In a previous post more or less on courtship (The Mop Top’s perspective of his relationship with Pip), I linked to yet an earlier post, where I shared yet another link, this time to an article which I described as:
this is probably the first thing we read that really started us questioning some of our common cultural assumptions about dating. We accepted a pattern of serial relationships and recreational dating as the norm until we read this. We do NOT agree with everything in that article- some of it is pretty radical (and if WE think something is kind of radical…).
A reader kindly let me know that the link to that article is dead. The original article is here on the wayback machine, but I don’t know how long it will be there, so I thought I’d talk about it here and share how it jumpstarted our thinking.
For us, the main value of the article (we also heard the author speak, and enjoyed it very much) was that it made us think startlingly new-t0-us thoughts about things we’d taken so much for granted that we didn’t even know we’d taken them for granted. Since the article itself is not always easy to find, and since I’ve been asked for it before, I thought I’d just go over some of the thoughts that we had. This isn’t intended to be a summary or a review of Jonathan Lindvall’s ideas about romance, dating, courtship, and marriage. Lindvall served as a very useful diving board for us, we used to it as a starting point for the much needed exercise of challenging our own preconceived notions. This post is a sort of rambling review of some of the ideas we started thinking about in response to first coming across Lindvall’s ‘radical’ ideas.
Lindvall brought up the story of Adam and Eve shows us Adam recognizing his need for a companion, and God’s response, which was to tell Adam to go to sleep. Singleness itself is a gift, yet much of the time we spend being single is wasted. We ought to be using that time to focus on growing spiritually and implementing Luke 9:23-24 in our lives.
However, American culture is not friendly toward the idea of self-denial, especially in the area of romance. We have taken it for granted that God is just fine with teens having a series of romantic relationships, and that this approach to something Jonathan Lindval calls ‘serial romance’ is both inevitable and healthy:
But contemporary American dating practices preclude such emotional self-denial. The essence of dating is flirting. Dating is recreational romance in which each party intentionally endeavors to cultivate the other’s desire, while recognizing the relationship is most likely temporary.
This raises a couple of questions, or should have.
How is it that forming these strong romantic attachments to one Christian brother (or sister) after another, breaking
up, then starting all over again, is good preparation for marriage? Marriage is a permanent commitment (I know there are exceptions, but we’re talking about goals and ideals here)- you don’t break up just because you fall out of love, you have to stick it through.
Is it really likely that focusing on seeing your fellow brothers and sisters as happy hunting grounds is what God intended? Isn’t the way this usually happens a lot like baiting a bunch of hooks and running your lines through the water waiting to see which fish bites?
When you date and break up a few times, you learn to protect yourself better- shields go up, scar tissue forms over the rifts in your heart. It’s entirely possible to get through this and have happy, healthy, marriages, of course. But isn’t it also entirely possible that the are other ways that could also result in happy, healthy marriages without the barriers we build up when we play the serial romance game and develop flirtatious habits that aren’t appropriate for most Christians, let alone married Christians.
Why do we assume something that hasn’t been around for 100 years is inevitable or healthier than the approach that was around for thousands of years beforehand?
Marriage is a sacred institution, ordained by God, instituted in the Garden of Eden, symbolizing deeply spiritual concepts. Why do we simply take it for granted that Christians should apply the same approach as the rest of the western world to finding our life’s partner? Especially when the dating approach essentially began in the 1920s. It was that aspect of just taking it for granted that breaking up, making up, moving on and doing it all over again was somehow good preparation for marriage that made us smack our foreheads and wonder why it had never occurred to us to even wonder if this a positive good and pleasing to God.
Consider 1 Thessalonians 4:
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Sanctification, holiness, honor- vs shallow good times and tickling of the emotionally gratifying romance area of the brain- shouldn’t we at least spend some time thinking about whether or not a series of romantic relationships which are intended to be temporary is really the best way to pursue sanctification, holiness, and honor?
