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Archive for the ‘Boundless’ Category

It’s been, oh, about 7 months since I wrote the fourth and penultimate segment in my “Woman’s Guide to ‘A Girl’s Guide'” series. I was bored with the whole thing, and then convinced I didn’t want to get married at all, so I didn’t have to bother reading it, and then forgot about it, and then lost my notes, and then found them again and was bored still…

Finally I decided that I just needed to finish what I started—better late than never, you know. I’m going to try to keep this short(er…ish) because there’s something else I want to talk about afterwards.

(And if you’re a newer reader, just do a search on this site for “girl’s guide” and you should easily find the past entries.)

I have just a few things, really, to stay about the rest of the chapter on Christian Compatibility.

First of all, they give some hints on staying objective when you’re dating and awash with emotion. Any attempt to stay objective in a new, exciting relationship is pretty much a good idea. I’m all for having a ready crew of friends and family who will be both willing and able to basically pull you aside and say “Hey, look, I’ve noticed some warning signs you should be careful about.” This could be the guy you’re dating, or the way you’re conducting yourself in the relationship, or a number of other issues. But the Boundless authors seem to think that this will make you stop and think rationally and objectively, and immediately put on hold all future plans for this relationship. I think—in fact, I know—that there are people fully capable of doing this. But not everyone–including me. My advice? Never stop praying for the relationship, and make sure you have friends willing to harangue you repeatedly for your own good.

The section on what “good guys” are looking for really had me chuckling. As in many areas, the authors have some good ideas and make good points, but they’re often a little off-track or unclear in their wording. The authors of Boundless generally hold to the traditional dating approach where men pursue women. I have no problem with that. But the part of “A Girl’s Guide” that talks about “good guys” and what they want is almost contradictory. I must give them credit for having a man write this part, but he doesn’t seem to be quite on Planet Earth. I will explain.

First, he discusses what guys are looking for: a woman who is authentic, secure in who she is, honest and humble, and has an adventuresome faith that is willing to follow God wherever He leads. Hey, this girl sounds awesome! And then he adds,

When a girl is willing to love the unlovely and give without thought of receiving anything in return, guys take notice.

I was baffled, and honestly, pretty angry when I read this, taking it to mean that women should be willing to love the unlovely guy who may be interested in her. Pastors, writers, comedians, etc. will often refer to their wives as their “better half” and make jokes about how much nicer, more attractive, etc. she is than he. But this is ridiculous and just completely unfair. Is he actually saying that the girl should be fabulous and willing to overlook the fact that the guy interested in her is completely not?

Upon the 50th reading, I realize that he might just be referring to a woman who loves the unlovely around her, caring for things that many people don’t, but should—perhaps making friends with the girl nobody else likes, or defending someone else’s opinion, or cheerfully giving up an hour of her time to help out when she might rather spend it elsewhere. The “unlovely” may not actually refer to the guy who is “taking notice” of her. But man, as I said, the wording is a little unfortunate.

But then, maybe my first interpretation was correct, since the author also pleads with women to be patient with men. They are works in progress, after all, and the culture is fighting against them to keep them from growing up and becoming men of God.

That’s definitely a good thing to keep in mind. Unfortunately, women don’t get such a free pass, at least in this guide. I haven’t seen any mention of how society teaches us that we have to play a number of roles to get guys’ attention–the skank, the foul-mouthed “one of the boys,” the damsel in distress, the independent woman who needs nothing, the disinterested ice princess, the fawning needy chick, the sexy nerd, or the future housewife. Even if somehow we defeat these stereotypes, we too are God’s creation, and imperfect, and still learning about ourselves, our lives, and our relationship with God. Guys need to remember that too.

The author adds,

The good guy can be like the great restaurant that only locals know about. The tourists miss it because they fall for the “traps” of the neon sign and convenient location of the franchise, not realizing that the best is tucked away just a few blocks over. The good guy is more a discovery, finding him can take more effort because you have to work your way past all the flash of the franchise guy. He could be working in the cubicle next to you, or sitting just a few rows over in class, or playing guitar in your church small group.

