The Purity Culture’s Mangled Relationship Advice

Some time ago a reader of this site asked if I could address a concern in his life. He had been pursuing a young lady and beginning to think about marriage, but rather suddenly found that he was no longer attracted to her. She was a godly person and just the kind of woman he could see himself settling down with. But then he looked at her and saw that the physical attracted had just plain disappeared. What could he do? What had gone wrong?

So begins a post by evangelical blogger Tim Challies. I must admit, I have had mixed feelings about Challies in the past. On the one hand, he wrote that if you find the idea of God punishing people with eternal torture morally reprehensible, it is your moral qualms that are the problem. On the other hand, he has written rather scathingly against the fundamentalist discipline manual To Train Up a Child and its attendant marriage manual for women, Created To Be His Help Meet. So I was willing to give him at least a little bit of a benefit of a doubt as I began reading his response to this young man’s query.

I want to encourage this young man to do three things:

Look in the Mirror. Start by taking a look in the mirror. “It’s unlikely that the paunch hanging over the waistband of your cargo shorts represents her idea of masculine perfection. And even if women are less hung up on physical appearances, you’re probably not the romantic and emotional connection she’s been dreaming of her whole life either.” Exactly so. It smacks of pride to look at this woman, created by God in his image, and to determine that she is not up to your standards. Men are often looking for an ideal of physical perfection even though they are far from the male equivalent. Why begin with a mirror? Because, as Michael points out, we’re all making compromises. That complete package who is perfect in every way—from the physical to the spiritual to the realm of character—that person doesn’t exist; and if she did, you’d drag her down in no time.

Challies here ignores his reader’s actual question and focuses on the question he wants to answer. Challies wants to talk about young men who hold impossible standards of beauty when looking for a mate. His reader, on contrast, is concerned not because he doesn’t think his love interest is attractive enough but rather because he literally is no longer physically attracted to her. There is a huge, colossal difference there.

Look at Your Character. I have written regularly and as forthrightly as I know about young men and their dedication to pornography. Porn is giving young men a completely unrealistic view of women, elevating the physical and completely ignoring all matters of character. Have you ever watched a pornographic video that emphasized beautiful character? Exactly. It’s ridiculous to even imagine it. Five or ten or twenty years of dedication to pornography will go a long way to convincing you that only beauty and sexiness will maintain your interest in the long run. Yet nothing could be farther from the truth. Need proof? Just look to Hollywood and these ugly old men who marry the beautiful starlets, only to grow tired of them a few months later. No amount of beauty can overcome sour character.

Challies continues answering a question that was not asked. His young reader was not complaining that his love interest isn’t sexy enough. He wasn’t saying that he thought sexiness was the only thing that would hold his interest in a woman. What he said was that he feels no sexual attraction to the young woman in question. None. He wasn’t assuming that sexiness was all that mattered. Instead, he was wondering if it, well, actually matters at all.

[But do let me briefly address pornography here. See, despite what Challies says, essentially no one thinks that pornography is a substitute for a relationship. When someone looks at porn they are interested in the physical. In contrast, they know that relationships are about both the physical aspect and the emotional connection. In other words, it's not just about finding a sex partner, it's also about finding a best friend and life partner. In other words, I think Challies is dead wrong in saying that regular viewing of porn will necessarily lead someone to think that beauty and sexiness are all that matters in the long run. In generally, people are smarter than that. What I mean is that while, yes, porn focuses on beauty and sexiness, it doesn't somehow turn off the part of people's brains that desires companionship, friendship, and support.]

Look at the Bible. Best of all, look to the Bible. Read the book of Proverbs three or four times. Here is a whole book dedicated to young men, so read it and see what it says about choosing a wife. From beginning to end it will contrast the wise woman with the foolish woman, showing how the ideal wife is marked not by physical perfection but by the unfading beauty of godly character. Eventually you’ll find your way to Proverbs 31:30 and read “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Our God is a God of beauty and he rates physical attractiveness far, far below what Peter refers to as “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). If you choose beauty over character, you are a fool.

