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Lori Gottlieb’s book and Christian maximizers.

27 Mar

I recently read Lori Gottlieb’s book Marry Him:  The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.  Because of the title, the book has been criticized for telling women to take whomever will have them just so they can be married.  Having now read the book, I can definitely say that this isn’t what the book advocates.  Rather, it reads like a cautionary tale not to let excessive pickiness keep you from getting married, or, as Gottlieb points out in the book, if you let an 8 go in hopes of snagging a 10, you’ll most likely end up with only 5s as your options.

In a way the book had a dual personality.  On the one hand, it was a sort of quasi-memoir where Gottlieb portrayed herself as a delusional elitist who couldn’t accept that as a 41-year-old single mother (by choice through artificial insemination), her dating prospects, especially in L.A., were rather limited and that her options from professional matchmakers and dating websites generally were balding divorced men.  On the other hand, it was like Gottlieb stepped outside of herself to offer an objective voice about her situation.  I would like to believe that Gottlieb actually, genuinely learned from the experiences chronicled in the book, but she IS still unmarried, so….I don’t know if that’s because she’s older, or because she fell back into the bad habit of wanting AMAZING CHEMISTRY!!11 from the get-go.

While reading the book, I found myself wanting to shake Gottlieb for being so unreasonably picky.  She would discount men for the most insignificant reasons, like naming a movie she didn’t approve of as his favorite.  She basically had it in her head that she could only relate to and be attracted to men who fit a very narrow profile (basically that of a fashionable, sophisticated, secular UMC Jewish SWPL with all the “right” tastes who still had his hair and wasn’t more than a few years from her in age).  With her discounting men for the slightest of reasons, it was no wonder she had gone through life without ever marrying.  Actually, what I found the most disheartening was not that she had dated a bunch of guys that were not marriage material – it was that some of them HAD been marriage material, but she dumped them for not fulfilling her ideals.  It would have been one thing if she had only dated cads – but she didn’t.

As I grew frustrated with Gottlieb’s bullheadedness, I started thinking that modern Christian women have been taught to think like Gottlieb – to be what she calls “maximizers”:  people who will only accept the absolute best.  The fear of settling for a less-than-totally on fire for God man is implanted in Christian girls from at least junior high on, both in church and in Christian media.  How many times have Christian girls been warned not to marry a man who doesn’t TOTALLY LOVE JESUS WITH ALL HIS HEART, with dark implications or outright warnings that life will be TERRIBLE otherwise?  How many times have Christian girls been told that the man must be the Spiritual Leader, with the implication that if he’s not leading the charge to go to Sunday School and lead devotions and pray all the time, that he must be disqualified as a potential husband?  Conversely, how often have Christian girls been told to give Christian men encouragement to grow in their faith and to have patience with them if they weren’t as “strong” in the faith as the women?  The bar has been raised so high that hardly any Christian man can be marriage-worthy.  (See:  The Earl of Piety.)  And it’s common enough that even my readership has experience with this.

It’s not that Christian singles don’t get married.  Christian singles generally marry younger than the population at large, or at least the college-educated population at large.  But it’s obvious that there is a significant percentage of Christian singles who are having trouble not just getting to the altar, but getting to a point where getting to the altar is even a consideration.  The problem isn’t solely the fault of the women – but the church really needs to calm down with the ON FIRE FOR GOD GUY standard, and encourage women to consider men who are not so obviously on fire for God but still take God seriously.  I don’t know if this would work, since it would require people giving up hope that they will be an exception to the rule, or at least giving up enough hope to act pragmatically, but it really seems that the church has screwed over young women by telling them to hold out for God’s best and making it seem like God’s best is some SUPER ON FIRE FOR GOD GUY when in actuality, God’s best might be a low-key guy who happens to believe in Jesus.

P.S.   Gottlieb never instructs her readers to settle for a guy to whom she has zero physical attraction.  She only asks them to expand their definition of what they find attractive so that they can end up with someone instead of no one.

 

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Boundless commenters can’t decide if it’s biblical for men to pursue women, unintentionally extend singleness for life.

