Guest Post: Courting a Stranger

As you may know, the Duggars announced last week that their daughter Jessa is now courting. I’ve watched the conversation surrounding this announcement, and to be honest, my gut reaction has been to wish people would leave the poor girl alone. This is as close as Jessa is allowed to come to dating, and she almost certainly has all of the happy jitters that come with first love. I remember that time myself and have a lot of empathy for Jessa, and some of the more snarky responses I’ve seen have left me cold. When I read Samantha’s response, though, I realized that it was exactly what I would want Jessa to hear. And so with Samantha’s permission, I’m reposting her post here for you all to read. 

courtshipA Guest Post by Samantha

Originally posted on Defeating the Dragons

This week, the Duggars announced that their daughter, Jessa, had begun a “courtship” with Ben Seewald. News articles have been floating around in my facebook feed about this, and as I read a few of them . . . my heart sank. Many people are mocking the family, Jessa, Ben, her parents, for how they’ve chosen to handle this.

I can’t get behind the mocking. All I can feel right now is compassion for Jessa and Ben. It’s an emotion they might dismiss as completely unwarranted—from all appearances, they’re blissfully happy, and this courtship is what they’ve always envisioned for themselves. I don’t know about Ben, but everything I’ve seen from Jessa is familiar territory—she’s carefully “guarded her heart” so one day she could date with “intent and purpose.” The way she’s been taught to respond to romantic relationships probably feels very mature and sensible. It’s designed to be safe. Everything about it is carefully vetted, monitored, and controlled. There won’t be any unexpected surprises for them. This process will help ensure a happy, Spirit-filled marriage.

But, if I could sit down with Jessa over a cup of tea and talk with her, there’s a few stories I would share.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The eldest daughter of my “pastor,” Leah*, was in her early twenties when an evangelist that came to our church every year suggested a young man, Steve*, to her father. Over the next month or so, her father carefully vetted this young man. The first time Steve came to visit, he didn’t even meet Leah. Her father took him out to dinner, then they sat in his truck for hours while he grilled him from pages of notes and questions. Barely any stone was left unturned—but I remember my father commenting offhand that it’s not likely that Steve was really honest about most of those questions.

The next time Steve came, he and Leah were never given a moment’s privacy. They were never allowed to be more than a few feet away from another member of the family. When he left, they were not allowed to talk on the phone, and could only communicate through letters that were read, out loud, in front of the entire family.

They did, eventually, get married. The next thing I heard about her was that she and Steve had not yet consummated their marriage, not even after being married for months. They were complete strangers when they got married. They didn’t know anything about the other—the only person they had gotten to know had been the person her parents expected to see. Without any private moments, without the ability to talk without being constantly monitored, they didn’t really know anything real. They’d “courted” a performance, not a person.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I was in college, one of my best friends got married. Their courtship story was perfect—charming, adorable, romantic in a Victorian sense. Her parents called him her “suitor” and his visits were “calls.” They had no physical contact—her father put the engagement ring on her finger when he proposed on the beach, in the moonlight—in front of their families. When they went through the wedding rehearsal, they held a handkerchief instead of holding hands. Their first kiss was at the altar, and Charity* looked like she was about to burst with happiness for the rest of the day.

It’s been a few years now, since they got married, and they’ve experienced some significant marital “bumps” in that time. There were a few moments when no one was sure if their marriage would make it. My mother was trying to give hers some comfort and advice during one of those hard times, and I remember hearing her start crying. “I don’t understand, I just don’t understand. We did everything right. None of this was supposed to happen.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My own courtship experience was . . . ugly. We “talked,” getting to know each otherstrictly in group settings, just like we were supposed to. I asked my parents to come meet him, and we all went out to dinner. I made sure that my father had plenty of time to talk with him, to get to know him. John* asked their permission to “court” me, and we did under the supervision of both our parents. By the end of the summer, he laid out his plan for them, what he planned to do and how he planned to accomplish it, and asked their permission to marry me. When he proposed at a fancy restaurant, my parents were sitting at a table directly across the aisle. For the first six months, everything seemed perfect. It was all going exactly how I’d been taught it should.

