Married, with Friends

I recently came upon a book called Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It, by Christian author Jerry B. Jenkins.

With the divorce rate steadily climbing and infidelity creeping into even the happiest marriages, in a society that trivializes adultery and its devastating effects, with temptation and opportunity coming at you from all directions – how can you keep your marriage from becoming a statistic?

The advice from best-selling author Jerry B. Jenkins is this: plant preventative hedges around your marriage. These hedges are practical ways to avoid compromising situations and giving temptation a foothold in your life.

Jenkins’s real-life stories of how temptation can slip in undetected and, in a dizzying whirl of deception and betrayal, cause a marriage to crumble are a wake-up call for all married couples. He openly shares insights from his own marriage as well as the hedges he has been using for years.

One of the comments left on the books Amazon page describes Jenkins’ hedges as follows:

1. Not to dine or travel with a woman alone unless an unavoidable complication makes this impractical, and then to tell his wife first

2. To only ever hug another woman in front of others

3. To never compliment another woman on her looks, only her clothes

4. To avoid any kind of flirting except with his wife and to engage in as much flirtation as possible with his wife.

5. To remind his wife often of his wedding vows orally and in writing

6. To get home early and spend time with the children every day before bed

7. To share his story often

I like that Jenkins is taking responsibility for himself and for his actions rather than focusing, like Debi Pearl would, on the idea that women are sluts and home wreckers out to get him, and I like that Jenkins sees spending time with his children as important.


First, nowhere on this list is the importance of connecting with his spouse. Well, except for flirting with her. (Maybe he’s more like Debi Pearl than I thought.) I mean good gracious,  his sixth point only mentions spending quality time with his children, but nowhere does he mention the importance of spending quality time with his wife! The only place where his wife really comes into the picture is the part where he constantly reminds his wife that he promised not to cheat on her.

It seems to me that a lot of evangelicals talk about how important it is not to cheat on your spouse in terms of the Bible’s prohibition of adultery. In other words, don’t cheat on your spouse because that would be sinning. I grew up in an evangelical home, and adultery was held up as almost as sinful as homosexuality – though not quite – and that’s saying something. In contrast, when I think about the reasons I don’t go out and cheat on Sean, “sin” doesn’t come into my thought process. I don’t cheat on Sean because I love him and because I want to be with him and because he is my closest friend and confidante and because I would never want to lose what we have together. I am not staying with Sean because some set of rules say I have to. I’m staying with him because I want to.

When he made his list of “hedges,” Jenkins was so very focused on not cheating on his wife that he filled it with rules about his contact with other women rather than focusing it on connecting with the woman he is spending his life with. I would imagine that when he was a newlywed Jenkins didn’t spend much time obsessing over not cheating on his wife. Why? Because, like every other newlywed, he had puppy love shooting out of his ears! The goal should be to keep that love alive and help it become a strong and mature sort of love, not to repeat “I must not cheat, I must not cheat, I must not cheat” over and over again. If you have to erect artificial hedges to keep yourself from cheating on your spouse, well, that’s probably a sign that it’s your marriage that needs help.

A couple of months ago I read a blog post by fellow Patheos blogger JT that really made me think on this point:

So here’s something I want to throw out there:  I don’t care if Michaelyn dates or sleeps with other people.  Yet, we are monogamous.

How does that happen?  Well, she has the green light to do those things, but she doesn’t.  One day she might.  But what I want is to know that she is with me because she wants to be.  If Michaelyn is with me exclusively because she wants to be, we don’t need rules binding her to me in that way.  If she doesn’t want to be with me in that way, why would I demand she do so?  Love, to me, means wanting someone else to be happy, not just happy in a way that caters to me.

And if I’m to know that she’s with me by choice, I have to allow her other choices.  Knowing that she can date others, but still decides to be with me, that’s beautiful. It’s honest.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After reading JT’s post, I realized that I would never want Sean to stay with me simply because he feels like he has to. I want him to want to stay with me. I don’t want his constantly reminding me that he promised not to cheat on me, I want his delighting in me as his friend and partner.

But the thing is, an evangelical like Jenkins can’t say that. Growing up as an evangelical myself, I was taught that divorce was wrong. (And polyamory, of course, though I don’t think I even knew that was a thing.) I was taught that marriage was forever, and that there are no outs, period. I was taught that marriage is about making a commitment and sticking by it, no matter what, even if the love disappears. I was actually told that it’s not about love. It’s about commitment  And if that’s the case, well, I can see why you night need to start throwing up “hedges.”

The second point I want to make has to do with just how paranoid it sounds like Jenkins is around women who aren’t his wife. When I look back at my own experience growing up in an evangelical home, I don’t remember my father ever having any female friends or my mother ever having any male friends. In the evangelical community where I grew up, the men socialized with other men and the women with other women. Women and men related to each other as spouses, or as someone else’s spouse, not as friends.

I honestly think this goes back to the evangelical belief that women and men fill two “complementarian” gender roles. Women and men are different, the belief goes, and are perfectly fitted to come together as wife and husband. If you follow that line of reasoning, any relationship between a woman and a man becomes suspect because the natural way that women and men are to relate to each other is through marriage. Here’s an example of this sort of thinking applied to men and women who work together:

Swanson: It’s one reason why we push the family economic vision, because the family economy is pretty much the way God set things up. The man and the woman come together not just for sexual union but also to be helpmeets and dominion-takers together as a team, as a lean, mean team in the dominion effort. That’s the way it was designed in the garden when the woman came to the man as the helpmeet for the man in the dominion task.

Buehner: And Kevin, I think that’s key. What we have in some of these business workplaces is a woman who’s not the wife being the helper or the helpmeet of the man and she has taken on the role of the helper…

Swanson: …for the man.

Buehner: And the only thing that’s missing in that relationship is the sexual consummation.

Swanson: Or the polygamy.

Buehner: Right. So remember, when God placed Adam in the garden, he gave him a mandate. He said you need a helper. He told Adam to go out and take some dominion, Adam named the animals, He said, ‘Yeah, this is really hard, you’re gonna need yourself a helper.” So He made Eve for him. It does not say that Eve was created because Adam needed to have a sexual outlet, it was created because Adam needed a helper. Now we take a man and we give him a helper out in the marketplace. He’s in a pseudo-marriage.

The way men and women relate to each other, as this line of reasoning goes, is through the complementarian relationship we call marriage. Any relationship between a man and a woman has the natural tendency to take on facets of that marriage relationship, whether there is sexual union or not. As a result of this sort of thinking, I grew up in a world where not only were women and men never friends, but also a world where any friendship between a woman and a man, should such develop, was regarded as highly suspect and potentially scandalous. These things just didn’t happen.