15 Feb

Boundless reader Steve Bierfeldt tried.  He wrote an article for Boundless entitled “Being a Man is Worth Losing a Friend,” with the subheader on the main page “Real men go after the things they want, period.”  In the article he describes how he and a good female friend with whom there was mutual attraction lost their friendship because he told her he found her attractive and liked her more than other girls.  As a result, she never spoke to him again.  Bierfeldt then says that he doesn’t regret his actions, because real men are willing to take risks, and urges young men not to listen to our culture of passivity but to God’s Word and to be bold.

Apparently this was too much masculinity for Boundless readers, because the very first comment blasts Bierfeldt for believing that the Bible calls men to make their intentions known and for women to respond, because, apparently, male initiation is merely a cultural aspect.  A few commenters stepped in and thanked Bierfeldt, but the comments then quickly devolved into stuff along the lines of “girls who wait for men to make moves waste a lot of time” and “the Bible isn’t a rule book” and the ultimate bitch comment by a girl who I will assume ought to remain single for the rest of her life because good men don’t deserve this kind of attitude, “Women are not things, period.”  Then some super-sperg shows up demanding Scripture references for where the Bible says that men should initiate.

It really seems like Christian singles want every marriage to be an actual miracle that defies the laws of nature.

Pajama Boy of Boundless shames virgins for being proud they are virgins.

4 Feb

Guys, I’m a little late on this one, but if you needed more proof that Joshua Rogers is the Pajama Boy of Boundless, then go read “Stop Worshiping Your Virginity”.

Yes, we’ve reached the point where mainstream Christian thought has been reduced to this:

If you’re a Christian virgin, you are no more righteous than anyone else (regardless of how long you’ve been wearing that promise ring). And if you’re not a virgin, you are no less righteous than anyone else — the only thing that makes you righteous is faith in the perfect blood of Jesus. Whatever you did (or didn’t do) in the past simply isn’t part of the Christian equation when it comes to your worth, so you can go ahead and stop obsessing over your virginity now.

I don’t know how many adult Christian virgins Rogers happens to know, but generally speaking, there aren’t a whole lot of virgins, even in the church, past 25 or so.  Most of them aren’t proud of it.  Most of them wish that they could find someone to lose it with (in marriage or otherwise).  And most of them don’t go around telling others about it.  Even among people that it would be “safe” to discuss it with, they don’t talk about it.  Where does Rogers live that he is knowingly running into haughty adult virgins???

Most people who survive well into adulthood still virgins don’t do so because so many people were offering up sex and they, out of immense moral superiority, were about to deny all of the would-be sexers.  Usually, it’s more like “I couldn’t get a date, and when I could, the other person wasn’t that attractive, so….nope.”

Anyhow, regarding the quote above:  yes, in a spiritual sense, we are all “equal” in that we have all been forgiven of our sins.  And no, remaining a virgin doesn’t in and of itself make you more virtuous than someone else.  But let’s be real, sex has pretty obvious and life-altering consequences, in a way that is significantly different from uttering a swear word or having a selfish thought, and we, being human, tend to assign different weights to actions whose consequences tend to have different weights.  Why is this a fundamentally bad thing?  I mean, we live in a Christian culture where you can have a man sobbing because he realized that he hasn’t been as nice to his wife as Christ would be to the church…….but try to say that there are real-world consequences for sexual sin, and one of those consequences may be that men, on the whole, will find you less desirable for marriage, and suddenly you’re a tool of the devil spreading lies??!?!?

No one is saying that sexual sin will absolutely prevent you from finding a spouse, but Christians respond AS IF you had said that when you say that sexual sin (especially for a woman) makes it harder to get married to the type of person you would want to marry.  It’s like the concept of sexual market value and sexual options cannot exist in Christian-world, even though we see that reality play out in every church in America.  But if the Boundless commenters are a microcosm of the church, then there is a very strong will within the church to deny the reality of SMV, or that sexual history matters….which is pretty much exactly the same thing you could read on a feminist website.