Challies is right, of course, about what Proverbs says, but he still seems to be missing the point of the question. The question was not whether beauty was all that mattered – in fact, the young man emphasized that his love interest is a “godly person” whom he could see himself settling down with, and that he placed a great deal of importance on this. The question, instead, was whether physical attraction mattered at all.

The reality is that physical beauty is attractive and wonderful and a reflection of God’s character, but in this world it is also fleeting and fading. You may marry a woman who is physically perfect in every way, be she is only ever one illness or disease or accident away from disfigurement. Then only character will remain—character that may be sweet and joyful, or character that may grow bitter and resentful.

Does physical attractiveness have any function in marriage? Sure it does. It matters. But it matters very, very little in comparison to character. Here’s the rub: If you cannot be attracted to beautiful character, you won’t remain attracted to physical beauty. So should you keep pursuing that godly young woman who just isn’t attractive enough for you? My concern isn’t for you, it’s for her. I wouldn’t advise you to stop pursuing her, but I might advise her to run away from you!

In the end, Challies’ message is clear. When compared to the importance of character, physical attraction pales to the point of irrelevance. Physical attraction? Irrelevant! Unimportant! Character is what matters. And more than that, Challies suggests that because the young man was concerned that his lack of physical attraction to his love interest, he isn’t a man worth marrying. Challies completely devalues the young man’s feelings, playing up his desire to be physically attracted to his life partner as a character flaw.

I honestly would be slightly less concerned if it stopped here, but it doesn’t. Here’s an excerpt from an article on the evangelical website Boundless:

The fundamental theological problem with the “attraction-as-foundation” approach to dating and marriage is that the approach grossly distorts the biblical definitions of “love” and “marriage.” What’s the big question most people agonize over with regard to finding a spouse: “How do I know if I’ve found the one?” As my friend Michael Lawrence pointed out in his article “Stop Test-Driving Your Girlfriend,” “the unstated goal of the question is ‘How do I know if she’s the one … for me.’”

And that’s essentially selfish. I don’t mean that such an approach involves malice or the intent to hurt anyone. I simply mean that such an approach is self-centered. It conceives of finding a spouse from the standpoint of what will be most enjoyable for me based on my tastes and desires. What will I receive from marriage to this or that person?

In Scripture, love is described not as a mere emotion based on personal desire (i.e., “attraction”), but as an act of the will that leads to selfless actions toward others.

In other words, evangelicals like Challies or the writers behind Boundless don’t simply deride the importance of physical attraction, they also deride the importance of, well, attraction in general.

What then? Am I saying that attraction and chemistry have no place in your consideration of whom to marry? No. Does biblical faithfulness require that we all run out and marry the godliest, most personally grating person we can find? Of course not.

In God’s kindness to us, He doesn’t just nourish us, He has provided an infinite variety of foods that not only keep us alive, but that also taste good to us. In the same way, God has graciously given us physical attraction, chemistry and pleasure to make marriage and its unique intimacy that much sweeter to us. That’s good and right.

Enjoy those things, but don’t be a slave to them. Desire them, but have a realistic idea of what those words mean in a fallen world and the limited role they should play in one of the most important decisions of your Christian life. Remember, “the movies” aren’t real, and they aren’t the standard. It’s not that attraction makes no difference, but it shouldn’t make the difference.

Notice that both Challies and this Boundless writer are careful to leave themselves “outs.” If pressed, they can insist that they didn’t say physical and emotional attraction don’t matter at all. They just said those things should play only a limited role. But how do these qualifications jibe with Challies writing that a man is unfit for marriage if he is concerned the he should be physically attracted to his wife, or with the Boundless author writing that being concerned about things like attraction is selfish?  Challies and the Boudless writer may think that they are covering their trails well, but the message they are sending is clear – physical attraction and love don’t matter when choosing a spouse. What does matter? Let’s look:

What should make the difference? Well, the Bible talks about the characteristics of godly men and women. These are the things that the Lord himself considers to be good attributes or, to use a different word, “attractive.”