And now, here I am today. And guess what? I have male friends. And Sean has female friends. And it’s not a big deal. It’s funny, we’re really good friends with one couple we’ve known for years. Let’s call them Joe and Natalie. Anyway, when we visited them last month I noticed just how often I ended up talking politics or whatnot with Joe while Sean talked TV shows or whatnot with Natalie. This may seem perfectly normal to many of you, but I never, ever saw this sort of thing growing up. Small talk, sure! But really sitting down and conversing? No.

I don’t think it’s possible to underestimate just how much the complementarian way of viewing gender roles – which is really just another way of saying the patriarchal way – affects how women and men relate to each other. When I see a fellow I’m not married to, I see someone I could see myself being friends with. When Jenkins sees a woman hes not married to, he sees danger signals.

In the end, stumbling upon Jenkins’ book was quite productive, leading as it has to interesting thoughts about both the results of focusing on avoiding sin rather than on forming healthy relationships and the way complementarian gender ideas affect everything about how men and women relate to each other.

When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
Steve Is a Man: On Minecraft and Gender
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
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.

  • Caleigh

    I really liked this post. This is an issue that my husband and I have basically reached the same conclusions you have. I grew up with the idea that men and women could never be “just friends” but I don’t believe that anymore, I can see how that was the patriarchal mindset that I was raised under.

  • Christine

    Thank you for explaining this. I always wondered, hearing about men who would avoid being in a car alone with a woman (not that it was wrong per se, but just to be on the safe side you know), how these people managed to maintain their opposite-sex friendships, or how they could justify just cutting those all off when they got married.

    I think that the fact that he doesn’t believe that men and women can be friends actually says a lot about why his “hedges” don’t include spending time with his wife, and connecting with her. (Were it not for #6, I could hope that “good communication with your spouse” was just assumed to be happening, and these were something different.) If men & women can’t be friends, then there’s no underlying friendship in the marriage to strengthen.

    • Tess

      “If men & women can’t be friends, then there’s no underlying friendship in the marriage to strengthen.”

      Yeah, seriously! Many of my friends are male (because, well, most people in my workplace are). My SO interacts with women at work on a daily basis, and has friends there, and of course, we share many of the same friends. I want it to be that way. Why? Because the more men and women interact with each other and really converse, the less possible it is to stubbornly hold to a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” mindset. Experience just doesn’t bear it out.

      • Rosa

        and the more you relate to someone as a person, the less you are seeing them as a purely sexual being.

        It’s really easy to sort of fetishize people when you’re not allowed to really connect with them, to turn them into fantasies (sexual fantasies, grass is greener fantasies). Real people can be just as attractive, but harder to slot into that “everything would be better if” role.

      • Rosie

        I agree Rosa. I still get crushes on people. My solution is to get to know them as people; the crush inevitably fades as that happens.

    • Sheldon

      These statements from Jenkins really show that in trying to be sexually “pure”, all they are doing is creating an unhealthy obsession with sex. So many rules in Christian fundamentalism about not appearing to be “unholy”, it’s taken to such an extreme, and it really does get in the way of normal relationships.

  • MM

    Uh oh…I’d be in trouble with these people. I’m a married man, and not only is my best friend a married woman, but she was the best (wo)man at my wedding! We sometimes even jokingly refer to each other as “my work wife” and “my work husband” because we’re coworkers and have breakfast and lunch together at work just about every day.

    • Esa

      I’m 19, and I had all but lost hope in the world. Thanks for your post! Thats pretty cool that you had a best woman.

  • em

    I am a pretty big fan of being reminded of my wedding vows “orally” and “often”. But on a more serious note, I don’t think the kind of marriage Where the man has to force himself to stay faithful on a daily basis doesn’t sound great for anybody. Forcing yourself to joylessly fill a roll out of a sense of obligation and nothing more, seems like pretty much everything Jesus was against. My husband I have decided to experiment with an open marriage, and letting go of jealously has only deepened my attachment to him, and I feel more secure of his love than ever because I know he chooses me because he loves me and no other reason.

    • luckyducky

      This made my morning!

    • Rosie

      Polyamory also strengthened my relationship with my husband. Though truthfully there never was much jealousy there to begin with; my best friend is a man and his is a woman and we’ve known that from the day we met.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Hooray for happy open relationships! I was in one for several years with a guy who is still one of my best friends. More than one way to skin a cat, folks. :-)

  • Ahab

    This sounds like a recipe for a paranoid, truncated life where there is no room for friendships or professional relationships with members of the opposite sex. The fear of straying becomes so central that it eclipses any possibility of meaningful platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. Speaking for myself, my life would be much less rich if it didn’t have friends and colleagues of both sexes in it.

    I’m curious if “Hedges” has similar advice for women. Does Jenkins discourage women from performing similar behaviors with men?

    • The_L

      Jenkins doesn’t have to. “Don’t do X with a guy” and “Never be alone with a guy who’s not your husband” are drilled into fundamentalist girls’ heads from an early age because Men Are Rape Monsters and don’t know how to take “no” for an answer.

      It’s a really toxic setup in just about every way.

    • Rosie

      The similar advice for women falls under “don’t get raped”, I think.

  • Isaac

    Whenever I hear this kind of thing, I laugh to myself a little since it always brings up an unanswerable question: what if you’re bisexual? Not that Jenkins would acknowledge that question as legitimate, but plenty of secular advice follows the same tack as his when it comes to relationships.

    So what does a good honest bi man or woman do? Have no friendships at all after marriage? Shirk fearfully away from all social contact? Or maybe farm World of Warcraft gold for a living to avoid “temptation”?

    • Jayn

      Given that WoW is how I met my husband, even that might be out.

    • Rosie

      As a bi woman, I’ve often wondered this too.

    • Amethyst

      I’m bi and, to be totally honest, I’ve had mild crushes on married friends of both sexes. But they were just fun, meaningless, ephemeral feelings that I’d never in a million years actually want to act on. Friends notice friends’ hotness. It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re going to start sucking face (or anything else) with that person the moment you’re left without a chaperon.

  • Red

    Wow, thanks for posting! This idea of opposite sex friendships happens to be very relevant to me at this time in life.

    My husband and I had a VERY close-knit group of friends in college, a mix of guys and girls, and honestly, I was just as close to the guys as I was to the girls (often times more so). A bunch of the guys and girls married each other, and we all stayed friends as couples. I still count those guys (husbands) as some of my very besties.

    But after we all dispersed to go our separate ways in life (don’t worry, we still visit a lot!) my husband and I had to make new “local” friends. And we discovered that in all the church circles we ran with, the wives were friends with each other and the husbands were friends with each other, and there wasn’t much cross-friendship in there. It felt super strange to us, and forced, and awkward, and BORING for me because I get along with guys better than girls sometimes. It’s really a problem.

