Friday, May 25, 2012

Heartbreak-Free Hotel

Courtship, Part 1, Part 3, Part 4.

If you did not grow up being taught from pre-puberty about the goal of emotional purity--saving all affectionate thoughts for your future spouse, once identified--I'm not sure there is any way to communicate how this concept can dominate adolescent life. Every thought of interest in the opposite sex is a sin tantamount to adultery. All friendships with the opposite sex are constantly suspect. And if you are a girl raised in these circles you are in a double-bind, since you can't have a real career either, which means you really are not allowed to think about the future in any way whatsoever. Just keep your head down and get good at doing laundry.

Fortunately my parents were much more lax in their application and more balanced in our private conversations, and I grew up without the more extreme problems that often resulted. But I saw and felt the double-bind keenly.

And I still can't figure out where this idea comes from. Some people argue that it is inappropriate for two single people to act towards each other in a way that would be wrong for two people already married to others. But plainly if that were true, no one could ever get married under any scheme. I would find it highly inappropriate for DOB to be prayerfully considering whether he should take another wife.

Anyway, at some point you proceed beyond adolescence and are ready to get married. Here the courtship schemes have to somehow allow for a marriage to occur without violating their notions of emotional purity. This is hard. 

Followed strictly, emotional purity would require Fiddler-on-the-Roof arranged marriages where you meet at the wedding and finally discover you love each other after twenty-five years. This seems so extreme that usually it is considered OK (for reasons not at all clear) to have feelings at some earlier point. When, exactly, is not clear. 

After all, you have two points to coordinate: the point at which the couple is emotionally attached to each other, and the point at which they have made a binding commitment to be together. If you allow feelings to come first, then you provide the possibility that people might break up. If you’ve gone around equating emotional purity with physical purity (and physical purity with salvation), this is unacceptable. On the other hand, if you expect the commitment to come before the feelings, you are back to arranged marriages and it’s not clear how, exactly, the decision to marry should be made. (Direct revelation? Compatibility charts? Casting lots?)

This tension creates a lot of confusion in courtship circles, as there simply is no way to reconcile it, unless you can magically have everybody feeling and promising exactly the same thing at exactly the right moment which, of course, never happens because human beings are not robots.

This is not to say that endless brief and fragmentary relationships are a good way to spend one's youth. But those are, perhaps, not the only two alternatives. This is where the claim of some courtship advocates that what they are advocating is just what everybody did before dating was invented in the 1920s proves absurd. Have they never read a novel written before 1920? Broken hearts have always been a risk of love.

When DOB and I became close friends, we were stepping over the bounds of proper courtship. We didn't have parental approval to become close friends. We had made no agreement yet. By the "emotional purity" rules this was "emotional fornication." Getting to, you know, like someone. Making a point of talking to them. Caring about what they thought. This is sinful. Because . . . because why? Because it might not turn into marriage? Because breaking up will make you sad? Risk of sorrow does not equate to sin. All love is risky.

The truth is, without breaking the "emotional purity" rules we never would have gotten together in the first place. We would have had no opportunity to get to know each other. Who is going to risk everything (courtship is a very high-stakes process) on someone they have not really had the chance to get to know and have no feelings for and no assurance of reciprocal feelings? From my observations many other successful "courtships" actually fudged this rule quite a bit. And many hearts have been broken because courtship provides no informal way to explore a potential relationship and find out if it would work before it becomes a huge, public deal.


Litterairy said...

Ah yes, the ideal of replacing of hormonal teenage angst with duty to God and family. Somehow, I still suspect that most of those 300 teenage girls in Josh Harris's I Kiss Date Goodbye (before he Gave Dating a Chance) seminar that I attended back in 1993 were there so a heavenly spotlight could appear and reveal them as Josh Harris's intended.
My parents were generally of the more reasonable vein. I planned a career and went to a non-religious college, but I spent my high school years in a very strict home church: head coverings, long dresses, women kept silent during "discussion time" and eventually, because of my flirtatious nature, young people were segregated by gender during fellowship time. (Anyone who knows me is now guffawing.) I think they still hoped I would have a nice proper courtship where my dad got to sit the young man down and ask his intentions and have sizable say in the selection of suitors (my dad is highly nostalgic for the Victorian era). Anyway, being labeled as a Jezebel made me jumpy about talking to persons of the opposite gender. Tim was wary of desperate females looking for an escape route. He was subjected to faxes and emails from prospective fathers-in-law proposing the arrangement of a courting relationship with their pig-in-a-poke daughters as well. In true lawyer fashion, he brought a contract to our first *gulp* date which stated that spending the evening in my company was by no means to be construed as a commitment to marriage. Mind you, we had been "not dating" (a popular pastime for people with our upbringing) for several months. I still spent many weeks after that date agonizing about if I were certain I could marry him, mainly because I knew I was falling fast. Four months later, I asked him when he was going to propose. I am sure we kissed like married people at our wedding, we practiced a lot beforehand and we haven't gotten rusty yet.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

Unlike Litterairy, I was raised in a more modern environment - I was allowed and encouraged to spend time with young ladies in group activities. I also had the distinct advantage of having my own place during our dating, so there was never the "younger sibling in the back seat" thing.
However, as you can tell, Litterairy was a bit jumpy about the whole thing. I would consider what she went through to be spiritually abusive. Anyone who has met her knows that she projects "unavailable, and don't even consider it" better than anyone I know. I think that the problem was that she was the best looking girl in her church, and also smart and confident. She didn't like to sit around and talk about domestic duties and livestock, and goodness knows women shouldn't participate in talk of men's things, like old cars.