This is kind of the basis for my favorite fictional love story, that of Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. For a while, Marianne ignores the Colonel, essentially because he’s not her “type,” when he’s exactly the sort of man she needs. So, I’m completely sympathetic and open to the idea that I’m overlooking a worthwhile guy, or setting aside petty prejudices to give Love a chance.

But if this guy is so great and so overlooked, why isn’t he making a move? If he’s not demonstrating any interest, why should I? There’s a difference between blowing off a guy who is at least initially worthy of my time, and passing over a man who doesn’t seem interested in me. Marianne Dashwood doesn’t doubt the Colonel’s interest in her—she just doesn’t like it. And how do we “find” such a guy if the girls aren’t supposed to be doing the pursuing? HMMM? If this “great restaurant” hasn’t built up a customer base from word-of-mouth, then it needs to improve its advertising or rethink its business model. Because if no one is saying good things about you, if there’s no sign saying BEST FISH & CHIPS IN TOWN!!!, and if you’re huddled behind a thick wooden door in a dark alley, why should anyone choose you?

Whoa, sorry, my capitalistic side just went crazy for a sec.

That’s really all I had left to say regarding Boundless‘ “Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well.” It’s definitely an interesting read, and you should check it out. You may have a different opinion than I do. But take both the guide and my opinion with a grain of salt.

Now, on to the other thing that I wanted to talk about.

Seriously, this part WILL be brief. I wanted to talk to Bethany about this beforehand, but it’ll have to be a surprise for her, as well, since she went on a retreat this weekend and I don’t know when she’ll be back.

I bought this book at the church bookstore yesterday, and I’m going to blog about it (hopefully with greater success than the “Girl’s Guide”). The title, which is what caught my eye, is How to Avoid Falling in Love With a Jerk, by John Van Epp (PhD!). I’d never heard of this book before I saw it yesterday, but it’s something I know I need to read, sadly. I’ll save a full introduction and description for later, but I wanted to give you guys a little notice about what’s coming up. I’m quite excited about this one.

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This is a bit late for Friday Frivolity, but I have been distracted by—you won’t believe this—work and other real life responsibilities! I know, I know, and I’m sorry for letting you down. Hopefully this will make up for it.

Ever been caught in the “friend zone,” willingly or not? Sure, we all have. But maybe Boundless is right and that ISN’T the way God planned it!!!

(Apologies that the video wasn’t embedded. It’s actually embeddable, but WordPress is being … well, it would be un-Christian of me to describe what I really think of it right now.)

Unrelated note: I still owe you guys the fourth and final part of my (over)analysis of the Girl’s Guide, I know. The thing is, I misplaced the hard copy I had with all my notes, and I’m too lazy to go through it and rewrite them. It’s somewhere in my room, though. Can’t promise when it will be posted, but I can promise that it will be posted!

On that note, as always, Happy Friday, and have a blessed weekend!

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After we were on a bit of a roll with the posting, this blog has been rather quiet, so our apologies for that. Bethany recently moved back home, and is preparing for a year of study abroad in Berlin, where she will work in a cabaret and marry an English writer. (Or maybe not.) Meanwhile, I’ve been dealing with internal stuff such as ill health and a bad attitude, neither of which are conducive to my productivity here.

But anyway, I’ve just finished reading and taking notes on the last chapter of “A Girls’ Guide to Marrying Well.” (Have I mentioned that I am slightly peeved at their use of “girl”? Girls don’t marry. Women do.) For this discussion of Chapter Four on Christian Compatibility, I’m going to switch it up a bit and first address the parts that I liked and/or agreed with, and then go into the more critical stuff.

(This is also going to be a two-parter within my series. I hope that didn’t just blow your mind. I had too much to say about the last chapter for one blog post.)