In the original article, Lindvall then spends some time talking about arranged marriages- not that he was at that time recommending them, but basically to further challenge our assumptions about romance and relationships. This is probably where we disagreed with him the most, and I’m not going to go through and repeat everything he said here. However, we still gleaned some useful ideas from this section.
There is value in thinking of ‘extremes,’ I think, mainly because it’s so easy and effortless to just slide in to the default position, never even thinking about questioning it (and sometimes never even noticing that we have taken a position).
I’ve mentioned this concept before in other posts on various ‘radical’ ideas- courtship, homeschooling, sleeping with our babies (and toddlers, and preschoolers, and….), extended nursing, or getting rid of the television, all those outside the mainstream culture ideals (what I like to call ‘white-bread culture’)- It’s helpful to essentially scrape the ground clear of as many of our preconceived ideas and assumptions as possible (and we will still miss some of them, because assumptions are so insidious). As we’re clearing the ground we need to be asking ourselves why this belief was in our little garden (or weedpatch) of the mind- why do we believe this, where did we get this idea, is this really the best, the most enlightened, approach, where might it lead, what other assumptions naturally follow this belief or practice, and so forth. It may very well be that once we have scraped the ground clear as much as we can, we end up putting back most of the things we cleared away. That’s fine.
Maybe it helps if we think of cleaning out a very full closet that’s been used as storage for 20 years- we pull everything out first, clean up the inside of the closet, and then we examine the things we removed, one by one. Some of them will go back in the closet, some will be moved to a better place, some will be discarded. Even if everything goes right back into the same closet, it wasn’t a waste of time. Now we know what is in the closet and why. We will be more careful about what we add to that closet in the future.
One of our culture’s assumptions that Lindvall challenged here is that finding your mate for marriage is all about romance, and this is good, whereas arranged marriages are bad and should be replaced by our western approach. Even though I did not agree with everything he said in this section, I did find the challenge to my thinking valuable.
I’ve realized that for a culture that imagines that it values ‘diversity,’ we have some strikingly obnoxious and monocultural ideas about the superiority of our mainstream, middle class, white-bread values and practices. While my husband and I have joked about arranged marriages, we’ve never been remotely seriously interested in the idea. However, we no longer assume that an arranged marriage is automatically somehow inferior or ‘less than’.
When the Striderling was in the NICU, it was an open bay NICU. This means we all were in the same room- a long room with two rows of NICU babies with maybe 30 inches of space between each baby’s little plastic box and domain of tubes, lights, beeps, and whistles, and about four or five feet of aisleway between the two rows. It was a large bay, and Striderling was there for 41 days, so we saw a lot of other NICU babies and their families come and go. The HG and I often resorted to people watching during our shifts with the Striderling. One couple in particular really warmed our hearts and blessed us, just by being there. They were there with their preemie twins. They were tender and loving to each other, and having been there the longest, they made a point of welcoming new NICU families and helping to show us the ropes. Just watching them interact with each other and their babies lifted our spirits and made us feel encouraged and hopeful.
Since this was open bay, we also got to hear comments and dialogue from and amongst the staff, and this was not always something we enjoyed.
English was the second language of this couple, and one day we got to listen in on an agonizingly embarrassing conversation between one of the nurses and this couple. She was asking them questions about their home country and discovered that theirs had been an arranged marriage- they met when they got married. She sympathized with them, but they corrected her- they loved each other dearly and were very happy with their lives. She asked if they were going to do the same with their babies when they grew up, or let them date and choose their own mates. The couple, who were in their early 40s and had been married for 2 decades, said they preferred their culture’s approach to falling in love after you marry, choosing to love your spouse, as opposed to our culture’s more random approach of falling in love willy nilly and marrying based on that, and then maybe divorcing when those giddy feelings settled down. The nurse was shocked, and argued with them about it, telling them over and over that ‘our way’ is better.
