Guest Post: I Hugged Dating Hello, Part V: Developing Intellectual Intimacy

A guest post by Molly

Part V of An Open Letter to Joshua Harris

“The premise of dating is ‘I’m attracted to you; therefore let’s get to know each other.’ The premise of friendship, on the other hand, is ‘We’re interested in the same things; let’s enjoy these common interests together.’ If romantic attraction forms after developing a friendship, it’s an added bonus” (39).

Dear Josh,

Intellectual intimacy was the hardest section for me to write because you don’t really discuss it beyond finding yourself attracted to people because you share similar interests. I Kissed Dating Goodbye lists marriage as the deepest and most meaningful of human relationships since the individuals share not only their hearts (emotional and spiritual intimacy) but their bodies (sexual intimacy) (28-29). It seems like “minds” is missing from that list, though I may be biased since good-natured intellectual bickering is usually my favorite part of any relationship. Individuals in a relationship do not have to agree on everything—not religious tradition, political affiliation, or the best character from The Muppet Show [1]they just have to respect the other person’s opinions. I Kissed Dating Goodbye repeatedly cautions against dating non-Christians or people who have “a questionable faith” in order to ensure one’s spiritual convictions are not challenged by one’s partner (194).  I disagree with this assessment for a variety of reasons: first, I believe testing one’s faith is an opportunity to mature in one’s beliefs. Second, relationships are far more exciting when they maintain a constant level of challenge, share new interests, and introduce new ways of looking at the world. (Third, if I only dated Christians I wouldn’t have 80% of the fond memories I have of college!) Intellectual intimacy grows via constant communication. Communication with your partner is a way of not only understanding his or her perspective better, it’s a way of refining your own views. Intellectual intimacy only thrives when both parties consider one another as equals and, unfortunately, I Kissed Dating Goodbye doesn’t seem to believe that women possess the same intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and sexual needs as men. Which brings us to my final point:

Complementarianism is a chauvinist’s version of “separate but equal”

“We must realize that girls don’t struggle with the same temptations we struggle with. We wrestle more with our sex drives, while girls struggle more with their emotions” (98).

“A guy who can’t follow legitimate orders will have difficulty holding a job or receiving pastoral correction when needed. A girl who can’t respect a teacher’s or coach’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband” (178).

Josh, we seriously need to talk about your treatment of gender roles. For starters, the idea that men wrestle more with their sex drives while girls struggle more with their emotions is insulting in its overgeneralization. It would be more accurate to say that—as far as Christian purity culture is concerned—men are socialized to suppress their emotions (in order not to appear effeminate) while women are raised to believe they either have no sex drive (it magically appears on the wedding night) or must suppress their sexuality altogether. [2] To be a “good girl,” a woman cannot be active with her personal agency; she must wait to be acted upon by men. [3]

This notion goes back to the ethic of passivity we discussed with regards to letting God schedule our social calendar. Although I Kissed Dating Goodbye advocates that both genders wait to court, time and again you tell men that they’re the ones who must “make the first move,” to show leadership from day one of the courtship, to “take the lead and provide direction for the relationship” while still asking readers not to “misunderstand this as a chauvinistic attitude”(196). I will not misunderstand your attitude as chauvinistic as there is no such misunderstanding to make. It is chauvinistic, plain and simple. One telltale sign is that women rarely appear in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. There are only “girls” waiting to be matched with “men.” [4] Despite being adult women, “girls” in I Kissed Dating Goodbye are seen as perpetually under someone else’s authority; her parents, grandparents, or pastor are listed as “responsible for the girl” (197). [5] It’s therefore unsurprising that “girls” are supposed to submit to their husbands; it’s a continuation of this pattern of male headship.