First, I appreciate the authors’ criticism of “soul mates.” They reiterate that marriage is a ministry that can be difficult at times, and that love is a choice that must be made every day. The authors offer non-negotiable traits that Christian women should look for in a husband, creating a short but spectacular list:

–A man must be a believer.
–He must be able and willing to provide for his family.
–He must love sacrificially.
–He must be honest, have a good reputation, and strive for the qualities of a spiritual leader. (See Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:6-9)

But on top of these things, they reminded readers that women must expect to marry a sinner who will not be perfect—he will be in need of grace and “realistic expectations,” even in a “good relationship.” They also noted that younger men are works in progress that should not be unfairly compared to more mature, refined, etc. men of 50 or so. The men we marry should also love Jesus more than they love us. We should also pray about the entire situation.

Ta-daaa! All wonderful things, I must say.

But … I will not lie, this was a fun chapter to read. It was pretty funny, for after getting fired up about the first chapter, generally agreeing with the second and third threw me off a bit. I was starting to think, “Aw, man, am I just going to be agreeing with this the rest of the way?”

Oh, no, my friends. No, I am not.

They did dispense with the “soul mate” idea, but not for the reasons it has always bothered me. Christ completes us. Another human being cannot. But they do not mention that. Perhaps because a Christian woman is already expected to know that? I hope that’s the reason. But still, it was unsettling for it to be left out.

So instead of a soul mate, what should we be looking for? Not looks, apparently:

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). The Bible is telling young men to search for a woman of character; looks won’t last, but character never leaves. The same is true when you’re searching for a man. Marriage is 98 percent living and 2 percent looking — so learn to value character over appearance.

That’s my favorite Bible verse. But I think many people take Proverbs 31 a bit too literally. Doing so is the spiritual version of a model on the cover of Vogue—idealized and humanly impossible—and often we miss the spirit of the instruction for the sake of the words. Young Christian men who are over-eager to find a “Proverbs 31 Woman” may become preoccupied with finding a woman who fits the old-fashioned idea of the perfect housewife, who literally arises before dawn to make clothes and bake bread and weave blankets. In seeking this woman, they may reject one who may not be the greatest cook, but does have the “strength and dignity” of verse 25, who speaks with the wisdom and faithful instruction (verse 26) and is still a hard worker (verse 27). Just not in the conventional sense.

(I love it that no one seems to take literally the verses in Proverbs 31: 3, and 31:6-7:  “Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings” and “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”)

I DO want to know where they got the “98 percent living / 2 percent looking” statistic. Are you literally, physically blind at some point in your marriage? Do you not look at your spouse while you’re “living” marriage? What does this statistic even mean? Of course character should be valued above appearance—it runs deeper, and it lasts longer. But from a practical standpoint, in choosing a spouse, you are choosing someone you are going to look at for the rest of your life. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you want to choose someone you like to look at?

I’m not saying appearance should be top priority, I just don’t think it should be disregarded. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a mate of both character and beauty. Humans were made to admire beauty, desire it, seek it—but not to be deceived by it. God chose David, a man after His own heart, to become king over Israel. (I Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22). But David was still a hottie (I Samuel 16:12). Did God create this entire, breathtaking world—with the jeweled colors of the hummingbird, the shapes of the clouds, the rhythm of the sea, as well as the human form—only for us to say “Appearance is unimportant, don’t consider it” ?

In defense of character, I have mentioned elsewhere that a person’s conceived appearance can change with further acquaintance. Their physical attractiveness is heavily dependent on personality, character, intelligence, etc. I might think that a guy is hott until I find out that he cheated on his wife, strangled a kitten, or practiced voodoo. Or that he was just generally a jerk. But a less-attractive guy can become more handsome, if I get to know him and find out that he’s fun, or very kind, or interesting, or some such combination. And I’m not saying, “Oh, he has all these good qualities, I will overlook his less-attractive exterior for their sake.” I mean that I actually perceive him as more physically attractive because of these unseen qualities.