Is your potential spouse clearly a believer in Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:14)? Does he/she exhibit the fruit of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5)? Does he/she show clear regard and care for others? Does he/she show evident love for God in how he/she spends time and money, how he/she interacts with others?

Women, is this a man you respect? Could you envision yourself submitting to and following him over the course of your lives together? Do you believe he will care well for you and your children? Will he serve you above himself and encourage your spiritual growth, as he is called to do in Ephesians 5? Is he growing in the characteristics of biblical manhood (1 Timothy 3Titus 1 and 1 Peter 3)?

Men, do you believe this woman will care for you well and be a good mother and discipler to your children? Is she growing in the characteristics of biblical womanhood and what the Bible calls “true beauty” (Proverbs 311 Peter 3Titus 2)? Do you envision her being supportive of you in whatever ministry God may call you to?

Character and godly characteristics, according to both Challies and this Boundless writer, are what actually matter when choosing a spouse.

Now it’s true that people sometimes get too caught up in whether they feel some specific romantic feeling, and it’s true that people sometimes place their physical standards impossibly high. But the purity culture’s solution to problems always seems to be to run from them instead of actually working to solve them. Instead of discussing things like communication, compromise, cooperation, and how to both build healthy relationships that foster both intimacy and a sense of self and know when to leave a relationship that is broken or stagnated, the purity culture’s answer is to simply dump physical and emotional attraction entirely. Their answer is to make marriage about choosing someone who fits a checklist of godly character qualities and assuming that that’s all that’s needed to make things work.

It’s also true that the way we approach marriage today is radically different from the way people in this country approached marriage centuries ago. There was a time when marriage was predominantly an economic partnership entered into out of necessity. But then, as Stephanie Coontz so aptly explained, love conquered marriage. Around a century ago marriage underwent a fundamental transformation. Writers like Challies seem to want to undo that transformation. I’ve written about this before, about how conservative Christians often seem to want to solve modern problems by turning back the clock. What they usually forget is that cultural change generally occurs because people’s needs change.

Now I want to pause for a moment to point out that this idea – the idea that physical and emotional attractiveness don’t matter in choosing a marriage partner, and indeed are actually selfish concerns – is not something that exists only on the margins of evangelicalism. No. Tim Challies writes for Answers in Genesis magazine, and Boundless, an online webzine, is a project of Focus on the Family. These people aren’t a few crazies that no one listens to.

The ideas presented here are, of course, simply one more part of the “purity culture” so prevalent in evangelicalism and fundamentalism today. Holding true to much of what I’ve written here before, the evangelical leaders quoted in this post ignore the importance – or even existence – of sexual or emotional compatibility. As I’ve pointed out before, they act as if any man can make it work with any woman – as though people are no more than puzzle pieces. And on some level, though, these leaders do see people as puzzle pieces. There are men, and there are women, and they fit neatly together. When looking for a spouse, just make sure to find someone with the proper list of gendered qualifications (as in the list above). Individualism disappears. Individualism becomes irrelevant – nay, dangerous. Marriage is no longer about forming a lifelong friendship but rather about sacrifice. Love becomes “an act of the will” rather than an actual feeling of attraction.

In the end, these are the ideas that I wrote about several weeks ago when I penned a post called “The Real World Damage of the Purity Culture.” In that post I shared the stories of two young women who have reached out to me concerning their problems. The first married a man who did not love her but married her anyway because he was told that love would come later. The second married a man for whom she felt no physical attraction – she was told that would all come later, but it didn’t. Both marriages are on the rocks. Both ended up in the situations they are in today – broken hearts and deteriorating marriages – because of the teachings of men like Challies. These ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. These ideas have consequences. These ideas destroy people, blight relationships, and rip apart marriages.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Cathy W

    The first thing I noticed about Challies’ response, even beyond your point: He made an assumption that the letter-writer was into pornography; at least in the part you quoted, the letter-writer never mentioned porn. Is it just that in his experience, every young man is into pornography? Is he so blind to the larger culture that he’s figured that was the only way the writer could have picked up an unrealistic expectation of female beauty? Is he so blind to the thoughts and feelings of young men that he can’t imagine a boy simply getting, and then getting over, a crush?