Should Christians flirt at all?

11 Dec

Should Christians flirt at all?

It seems like flirting is generally frowned upon in contemporary Christian thinking, now that “intentionality” and its close cousin, “not defrauding”, are the orders of the day.   The thinking goes something like this:  we shouldn’t flirt because someone might misconstrue the flirting as more interest than is intended, which would be defrauding a brother or sister in Christ, and if you’re careless about misleading someone, you’re not showing intentionality.  So flirting is out, and serious earnestness is in.

The problem is, flirting by its very nature is supposed to be unserious.  It’s not supposed to be taken as an indicator of anything serious, yet in this culture of “intentionality,” flirting actually is VERY serious, because if everyone is seriously looking at others only for marriage potential, and no one is supposed to flirt with anyone they’re not interested in for fear of defrauding them, then any flirting MUST mean serious interest or some implied promises of affection.  I think this is why Christian girls get all of their hopes up if someone flirts with them – and then wildly dashed when the flirting is only that.

That said, flirting does often lead to confusion.  People have a hard time distinguishing mere flirting from genuine interest – I have a hard time with this, because most of the time, flirting falls under the umbrella of plausible deniability.  Someone could flirt with you, but you’re not sure if you should flirt back in reciprocation of implied interest, because maybe that person was just being friendly and doesn’t actually have any interest in you.  OR you choose not to flirt back because you’re afraid that if you do, that person will get the wrong impression and think you’re more interested than you are.  So, I get why Christian advice tends to discourage flirting – there’s often too much broken-hearted and confused collateral damage involved.

Still, all of this adds up to a bunch of Christian singles awkwardly trying to show interest in each other without flirting and instead trying to be direct and “intentional.”  And that sounds about as exciting as brushing your teeth.

If anyone has any solutions, please comment!

Training yourself to be single vs. the gift of singleness.

7 Nov

If you’ve been in Christian dating circles or read any Christian dating advice at any point, you’ve probably heard someone talk about “the gift of singleness.”  Now, growing up in church, I had NEVER heard of “the gift of singleness,” because it was just assumed that basically everyone would pair off eventually.  Sure, there would always be a few spinsters or bachelors in the population, but no one ever talked about them like they had a special “gift.”  It was just more or less understood that perpetually single people had some sort of nonsexuality about them, or maybe something traumatic had happened to them in the past that put them off dating and marriage.

But I guess now that there are so many never-married singles well into their 30s and 40s, we now have people with “the gift of singleness.”  And while I don’t doubt that there are people specially “gifted” in this way, it’s been my observation that most people who experience prolonged singleness are not single because they want to be.  What usually happens is that a guy or girl hits 30 (or 35, or whatever their “loser in love” threshold is), realizes they’ve been unattached for quite a while, and then they start hearing the “gift of singleness” talk and maybe start wondering if they in fact do have the gift themselves.

Basically, can you have the gift of singleness without knowing it?  Is God not opening the door to marriage because He secretly wants you to embrace your singleness and give up the dream of marriage?  Is the gift of singleness something you naturally just “have,” or is it sort of forced upon you whether you desire it or not?

The other thing is – Boundless types tend to define the gift of singleness as being able to live without sex and not become bitter about it.  I see this as a bit of a cheat of an answer, though.  Bitterness is a little extreme of a response.  I know a lot of single women who aren’t having sex and aren’t dating/on a path to marriage, but still want both, but aren’t BITTER over it.  (As far as I know, anyway.)

This definition ignores women’s generally more responsive sexuality.  A lot of women are sexual and want sex, but when forced into a dating drought, they kind of go into “convent mode.”  And most churches teach convent mode behavior to women when they keep telling women not to make marriage an idol, to find their true fulfillment in Jesus, to wait on the Lord, and to stop reading romance novels (sexless Christian romance novels are a thing, so it’s not just “Don’t read 50 Shades,” guys) or watching romantic movies or soap operas or whatever will exacerbate their “discontentment” with singleness.  Often women in convent mode start spending more of their time with female friends, and this just reinforces the conventing because new guys aren’t entering their social spheres.  So you end up with all these women who “want” marriage, but it’s just not happening, but until someone comes along for that, they need to guard their hearts and focus on the Lord and not make marriage or sex an idol.  You can see how this is a self-perpetuating cycle.