    We’ve sort of cobbled together a group of friends from many different walks of life, and I’m happy to say that I have some close lady friends and a couple of awesome guy friends too. One of them is married, one seriously dating, and not one single person is afraid that we’re all going to cheat on each other and wreck our lives. And guess what, my husband has a hobby in common with a female coworker, and sometimes she comes over for hobby time with him. HORRORS! ;)

    One thing I want to throw out here is the problem that Jenkin’s view would present to someone who is bisexual. Okay, I know he would probably call that sinful. BUT, just for the sake of argument, hang with me! What if a married man came to him and confided “I’m also attracted to men.” Even if that guy thought his other attractions were sinful and that he should never act on them…what would Jenkins advise him to do? Being friends with men wouldn’t be an option, but being friends with women also wouldn’t be an option. I really wonder what he would say. Don’t have any friends? You can never have an accountability partner again? (Assuming that Jenkins would understand that people don’t just “get rid” of those feelings…even many Christian leaders who think attraction change is possible don’t believe it happens overnight).

  • ki sarita

    I’m with Jenkins on this. A strong relationship in my opinion is not enough to protect many of us from temptation. It’s important to draw certain limits on our communication with other men/ women outside of the relationship. However, this is something couples should do for themselves, there is no hard and fast rule.

    In my relationships, I refrain from complimenting other men’s looks and spending a lot of alone time with them.

    My best male platonic friend now lives in another country so it’s not too hard. But before that, if he’d invite me he’d invite both of us (and I’d invite him to visit both of us for dinner). If my partner wasn’t available, I’d go anyway, but wouldn’t deliberately schedule a just-for-two session. I think that was an important statement to make.

    But I’m with you in that infidelity is only one thing of many that might make a marriage go sour, and most everything else does have to do with the quality of the relationship.

    • Rosa

      I have rules too – the main one is to pull back if i’m starting to fantasize about someone, but also if I’m really sexually attracted to someone who is in a couple, I’ll try to mostly make plans/contact through their less-attractive (to me) partner, just to make sure i’m not doing something inappropriate and fooling myself about my motivations. I’m not naturally sexually monogamous and staying monogamous (because it makes my partner happy) is a little bit of work for me. I AM pretty naturally emotionally monogamous, I’ve never even contemplated leaving him for someone else – but sex with other people often seems like it would be fun and I’m impulsive enough to know I shouldn’t just buy the bag of oreos with the intention of only eating one, you know?

      But I’m not universally equally attracted to all men (or all women); it’s an individual thing. I wouldn’t apply those rules to someone I wasn’t strongly sexually attracted to because I know I’m not going to suddenly find myself accidentally “pseudo-married” to J. Random Gender Role.

    • Lucreza Borgia

      If you have a chronic cheating issue, it’s probably a deeper issue than just sex or being unhappy with your relationship. Then I could understand these rules and would hope that the person was in therapy so they could deal with their issues.

      At the same time, I don’t think these are legit for most people. If you cannot keep from cheating or thinking about cheating, then maybe you need some therapy.

      • Rosa

        are you responding to me, or ki sarita?

        There is a difference between being in a chronically unhappy relationship and/or needing therapy, and seeing certain tendencies in yourself – I also don’t turn on the TV in the morning before work, because it makes me lose track of time and be late more often. It’s not so much as “need these rules to keep from cheating” and more of a “I recognize these steps that lead me into making bad decisions, and stop before it’s even an issue.”

        I mean, I also have slower reaction times than a racecar driver, so I wouldn’t drive 95 miles an hour even if there weren’t a speed limit. It doesn’t mean I am in terrible physical shape and should get physical therapy to have faster reaction times.

  • Kit

    Am I the only one that finds “5. To remind his wife often of his wedding vows orally and in writing” kind of super weird? I feel like at a certain point, I would actually say to my partner “Yes, I know, I was there too.” I think the fact he has to do this frequently would just trigger concerns that he WAS cheating on me, because that absolutely wouldn’t be my first presumption.

    As for being friends, even close friends, with people of the opposite sex, I think there are SOME circumstances where having someone else there are warranted, though mostly to ease your partner’s mind about it. For example, I am close friends with one of my ex-boyfriends (the relationship lasted close to 3 years), and if I am seeing someone or he is seeing someone, I definitely prefer to hang out with him in a group as opposed to alone. This wasn’t the case when we were both single, but since we’re both seeing other people I feel like it puts both of our partners’ minds at ease about it. Overall though, not being friends with people of the opposite-sex just on principle is awfully weird.

    • luckyducky

      I think this important to recognize. I think a marriage is about creating a safe place for two people and avoiding things that don’t threaten it for your partner. For most but not all of us, that safe space includes monogamy. If you decide that you want to change the rules of that space, say by not being married anymore, you do it up front instead of by default or unilaterally.

      Goes without saying, a marriage should be characterized by a high degree of trust and there isn’t much that would threaten it but at various times or various situations may be more threatening than others and it isn’t necessary rational. For example, postpartum, wouldn’t it have been a good idea for my husband to spend a extra time away from home with a female co-worker (well, just a extra time away from home) and I am grateful that he didn’t that but normally it wouldn’t be a problem.

      But I wouldn’t characterize it as building hedges but being mindful of how your partner could perceive something.

      • Rosa

        Yeah, simple consideration for a partner could lead to the same behavior, especially in the short term for specific situations. It’s the thinking behind it that’s so off.

        Also, there’s no way to know if he even asked his wife what “hedges” she thinks are important. Maybe she could care less about him spending time with other women but finds time he spends closeted in Bible study causes strain on their relationship. Who knows.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      haha, yeah, even if I didn’t start to suspect that he was, in fact, cheating (which I could see happening), I would just find it super ANNOYING! lol. Ditto for the always hearing about any time he’s going to have contact with another woman. Super annoying and pretty self-esteem-crushing too. How many daily reminders do I need that my husband needs to pysch himself up ever day for the fact that he’s stuck with me, whether he likes it or not?

  • Wendy

    This reminds me of a parenting moment, when the mother of my daughter’s best friend sadly told me, “WE don’t lie, because we are Christians.” I was so irritated by this, but I couldn’t find the error until my husband later told me, “WE don’t lie, because we want people to trust us, like us, and be honest with us.” (Also, the other girls was totally lying.)