    (I might also make an assumption myself, here: I suspect both columnists like Proverbs very much, but they take the “My lover, she is hot!” bits of Song of Solomon as a “literal” description of God’s relationship with his people rather than as a poem about a hot woman.)

    • Steve

      According to fundamentalist, anyone who looks at porn more than once is addicted to it. They have completely lost any concept of what addiction truly means.

      • alwr

        It isn’t just porn. One glass of wine equals alcoholism in their world. It is all symptomatic of their black and white thinking. Doing something in moderation falls into that gray area that is incomprehensible in that world view.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      What evidence do we have that the guy’s lack of attraction to this woman even has anything to do with “an unrealistic expectation of female beauty?” I know plenty of men who have qualities I admire and values in common with mine etc. that I am not attracted to, not because their looks don’t meet my standards but because I just don’t happen to be attracted to those individuals. You’re not attracted to people because they meet a set of requirements, you’re attracted to people because you just are. Nowhere is it ever indicated that this guy didn’t think this woman was “hot” enough, he just wasn’t in to her. Chemistry is kind of a mysterious thing. There’s a big difference between saying “She’s not good enough” and “I’m not into her.” Challies doesn’t seem to get this because he’s too busy being miffed over the idea that someone could need more a list of “godly” attributes before wanting to commit to someone for life.

      • Red

        This.

  • Christine

    I have heard (presumably secular) relationship experts & sexologists quoted (probably the minority opinion – you know how the media always likes to showcase those) as saying that the easy availability of porn to my generation is having a detrimental effect on sexual relationships , but never that it’s trying to replace them. (I can’t remember the specifics, but it has to do with expectations and preferences.)

    I’m curious about how “is this the right person for me” could be so wrong. The “problems” with this idea listed in the article you linked to seems like a good thing, so this is clearly a case of coming from totally different assumptions. Is this a case of “being an individual is bad”? The attitude they recommend seems so harmful – only the best people can get married, because everyone wants the same people. It will result in a lot of disappointment. I get the impression that going to see a counsellor or sexologist would be discouraged, which is kind of the opposite of what a church should be selling if you want people to pick early, ignorant and only once. Any couple should work? I doubt it, but maybe. Any couple should work, and we’re going to take away the tools that normal couples who pick based on compatibility use? Not going to happen.

    • Mogg

      But it does happen. The church I spent my young adulthood in specifically taught that “compatibility” was a sinful fantasy which prevents a couple from developing the correct type of headship/submission dynamic, and you therefore shouldn’t base a marriage on it. I don’t believe it very often worked that way in practice, but the elders came down very hard on young couples who actually seemed to be showing signs of being into each other, even when they were in an approved guided courtship.

  • Tracey

    Huh. This bit: “Do you believe he will care well for you and your children? Will he serve you above himself ” seems to fly 180 degrees against most Evangelical/Fundamentalist life, which is that the husband is an overgrown toddler who is to be coddled at all times by his wife and children, lest his widdle fee-fees get hurt. This is certainly against Debi Pearl’s advice to women that the marital relationship is to be more mother-and-child than wife-and-husband.

  • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com kisarita

    the review of pearls child book did not seem at all scathing to me; for example he never once used the word Abuse, which it is. way too mild in my opinion. A pity that we expect wisdom from a person simply because elsewhere, he did not enthusiasticvally adopt a child abuse manual.

  • smrnda

    Your right that the Challies doesn’t really address the guy’s question, but goes off on a rant on what he wants to talk about.

    It seems that many Christian sources put forth the idea that it’s either all ‘godliness and commitment’ or else it’s all selfishness; to them, issues many people would just consider basic questions about compatibility are regarded as being selfish. I mean, unrealistic standards can be bad, but relationships have to work. The person you want to be with has to appeal to you, personally, and I tend to think relationships work best when both parties can think of specific reasons *why* someone is right for them.

