The “quest for the Earl of Piety” is really just (my fanciful) name for Christian hypergamy, which in my opinion is the culprit of many Christian women remaining single unnecessarily long. As much as the manosphere likes to complain that even church girls are OMGSLUTS!111!!1!! (and I’m not denying that there aren’t a bunch of those out there), there are also a lot of Christian girls who (typically) have grown up in the church, taken all of the teachings about virginity and purity to heart, and have never fallen off the wagon, so to speak. They want to be wives, they want to be mothers, they want to serve God, they’re serious about ministry and having quiet times…and they can’t find a Christian man who’s good enough for them.
Case in point: Amy Seed of Boundless.
In a recent perusal of the bloggift that keeps on giving, I came across Seed’s article, “A Revealing Question for Dating.” In it Seed describes how she was in relationship exclusivity negotiations** with a presumably Christian man she was attracted to and had gone on several dates with. After those several dates, she still wasn’t sure that he was relationship-worthy, so she asked him, “What do you picture your household being like when you’re married?”. (**I know this sounds horribly clinical, but Boundless-style courtship resembles taking inventory for retail.)
Not realizing this was his Last Chance with this girl, Prospective Boyfriend failed the answer for not “sharing her vision.”
In the initial blog post, Seed did not describe what exactly this dude said to merit failure. However, she did specify that her future husband should not only share her vision, but also presently display the various characteristics necessary to fulfill that vision:
I know I desire a home filled first and foremost with the peace and love of God, followed closely by joy and laughter. I want it to be continually filled with the praises and worship of God. I want my home to be a haven for those who need rest, guidance or simply a friend. I want a marriage and home atmosphere where imperfection might be obvious, yet shines with evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.
In order to make this vision a reality, my potential spouse should be a spiritual leader and a man in pursuit of holiness and goodness. He should be someone who can lead children by example in the Lord and not just by authority. The right man will be humble and hospitable so people feel welcome in our home and not as though they’ll be judged for sharing their struggles.
Once we know what we desire in marriage, we should strive to date people who not only share our vision but display the characteristics needed to fulfill it.
Several readers thought that Seed was being too judgmental against the guy, so she provided a more complete answer in the comments:
Don’t get me wrong, he had a great answer. On the surface, we were looking for the same things. But on a deeper level, there were things missing. He believes in God, but he wasn’t at the same place spiritually where he was striving for closer communion with Him. I know those things can change, but we also had a lot of lifestyle differences. Asking him that question was kind of just a matter of confirming whether or not things that are very important to me are things that even mattered to him without me in the picture.
In answering my question, he didn’t mention anything about leading a family spiritually or God being central in the marriage. He might not have opposed those things, but they didn’t seem to be on his radar either. The fact that he didn’t hold faith in God and serving God as important as I do is something I foresaw leading to a lot of problems. I didn’t want to go into a relationship that was dependent on him working toward those things because of me instead of naturally wanting them himself. He was making a genuine effort, but that was just for me and while he was with me, not the rest of the time.
She later added:
He was intelligent and sweet, and he treated me well. He was someone I could joke with one second and then have a very real, serious conversation with the next. He asked about my boundaries and was extremely respectful of them. I figured that since he was making a genuine effort, was seeking marriage and was being intentional with me, I would give him a chance. I was hesitant for certain reasons, and he was very aware of those. But as time went on, I discovered the words didn’t quite match up with the actions as far as seeking God and pursuing a lifestyle pleasing to Him.
So what we have here is a generally good guy, considerate and respectful of Seed’s physical boundaries, who had good chemistry with Seed and who began dating her KNOWING that she was a Christian whose Christianity was a priority in her life, get shot down for not, in Seed’s opinion, sufficiently seeking God. I don’t want to knock someone for not dating someone where there was genuine incompatibility, and it does sound like Seed gave him a fair shake, but situations like this are a recipe for prolonged singleness for Christian women.