  • Caitlin

    On a side note, the divorce rate is not rising. It peaked in the 1980s, has fallen, and has been relatively steady for awhile. Also, while practicing religion together (e.g. regular church attendance) does protect against divorce, the overall dicvorce rate is lowest among college educated people (especially when they delay marriage until they are in their late twenties or beyond). If the evangeleicals really wanted to prevent divorce, they would encourage college education for men and women and discourage people from thinking of marrying young as a norm.

    • Steve

      The divorce rate is actually higher among more hardcore evangelicals because many of them marry so young to people they shouldn’t necessarily have married.

  • ako

    This actually flows quite logically from some of the weird attitudes about lust you described. Most people, even in a committed relationship, will do a certain amount of noticing other attractive people and having not-unpleasant sexual thoughts about them. A guy who’s taught to fear the slightest flicker of desire as Sinful Lust is going to 1) probably have more of these thoughts due to the “Don’t think of a white elephant” effect and 2) not know how best to put them in perspective. So the obvious response is extreme avoidance.

    (Although a lot of it seems to be avoiding the appearance of impropriety. If you can hug someone innocently when you wife is watching, you can do it when they’re not watching, you just can’t prove it was innocent. Which, if your relationship has mutual trust, should not be an issue.)

  • Sara

    There is some good in seeing marriage as a commitment instead of just a feeling. Sometime there’s just a rough patch that, given a few day or weeks or months, will smooth out. If spouses bailed because today they don’t feel loving, we’d have a lot more broken marriages. Obviously, there are sometimes where bailing is exactly what you need to do, but sometimes you just need to cool down.

    My spouse and I have had the exact same experience with our best friends (a married couple).

    • Rosie

      I agree, but a commitment to do what? The specifics are up to each couple to work out, and for my husband and I the vast majority of them are renegotiable as necessary. And I think that’s a strength, not a weakness, in our relationship, because it allows it to grow and change as we grow and change. We were monogamous for several years. When we came to a point where that didn’t seem to be serving us, we talked about it, renegotiated, and now we’re polyamorous. We’ve renegotiated a lot of other things multiple times. Our one commitment that we’ll always, ALWAYS, stick to is the commitment to Keep Talking.

    • luckyducky

      I’ve been thinking about this too because initially I read Libby’s post as glossy over/passing by the question of what happens when you hit that rough patch and maybe you don’t want to – in that moment – stay with the other person in her discussion of the desire to only have her husband stay with her because he wants to **and thereby implying that you should just leave .** I didn’t find it a second time through and I don’t think the implication is actually there — I wouldn’t assume she would counsel someone to do that. I only know that she wouldn’t her husband to stay with her because he felt like he had to and who wouldn’t agree with that? It still may be the better (temporary) condition than splitting up, but it may not be.

      As to committed to do what, I think marrying someone is a commitment to make substantial more effort to work through rough patches — to stay with someone and make the effort to problem solve even if you don’t want to sometimes — than it would be if you weren’t married. I will admit to being pretty traditional about this but if you want an easy-exit relationship, don’t get married. There is a time and a place for divorce but it is so disruptive and generally painful that it should take a bit to get there.

      • Rosa

        Do you think long-term relationships or coparents breaking up is less painful than divorce? That hasn’t been my observation.

        But also, staying can’t ever be the prime goal. There’s too much bad behavior still possible if “don’t divorce” is the main goal. Especially if it’s an absolute goal – in too many relationships, knowing the other person won’t leave gives one person free range of bad behavior.

      • luckyducky

        Rosa, I suspect the differences in our responses has more to do with the specific examples that come to mind than a real difference in opinion.

        No, I don’t think the legal status necessarily makes the dissolution of a relationship more/less painful. I do think if you don’t know how committed to the long haul you are, you shouldn’t make the explicit, public commitment that you are.

        And, no staying together is not the primary goal but I see marriage (or explicit but not legal commitment) as representing a fair amount of sunk capital, especially if there are kids involved — make sure, very sure, that you are cutting your losses and not abandoning a worthwhile endeavor because of a rough patch. Abusive or toxic relationships — it is clear, cutting losses. Experiencing some ennui — don’t do anything stupid that would hurt your SO (like “experiment” without your SO’s blessing) and wait 6mo to a year.

      • Rosa

        Yeah, I think our actual tactics are really similar.

        I just really hate the language of “riding out a rough patch” because it seems so often to make power imbalances even worse. The most basic power any of us has is voting with our feet.

      • Sara

        I think I can re-phrase more accurately what I meant before. It is good to take a long-term view of a relationship. At this very minute, when I walk into the kitchen and see a mess spread out everywhere from my husband making himself breakfast and not cleaning up after himself, I am upset. I don’t feel like loving. Briefly, I consider what joyous, mess-free life I might enjoy without him in the house. But a long-term view of the situation, do I want him to not come home tonight? By the end of the week? I know that I still want him around. Now, I used a silly example here, but you could substitute any other problems. I wanted to suggest taking a long-term view of your own desires and how you feel you can best uphold the commitments you made to your partner.
        By a “rough patch” I really meant a shift in your own feelings about your partner, not a new or worsening power imbalance (which seems like a red-flag for abuse and a very good reason indeed to leave).

  • Merbie

    For me, this topic ties in closely with the idea that men can’t control themselves sexually. I had that ingrained in me growing up, so much so that I end up not trusting my spouse for no fault of his whatsoever! It’s frustrating to be able to logically know it’s ok for him to have a friendship with another woman but to have that underlying fear from being taught he can’t be trusted! I wish I could overcome it more easily, but I’m finding that those beliefs that I grew up with are very hard to conquer. The beliefs were there as my brain developed (that’s why people find it so important to indoctrinate children, right?) and were a part of me for so long.

  • Alison Cummins

    Not everyone is naturally monogamous. I am, as I discovered when I tried open relationships in my twenties. Or mostly am, depending on circumstances. Monogamy when I have access to my partner is in no way a hardship for me: it’s my default setting. It’s neither a virtue nor a fault and needs no hedges to protect it.

    Poor Jenkins doesn’t sound naturally monogamous at all. As ako points out, he probably has no perspective on ordinary feelings of sexual attraction. But he sounds like he is also burdened with a strong desire to sow those wild oats and a wife he is not attracted to. Many married people in his situation cheat. They have a home life that they value for many reasons and they have an extramarital sexual life that they value for other reasons. Spouses of these people cope in different ways (deliberately ignoring the evidence, inviting the Other Wo/Man over to demonstrate that they do not feel threatened, embracing the benefits of an open marriage, divorcing their lying a**).

    Jenkins has chosen not to cheat and in his culture (and presumably with his particular wife) an honest open relationship is not a possiblity. Poor guy. Because my culture values honesty, communication and friendship over adherence to particular prescribed behaviours — and because both my spouse and I know that we are both free to leave if the marriage is hurting us — infidelity would not cause my marriage to crumble. His advice is irrelevant to me but I understand why people in his situation need it.