But, after I had that ring on my finger and I was in the middle of planning a wedding, and after all our families were on board and we’d announced it to everyone we knew… that was when the abuse began in earnest. It was abuse he kept carefully concealed from anyone– abuse I was promised I was protected from, because, after all, we were courting. We’d done everything exactly how we were supposed to.

And I was trapped.

Because I’d been told to guard my heart, that once I give my heart away, I won’t have my whole heart to give to my husband.

Because I’d been taught that it was my duty, my responsibility, to make sure our relationship was perfectly chaste. He knew that– he sexually assaulted me, he raped me, and he used what I’d been taught against me. I was a cup full of spit. I was a half-eaten candybar. I was that rose with all the petals torn off. No one would want me, I wasn’t good enough for any other man.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That’s what I’d tell you, Jessa, if I could talk to you. I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee that you’ll actually get to know that person. I’d tell you that yes, you have to know how a person interacts with people who aren’t you, but you also have to know how he’ll interact with you when no one is watching.

I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage. There’s no magical promise that is impossible for either one of you to break. Following all the courtship procedures and rules means nothing when you realize that life has changed around you, and you might not believe everything you always did—and he hasn’t changed with you. Courtship doesn’t automatically grant you the ability to communicate without fighting or to have patience with each other. Most of the things you need for a healthy marriage you don’t get through having your parents monitor all your texts and never touching each other longer than a 30-second side hug.

I’d tell you that courtship doesn’t guarantee you won’t get hurt. People are very capable of hiding. People can be very good at cloaking everything about themselves—especially when they are given an insanely precise checklist to follow. The roadmap, the rules, the procedure—they’re not going to shield you from a man using those rules to get close to you so that he can hurt you.

You might be getting to know this person on an honest, deep level– I don’t know. It’s possible that he’s a genuinely wonderful man and both of you are being completely, bluntly honest. It’s probable that you were raised with the understanding that you never hide anything from your parents– and up to this point, why should you? But, it’s also just as possible that you’re both innocently unaware that you’re not really getting to know each other.

Courtship, you’ve been told, promises a safe adolescent experience, free from the trauma and heartache of a thousand “crushes.” Courtship holds the sweet sanctuary of your parents’ blessing and God’s promises. Courtship is about commitment, and honor, and responsibility, and those are the things that will keep your marriage strong.

And maybe—maybe it will.

But, in the end, if you make it, it won’t be because you courted. It won’t be because of all the questions your father asked him or all the times you wanted to be alone but suppressed the desire. It won’t be because you kissed for the first time after the pastor said “you may.”

It’ll be because of who you are, Jessa, and who he is.

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.

  • antimule

    The fundamental fallacy of fundamentalism is that it is possible to devise a set of rules and rituals which will ensure positive outcome for EVERY situation. That’s not only impossible, that’s even unbiblical. After all, according to the story, not even God could have prevented sin in the garden of Eden. What chance do us mere mortals have, then?

    If anything, I can see how an overly rigid rule system might enable abuse. If there is a generally known list of things that a ‘godly’ suitor must do it is then easy for an evil person to perform everything from the checklist and still turn abusive when no one is looking. His victim will be paralyzed and unable to act in part due to all the purity crap and in part due to believing that she did everything ‘right’ and therefore nothing bad can happen, therefore abuse must be good for some reason.

    That’s also what is really wrong with the Pearls. Their cruel and authoritarian style of parenting is bad enough but what is even worse is their reassurance that following the recipe will produce good outcome every time. Since the dogma is infallible, when something doesn’t work the only choice is to try it harder. That’s why kids end up dead. There is no plan B.

    If free will means anything at all it means that no outcome can ever be completely guaranteed. This means that there must always be a plan B (such as divorce), in case things don’t turn out as planned.