I expect we can find lots of individuals for whom one or the approach was ‘better,’ but the idea that we can pass a sweeping judgment on the entire practice for every culture and couple just because we can’t see past the end of our own emotion driven noses is just arrogant and closeminded.
I’ve wandered a little ways down a rabbit trail, but not really all that far. There is potential for abuse and bad outcomes with arranged marriages, but what we often miss when we are shrieking about the patriarchy, the patriarchy is that there is just as much potential for abuse and bad outcomes with our culture’s approach, too.
We have learned to be more careful and thoughtful about knowing what we believe and why, and more generous in our thinking – while we have become more conservative in our family’s approach, we also became less rigid in our assumptions about what’s best for everybody else.
Next we questioned our views on emotions in relationships. We’re not robots, of course, and you can have human beings relating to one another without emotions. But we can be careful about how we let our emotions lead us.
Emotions are a wonderful blessing but they can be extremely fickle. We can easily be deceived by our feelings. This does not deny their delight, or imply they are to be avoided. God wants us to experience intense emotions, we are simply not to allow those emotions to dominate us. Rather than leading us, our emotions are to follow us.
Paul commanded us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). But what if I don’t feel joyful? Rejoice anyway! As we obey the command from our will, even when we don’t feel joyful, the emotions of joy generally begin to appear unexplainably. The emotions follow us rather than leading us.
Similarly, Paul told the Colossians (3:14) to “put on love.” But isn’t it hypocritical to act lovingly when I don’t feel love? No! It is an act of sincere obedience! The wonderful result, though, is that when I will to love unlovely people, my emotions begin to come into line and I find I am beginning to feel true affection toward them.
We’d already read Dr. James Dobson’s book Emotions You Can Trust Them a few years before. It just hadn’t occurred to us to apply some of the lessons in that book to what we taught our Progeny about relationships. This has a much wider application than just romantic relationships- yes, I’m going down another rabbit trail not strictly related to courtship. Our culture is, IMO, plagued by the idea that feelings trump reality. I’ve been at more than one church function back in the day where we told “feelings are neither right nor wrong, they just are,” and I now believe that’s a perniciously false doctrine. Feelings can indeed be terribly, sinfully wrong. When we are so sensitive that we get our feelings hurt and attribute hateful motives to others without giving them the benefit of the doubt, when we assume the worst because our feelings lead us that direction, those feelings are indeed wrong. Idle pity is a feeling, and it’s wrong.
To return to the topic- we have probably all known more than one couple to divorce because they just didn’t feel happy- again, I am not talking about situations such as those I addressed in these two posts on hurting homes. I’m talking about people who divorce because the ‘love just isn’t there any more,’ or because they just don’t feel the same way, or because they’ve just ‘grown apart,’ or they just aren’t happy and everybody deserves to be happy. Those are almost direct quotes from friends and relations we have known who divorced because they let the custom of letting their feelings lead their actions spill over from their dating years into the married years.
It seemed to us that rather than trying to learn a sort of schizophrenia where we let emotions run wild before marriage and then suddenly don’t act on them after marriage, it would be better to learn some self control, some guarding of the heart, some better perspective in this area before marriage. One of Lindvall’s more radical statements is that “Whatever is wrong for me to do with your wife is wrong for my son to do with your daughter.”
We don’t entirely agree with that. Pip and Mop Top could meet at the library between classes just to visit, for example, while I would never make a regular appointment with a man not my husband ‘just to visit.’ Shasta could call the house to talk to the Equuschick just because, while I would never welcome a phone call from another man ‘just to chat.’ We think friendships between single boys and girls can be healthy and beneficial, while we are more circumspect about friendships between the opposite sex after marriage and even more circumspect about what sorts of activities we consider appropriate. But the very radical nature of that statement was useful to us in helping us clear the ground. Our girls do not text or email boys when they are still in high school, for example, except for very specific reasons (‘Mom wants me to ask what time you guys think you’ll be getting here,’ ’Mom asked me to let you know she loved the book you recommended,’ “What time is your birthday party?”). One of our reasons for limiting physical contact even when in the courtship stage is because if, for some reason, something goes wrong, we don’t want subsequent interactions to be any more awkward than they need to be. Of course, some people can canoodle with a boy from their church group one week, break up with him and be perfectly free and comfortable with him the next week even though both of them are canoodling with some other kid from church. I don’t think that’s a good thing, and it’s not what we wanted with our Progeny.