I think this happens to most people if they give it a chance. It shows that, yes, character is not only more important, but it influences physical attractiveness. Physical attraction is still something to be regarded. This is why it cannot be the foundation of a relationship. But it can still play a role. It brings people together through the first spark of interest, for one thing. And one of my favorite Boundless contributors (and I mean that ironically) said her husband is “more spiritually mature, more seasoned, even more handsome” [emphasis mine] after 10 years of marriage. And she says that is a good thing. So clearly appearance is a factor in attraction and relationships. It’s just not the most important thing.

But what gets me in this Guide is that they seem to assume that if a woman does not want to marry a man who meets the admirable criteria listed above, it is because he’s not good-looking enough. But there are so many other reasons not to want to marry a particular godly man!

If you’re holding out for perfection, or have a long list of must-haves, it’s possible you’re overlooking some good men who are already in your life. … Even if he’s shorter than you. Or younger. Or bald. Failing to meet our worldly expectations—our romantic shopping list—is no liability if he meets biblical ones. That’s the only list that matters.

I said before that their non-negotiable list is wonderful and should be followed when determining the foundation of a potential relationship. But the quote directly above oversimplifies things. There are plenty of other things that go into finding a mate and establishing compatibility. Even if you don’t believe that God created each of us with an ideal mate—except for those gifted with singleness—you can’t believe that any Christian can be married to any other Christian with successful results. I know a man whose first wife was a Christian, but they divorced because she was essentially mentally unstable. And this man meets the criteria, and they shared a Christian faith. And yet there were other things that contributed to the failure of their marriage.

Bethany tells me, “If there are people one couldn’t room with, there are people one couldn’t marry.” Spot-on.

The Guide takes nothing about personality into account. There are some people I absolutely cannot stand to be around, and it’s not because they are terrible people. I know another guy who is both godly and good-looking, who meets every important quality for a Christ-follower, husband, and father. But thank God he’s married to someone else, because our personalities are very different and sometimes I just want to smack him.

Personally, I have some very radical political beliefs, and while they are not un-Biblical, they’re not exactly mainstream. Not every Christian man, no matter how open-minded or loving, could stand to live with me. (And I don’t want someone who can “put up with” my personality. I want someone who loves me for who I am, quirks and all. And vice-cersa.) Although I’m not even sure if I want to have children someday (a cardinal sin to the crew of the S.S. Boundless), I have some very decided beliefs on how I would raise them if I did have any, and I would want a husband whose ideas mesh with mine. And what of differing beliefs when it comes to non-salvation-related issues? What about life goals? Or cultural differences?

These things are important, too, and while not as important, they can still be deal-breakers!

You and your husband are not going to agree on everything all the time. But aren’t there some things that you don’t want to clash about for the rest of your life?

As for those annoying little habits that just aren’t going to change? After marriage, they still aren’t going to change. Some people just can’t live with certain things, and that’s just the way they are.

Bethany says, “I really have very low standards for the beauty of a potential mate. But there are definitely some people I really couldn’t live with.”

Exactly.

But in the Guide, they seem to believe that a woman who does not want a particular man is basing her decision on “selfish” reasons. Once (and only once) I was asked out by a young-man friend of mine. And by “asked out,” I don’t mean, “let’s get coffee,” but “let’s pursue a relationship.” He had the non-negotiable qualities previously listed, but for a variety of reasons that included personality differences, non-salvation beliefs, and attraction, I decided against this. I knew that this relationship would not last, even if I chose to give it a go, and I knew that ultimately we would make each other miserable. I was 100% certain that God was leading us in different directions. It broke my heart to tell him I didn’t think it would work out, but guess who met someone else and is now happily married?

And was I selfish to do this? According to the Guide, I was. I should have settled. Looking back on all the things we both would have missed out on if things had gone in another direction, I still know I made the right choice.

So ladies, even if he’s a single, godly man (if you currently have such an option in your life), that doesn’t automatically make him marriage material for you. Any cause for hesitation deserves another look.

In my next post: Chapter Four of the Guide, continued, with discussions of loving one another, what women can do to encourage guys, and staying objective.