    The other thing I notice is something I’ve seen in others (in my case I’ve only seen it in men, though others may have had occasion to observe it in women). He seems unable to distinguish between “I’m horny” and “this other person wants to have sex with me.” More than once I’ve had to go through hoops to convince a guy that no, I really am not interested in having sex with him. These men had real trouble grasping this. “But… but… but I want to have sex with you, therefore there is sexual attraction happening, therefore you want to have sex with me, so you’re just making excuses that we can work around and we actually can have sex.”

    • Alison Cummins

      Meaning, if he’s just a dirty old man, these hedges are only necessary in his imagination. If he allowed himself to be alone in a room with women he might discover very quickly that the women were staying at a good distance from him, keeping the conversation on strictly professional topics when they weren’t emphasising how happy they were with their spouses, and making great efforts to not be alone with him. (Well, the hedges would still be necessary — to protect his ego, not his marriage.)

      • Rosa

        and maybe those other women – we don’t know that he was ever taught to respect another person’s consent. If he decided to give up these hedges and not follow what he thinks is God’s law, he might be left with nothing but ego and lust to guide him.

      • ki sarita

        Many, many people, perhaps most, are not naturally monogamous.

        I am not naturally monagamous.

        That does not make me a creep or a dirty old lady. That also does not mean I can not make a choice to be monogamous and stick with it, or that I would be repressed and miserable if I did. I can choose to live a monogamous lifestyle for various reasons and be quite happy. And I will then takes steps to protect my choice.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        I just don’t understand how you need those fences so that you don’t cheat. I don’t think the majority of people are truly monogamous (I am not). At the same time, it’s really not that hard to not cheat. It’s very simple in fact! Kinda like not raping…you just don’t do it!

      • Rosa

        @Lucreza, since the nesting is at it’s limit.

        You’ve never – I’ve been in my relationship 14 years, but I was in other relationships or single/playing the field for 7 years before that, including 3 years in a sexually open relationship – made a bad sexual decision, even though you *knew* you were going to feel bad about yourself later or hurt someone’s feelings? It’s easier for me to not do things that will make other people feel bad than the ones that make me feel bad, but the temptation is still occasionally there.

        It’s not super common, but that impulse certainly happens often enough to have come up a few times in the last decade. I know people have different levels of impulsiveness and sex drive, but you really don’t recognize that urge, or it’s power? You’ve never made a new friend and hung out with them a lot and gotten really close to them and then had that moment of just breathtaking lust, and thought, whoah, if i were single we’d be in bed already? Or had a friend who got into the pattern of only telling you negative things about her partner and putting you emotionally in between the two of them? Or had an ex-lover you are still friendly with start creeping over the borders of friendship when he is super down or suddenly single, and been tempted? Or even just had a friend or coworker you had a serious crush on, in ways that made you second guess your motivations – like, wow, did it just cross my mind to think “I should call X before her girlfriend gets home from work, or she’ll want to invite girlfriend along”?

        There’s a lot of research about the finiteness of people’s willpower. You might get by on “just don’t do” anything bad, but it’s not a winning strategy for most people. I have a lot of things in my life I “just don’t do” – I don’t say rude things to my mother-in-law, I don’t spend more money than I have, I don’t eat a whole bag of oreos at one sitting- and for most of those, instead of raw willpower, I have habits & rules for myself to make it easier.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      How can he even KNOW if he’s naturally monogamous? I feel like that would be a very difficult thing to know if you’re so repressed that even just thinking sexual thoughts about someone you’re not married to is considered shameful. Plenty of people might try experimenting with open relationships and find that the desire to be with others is not nearly as consuming when it’s actually allowed. Or even if just having friendships where there’s some degree of sexual attraction that is not acted upon is allowed. Or even if just having friendships with ANY person of the gender(s) your’e attracted to is allowed so you can realize that you’re NOT actually attracted to every single one of those people and that, actually, you find your partner rather attractive. Recognizing that you don’t need to build a freaking fortress (oh, excuse me, I mean plant “hedges”) to protect yourself from everybody who might possibly inspire desire is going to take a lot of pressure off the individual AND the relationship and probably allow you to actually appreciate the relationship or, at least, find out IF you appreciate the relationship. But if your attitude is always “OMG delicious forbidden fruit everywhere! Don’t go there, don’t go there, DON’T GO THERE!” that’s going to be a real buzzkill. At least that’s the way it seems to me.

      And spot on with your last paragraph! Male entitlement at its finest.

  • ki sarita

    I believe that challenging monogamy is detrimental to the welfare of happiness of the vast majority of women, of whom one of the most important things in their lives is a mate loyal to them. I see it as anti feminist.

    • Rosie

      Erm, I’m a woman, and can I tell you how happy I am that my husband and I have challenged monogamy, and ditched it in our relationship? We’re no less loyal to each other than we ever (maybe more, even), and it’s not like every woman wants the same things out of her relationship(s) anyhow.

      The only reason that loyalty in a mate would matter more to a woman than to a man is if her financial livelihood were dependent on it. Thankfully, we’re working our way clear of that cultural artifact in the western world.

      • ki sarita

        you are very much in the minority.

      • Rosie

        Less so than you seem to think. I didn’t coin the phrase “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”; in fact that was first said before I was born (I think). Tell me again how important “a loyal mate” is to all women?

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        “you are very much in the minority.”

        Citation please? And “it’s obvious, everybody knows it” does not count.

    • M

      Why? It would be a problem if people said monogamy was harmful to everyone and no one should be monogamous, but that’s because it would shut down options for all people (not just women). We aren’t saying that. We are saying that polyamorous relationships are just as valid and just as real as monogamous ones. If a couple wants to be monogamous- great! If they don’t- great! It’s only if the two people have differing relationship/sexual ideals that they need to work it out or not date/marry. It’s in no way anti-feminist to push for open choices in sex and relationships. The only people who should decide what the sexual and relationship boundaries are for their particular relationship are the people in that relationship.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I agree but I just want to point out that polyamory isn’t the only other option besides monogamy. There are other types of non-monogamy that people engage in that are probably actually more common than polyamory. Just wanted to put that out there because I seem to be seeing the monogamy/polyamory dichotomy a lot on this thread.

      • M

        You’re right, Petticoat Philosopher. I tend to use polyamory as a catch-all phrase to cover non-monogamy, but you’re right, it’s a fairly specific term that doesn’t cover all the relationship variations out there.

    • E

      Stereotyping based on biological essentialism is anti-feminist.