    • ako

      Yeah, the more rigid the system, and the more opportunities for ostentatious “Look how pure we’re being!” gestures like the handkerchief as a substitute for hand-holding, the easier it is to keep people focused on “How well do they follow the rules?” and not “How well do they treat each other?”

      • NeaDods

        All about the appearance. Always, always, all about the appearance.

    • Boo

      When the tragedy is when everything goes wrong it is never the dogma that is responsible. The person is always blamed for not following the teaching correctly. That is why these idiots keep doing the same horrible things over and over. They can’t face the fact that something is seriously wrong with their theology, so they demonize the people that fail, dig their heels in, and work even harder at reinforcing their dangerous belief systems.

  • Jackie

    Beautiful advice.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    Poor girl probably want out very badly. Talk about putting alot of pressure on a relationship. I think courtship does the opposite of promised – if a girl is pressured to stay home after high school, develop no job skills in the outside world, no relationships outside the insular group, the oppurtunity to court becomes so big it means really too much. She would be better off if romantic relationships were part of a web of developing interests – not the only way to escape mom and dads total control.

  • Miss_Beara

    Because I’d been told to guard my heart, that once I give my heart away, I won’t have my whole heart to give to my husband.

    I was a cup full of spit. I was a half-eaten candybar. I was that rose
    with all the petals torn off. No one would want me, I wasn’t good enough
    for any other man.

    I was taught this as well. Also the “once you find the guy you are going to marry, he won’t like you once he finds out you had other boyfriends because he will feel like he is sleeping with your past boyfriends so he will find you dirty and break up with you” thing. It was never about the boys having past girlfriends. Girls must be chaste and pure of heart and boys will be boys.

    It is still shocking to me that we learned this filth in the past and I am sure it is still going on now, not just in religious schools either.

    • CarysBirch

      You know, I heard this growing up too, but I never heard the underlying homophobia in it.

      “Your future husband doesn’t want to go to bed with you *and* your ex boyfriends!” Because that would be gay and teh gay iz icky!

      • Miss_Beara

        I never thought about it that way before!

      • Conuly

        But girl on girl is hawt?

      • onamission5

        Considering the belief in these circles that lesbianism is caused by domineering mothers (read: moms with feelings, needs and opinions) or passive, anti-authoritarian fathers, and that their version of strict, patriarchal family structure precludes “sexual perversion” in children, I doubt the possibility of girls in that environment being lesbians has ever crossed their minds.

      • Joykins

        But they still watch the lesbian porn…

      • Alice

        I do remember a Christian fiction book where the virgin protagonist was freaking out because she remembered her fiance wasn’t a virgin, and she didn’t want to have a threesome with her husband and the memory of his ex-girlfriend.

      • Rosa

        threesome with Jesus is totally OK though. Because he’s always watching and he’s there at the center of your marriage!

    • Boo

      I was taught this too growing up. It is so utterly ridiculous that I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive my mother for pounding this in my head. I got married at 23, and my mother had been telling me for years that nobody was ever going to marry me because I was so old that they couldn’t be sure I was a virgin anymore. I don’t even know what the hell that was supposed to mean. The type of families that would tell a girl that she is a ‘cup of spit’ or in any way unworthy of love and marriage because she likes boys is abusive all by itself.

  • ako

    This kind of setup is actually really useful for a manipulative abusers. There’s an easy script to follow, and as long as they make the right gestures, everyone will be impressed with how very, very good they are, and reluctant to believe anything bad about them. That makes it much easier for them to first gain power, then discredit and gaslight the victims.

    For someone looking for actual happiness and compatibility, it’s a terrible setup, because there’s so little room for spontaneity. If you’re editing every word and gesture not only to please the person you’re courting, but to ensure they’re suitably inoffensive by the standards of your parents, her parents, and church leaders, then you’re going to have a hard time showing the real you, and you simply won’t know them well enough to know if you fit together. Finding a good relationship is much harder if you’re both only allowed to show carefully edited fake selves.