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After reading chapters 2 and 3, on Purity and Community, respectively, in A Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well, I found that I honestly agree with most of it, so this post won’t be quite as fired-up as Part One.

There are a few things that rankled, but others may consider it nit-picky or irrelevant for me to address them.

As one who believes in Health At Every Size and is a minor player in the ongoing Fat Acceptance movement—which should be self-explanatory—I resented the Guide’s use of the phrase “overweight and unattractive” when it suggested that women cultivate inward and outward beauty. (Side note: For a fascinating illustration of the fallacies of the BMI measurement, click here.) I think you should take care of your body and eat balanced, varied meals and participate in exercise, of course, but there’s something to be said for natural weight ranges and different attraction preferences. I don’t diet, and have maintained a stable weight for about a year now. And as for physical attractiveness, I can tell you that I know several women who find “chubby” guys more attractive, and I’ll agree with them in some cases—though I tend to have a broad range in what I find attractive. Doubtless that goes for guys too. But I don’t think “overweight” (over what weight, anyway?) should be lumped with “unattractive.”  I think that’s unfair, ungracious, and lazy.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Back to the Guide.

The problem with reading a guide—or at least a chapter within a guide—on purity is that I’ve become kind of jaded, almost numb, to such instructions. I think it started with reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the age of 12. And it’s not because I am so enmeshed in sexual sin that I don’t care about it anymore. It’s that, having never had a boyfriend (hence the phrase “perpetually single”), I’ve had so little need to maintain boundaries that sexual sin is almost a foreign concept to me.

And I’m not trying to say, “Look at me, I am super-holy,” or “Wah wah, nobody wants me.” I’m just saying, it’s hard to relate. Not that I’ve never faced such temptation before—that’s another story in itself—but God saw fit to remove me from those circumstances before I had the chance to do anything stupid.

Make no mistake: I’m all for purity and abstaining from sexual intercourse until marriage. But I’m also wary of the black and white approach that many of the Guide‘s contributing authors seem to take on physical intimacy in a dating relationship.

First, there’s the argument that, because humans were designed for sex (Really? Just that? Nothing else? Interesting.), a godly man and woman should avoid physical contact when dating because it will start them “down the road” or “along the slippery slope” and other metaphors for simply going too far. As though one kiss will make people lose all control and, before you know it, you’ve lost your clothes and have no idea what happened. So couples should be careful when walking hand-in-hand down the street—because even that bit of physical contact may prove too much, and in the next few minutes they’ll be so overcome with passion that they may progress to hugging, and then one peck on the cheek turns into making out, and then suddenly they’re committing public indecency and getting arrested.

This is yet another situation where balance is so important. I do understand their reasoning for saying that men and women should maintain purity by having as little physical contact as possible. I just don’t think it’s always the best approach.

For some people, even a little bit of alcohol is enough to jump-start a drinking binge. For others, a few drinks now and then is perfectly satisfactory. Still others don’t see a need to drink all. In all cases, drunkenness is still a sin, but for each person, the pathway to sin, and the temptation to sin, is different.

I think that physical intimacy works similarly in people. Because of their past, their mindset, or simply because of their individual physical and emotional makeup, some people are unable to kiss without it igniting a rapid chain of events leading to intercourse. Others can. Some people see hugging as a more sexual form of physical contact than others. In all these cases, fornication is still a sin. But the temptation presents itself differently to different people. For some people, having almost no physical contact only heightens the mental, emotional stimulation, leading to lust in the heart—which is still a sin. (Matthew 5:28, anyone?) For others, and I imagine myself part of this category, the occasional touching, hugs and kisses, are useful, nay essential, to “tide one over” until the relationship can be consummated within the bond of wedlock.

But as I said, I’m not promoting moral relativism: In all these cases, the sin itself does not change. It’s just that the path of temptation can be different for different people.