      • ki sarita

        biology wasn’t mentioned.
        a feminism that doesn’t include respecting the borders of another woman’s relationship will be rejected by most women.

      • ki sarita

        and from my experience, there are a whole lot of women who say its ok, until it happens. i’ve beenn on both sides of it. Be smart. don’t start.

      • ki sarita

        In the Jewish world, I’ve seen and participated back in the day in successful recruitment by Jewish fundamentalists of otherwise feminist women, by the implied promise of monogamous marital fidelity.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        No, you didn’t mention biology, you just made unfounded generalizations about What Women Want. True, I don’t actually know what discipline you are choosing to hang them on. And what about non-monogamy requires not respecting the borders of other women’s relationships?

        As for your experience, well I’ve got experience too, and so have the other commenters that have responded to you.I thought trying an open relationship would be okay. Then I actually tried it. It was still okay. In fact, it was great. It’s been great for many other women I’ve observed too. Your experience says one thing, mine says another. How ever are we going to decide whose experience gets to stand for All Women Everywhere!

        As for Jewish fundamentalism, yeah, I’ve seen a handful of fellow feminist-ish Jewish women go over to the Dark Side. In my experience, these are women who wanted to cede the responsibility of making difficult life choices to an ideology that pretty much makes all those choices for you. They wanted the perceived comfort of all that structure. There are many aspects of that besides “monogamous marital fidelity.”

      • Rosie

        Thank you, PP. You’re more eloquent than I.

      • Anat

        To ki sarita: a feminism that doesn’t include respecting the borders of another woman’s relationship will be rejected by most women.

        Nobody was advocating disrespect to other people’s relationships. One can challenge monogamy in many ways while treating everyone involved decently. As long as everyone is informed and consenting – why the hell not?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Holy essentialism! I happen to think it’s anti-feminist to make sweeping generalizations about what people want out of relationships based on their gender or to say that traditional relationship models can’t be challenged in order to protect Teh Wimminz.

      And I happen to KNOW it’s just plain wrong to assume that non-monogamous people are any less loyal to each other than monogamous people.

    • ako

      You’re treating “loyalty” as a synonym for “sexual exclusivity”, which changes the tenor of your argument. There are plenty of women who’d object to the idea of a partner who was actively disloyal (for instance, betraying them in some way) but would have no issue with one who merely slept with other people (in an open and honest fashion).

      Also, I’m skeptical of your claim that it’s one of the most important things for the majority of women. Culturally, women are taught that we’re supposed to want to be with someone (more specifically, a guy), be the only person that guy sleeps with, and have a formalized committment to that effect. I know a great many women who only want some of those things, or don’t want any of them. Personally, finding a partner at all isn’t one of the most important things in my life, let alone one who wants to promise to only ever sleep with me. So I’m really wondering about the evidence for your claim, and how it might be skewed by what women are expected to tell people they consider important.

      • Paula G V aka Yukimi

        My boyfriend and I have an open relationship in theory only because we both are too socially awkward to actually meet people XP Sex is just sex, betrayal, deceiving or lying, that hurts. Actually, for me it has been more worrying having been depressed and closed off in my room for the better part of two years but my boyfriend has stood up for me, proving in one more way he really loves me. We have our problems but that gives more trust that whether or not our relationship being open or closed.

        Actually, although I know it probably wouldn’t be easy, I’d like to have a family that was bigger than my boyfriend and our (possible) kids with someone else or more than one person (like a big family… this probably stems from my childhood poor family dynamics).

    • Lucreza Borgia

      Monogamy or monogamish?

  • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    That conversation about women being “helpers” to men in the workplace and creating a pseudo-marriage is really disturbing, and their apparent view of marriage (and gender, and work) makes me sad. Also, I can only assume that a female boss would completely blow their minds. How do these men cope when confronted with female colleagues? It has to happen on occasion.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      For that matter, how do they cope with having male employees? That means they’re, like, gay-married, ewwwww!

      There’s only solution. Abolish work! It’s against the bible.

      • Rachel Marcy (Bix)

        Haha…yeah. I guess they think about male authority structures differently, but I feel like their ideal is that all men are totally autonomous.

    • Anat

      Indeed. One of my husband’s best friend is a woman co-worker who is more senior than him. They have been working together for over a decade and communicate like an old married couple – knowing each other’s thoughts, finishing each other’s sentences, etc. She’s a great person, I’m glad she is in my husband’s life.

      • ki sarita

        its great if it works out for you and your husband, but the workplace is definitely a place where extramarital affairs get kicked off.
        You don’t have to agree with Jenkins’ approach to preventing that, in order to agree that this can and does occur with relative frequency.

      • Rosa

        That’s just because most people’s social lives are centered in the workplace. Between working full time and having family obligations, there just aren’t that many places left to meet people. People who are super-involved in something else as well (church, a sport, politics) who are going to cheat meet people through those venues, but for an awful lot of us it’s family or work.

  • Liberated Liberal

    “I realized that I would never want Sean to stay with me simply because he feels like he has to. I want him to want to stay with me. I don’t want his constantly reminding me that he promised not to cheat on me, I want his delighting in me as his friend and partner.”

    YES, YES and YES. This is always how I have felt about relationships, which might be partially why I find marriage so unnecessary (to me). I don’t want a set of rules or a piece of paper forcing us to stay together. Growing up Catholic, the rhetoric is the same – once you are together, you stay together where either of you likes it or not! And guess what? Most of the “good” Catholics I knew didn’t like it one bit. Relationships tended to be quite toxic and uncomfortable, but they were staying together because they had to. I was force fed the idea that relationships were very hard, required a tremendous amount of suffering and were to be “endured” until the end. Even as a little child, I saw that whatever that was, whatever these people were doing, was NOT what I wanted. My biggest nightmare is to be in a relationship in which somebody is staying with me because he feels like he is obligated, rather than because he’s genuinely happy being with me. I mean, the sense of loyalty is to be commended, but who wants that? I WANT to be wanted. I don’t want to be a burden one must put up with.

    Of course, I ended up in a relationship like that, and my subconscious must have somehow embraced quite powerfully the idea that once you’re in a relationship, you stay and endure whatever you have to to remain a “good girl” and loyal. That Catholic guilt instilled almost at birth is quite powerful stuff!

    Unlike JT, I’m not willing to consider an open relationship. I’m quite willing to accept that it is because I am too insecure to handle my SO being with other women, rather than pretend it’s because of love. I have no problems with it theoretically, but that is simply where I and SO are. We are two insecure people :D. It isn’t what I want, even though I find nothing wrong with others deciding it is fine in their relationship.

    • E

      I was force fed the idea that relationships were very hard, required a tremendous amount of suffering and were to be “endured” until the end.