Honestly, Josh, you tried hard to make feminine submission sound appealing. It’s about protecting the woman’s honor, keeping her feelings from getting hurt; it’s not degrading but (allegedly) benevolent. Here’s the thing: My honor, my emotional vulnerability, my happiness, and my self-worth can be preserved and strengthened without letting my boyfriend have the final say in all decisions in our relationship. Complementarian theology claims that men and women are equal in the eyes of God, but the equality ends there. When you write that a man who chafes under authority “will have difficulty holding a job” while an independent woman “will have difficulty honoring her husband,” you’re not creating an environment conducive to men and women loving one another as equals (or as coworkers). You’re creating a relationship between employer and employee. Blogger Sarah Moon has already noted this difference between male and female submission, and goes on to add

Workers and their bosses are not equals…. The employer has flexibility that the employee does not have…. The employer’s jobs are typically more valued by society and their pay reflects this…. Employers have the final say in how their stores are run…. When an employer tells and employee how to do   something, it is not a suggestion. The employee/employer relationship isn’t always abusive (though it often is). But it is not equal. All humans are equal. But some humans are employees and some humans are employers. Some humans are more equal than others.

It is not enough that we believe that women are men’s equals in the eyes of God. If we are to earnestly pray that God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we are praying for egalitarian relationships in this lifetime. In order to build a kingdom in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we must begin with men surrendering their privilege (Galatians 3:28). When we truly view our partner as an equal—not as a “help meet,” not as subordinate—uncensored, honest communication can begin. Intellectual intimacy is rooted in respectful communication because respectful communication leads to the exchange and construction of knowledge.

Intellectual intimacy is a vital part of every relationship because it’s the form of relational intimacy that has the capacity to affect the greatest number of people outside of the relationship. While I Kissed Dating Goodbye emphasizes community service and volunteer work with friends, the book ignores service work in the form seeking solutions to larger, more systemic problems. Problem solving is facilitated by intellectual intimacy, and a complementarian insistence that women submit in heart, body, and mind to the men in their lives leads to relationships that are only half as creative and intelligent as they could be out of a desire to keep women in their “biblical” place. [6] Communication cannot happen when one partner doesn’t believe it’s their “place” to raise any concerns they might have, or worse, if they fear the consequences of doing so. While it is admirable to pick up trash, volunteer in a soup kitchen, or donate clothes to Goodwill, the larger problems in our society cannot be solved unless everyone is given an equal chance to voice their opinion about ways to protect the environment and tackling the problems of homelessness and hunger.

Hugging Dating Hello

“Without purity, God’s gift of sexuality becomes a dangerous game. A relationship devoid of purity is soon reduced to nothing more than two bodies grasping at and demanding pleasure” (100).

Josh, I would revise your statement to read “Without emotional, spiritual, and intellectual intimacy, God’s gift of sexuality becomes a dangerous game.  A relationship devoid of various kinds of intimacy is soon reduced to nothing more than two bodies grasping at and demanding pleasure.”  Recall Julia Feder’s advice that I mentioned in Part I: “sexual intimacy is only one form of relational intimacy—emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and spiritual intimacy are others. In healthy relationships, sexual intimacy should never outpace these other forms of intimacy.” Ultimately, an insistence of “purity” as an absolute causes problems in relationships—there’s stress, shame, and frustration regardless of whether one remains “pure” (and faces constant temptation) or becomes sexually intimate (and faces social ostracization). It’s a popular misconception that “purity” can be defined in a sexual sense, and I believe I’ve demonstrated that “purity” doesn’t so readily apply in spiritual, emotional, or intellectual matters. [7] Agency, respect, communication, care for oneself and others, personal faith, and creative problem solving are just some of the components that build and sustain healthy relationships. They can be developed while dating or courting, but they must be developed somewhat concurrently for a relationship to thrive and mature in all of the ways God intended.

Thanks for your time, Josh.

Molly

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[1] Sweetums. Sweetums is frequently overlooked.

[2] Men cannot appear effeminate because the worst insult imaginable for a man is to be called a woman. Also, ladies, the “virgin” pedestal is very wibbly-wobbly and the fall to “whore” is swift and merciless. I hope someone dismantles this dichotomy soon, preferably in another guest post!

[3] These gender roles are reinforced by the fairy tale narrative we discussed earlier in Part III; Christine Gardner writes that the typical fairy tale “depicts the princess as lost and in need of rescuing. The man on the horse is capable of providing rescue. The princess cannot choose to be rescued, nor can she choose who rescues her; agency lies with the prince alone” (66).