Not knowing more than what Seed wrote, I’m sorry this happened. The truth is that many Christian women, if they want to marry a man to whom they are attracted, may have to settle for a man who is not as “spiritually advanced” as she is. Just look at the male-female ratios in many churches, and look at the pickings. The ratio is not advantageous to women, especially the ones who aren’t drop-dead gorgeous, or at least reasonably cute and perky and have that future-youth-pastor-wife personality. But just because a man doesn’t say that his first intention is to spiritually lead his family and grow closer to God and provide a safe haven for joy and laughter or whatever DOESN’T mean that he’s not going to grow spiritually, or that he won’t grow with his wife’s encouragement.
In a later comment, Seed wrote that the guy admitted that he acted more spiritual around her but had a secret non-Christian side that he wasn’t apologetic over, and that is how she knew it would NEVER WORK. Maybe she’s right – but I’ve seen a lot of guys – guys who are good at heart – go through a wilder phase in their 20s and then come back to the fold after they got married. It’s why so often, writing off an otherwise attractive man for “insufficient spirituality” in the hopes of snagging the Earl of Piety is such a fool’s mission for the average Christian woman. There just aren’t enough of those guys for every girl who wants one. I mean, it’s one thing if the guy is adamant that he wants nothing to do with God or Christianity (or is actively professing a different faith), or has unequivocally stated that he has no intentions of ever exploring his spirituality, or that he genuinely believes he’s good with God right where he is and doesn’t have any interest in going any further, but that wasn’t the case here. Nor did Seed indicate that she had a specific calling to missions or other sacrificial calling that would make any union with a less spiritual man genuinely problematic. Again, not knowing the situation personally, I can’t say with confidence that Seed made the wrong choice…but it really does sound like this guy got the boot for a potentially fixable problem.
I get where Seed is coming from; I used to think the same way. I grew up in the church convinced that I had to have a “spiritual leader” for a husband, who wanted to attend small groups and Be Involved and lead in prayer and want to do family devotions and the whole kit-and-kaboodle. I was convinced that those were the ingredients of a good marriage, and if a guy wasn’t showing those attributes at, say, age 22, then he had effectively removed himself from the running. Well…quick guess as to how many of Earls of Piety I’ve come across in my life, and who have been single, and who were attracted to me, and to whom I was attracted back.
As I have gotten older (and remained single), especially in the months since my dad passed, I’ve begun reevaluating what I thought were the “essentials.” My dad, at the time he married my mom, was not a model Christian man. He had grown up in a Christian home but was caught up in a lot of typical young man behavior. He knew my mom was a more serious Christian than he was, and he was fortunately wise enough to recognize that if he married her, she would help him grow. And she did. My dad never became an Earl of Piety – it was not in his personality – but God became a priority in his life. In the later years of his life, he ended every day on his knees next to his bed in prayer. If my mom had judged my dad by Seed’s criteria, there would never have been a marriage. (Fortunately, my mom was CRAZY about my dad and also naive enough to believe that because they grew up in the same denomination, their marriage would be much like her parents’. Ha! She definitely experienced a rude awakening. But back then, young women didn’t enter dating armed with a 463-bullet point evangelical checklist full of things like “must enjoy discussing theology,” “only listen to Christian music,” and never telling a crude joke. (These are all things that Seed mentioned as must-haves for her happiness in a relationship.))
One other comment: Seed talks about how this guy didn’t “share her vision.” Her whole decision-making process centered around herself and her own ideas about marriage. I think it would be beneficial for single women to frame it rather as “can I share HIS vision?”. Because ultimately, that’s what you’re signing up for in a marriage, Christian or not. You’re signing up to be this guy’s first officer (to use an Athol-ism), or to be the COO to his CEO, however you want to put it – the point of you is not to set a goal and wait for him to meet it, but to look at his goals and see if you can be a part of them. Women who are waiting for a man who can meet their lofty standards are usually destined to wait a loooooongg time.