    • guest

      I was thinking the same thing–the genuine sociopaths (and we’ve all met at least one) will actually be the most successful at this game, and make the best impression on all the members of their ‘audience’. The courting structure is tailor-made for them.

      • Alix

        Some cynical part of me suspects that’s not entirely an accident.

      • NeaDods

        As much as it creeps me out to type this, I think you’re right.

    • NeaDods

      As far as I can tell from the many, many, many rules and regulations pressed on fundagelicals, none of them are supposed to HAVE a real self. They’re supposed to be perfectly, permanently joyful/obedient/submissive/respectful of authority etc from the moment of birth. Who cares what they really think and feel? Nobody, apparently not even God! It’s all about the appearance!

      • Mariana

        “You aren’t suppose to have a real self”

        Exactly! That’s a creepier way of saying what I said in my comment: there’s no acknowledgment of a difference between your public persona and private person.

        Secrets are satan.

    • Cathy W

      Consider that a lot of the same people who promote courtship are probably fans of the shotgun marriage – is “I slept with him once, when I was 16, and my parents caught us” any more firm a foundation to build a good relationship on? I suspect the operating theory is, “It doesn’t matter if you like each other – you’re duty-bound to take care of each other. And you’ll get used to each other’s bad habits.” Which is fine, I guess, until someone’s bad habit is “hitting my wife when I have a bad day at work”…

      • jemand2

        Honestly, as shaky a foundation as this is, to sneak around in order to get into that situation, at least is some level of independence from parents, and private interaction before marriage. Not very solid a beginning, for sure, but not a process that actually would be *easier* for a sociopath to navigate than a gentle, thoughtful partner who may not agree with one’s parents and accidentally let that show.

  • MarMaLade

    I think that Purity Culture and this ridiculous obsessive need they have to control their daughters vaginas is setting them up for abuse. I watched my mother pray for my father to stop being a main line drug user. She gave so much money to Hagee, who told her that if she just prayed hard enough, my asshole dad would stop beating her when she got upset that he stole everything with a value of $2 or more in our home. The only change he ever made that was positive for our family, was when he died. So, nothing about being pure when you go into a relationship is even remotely appealing. I’m going to test drive everything.

    • Marie

      Ugh. It sickens me how irresponsible preachers can be. I’m so sorry for your pain.

  • Boo

    Reading stuff like this makes me so angry. All of the rage I have at the community I grew up in comes roaring back to life. I hate my family and churches for teaching this garbage, and I mean I HATE them. But you know what I think was the most abusive part for me was? When I was about 20 or 21, I had just broken up with my fiance. I was talking with the youth minister of my church, and I was telling him that I was ready to get married, and have children. He looked at me, smirked, and told me that I could just go out and get pregnant. I looked at him horrified. He told me that nobody really expected me to wait until I was married. Everyone just tells young people that because that is what is best for them at the time. I hate all of the opportunities that I was denied because my mother was more concerned with my virginity that with my life. I’m disgusted that the women in my family would tell me that no one would want to marry me because I was so old that people wouldn’t be able to tell if I was a virgin (I finally got married at the ripe old age of 23). There was so much competition among the women in my family. My cousins married years earlier than I did, and people started wondering why no good Christian man seemed to want me, and that led to other rumors and questions (nobody seemed to notice that my cousins were years older than I was). My aunt would sit with a superior look on her face, and tell my mother that it was because she let me date too much. Both of her daughters married the first guy who came along. I was determined to marry a man that I chose, not one my parents chose. Now I am 30 and living far away. I haven’t been on speaking terms with my parents for most of the years I have been away. I had my first child last February, and all my family can comment on is how happy my parents are. And how much joy they get from hearing about my son. I don’t care how they feel, and I don’t trust them around my family. Wow, it is too early in the morning for this.