[4]Finding the statistics for this was actually the most enjoyable part of this letter series. Here’s a table for your edification, with the two most common terms for each gender highlighted:

[5] Josh doesn’t tell us whether or not men are under a similar authority because, after all, women don’t initiate relationships.

[6] After all, you can’t have a discussion if both parties go in knowing that one individual has the trump card of “I’m a man, God said I get the final say. Don’t you dare question me.” The cost of the power trip of male headship is lack of growth for both people in the relationship.  It is also important to note that the complementarianism presented in I Kissed Dating Goodbye is subtle and mild compared to the work of Michael and Debi Pearl and John Piper. The presentation of gender roles in I Kissed Dating Goodbye functions as a sort of “gateway drug” for more conservative standards of behavior for men and women described by other authors. While I honestly don’t think Josh meant his depiction to be harmful to women, the research I’ve done shows how easily “wifely submission” can become “physical abuse without an escape clause.”

[7] Jessica Valenti’s The Purity Myth provides a lengthy description of one author’s attempt to substantiate a medical definition of virginity. There isn’t one. “If virginity is simply the first time someone has sex, then what is sex? If it’s just heterosexual intercourse, then we’d have to come to the fairly ridiculous conclusion that all lesbians and gay men are virgins, and that different kinds of intimacy, like oral sex, mean nothing” (20).

—————

Molly grew up in southern Louisiana and, after spending college partially (emotionally and physically) frozen in Iowa, somehow ended up in seminary where she’s cuddling her inner demons by moonlight and wrestling her faith by daylight. She likes bellydance, historical combat, 80s cartoons, Pema Chodron, and wants to use her M.Div to found the Bene Gesserit sisterhood. She doesn’t have a blog yet, but maybe Libby will be generous enough to provide trackbacks when she does?

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

    How happy that I was able to find someone I was both attracted to *and* had interests in common with – through dating! My husband is my best friend, which seems like the ideal situation – and putting “friend” and “romantic partner” in two separate boxes, never the twain shall meet, sounds like a recipe for an unhappy life and eventual divorce.

    • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

      Thanks for the link to the recipe in http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/08/28/it-is-happening-again/#comment-1020797896
      , but how is it relevant?

      • Cathy W

        I don’t recall where I first saw this, but on some site I used to frequent, the traditional response to people who metaphorically drove by and took a dump on the rug was to post a pie recipe. I kind of like the idea, and I’m trying to resurrect it, since it seems a slightly more useful response than passive-aggressive snarking. Enjoy the pie.

      • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

        I was criticizing your reasoning. My point was that the validity of ideas does not depend on the credibility of those who support them. I certainly do not support anti-Assad strikes and think that any step toward toppling Assad is a step closer to Somalia-on-the-Orontes.

  • http://thegloriousliberty.blogspot.com TheGloriousLiberty

    This is a great post, but I can’t see the table in the footnotes?

    • Molly

      OOPS. In the off-chance Libby doesn’t post the same thing later, here’s the table:

      Term–Number of times term appears in I Kissed Dating Goodbye
      Female–6
      Women/Woman–17/ 34
      Girls/Girl–40/61

      Male–4
      Men/Man–25/47
      Boys/Boy–3/16
      Guys/Guy–21/46

      Thanks for pointing out its absence!

  • Jaimie

    My husband and I are best friends and talk all the time about every conceivable topic. I look at the authoritarian culture with complete bafflement. It seems like everything is about who gets the final say. Unless it’s about sex. Sex and power. So sad. I cannot imagine happiness growing the that nasty garden.
    I liked your comment on the Bene Gesserit sisterhood in your bio. My husband has often told me that I have the weirding voice!

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

    This is an excellent takedown of Harris and also a very good discussion of healthy relationships (held up in contrast to Harris’s ideal, which says a lot!). I haven’t always agreed entirely with previous posts, but this I do. That makes it better than the other ones, right? ;)


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