      Yup. I also endured years of abuse as a child thanks to that little philosophy of marriage, the damage from which I am still working to undo.

    • luckyducky

      Oh my, this is the polar opposite of my experience. My parents are very devout Catholics — 43 year and I don’t know anyone who is or has been as consistently happily married as they have been (they still gross us kids out by kissing in front of us ;)) . One set of grandparents was married for 60 years. My grandmother was dying of lung cancer, had had a heart attack and a stroke and the two of them were still teasing each other about turning the other on up until the very end. The inhibition about talking about that stuff in front of the grandkids was significantly lower under the influence of morphine (her) and advancing senility (him). Regardless, they were obviously and genuinely delighting in the other’s companionship until she died.

      I don’t know the details of the other set of grandparents, he died when I was little, but the stories I know about them indicate they were happy together. All 10 aunts and uncles are married (only one is divorced and remarried) and I wouldn’t characterize any of them as unhappy, most of them as quite happy despite the various and sundry trials and tribulations one encounters over the course of being married for 40+ years.

      I would say that divorce was never on the table for all but the one and all except the one chose well the first time and the only “enduring” was enduring a spouse’s illness.

      • Liberated Liberal

        I’m actually extremely happy that you have a long line of happy relationships to look up to. That is as it should be.

        That doesn’t invalidate my point that the Church teachings that you should stay together NO.MATTER.WHAT is extremely harmful and painful when NO.MATTER.WHAT is pretty darn hideous. It happens to be a great teaching when the relationship is great but quite atrocious when the relationship is miserable and beyond salvation.

        I saw this happen in my family, among friends and acquaintances. I saw women (and men) who simply stayed together because they “had to” while living miserable lives. My mom’s dearest church friend stayed with her alcoholic, abusive husband for nearly 60 YEARS!! because she was a good Catholic and felt that it was her duty. He died and she fell in love at 90 years old. I was at her wedding 6 years ago. She said her biggest regret is that it took her 90 years to find joy. My point is that I never, not once and not for one moment, want anybody I am in a relationship with to stay with me out of obligation or duty or guilt or whatever rather than a true desire to be there. That is more painful to me than somebody leaving, and it has to be horrible for the person staying. Why would I want that? That is simply my preference. Marriage vows can be damned. I only want a partner who wants me. End of story.

      • luckyducky

        I didn’t mean to imply that your experiences weren’t valid. I just grew up in a large, very Catholic family and of all the things I came away with from that formative environment, a warped sense of what relationships should be or are is not one of them.

        I would note that the larger side of the family is probably not representative of Catholic families of the era — other than having 9 kids. My grandparents were both college educated and married in their late 20s (their age wasn’t so unusual, it was the during the Depression). Of all of the kids, my parents were the only ones who married before they graduated college (sure, some of the aunts went primarily for their MRS but they got BA/Ss too), which means the aunts and uncles also married a little bit later than the average age at the time.

      • Liberated Liberal

        I apologize for being snappy. I’m grumpy today :).

      • luckyducky

        Happens to the best of us :).

  • smrnda

    I think a lot of this might be the way that within conservative religious circles boys and girls and men and women are socialized. From my exposure to evangelical Christianity, the idea of segregating everything by gender seems pretty pervasive, and tends to be the norm even if there are occasional opportunities for cross-gender socialization. If you grow up this way, you don’t get much experience having friendships with people of the opposite sex, and your interactions with members of the opposite sex will probably feel much more sexualized than someone who finds it to be normal. If men spend lots of time around women, I think they view women less and less as sex objects and more as people.

    That, combined with the ‘any sexual thought is an infinite offense against god’ and you’ve got a recipe for problems.

  • Tyro

    I would horrify him – I’m a bisexual solo-poly man (I’m my own primary, no “one special person” relationship-wise) who gets along much better with women than men

  • LeftWingFox

    Holy moley… reading this, I think I FINALLY see how Christian activists believe gay marriage is a threat!

    If men and women are complements who can only interact through marriage, and any interaction other than marriage leads to infidelity. If you expand the definition of marriage to include two men or two women, then EVERY relationship becomes a potential infidelity! And what spouse can compete with the rest of the world?

    Yeah, it’s demented, but it’s the still the first explanation that makes any sort of vaguely plausible sense.

    • Hilary

      Not to mention the total mind-fuck of two people of the same genitalia, shaking their fist to the burning sky in utter defiance of all that is good and holy, walking out of the hedges and mazes of virtue to the wildness of hedonism and sin . . . and managing this with a monogamy that even the most resolutly faithful struggle with. /snort. snark and sarcasm, served/

      Sometimes I wonder what they are projecting onto gay and lesbian relationships, to accuse us of such hedonism and debauchery when their own marriages are ‘struggle and sacrifice’ to live up to a commitment at all costs. But you make a good point.

  • Nebuladance

    Amazing, this is exactly what I was explaining to my daughter about a month ago: how the evangelical world sexualised every single relationship, EVERY SINGLE ONE. I grew up in the north and came to the mid-west as a college student and was disturbed to realise that I was no longer allowed to be friends with guys. Date them, sure. But hang out? No way. For a girl who’s five closest friends in high school were all guys and two of them gay ones, this was a shock.
    This is one of the nails in the coffin for my being a christian too. It was during college for me that Star Trek: Voyager was on TV, and there was this group of us who would gather in one of the dorm parents homes to watch it every week. The group included several guys who came because they were sic-fi loyalists, but who were constantly annoyed that the captain was a woman. It took me years, literally years, to finally grasp why this bothered them so much. And here it is. Having a strong, capable woman in the workplace was too sexually charged for them. They had never experienced an honest person-to-person, a human-to-human relationship with a woman. How could they, when being raised in a world that produced people like this author?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      haha, it annoys ME that Captain Janeway is a woman too, but that’s because it annoys me that the introduction of Star Trek’s first female captain had to coincide with their first crappy series. :-P

      And now I return to the tortured decision of whether to unwind with an episode of TNG or DS9…

      • Judy L.

        Hey! Don’t go slagging Voyager. Voyager was fun: The Doctor was awesome, that ‘Distant Origin’ episode was a classic, humanity finally got to really kick some Borg ass on the small screen, and the chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and John de Lancie is a treat.

        I could never get into DS9, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to dismiss it as crappy.

      • Uly

        So, you’ve completely blocked the animated series from your memory, I take it?