    Christians, from my experience talking to them and even attending churches, seem to regard marriage not as something you do because you love someone, but as a kind of accomplishment that gains you status, and then it’s almost like they get relationships backward – they want to set out to make them as hard as possible by making them all about commitment and not about compatibility.

    I agree that the Challies is attacking a view of marriage that is likely here to stay, mostly since people have probably found that relationships based on how you feel actually work better than ones based on commitment to some ideal. He can say that it’s selfish, but it works.

    I notice that many Christian writers assume that anybody who has preferences *must* have shallow preferences as well. They never seem to give anybody credit that they might have a good idea about what type of person they want to end up with, and that their deal-breakers might actually be good things to keep in mind.

    • dj pomegranate

      “…seem to regard marriage not as something you do because you love someone, but as a kind of accomplishment that gains you status, and then it’s almost like they get relationships backward – they want to set out to make them as hard as possible by making them all about commitment and not about compatibility.”

      Well-put. This is my experience, too.

      • Rosa

        which seems crazy from a Biblical standpoint, because getting married and having babies is NOT the point of Christianity. There’s quite a bit of New Testament support for lifelong celibacy instead, and most of the pro-marriage stuff (like Proverbs) is from the Old Testament.

    • thalwen

      With their love of all things outdated and the way they present their advice, I’m starting to think that they’re taking their ideas from historical arranged marriage models. The way they advise to pick their spouses seems very much what a Victorian upper-class religious parent would be looking for in a spouse for their kid. Same for the idea of marriage first then love and working to create love and attraction. All of this makes perfect sense for a model of arranged marriage and limited access to divorce.

      • Steve

        What they call “courtship” is really just one step away from arranged marriages. There is a misconception about arranged marriages that parents pick someone that girls are then forced to marry. That happens in some places, but in others (like India for example) women often have a choice in the matter. They are presented with someone their parents like, the spend some time together, but the woman can say no. Sounds exactly like those American “courtship” rituals.

  • http://belljaimie@ymail.com Jaimie

    Just another way to see how skewed so many Christian’s views of the world are. Either they engage in gross oversimplification of life’s tough ethical or moral dilemmas, or they make simple things incredibly difficult.
    Here, a man starts seeing a nice woman but finds he is not attracted to her after a certain point. He has lost interest for whatever reason. Although we are not given reasons why, I am sure there is more behind it than her not looking sexy enough anymore. Although breaking up is bound to cause pain, it is the simple, straightforward, honorable thing to do.
    Why, oh why, do they deny their feelings so much? Do they not know that the divorce rate for Christians is higher than the national average?

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      That divorce statistic is probably used to prove how evil the secular world’s influences (such as porn!) are on those sweet young innocent Christian’s who set out to marry godly spouses.

    • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

      I think he should analyze his feelings more. If he was interested in her and suddenly lost interest, something’s going on. But then the author couldn’t give his pat answer.

      • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

        I’ve definitely had that issue where I was totally attracted to someone. Then they did or said something and *prestochango* they were no longer attractive. In my experiences, it never comes back.

  • Lassou

    I haven’t read anything by Tim Challies other than what you’ve excerpted here in this post, so my commenting comes with the caveat that I am grossly uninformed. But it certainly doesn’t seem like he’s dismissing the value of emotional attraction. It seems that that is actually what he’s demanding that people focus on, with the problematic stipulation that you find “Godly women” to be attractive. The religious context must present a host of complications and uncomfortable attitudes, and I have a hard time parsing out how the problems of the world present when warped from my perspective to a religious one. But I think everyone has the capacity to feel tremendous attraction to completely non-physical traits. I don’t think Challies has chosen the right set of non-physical traits, mostly because I think they change on a person-to-person basis, but in a weird way, his aggressive de-emphasis of the physical feels kind of…pro-women? In a society where people see me as my female body first, and see my humanity selectively, as they choose, and often colored by their opinions of my appearance, I find myself constantly calling people out for assuming a woman’s value based on her appearance. I don’t know what his general attitudes are, and I don’t know how much of what he advocates derives from belonging to a different culture, but I wonder if maybe his writings are…a small kind of improvement on whatever problematic status quo might exist in his community? Again, I am appallingly uninformed, and it seems highly likely that his stance against emphasizing physical attractiveness stems from a cultural desire to preserve purity of both sexes. Given the problems experienced by women across contexts concerning an unfair over-emphasis on their appearance, I imagine maybe it’s a problem in the fundamentalist community, too, and that maybe it’s all very…complicated? Maybe I’m giving him far too much credit.