To bring this back to “the gift of singleness,” if you’ve been in convent mode too long, you start to wonder if you have the gift of singleness.  How do you differentiate?  Can you be okay with never marrying?  I know that this is a question that I have wrestled with.  How about you?

P.S.  If the comment thread devolves into another “women are entitled/don’t know anything/are mean to men/wahhhhh” pity party, I’m shutting down the thread.

 

The quest for the Earl of Piety.

16 Jul

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.

Christians who don’t promote young marriage don’t actually care about chastity.

29 Jun

Reader Nate Winchester sent me a link to this article from The Catholic World Report: “Should We Bring Back Young Marriage?

It’s a longer article, but it’s a good read.

My take on the issue of young marriage is that if Christians are actually serious about chastity, then they HAVE to support young marriage.  And it seems to me that Christians at large are not serious about chastity.  All of the “True Love Waits”-style campaigns, purity rings, abstinence education – all of that means NOTHING in the face of biology…or at least it ends up meaning nothing if you’re alone with your boyfriend in your apartment at night and you’re in love with each other, or at least happen to think each other is hot.  I mean, what do parents REALLY THINK is going to happen?  Maybe not the first time, but given ENOUGH time.  That they’re just having Bible study at 1:00am?

Are adult Christians just stupid?

Is it not obvious to anyone with half a brain that human beings were not designed to delay sex for two or three decades after coming to sexual maturity?  Yet we have Christians not blinking an eye at full-grown adult singles waiting until age 35 to marry for the first time, because that was just God’s perfect plan or whatever.

Maybe these Christians (because THEY married at age 21 or 22 and never had the delightful experience of having unfulfillable sexual desires for 10 or 20 years) think that anyone can wait because THEY were able to wait for, like, five years.  Maybe the only singles they know at church are low sex-drive 2s, or girls who became chubby single cat ladies by age 26 and are totally content to serve in the nursery at church while patientlyyyy waiting for Mr. Right that everyone knows will never arrive – isn’t it obvious that waiting is a realistic and achievable goal?

Or maybe it’s that as long as the couple weren’t cohabitating before marriage, then we can totally assume that they weren’t having premarital sex, right?  Even though they dated for five years!

I think some of it is that there are a lot of married Christians in the church these days who had premarital sex, and they just don’t want to address it, because then THEY might have to come clean about their own fornication, and nobody wants to go there because (A) no one else’s business, and (B) awkward.  So everyone just turns a blind eye to what they know is going on, and it’ll all work out because we’re all forgiven and everybody makes mistakes and no sin is greater than any other sin.

Until someone gets pregnant.  But even then, everyone rallies around the brave single mother (no abortion = hero for life) and volunteers to babysit.

We hear a lot these days from pearl-clutching Christians about how evil the world is and how depraved the culture, etc.  If Christians are really serious about changing the culture for the better, then they need to get serious about promoting young marriage and stop telling singles (either explicitly or implicitly) that they have a long time to find someone and it’s better to go off and have adventures while they figure out who they are.  And they also need to stop telling people that the 20s are a “season” in which you can work on yourself to become closer to God and therefore marriage-worthy or whatever.  By the time you hit your 20s, you should already be well-formed enough to be a good candidate for being a spouse.  That has not so much to do with how many various experiences you have in life but very much to do with your fundamental character.  Marriage shouldn’t be about bringing two “experts in life experience” together but rather about bringing two young people who may be inexperienced in life but of solid character together.  All the life experience in the world means very little with no character.  Age 22 is not a good age at which to BEGIN to develop character.   Yes, it’s a good thing to have done some introspective thought about who you are and what you want, but this idea that we have to be practically irrevocably formed before even entertaining the thought of marriage is wrong-headed.  If anything, too much formation makes it that much harder for someone to get married and stay married.