them don’t, at first, cause a chemical reaction.
I know I’ve said this before, but…does Watters understand ANYTHING about male attraction? HER OWN EXPERIENCE trying to win over her now-husband seems to have taught her nothing! Steve didn’t want to date her at first because he didn’t find her physically attractive! How much time and heartache would she have saved herself if she had done more to make herself look good from the get-go? Yet she continues to accuse men of passing over women who would be good wives, except those women are missing a key component of what men think makes a good wife: physical attractiveness!!!
But sure, let’s keep praying that God will change every man’s mind about attractiveness, or at least the minds of the ones who don’t think the way women do about attractiveness. (This is the advice she gives to the women: don’t try to change men’s minds directly; instead, PRAY their minds into a different direction.)
Meanwhile, zero admonitions to the women to get themselves to the gym, stop eating every baked good that passes before their eyes, to dress better, and to be fun to be around.