The chapter on community was pretty great, though of course it was a little over-the-top for me in some areas. But after surviving a period when I faced serious temptation (as referenced earlier), I got a better inkling of the importance of having Christian community, for encouragement and accountability and prayer and all those things. On the mission trip a few weeks ago, I REALLY realized the importance. It’s one of those things that you don’t quite realize how much you need until you get a little taste, and kind of hard to describe. So yes, please, find a trustworthy Christian mentor, and build up a Christian community of all ages. Have a “panel” ready for when you start wondering if this guy is the one, where they can observe and rank him and give you their opinion (“He’s bow-legged.” “He just kicked that dog.” “He is the answer to all your dreams.” I hope your panel’s input will not be so wildly disparate.)

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion, Chapter 4: Christian Compatibility. It’s going to be delicious.

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I completely forgot that I had signed up to receive A Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well from the Christian webzine, Boundless, and was extremely excited to find it in my email today, immediately deciding to critique it for this blog. (I’d link to it directly, but you have to sign up for it yourself if you want a copy.)

I have to confess, I have a love-hate relationship with Boundless. Most of their general stuff about living the Christian life is great. Honestly. Check it out. I mean it.

Hold off on the stuff about being single, though. When the site talks about singleness and marriage, I tend to feel my skin crawl and have steam come out of my ears. A few years ago, for a few months of my life, I was totally on board with everything the Boundless authors said. Eventually, somehow, that cooled down and I realized that a lot of what they say is somewhat over-the-top and, in a few cases, biblically questionable. Not that I don’t want to get married, or that I don’t want God to bring me the right man. I’m just a little, oh, more level-headed about it.

I’ve been wanting to address a Boundless piece on this blog for quite some time now, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. Plus, it specifically mentions things that I have recently discussed here. Be warned, though, that I am one of those people who says, “I’m not cynical, I’m realistic,” so I may sound a bit harsh or melodramatic. (What else is new, right?)

But if you read nothing else in this post, read this: In all seriousness, I’m not here to bash marriage. Clearly. I really would like to get married someday to the right man, but I’d be happy serving the Lord as a single woman, if that is His will instead. And I’m very happy for the authors of this Guide, that their marriages apparently have worked out so well. I just don’t think that singleness is any less important or useful a state than marriage is, and I think that focusing too much on getting married in the future may cause women (and men, to be fair) to miss out on blessings in the present.

That said, let us proceed.

I had to heave a sigh when I read the opening sentence of the intro: Most women hope to marry, but for many, it’s not happening like they thought it would.

Welcome to life. Many things don’t work out as we had thought they would. Does that mean it’s also not happening as God thought it would? Isn’t He bigger than that? Maybe He has other plans. I had hoped to finish my novel by now, but stuff happens. And guess what? Life goes on, and it’s OK. I haven’t given up hope, I’m just doing other stuff, too. Stuff I never planned. Stuff I never even considered or thought possible.

The first part of the Guide involves being intentional toward marriage: living life as if you plan to get married. The authors write:

Living like you’re planning to marry means intentionally resisting the cultural traps of male bashing [but what if they deserve it??], procrastinating [?], unrealistic expectations, hyper independence [what does that even mean?], and avoiding risk and instead cultivating community, stewardship, and purity — the elements of Christian discipleship that can best help you recognize and embrace good opportunities for marriage.

Except for the things that I don’t quite understand (like what she means by procrastination and hyper-independence, which go unexplained in this chapter), I’m actually supportive of this. But that’s just the thing: these are good things to practice as a Christian, whether you are planning to get married or not. Being single doesn’t give you any extra moral leeway—as Christians, we should be cultivating godliness and a Christ-like example out of obedience to God, out of a desire to serve Him, whether we are single or married. I tend to think that any other motivation puts a hypothetical future husband first, instead of God—and that’s called idolatry, sisters.

Matthew 6:31-33: So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

I think this applies to seeking/hoping for a spouse, as well. God knows what you want and need. He’s got you covered, literally and figuratively.

As for intentionality, what if God really intends for you to not marry? Or to be single for a relatively long time? I mean, really. It could happen. Lest you think me too critical, there is plenty in this Guide that I agree with. For example:

The problem of delayed marriage has a lot to do with men who won’t take initiative.