    • Miss_Beara

      I wouldn’t trust my child, if I had one, around them either.

      I have been following this blog for a little while now and stories like yours still make my heart hurt. :(

    • CarysBirch

      Oh, Boo, best of luck to you. I am in a similar situation as you are, my cousins are all married and having kids (some six and seven years younger than me) and I’m definitely considered something of an outcast in the family… My cousin 3 years younger has four kids, the one four years younger adopted five of his wife’s siblings (!!), and one seven years younger had her second last week. I’m tired of the pity and amusement I get at family gatherings, and tired of feeling like an object of curiosity.

      I spent the last few years trying, with a lot of pain, to get over my ideas about self worth and motherhood and come to grips with the idea that I might not have any children of my own and that I was okay with it. I am a woman in my thirties now, and for someone who once hoped I would marry in my teens and have a Duggaresque family, I felt completely lost and hopeless and far too old to start, but I finally have gotten to the place where the idea of not having children doesn’t terrify me.

      And now it seems I might be thinking about it within the next few years (not immediately yikes!) and I have to redo my mental program all over again, and include how to deal with influence and demands and expectations from my family. I’m not sure I want to be a nonentity to them, subjugated to the child in every way. Nor do I subscribe to their ideas of childrearing. At all!

      Blech. Anyway, best of luck to you! You’re inspiring, you and everyone else who left, to all the breakaways who’ll follow you!

      • gimpi1

        Blech indeed, CarysBirch. You are fine as you are. Marriage is about a life-partnership, not a sign of adulthood. I didn’t marry until I was in my 40′s. We have no kids together. My husband had a daughter from a previous marriage, but she was grown and gone by the time we married. I am close to her, but am fine with not having kids of my own to raise. And my life is fine. I’m happy. There is no cookie-cutter road to fulfillment.

        Your life is YOURS! Not your parents, not your future-husband (if you choose to marry,) not your pastor’s, YOURS. Please, do not settle for being a nonentity, for being subjugated. You deserve more. Best of luck to you as well.

  • Mel

    My heart goes out to Jessa and Ben. I met my husband online and we dated in the standard American way. We found that we made good friends and lovers. He asked my parents for their blessing before he proposed – NOT permission – and I said yes.

    Our first year of marriage was rough due to a weird and tragic sent of events. My best friend died in a car accident on the way to help us decorate the reception hall the day before the wedding. My husband developed a rare form of a sinus infection that made it feel like knives were tearing up his face. The form of birth control I had chosen caused difficult to control bleeding leading to anemia and fatigue. It was an horrible, awful year that I don’t like talking about even now that it’s over.

    Our marriage survived because we were friends before we were husband and wife. We were old enough to know how to support each other through sickness and grief. I don’t know that a carefully choreographed courtship allows the bonding needed to survive rough years.

    • Renee

      Those marriages don’t depend on bonding, like your relationship. They rely on religiously defined duty, and the belief that divorce is a sin. So, when you and your DH had bad times, you relied on your deep bond, where they will soldier on because they have no choice.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    “I’ve watched the conversation surrounding this announcement, and to be honest, my gut reaction has been to wish people would leave the poor girl alone.”

    I understand this, but I feel like if we don’t discuss the issues in a situation like this, we are in a way condoning it. Samantha’s response is an excellent one. As she says, mocking the family isn’t an appropriate reaction. But compassion and dismay for the young people involved is.

    Since I am not directly familiar with purity culture, I find this all very shocking. Jessa is an adult, and yet her father is dictating to her whom she can even associate with, reading all her texts, and in general completely controlling her life. I doubt she feels that she has any other options at this point, which makes her more or less a helpless pawn in her parents’ hands. At twenty! I find this horrifying.