Most of us in the Christian community, and especially the homeschooling community, are pretty much on same wavelength when it comes to physical purity- more or less. However, reading Jonathan Lindvall’s article was the first time we had come across the idea of emotional purity. If ‘emotional purity’ is offputting in tone, think of it as self control. Again, it’s not that we asked the children to be robots. We just realized that emotional self-control is a good thing, and it has its place in the world of romance and boy-girl relationships as well. You don’t have to just let your thoughts and heart wander at will, but you can and should be thoughtful and exercise some discipline.
In some versions that passage I quoted from 1 Thess 4 uses the word ‘defraud’ for ‘wronging’ our brothers. Lindvall said:
Fraud involves deceiving or misleading someone. In business defrauding is cheating– leading someone to expect certain benefits and then, after they have begun limiting other opportunities based on this expectation, backing out of the deal. Defrauding is inciting in someone else a desire that you are unable or unwilling to fulfill. Does this ever happen in romantic relationships? Isn’t that what flirting is?
Now, YMMV, but right up until the time we read that, it hadn’t even occurred to us that single boys and girls flirting with each other was something we should question. Maybe you think it isn’t, or maybe you can’t believe what idiots we were to not even question that assumption.
This may have been most radical claim of all:
When should a couple fall in love? Should they flirtatiously incite each other’s emotions through dating to see if the chemistry is right? This makes defrauding very likely. Is it possible that God’s best would be for young people to save themselves for the one they will marry not just physically, but emotionally as well? The scriptural design of irrevocable betrothal provides us with a structure for releasing emotions with virtually no possibility of defrauding. Betrothal allows a couple to fall in love before the marriage but after the commitment has been made. In Part Two of this article we will explore this scriptural ideal for youthful romance. But let me conclude this part with a brief testimony.
Now we didn’t reach the same conclusions that Mr. Lindvall did. We have met him, btw, and while I doubt he’d remember us because it was so long ago, we had dinner with him at a friend’s house and chatted over ice-cream, and I know that he didn’t have a problem with the fact that we reached different conclusions- I don’t mean that he necessarily thought our conclusions were valid and right. Although he was far too gracious to say so, I assume he did not think so. But having said what he believed, he didn’t seem to feel the need to tear down what we believed, unlike many of the more ‘liberal’ (for lack of a better word) in the homeschooling community. I honestly believe that simply convincing others to rethink their assumptions was the highest priority for him, although naturally, like most of us, he’d find agreement encouraging as well.
So that’s the short version of the first article we read that made us realize dating didn’t have to be inevitable and that our cultural assumptions about dating and romance were precisely that- merely cultural assumptions rather than conclusions we’d reached after much thought and prayer.
As it happens, we aren’t at all comfortable with irrevocable betrothal. However, we have told the young men asking to court our daughters that our daughters do not see that relationship as easily disposable, and essentially, if the two young people are to pursue a relationship, it will not be our daughters breaking things off. There was one exception to that, and that relationship did come to an end other than the one we hoped for. We are all still friends even though, yes, it has been awkward at times.
The point we strive to make we reach this point in a discussion with a young man is that if somebody is going to be hurt, it is by far more likely to be our girls, so we want that young man to be really, really sure of himself before he proceeds. Otherwise, he should just stop it already.
Because, you know, I’d hate to have to kill somebody.