    • http://belljaimie@ymail.com Jaimie

      I can see where you are coming from, and if you haven’t been around, it would be a reasonable conclusion. However, these men are not pro-women in any sense of the word. And usually, they are lecturing women on how to keep their men happy. Here we see a taste of what men get. This guy is shamed for losing interest in a woman they had once considered marrying. Can you imagine bringing god into this picture? He doesn’t want to marry her anymore! This is not a crime or anything that has to do with morality or any theological doctrines.
      Challies is trying to use religion to compel a man to commit his life to a woman he doesn’t want to commit to. Would you want to be that woman? What if that man was your brother, friend, or son? Would this type of manipulation be acceptable?
      I do not believe that marriage is a sacred institution, but it should not be entered into lightly. This couple has made no commitments. Both parties have a right to end the relationship, endorse personal deal breakers, and can back out if they decide it is not right. And really, it is only the business of those two parties.

    • Christine

      The catch here is that non-physical attributes are what lead to physical attraction. Who would you be more interested in kissing: someone who meets the perfect standard of beauty but is a jerk, or someone for whom average might be a step up but is a wonderful person? No matter how good a job of de-emphasizing the physical you do, you should still be able to feel physical attraction.

      And as Jaimie says – the whole point of dating is to see if a relationship would work. Making dating to all of a sudden be like a marriage, when you have to sink everything you have into making it work, no matter what, really defeats the purpose. Come to think of it, it also takes away any basis for complaining about premarital cohabitation. They’re trying to re-create the problems of moving in together without getting the benefits. (And without the teens having a chance to realise the magnitude of what’s happening.)

      • Rosa

        The thing is, in the real world you can hold out for someone you ARE physically attracted to and who is NOT a jerk. There’s a nearly infinite sea of humans out there.

        It’s only in this artificially constrained world where only a very small subset of people (specific gender and age, small set of “virtues” and acceptable beliefs) that you meet within a very short time window (gotta get married young!) are possible mates that a choice like “jerk or hottie” is even up for consideration. Without the pressure to get married no matter what, holding out for someone who you’re attracted to, who also has admirable virtues and is attracted back to you, is a much more viable (and welcoming) option.

      • Christine

        I wasn’t trying to lay out a dichotomy of “jerk or hottie” (although there isn’t as much selection as we like to think, but that’s a different debate). The point I was making is that if you’re “physically” attracted to someone it’s generally because you like them as a person (rather than as a body). The advice to ignore a lack of physical attraction (which might be caused by the girlfriend being a total ditz, or self-centred, or otherwise not meeting the “godly woman” model that the original author was pushing) isn’t really necessary to de-emphasize the physical. I’m differentiating between saying that someone is hot and being physically attracted to them. I’m defining physical attraction as interest in/willingness to have a physical/sexual (in a loose sense) relationship with the person.

      • Rae

        If it was only a matter of who I wanted to kiss, nothing further, I’d go for the hot jerk without even thinking about it. If it was a long-term relationship, I’d pass on both of them. Physical attraction isn’t the only thing that matters, but if you’re going to be in a relationship that progresses to sex eventually, it’s still one of several necessary parts for the relationship to be healthy.