  • Gillianren

    Personally, I think it’s weird to announce your kids’ relationships unless you’re doing something like inviting people to a wedding or telling people that they’re moving in together. Maybe it’s because I’d never heard of “courtship” until I started reading this blog, but it kind of strikes me that this is the equivalent of saying, “We’re so proud! Our daughter has gone on a couple of dates with a guy!” In my circle of friends, you haven’t even necessarily told your parents until it’s serious. I know intellectually that, in that world, it’s always serious, but that doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Sally

      I agree. I think it puts too much pressure on the couple, particularly this couple who are so relatively public. Does Jessa have any chance of breaking it off with the young man if she sees he’s not a good match? Or is the courtship itself such a commitment, especially given the publicity, that she’s trapped now?
      I hope she’s not trapped. I have a young relative who started courting and then broke it off. Nothing was really said about why to us, but I got the sense that the parents were a little embarrassed. But thank goodness if they were embarrassed they didn’t pressure their daughter. She blurted out in front of us that her dad needs to find her a guy (now), so clearly she hasn’t been told she’s damaged goods having given her heart away this one time for a month or so. I think this family is into the idea of courting but they’re not into the worst or the worst teachings. I think the biggest problem their going to have is the fact that their particular world is pretty small. They’re not part of a very big group, I don’t think.

      • Sally

        Ugg. I really need to fix my account so I can edit! “… biggest problem *they’re* going to have …
        and
        “… worst *of* the worst…

    • Joykins

      Everything the Duggars do these days is done with publicity.

    • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

      Well, I definitely think it’s wrong to put your kids’ relationship on public TV. But that said, my guess is the Duggars wnat to talk about courtship on TV as a way to influence the public, not to mention the TV show likes it too. Courtship also is a big deal. Usually when a couple courts, the parents email all their friends asking for prayer, etc. It’s a super lot of pressure.

      • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        Honestly, I think it’s wrong to put your kids on public TV, end of story. Growing up is hard enough, awkward enough, without cameras rolling.

        I mean, I went through so many embarrassing phases… I used to steal things, and I went goth, and I acted out, and I had all sorts of “growing pains” and cries for attention. The only reason that I’ve been able to emerge as a reasonably well-adjusted adult is because my family has come to a mutual agreement to just never talk about anything that happened before I turned 20. Otherwise, family gatherings are just too humiliating for me.

        The person I was growing up isn’t the person I am. But if that awkward self had been meticulously documented, if that was the self that random people on the street already know, I would have been locked into that identity. I would not have been able to grow and to change. Everywhere I’d go, I’d be pre-defined by my public baggage.

        I think that’s an awful thing to do to a kid. Even if their childhoods aren’t as awkward as mine.

        In a situation like the Duggars’, I feel that it’s especially dangerous. The show is the family’s “ministry.” What this means is that none of the kids can just discretely leave. There would be too many questions, and any admission of a break would be all over the news. So not only would an apostate kid have to deal with all the complicated and awful feelings of breaking away from their family, they’d also have to deal with it being essentially a betrayal of their family’s ministry.

        Making a child’s life public like that is just awful. It locks them up in many different ways. Not only that, but they are essentially unpaid labour. Does anyone believe that Michelle and Jim Bob are paying their kids for their participation? No, the money goes into the family pot, so these kids don’t even get that little bit of recompense.

    • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

      Keep in mind that for the Duggars, the initiation of a courtship is far more than just dating or even being engaged. It’s “pre-marriage” – all the responsibilities of being in a married relationship with none of the perks (which could mean even little things like getting to have a private conversation).

      As far as Michelle is concerned, announcing the start of her daughter’s relationship is no different from announcing her daughter’s wedding.

      There are also a bunch of other motives, of course. Michelle Duggar seems to really like the attention, or perhaps she tries to use her position in the public eye to influence people (as we saw with her announcement of her son Josh’s “job in Washington” which was actually nothing more than just an interview). I could imagine her using a public announcement to lock Jessa into a commitment, since backing out wouldn’t just be a private family matter, but would actually be a betrayal of her family’s “mission.”

