Yeah, old song title. But it’s for an old problem, so it’s okay.
Now and then I do some random browsing just to look for interesting conversations or good articles on various topics. Sometimes I find something really good, and other times I find something really… wrong. Today it was the latter.
In a forum post here I found some well-intentioned wife-seeking advice for young Christian men (in a “men only” forum— hey, what do they have to hide?). And as is my custom, I decided to break it down. Being a wife of over twenty years’ experience, I’d say this grants me the right to say something about it.
The overall thrust of the post has kind of an “engineering” vibe to it, a formulaic approach where the young man is crossing t’s and dotting i’s and checking off boxes. It probably wasn’t intentional, but that’s how it comes across. It begins with something no one would dispute: that dating can be painful. But avoiding pain is not necessarily a good thing either; it depends on how a person deals with it. Contrast this with the old practice of a couple being strangers at the wedding; that had to be much more painful and frightening. Relationships are inherently complicated and messy, not lab experiments or neatly matching machine parts.
The second paragraph wisely advises maturity before considering marriage, which of course is just as important for the woman, who may be a mother one day. The vulnerability of pregnancy and childbirth make her choice of a mate all the more important, even if she is able to return to work; this is a simple matter of biology. And this is why marrying a stranger is such a foolish idea for any woman. But though the writer admits marrying younger than his “rule” allows, the fact that he proposes an age-dependent rule at all is problematic. Maturity varies widely from one person to another, as does life experience. Why bother picking an age then, beyond the obvious requirement of being old enough to be legally responsible? And remember, that goes for the woman as well. The generalities and stereotypes may be common, but that doesn’t help the exceptions.
However, this paragraph ended with the expected and inevitable error so prevalent in dating/marriage advice for men and women: “…because of the demanding leadership role men are expected to fill as husbands, they need more time prior to marriage to establish themselves as godly leaders and able providers.” If you have a strong gag reflex as I do, that always triggers an episode.
There is no such leadership role assigned according to one’s reproductive organs; this should go without saying. And women too must learn to lead and provide, even if just for any children they might have. If we’re talking about HUMAN BEINGS here and not two different species, both need to be mature and self-reliant, capable of taking initiative and responsibility. Since women are not exempt from responsibility under the law for any and all contracts, loans, bills, and whatever else goes with modern life in a constitutional republic, then failing to ensure their ability/training to handle adulthood on their own is crippling and unrealistic at best. Piling all responsibility onto the man (and then whining about the heavy burden!) is as unjust and foolish as taking it from the woman, who would remain dependent and immature. Likewise, the man who is given veto power over his wife remains immature since he never has to face being overruled or denied. It merely stokes his ego to label him the designated tie-breaker and sole provider, who controls his wife by her dependency because apparently he is afraid she’d leave him if she could. What kind of relationship is that? Not one between equals, that’s for sure.
After that, the writer goes on to extol the virtues of “seeking the right young woman’s hand in marriage”. What is this, a medieval Harlequin Romance novel? Is she still considered the property of her father, who “gives her away” to the new owner? The advice to first dedicate one’s self to serving the Lord is sound (and equally applicable to the woman), and it’s nice to see the man’s sexual purity mentioned for a change. But this “knight and fair maiden” scene is the very sort of emotion-driven romance the writer sought to avoid at the beginning of the post. This is real life, not fiction, and these are real people, not actors. Again he goes on with the “prepare to lead her” nonsense, which of course paints her as a child or subhuman who must always be under the watchful eye of a male— for life. And this is regardless of how noble her character may be, how mature she may be, how godly she may be. To say that the man must lead the woman is to say that she is a lesser being; there is no escaping this conclusion whether it was intended or not.
Point 2 drives home the “me Tarzan” theme, where the man must shoulder the full burden of provision. He really should have chosen instead to advise the man on how to give and take with his future wife when their careers may conflict, and whether he is prepared to help with the children they may have should she either choose to work outside the home or become disabled. Same for her; if her husband is injured or becomes seriously ill, Daddy won’t be able to absorb a second family, especially in these wild economic times. Both of them need to have contingency plans, and to be the kind of people who can cope with adversity. Life happens, and burying our heads in the sand of paperback novels will not prevent it.
Point 3 speaks of friendship, but this is after the writer made the wife dependent and subservient. What kind of friend is that? What kind of equal partner is that? Is she really his friend or is she a housekeeper/nanny “with benefits”? I don’t care if that terminology offends the sensibilities of those who teach such things; the reality is that a sexual relationship must NEVER be hierarchical! If she is his friend, he is not her leader or protector in a way that she is not for him. A sexual relationship must be a mutual partnership.
Point 4 is just nauseating; the man has to go through the woman’s father. A grown woman cannot speak for herself? Living with her parents or not, she is an adult. And what about the man, does she go to his father first too? Why not? And there is no sugar-coating this as “protection” rather than ownership, because both make the grown woman less than adult and less than human. She is not a weakling or a damsel in distress; she is not a delicate princess who couldn’t rescue herself from a paper bag. She can protect herself, thank you.
But really, getting a pastor’s advice? What does a third party have to do with intimate relationships? We’d all agree that a couple should know each other’s parents and friends, and especially their spiritual condition. But this writer seems to think that it is dangerous to talk marriage without getting a clergyman’s input first. This is yet another reason to get out of the “church hierarchy” mentality anyway; priests and preachers have no magical “covering” or blessing to give.
Back to the nausea, the writer says “Remember that ever since this girl was born, her father has been the most important man in her life—her most zealous protector and the one charged by God to carefully steer her in the path of wisdom.” The man’s father didn’t guide him or protect him? And she’s a “girl” rather than a woman? How about we refer to the suitor as a boy? Or suppose her father was gone or abusive; same for the “boy”. Things get a little murkier when you take them out of the romance novels.
Finally, a last gag with “her father walks her down the aisle and gives her to you in marriage”. No, “boy”, he can’t give away what is not his to own. She is an adult and chooses for herself whom she will marry, if anyone. Your daddy didn’t give you away either, remember that. Are you both adult human beings or not? If you are, then act like it and talk like it. That crap at the footnote is even worse, where the writer tries to account for less than ideal situations. A single mother has to still get somebody with a male organ to “seek counsel” for her grown daughter?? She has been raising the girl by herself, and quite capably; has she not proven her wisdom already? Has she not proven her strength and responsibility well enough? What an insult to all women! You can’t sugar-coat condescension that thick.
In case you couldn’t tell, this sort of “teaching” really burns my bra. As I’ve said a hundred times, benevolent lording over is still lording over, and still in violation of the scriptures. Throw away the romance novels and stereotypes, and start looking for someone to partner with for life, a ‘strong one’, an ally, a true friend and equal. That, rather than a chain of command and insulting the maturity, strength, and intelligence of half the human race, will do the most to ensure a “happily ever after”.