  • http://amethystmarie.com/ Amethyst

    I could not handle being married to someone who wasn’t sexually and emotionally attracted to me as an individual. I would want to know that my spouse married me because ze couldn’t imagine the rest of hir life without me, Amethyst, not because ze wanted a woman in hir life and I had a passable resume.

    Right now I’m addicted to Tegan and Sara’s latest single, “Closer”. I just love the line, “I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.” I want someone who loves my looks, my personality quirks, and all the weird little things that make me who I am, not someone who excuses, overlooks, or forgives them.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Ugh, this just drives me nuts. There’s a big distinction between physical attractiveness and physical attraction, which he just doesn’t acknowledge at all. The letter writer doesn’t say that the woman is not attractive. He says he is NOT ATTRACTED to her. That’s not the same thing at all. Meeting the conventional standards of physical attractiveness is not a prerequisite for being found attractive by someone. Most of us do not look like models and we still attract people and are attracted to people who also aren’t perfect-looking. Attraction is a complicated and very individual thing–people are attracted to certain personal quirks, physical attributes that may not be held up as “beautiful” but are totally irresistible to particular individuals, etc. I’ve known plenty of guys who are very nice to look at but don’t give me butterflies and plenty of guys who are not as conventionally good-looking that have. This woman that the writer is talking about may be drop-dead gorgeous but that won’t necessarily mean he’s attracted to her. So berating him about his assumed impossible physical standards and porn habits (seriously, all these people think about is how much porn everyone else is watching) is completely unhelpful. It’s a worthy thing to talk about (although the way he talked about it wasn’t particularly worthy) but it does not address the issue at all. Because the issue is not whether the woman is pretty enough, it’s whether or not she floats his particular boat. If she doesn’t, he certainly will do her no favors by marrying her.

    Also, I love how Challies manages to conclude that the phenomenon of “ugly old men” dumping their trophy wives is due to the “sour character” of THE TROPHY WIVES. Nothing wrong with the character of the husbands, of course. If only these beautiful bimbos just had better characters they’d be able to keep their men. This guy may not like Debi Pearl but methinks he’s got more than a touch of her always-blame-the-woman attitude.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

    Wait, you mean all men aren’t supposed to be tanned, hairless, buff, and possessing 12 inch penises?!?

    • http://itsbetterthanyours.blogspot.com AndersH

      Okay, I can see when I’m not welcome :(

  • Rae

    Well, young women in the purity culture are basically told the same things, because of attitudes towards female desire – they’re told either that women aren’t “visually attracted” at all, and/or that attraction will “just happen” after realizing how awesome the guy that they’re dating is. Not that attraction doesn’t work like that for some people, but that it’s a really problematic standard to try to push onto people.

  • ladycopper5

    I’ve only had two boyfriends thus far. The first one was a relationship along the lines of what Challies is recommending – find someone who is great on paper and choose to love them. Fortunately, I had also grown up reading Jane Austen and many other romance authors extolling butterflies and real passion, so after a few months I realized there was no passion whatsoever there. I thought about what a lifetime of that would be like and we parted. I have never regretted it for a second.

    The second relationship was like something out of one of those romance books. Unfortunately, that did not work out either due to his depression, and having a broken heart feels horrible, but the electricity and extremely strong mutual attraction was a revelation. I thought for quite a while that I was being shallow because I was so, so, so attracted to him that it would make me dizzy. It took quite a while to realize literally nobody around me seemed to think he was anything special in looks, whereas to each other we were hot as hell. Oh, and we still worked hard to get to know each other and look for possible problems/make sure our goals were compatible. You can actually fall in love at first sight and have it be real love. It might not be lasting love, but it can be real love.