The other thing that she didn't mention, is that before the famous relationship contract, we had a lengthy e-mail correspondence on relationship based issues, including some shocking discussions on sex. (Shocking because we talked about what our views were, not because we were scandalous or anything. We're better at that part now.)

This isn't limited to courtship, but it is a problem that the church as a whole with its obsession with purity fails to consider: by making sex the ONE BIG TABOO, they make the man take a risk just like the emotional one taken in courtship. You hope that everything occurs at the same time by magic. In the courtship model, you risk that the couple has no idea how to go from "no interest in each other" to "completely emotionally bonded" instantly and at the right time. But if you think about it, a man takes the risk that his wife's reaction to him is disgust rather than lust. If one believes in marriage for life, this is a huge risk. That is why we talked before hand - this all had to be out on the table before I was willing to risk a lifetime commitment. I cannot imagine having that conversation while supervised. Good grief!

After representing parties in a number of ghastly ugly Christian divorces, I think there has to be more of an emphasis on training our young people to be good spouses, and less on making ludicrous promises that everything will be better if you just follow the magic formula. The financial issues in a marriage work better of both spouses have similar views, and have been trained to manage money. Sex works better of both spouses have similar views, and at least somebody has a basic (at least book) knowledge of what to do.

Ok, my rant for the day is done.

Queen of Carrots said...

The whole history of the courtship movement might have been so different if Josh Harris had only been more homely . . .

I love the contract.

I was actually the one raised with more freedom in friendships while DOB was more restricted. I also just about died of embarrassment and angst when my dad emailed DOB asking if he would come out to get acquainted. I just knew DOB would take it as one of those courtship-hungry dads trying to ensnare him. (Fortunately it turned our OK. More or less.)

Autodidact, I think it's an overgeneralization to suggest only men take a risk when sexual issues are forbidden from discussion. . . But I definitely agree that the emphasis should not be on how one gets married, but how one conducts the marriage. The prelude is relatively insignificant.

Diary of an Autodidact said...

I mostly agree with you that I made a generalization. I would note that from a purely statistical point of view (and an anecdotal one too), a woman is far less likely to get a man that is uninterested in sex. Agreed, people are not statistics, and with only one spouse, statistics will be no comfort. However, I do believe that it is much easier to detect a man without a sex drive than a woman in the same condition.

Queen of Carrots said...

Agreed on the statistics. Although in the hyper-spiritualized world of courtship, it would still be pretty hard to detect a guy lacking in sex drive. Or one who had already found alternative ways of satisfying it.

the Joneses said...

I'd decided on my own that I wasn't interested in having a boyfriend, although I really wanted some guy friends. (Can you imagine? That a 14-year-old had the sense to understand what she really wanted? The Courtship Machine doesn't understand that about 24-year-olds.) So when my family heard about courtship, I wasn't wild about how formalized the courtship process was, but agreed with it in principle.

And when DJ and I got married, we both thought courtship was THE WAY TO GO! We loved how it worked for us, and were all for it!

Turns out, we did it wrong. Like you said, if we'd followed the actual Emotional Purity rules, we wouldn't even have been friends. And remember, it was friends I wanted, not boyfriends. Plus, we set our own rules, our own schedules, and decided how far was "far enough" for us. Our parents were there for counsel and cheerleading, but didn't expect any authority in the proceedings.

So I'm not sure what we actually did, but it wasn't courtship by the book. We're still enthusiastic about how we did it and we'll encourage our kids to follow the same principles.

And I LOVE the remark about how there should be way more discussion of how to be married, rather than the prelude to it. But for girls, what more is there to say besides, "God speaks through your husband. Do what he says. And have babies."

-- SJ (who is TWO behind Tim this time.)

Diary of an Autodidact said...

SJ, you can blame the time zone. The Duchess usually posts in the evening, Pacific Time Zone. On the nights Litterairy works, I have nothing better to do than haunt the internet (and read). You are at a disadvantage, I'm afraid. On the plus side, your comments are always really good (and unquestionably nicer than mine), so you have that going for you.

And, I can agree that DJ is ALWAYS right, and you should have more babies. :pppp

Carrie said...

Well, I'm still the last commenter.

Tim & Amanda - your story is HILARIOUS!

I rather agree with your conclusions on courtship. Both Jonathan and myself were raised in very conservative homes (bent on courtship) and we crossed the emotional boundary line (the only reason we are married at all) at some point. It was harder to actually practice "courtship" because we both lived states away from our parents at the time our relationship was developing. There are aspects about that which we didn't like as we didn't have ANY one older around to ask questions and be a part of things. (That is something that we very much would have - and do still - value!) Being friends is not bad and, as you say, all love involves a risk.

Laughing about how the history of courtship would have looked different had Harris been homely! (Can't STOP laughing, really.) It's TRUE, no doubt! (I understand that he has recanted some of his former statements but haven't done the research to figure out how.)

Amy K said...

I think it's absurd to expect people to remain emotionally detached before they are engaged or married. I also think that young people shouldn't be made to feel guilty if they entered a relationship with good intentions and the goal to honor God and it just didn't work out. We live in an imperfect world. We can't insulate our kids from sin and from bad things happening to them, including falling for the wrong person. We can instruct them in godliness and trust that they will make good choices. But we need to also give them freedom to fail and learn from mistakes. Hopefully that won't mean marrying the wrong person or being sexually active before marriage. But it happens. And God's grace covers that too. I don't know yet when we will allow our kids to date. We are definitely going to encourage them to wait until marriage is not a too far-off possibility. I agree that it is ridiculous to start dating around when there is no chance marriage is in sight. It wastes youth and I don't see that leading anywhere productive or God-honoring.