YEAH. MAYBE. YA THINK?

To the men we say, “Get going, it’s time you accept the challenge to pursue marriage.”

ABOUT TIME.

And to the women, “Stop glorifying the single years as a super-holy season of just you and Jesus.” Yes, being single does provide the chance to be uniquely intimate with Jesus. Enjoy that. But don’t over-emphasize it.

Wait … what? HOLD UP.

What happened to men being attracted to women who were happy and confident and at peace? What happened to having a heart fully devoted to the Lord? If we are, in the words of a Christian author I deeply admire, “sassy, single, and satisfied,” are we supposed to pretend to be miserable so that men can come in and rescue us from our unbearable loneliness? Don’t men tend to steer clear of needy, desperate women?

(As usual, Bethany’s reaction is much calmer and to-the-point: “That is really discouraging to people trying to see the good in what is now.”)

But there is more. It continues:

Why? Because it gives guys permission to kick back and let you. If they think you’re perfectly happy as a single, why wouldn’t they let you stay that way? Especially when so many of them are gun shy.

First of all, if a man is gun-shy—either with women or with actual guns—I’ll say “No, thanks.” Secondly, if that’s his attitude, then clearly he himself is not that intentional toward marriage. If I do get married, I’m looking for someone who has a heart for Jesus and is happy with his life, and who is seeking a woman of similar traits. I realize that there may be a balance between, “I LOVE BEING SINGLE! I’M SO HAPPY THIS WAY, I DON’T NEED A MAN, YOU PUNKS! BE GONE!” (of which I have been guilty) and “I AM SO MISERABLE! SOMEONE PLEASE MARRY MEEEEEEEE SO I CAN BE HAPPY” (of which I have also been guilty), but what does that balance look like? “Yes, I’m happy now, but I’d be happier if I had a husband”? Are you sure? Any husband? Really?

How about: “I’m so happy with my relationship with the Lord and where I am in my life! I want to share that happiness with someone” ?

After reading more, I became concerned that this guide is putting marriage on a pedestal of nearly idolatrous levels:

Marriage holds the possibility of partnership, adventure, creativity, challenge and many more of the things we long for, but try to obtain with inferior pursuits. As Amy and Leon Kass observed in their roles as professors at the University of Chicago, “…we detect among our students certain (albeit sometimes unarticulated) longings — for friendship, for wholeness, for a life that is serious and deep, and for associations that are trustworthy and lasting — longings that they do not realize could be largely satisfied by marrying well.” (Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar, 2)

Although singleness is clearly different from being married, a life lived for Christ holds all those things and more, for people in either state. I may be resorting to cliche by pulling out the “Paul card,” but was Paul’s life any less adventurous, creative, serious, or challenging because he was unmarried? Did he want for partnership and “trustworthy associations”? Not only was he in close intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but he had the help, love, and support of Christians elsewhere in the world, such as Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Can you imagine this conversation going on somewhere in the Roman Empire?

Some guy: “Hey, Paul, how’s it going? Haven’t seen you in a couple years.”
Paul: “Going well, thanks. Hey, I heard you got married. Congratulations.”
SG: “Thanks! Oh, man, it’s awesome. It’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me. What have you been up to?”
P: “The usual, you know. Making tents. Got thrown in prison with a friend. Sang some praises to God, and watched the walls collapse and our chains fall off, and then the jailer became a Christ-follower. It was fantastic. Was in a shipwreck, too, carrying the Word of God across the world. Oh, and an angry mob stoned me last month. That hurt. So, marriage is exciting, huh?”
SG: ” … “

And for a more feminine and recent example, what about Mother Teresa? NEED I SAY MORE?