    Sexual attraction is a very powerful force and it scares fundies, so they call it shallow/unimportant rather than attempting to teach people to manage it. It’s not shallow, though – among other things, chemistry is about our bodies telling us who has the best genes for our particular bodies to mate with. Just picking someone based on character qualities can have real-world health consequences for the children.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    I actually wrote on this matter (sexual attraction, beauty etc) a few weeks ago. So funny to see it come up again because it really caught me.
    All I can say is that the advisor here obviously does not differenciate between beauty (the objective factor) and sexual attraction (the subjective factor). By stressing that, he just showed that he didn’t get the point of the question at all – nowhere did the young man say that this woman was not beautiful (or beautiful enough). Nowhere did he imply that he was too good for her, either. He didn’t say that the woman’s beauty vanished but that the feelings vanished. For all we know, this woman could be the most beautiful woman in the world, or the most ugly one. Either way it does not matter – what matters is the fact that obviously these authorities put it all into one big pot and stir well. Hence, instead of acknowledging that you could actually find a person to be beautiful but not attractive, they equalize it all to “ungodly” behavior by looking at apparence. Well, newsflash, attraction is not necessarily bound to external factors such as beauty.

  • Sgaile-beairt

    ….you know whats weird w all the love of laura Ingalls wilders’ books in the fundie culture, she met almanzo & they hit it off & went out riding by themselves in his car-riage & arranged their own marriage, & it worked out fine….no fundie style ‘courtship” there!!

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  • mildlymagnificent

    Libby Anne, if your reading list is not too long, I’d highly recommend ‘The Subversive Family – An Alternative History of Love and Marriage’ by Ferdinand Mount. He gives a very different historical picture of marriage and the way it has been approached. Even those famed arranged marriages among the aristocracy of Britain were not always as cold-blooded as everyone presumes.

    And as for this man’s advice. He sounds pretty shallow himself. His response – for want of a better word – to this young man seems to be just another opportunity to recite his own formulaic views on things that have nothing to do with the very individual question the very conscientious young bloke has raised. I can only hope he’s asked elsewhere and got some relevant useful advice.

  • Hilary

    And for the still unclaimed possibility of not being attracted to the woman in question – what if the man asking for advice is gay? What if, plausibly, he doesn’t even realize it himself, from denial, not having anybody to talk to, being told it’s appropraite for a young man to control his feelings for women but not realizing that other men don’t have secret intense emotions for other men that nobody talks about . . . Probably the worst thing a gay man can do to a straight woman is marry her, I’ve seen one of those marriages fall apart.

    And gay or straight, what’s going to happen the first time he finds himself head over heels seeing stars attracted to a woman (or possible man) when he’s already married with a kid or two?

    Hello disaster . Ugh.

    Hilary

  • Don Gwinn

    And yet he still eventually blundered around to the correct advice: Let her go, kid, because she’ll likely be miserable if she ends up married to you, in a monogamous commitment with a man who doesn’t find her attractive.

    I’ve been on the other end of that, and it’s a miserable grind. I loved her, I desired her, she genuinely loved me and thought I was a great guy . . . but that is *not* enough, at least not for everyone.

    Then again, he could have proposed something *really* radical: what if the kid *talked* to his girlfriend about what’s going on and how he feels about it? I didn’t try that until I’d been married for years. I wish someone had given me that advice when we were dating; I’d gladly have skipped straight ahead to the way we communicate now.

  • Red

    This whole line of thinking just baffles the living crap out of me.

    In my experience, Christian culture in this country is divided along some bizarre lines in how it approaches relationships. There are beliefs like this, which over-complicate (or over-simplify?) the issues, and it’s surprising how prevalent they are. Then there are large swaths of Christians who approach relationship-building in a way largely identical to the non-church world (with the exception that most young Christians are looking for a mate who is emotionally/physically compatible AND Christian. But then again, most people I know in the non-church world prefer someone who is close to their beliefs about philosophical or religious/nonreligious matters).

    It’s sometimes hard to predict who will belong to which camp, and you can have different people within the same church (or even the same family) who have differing views. Though I have noticed that even the people who support Challies’ view tend to be drawn towards people with whom they are compatible. Hm……. ;)

    All I can say is, everyone in my family (including my parents and myself) were taught to consider compatibility very highly, and my family has a history of strong, lasting, healthy marriages. So clearly, compatibility isn’t the boogeyman.


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