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        haha, I’m sorry if offended you with what I said. I wasn’t trying to bag on something close to your heart, I was just engaging in playful trekker-talk. Voyager had a few bright spots to me, but I could never get over the quality of the dialogue among other things. You’re allowed to think Ds9 is crappy if you want. :-P It IS hard to get into because the first few seasons are really slow, peppered with a brilliant episode here and there, with a whole lot of less-brilliant filler episodes that contain just enough plot and character detail that you can’t skip over them. It takes a while to get to the pay-off but, to me, it’s worth it. Different strokes though!

        Anyway, to me, TNG will always reign supreme. Probably for largely sentimental reasons. lol

      • Eamon Knight

        I’m just (still) bummed that Genevieve Bujold turned down the role ;-) (Like,we had a Canadian captain, then we had a French captain, so the next logical move would be…..?)

  • saraquill

    As I read the list, all I could think of was that the office must be very tricky for him. More prominent in my mind though, was how his mom, sisters, cousins and other female family members of his must feel horribly shortchanged.

    • Christine

      I suspect that these rules only apply to non family members. Because incest never happens. Why cheating would when incest never does, I don’t know. But that’s the only thing I can think of. It’s similar to how men are safe – sure some people are gay, but it’s not actually an issue in this.

      I should stop trying to make up pretend logic for this. I doubt he bothered.

  • Judy L.

    And what makes all of this ‘sinning’ nonsense worse for Christians is that you’re told that it’s not just your actions that count – you commit the sin of adultery merely by THINKING about having sex with someone other than your spouse.

  • Teri Anne

    This mindset that men and women can only relate to each other through dating and marriage made being a widow in a fundamentalist church very difficult. Most of the men would not even talk to me, and neither would their wives. Evidently I was dangerous to their marriages. I recently left this church and will never attend a fundamentalist church again. I will also never date a fundamentalist, because this mindset is the “Christian” way of saying women are only good for one thing.

    Jenkins does not sound like he loves his wife very much, and he must think their marriage is a real chore if he has to construct all these silly rules to “protect” it. I feel sorry for her.

    • Nebuladance

      That is exactly my experience as well. When I was widowed the church was very supportive at first, but as life went on, it became clear I was not welcome. I was right up there with the four other women who were either divorced or never-been-married-single-mothers. The former pastors wife grew concerned over our treatment and has tried on several occasions to reach out to us. But the leadership by and large is clearly only comfortable with married women, whose husbands are also members. One of the other single women confided with me that she only stays because her kids like it, but when they leave for college she’s leaving too.

      I agree, it sounds like he’s hanging on for dear life, not dancing in the love. How does she feel knowing her husband publicly struggles so badly with being faithful to her? If she feels about marriage the way most evangelicals do, this has got to hurt.

  • Molly

    Very interesting post. I’ve never been Christian and thus have never been immersed in that framework, but I have been perplexed in the past by the “marriage is HARD WORK” mantra of some of my fundamentalist Christian friends. I’ve been married for 15 years, together for 18, and our marriage is my refuge, my safe space to fall–it is actually one of the things in which I feel the most *ease* and trust and ability to rest.

    The other thing that popped out at me from your post is the irony in how dogmatically and aggressively people promote *homosociality* in friendships, while being so freaked out about homosexuality.

    Side note: Wendy’s story is so classic. Really, what is up with Christianity being the only thing holding Christians back from total depravity, while many of the poor unsaved among us do just fine not lying, stealing, and rampaging through life in our unchristian way…

  • Cristi

    I grew up with this framework too. It was somewhat ok to hang out with guys, but you had to understand there was going to be some expectation that you might be dating one day and that most of your interaction was probably flirtatious. Being in a male-dominated college program, most of my friends were guys, but once I met and married my husband, I dropped all of those friendships because “they just wouldn’t have been right anymore”. This really led to an almost abusive married relationship for me (not because of something my husband specifically did but) because I now had no friends outside of my marriage. Over the last few years gaining my self-confidence and letting go of those toxic behaviors, I’ve noticed that I still have trouble making eye contact with me. It’s all so detrimental. After 10 years of marriage, I’m finally working through these issues, not freaking out if I’m around men and might actually be making friends with them, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been.

    • Chrs

      One of my Christian friends has been urging me to do exactly what you did since I got married last year. I’ve never been comfortable with this type of advice, but I never considered it could be so poisonous as you suggest.

  • Sophie

    “I realized that I would never want Sean to stay with me simply because he feels like he has to. I want him to want to stay with me.”

    I am not married but I have been in a monogamous relationship for 6 years. Two years ago the chronic back pain, that I have had for most of my life, became so bad that I could barely walk and unfortunately it has only got worse since. I am extremely disabled by the pain, I can’t take care of myself. Obviously that means that my partner does a lot for me, as well as working a full time job and taking care of the house. I have told him that I never want him to stay with me out of guilt or obligation, and usually he laughs at me for saying that! He tells me that whilst my disability can make life harder, it’s just one part of me and I’m the one who makes him happy and that he loves me faulty skeleton and all.

    I can imagine in a marriage like the author of the book has, that a partner like me would be seen as a great burden and that must be a horrible way to be made to feel. I imagine he would need even more ‘hedges’ in order to surpress any sexual urges whilst his wife is unable to fulfill her wifely duty. I find his attitude really awful, the idea that the only way men and women can relate is through marriage and that remaining monogamous is this insurmountable challenge. Whilst all relationships have their difficult periods, loving someone should never be hard work. Other commenters have expressed this much more eloquently than me but I too get the impression of an over-sexualisation of the opposite sex in the authors’ world and that to me is very unhealthy. Also I think lonely if you have to rule out an entire sex from your potential friendship group. What if you aren’t interested in the same things as your same-sex peers?

  • Cindy

    I want to thank you for this article. It gives me some insight into the relationship between men/men and women/women. I get to realise that my parents actually do the same thing with their friends. As a kid I often had dinner with family friends and they always separated women and men at the table. Even at the young age I found it silly. My parents still think it is a social norm and they claim I should get used to that. Fortunately, I do not judge the gender of my friend when I hang out with f riends. A lot of male friends are quite comfortable with me and other females. Hopefully my generation would grow out of this ‘rule’.

  • Cara

    This whole idea of women being “safe” from temptation by other women and men from other men only works if everyone’s heterosexual, of course, which probably explains part of the reason that they’re so afraid of gay people: ohnoes, now it’s not safe for married people to be friends with anyone.

    • ki sarita

      Agreed; homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships have different dynamics.

  • perfectnumber628

    The “hedges” also show a view of temptation that seems pretty common within Christianity- that temptation is just too strong for you, so you better put up so many barriers that it’s literally impossible to cheat. “I’ll probably cheat on my wife if given the chance” so make sure to NEVER get that chance.

    I wrote more about this on my blog: Hedges for Monsters. Great post, Libby Anne!