Perhaps these are extreme examples, but I think that what many people seek in marriage, they really should first seek in Christ. This is what I’ve been emphasizing lately on this blog, and I see no reason to back down from what I have said. I’m not saying that marriage doesn’t offer the things they mentioned, but they’re not exclusive to marriage, and marriage doesn’t guarantee them. I don’t believe that being single is necessarily inferior to being married—I think both circumstances can be blessings from God and used to His purpose, and they both carry their own advantages and difficulties.

(Bethany adds, “So much of life is in its purpose and in the goals, not in our state. … Plus, if we are incapable of adventure and friendship now, how is marriage going to fix us?”)

One thing I rather dislike is the emphasis on marriage as an end in itself, a mythical “happily ever after.” Single life may have ended, but life in general goes on, long after the I-do’s are said. It’s not necessarily smooth sailing once the bride has been kissed and the cake has been cut. I’m not saying that all relationships are unnecessarily difficult, and certainly there are efforts that spouses can take to make things easier for each other. But marriage doesn’t simplify things, and it doesn’t automatically make you happier all the time.

Now that I’ve dug myself into this hole of criticism, let me attempt to get out of it by saying that the Guide does a great job of addressing a lot of the problems that single Christians face, especially when it comes to interactions between the sexes and attitudes toward dating.

I’ve recently observed several non-dating relationships that seem to fall into the “intimate friends” category. In every case, it is the woman who is paying the price emotionally. Why? When a guy starts investing his heart, he can do something about it by making a move. And if the girl rejects him, the friendship ends or changes significantly. [Oh man, I’ve been there.] A woman, however, can hang on in this kind of relationship indefinitely, hoping the guy will eventually share her feelings. She makes herself available to him as a “friend,” all the while hoping the friendship will blossom into something more. [Alas, I’ve been there, too.]

I don’t think it’s impossible to have close male-female friendships without romantic feelings existing in either person, but it can be difficult. I don’t think that men and women need to abandon their opposite-sex friends if one or both parties are not “marriage-attracted” to each other (a phrase I coined INSTANTLY), as long as they’re open and honest about where the friendship is going. Being open and honest saves a lot of trouble.

Single men and women are failing each other. Uncommitted intimate friendships may satiate immediate needs, but they lead to frustration and heartache. Not to mention, for singles ready for marriage, these “friendships” waste time and energy.

Another author seems to agree with me that close male-female relationships are not impossible, though less-advisable. However, the reasoning is slightly … off:

Close friendships by their very nature tend to involve extensive time talking and hanging out one-on-one. They tend to involve a deep knowledge of the other person’s hopes, desires and personality. They tend to involve the sharing of many aspects of each other’s daily lives and routines. In other words, they tend to involve much of the type of intimacy and companionship involved in — and meant for — marriage.

Soooo, does this mean that Bethany and I should stop leading each other on and get married? Hmm, well I guess that solves our singleness issues, but not quite what I was looking for. OK, so that was a cheap shot. My apologies.

But there are other parts of the Guide that make me cheer and say, “Well done!”

Once you’ve met a man you’d like to date, then it’s time to exercise kindness, put your best foot forward in friendship, pray like crazy and maintain good boundaries. The best way to motivate a male friend to “make things official” is to back off from spending so much time with him. If everyone thinks you’re dating, then you’re probably acting like you are. But by giving him so much access to your time, affection and intimate friendship — without requiring any commitment on his part — you’re removing all the incentives for him to be forthright about his intentions.

I read this and thought, “Wow, this is advice that Marianne Dashwood really should have followed in Sense and Sensibility.” (Which means it’s probably good advice for me, since she and I have a number of things in common.) And then I got completely thrown by the next bit, which seems to disregard what they said earlier:

It’s frustrating to feel like there’s nothing you can do. But you can pray and you can go about the life God has given you; living to the full. The young man may observe you being content and find your confidence attractive (assuming it’s genuine). That’s always a possibility.

It IS! That’s what I’ve been trying to TELL you! And it’s something you should do even if there isn’t a man who may be interested!

Well, that concludes my analysis of the first part of A Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well. Because I took so much time and space, I will address parts 2-4 at a later time. Happy Wednesday!

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