      As someone else said, I imagine that using the opportunity as part of their mission to spread their lifestyle is quite likely. They did the same thing when Josh started his relationship with Anna. It was a way for them to talk about courtship publicly.

      And, of course, there’s the Beast of Fame that must always be fed. Now that Michelle isn’t having kids any more, they need announcements that they can use to keep people interested. Who wants to watch a show about people who are just getting through life? No, we want new stuff, we want babies, we want weddings, we want announcements.

      I don’t know what goes on when the cameras aren’t rolling, but I imagine that all three of these reasons play their part in varying degrees.

  • Hilary

    I just wish I could slip her a copy of every book Harriet Lerner has ever written. Maybe if I bundle then together and substitute bible covers?

  • Mariana

    It seems to me that the whole courtship system is based on a very simplistic and naive understanding of human psychology and emotional intimacy.

    In the mainstream world, there’s an explicit understanding that we have a 1) public persona that we show to everyone, 2) our innermost thoughts and feelings that our only known to ourselves (and maybe God if you believe) and 3) various levels of intermediate intimacy with people who we open up to to different levels according to how long and how well we’ve known them.

    We are taught how to make personal decisions about who to open to, and how much, based on our relationship with someone and how much we trust them. Relationships naturally and gradually grow in intimacy, and when you make a decision about marriage, it’s an informed one (hopefully).

    In this conservative Christian world, it seems like there is no recognition of separation of public and private personas, or gradually increasing intimacy. What a man like Ben shows Jessa’s parents is apparently a good indicator of what he will show Jessa, and on your wedding night you are expected to go from 0 to 60 in a few hours.

    Frankly, it sounds ignorant and terrible.

    • Sally

      Yeah, what’s the deal with the wedding night? Do they (people in this culture) counsel privately that there’s no pressure to consummate the marriage right away as part of the whole deal? I would hope so, but I have no idea because I haven’t read any of these courting books that are popular now among these folks.

      • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

        You should have seen a forum thread started on a well-known homeschool graduate forum called “Is it a sin to have sex on your honeymoon?” The person who started it made a case from Hebrews that we should fast sex and food or something, I dunno. Obviously I’ve never heard that one before. :P

      • fiona64

        Well, Jim-Bob Duggar gave Josh an audiotape to listen to before his wedding, in which Jim-Bob explained the mechanics of the act via an analogy using Lego bricks. Seriously. These kids are kept so naive that it isn’t even funny. http://rethinkingvisionforum.org/2011/09/23/tlc-and-the-fundamentalist-family-a-televised-quiverfull-of-babies/

    • Alice

      “It seems like there is no recognition of separation of public and private personas, or gradually increasing intimacy.”

      I have seen the same problem with this culture in non-romantic relationships. I can’t count how many events (campfire devotionals, small groups) where people are pressured to spill their guts as a bonding and healing experience. They sing emotional songs, and people cry and confess their deep, dark secrets. Then they leave the event, and no one speaks of it again. Sometimes people don’t come back to the group or they feel awkward for a while because of what they shared.

      Sharing secrets can be a good thing, but I believe it is better to just let it happen naturally as friendships grow, instead of manufacturing an “experience” with an entire group of acquaintances and strangers. Relationships are NOT just about the big moments. Actually, the same problem happens spiritually as well. In youth group, I was taught that I was supposed to be “on fire” for God all the time, but I only felt that way at emotionally manipulative events. I spent so much time and energy trying to force myself to be “on fire.”

      Also in youth group, we were constantly being lectured about group unity, and how we were supposed to be BFFs with *everyone* equally. People were called out constantly for being “cliquey.” Now of course cliques are a problem when some people are left out and ignored. But no one can be BFFs with everyone in a group. Even if they had the time and energy, some personalities clash and some people have so little in common that they can’t carry on a conversation.

    • Rosie

      In the mainstream world, there’s an explicit understanding that we
      have a 1) public persona that we show to everyone, 2) our innermost
      thoughts and feelings that our only known to ourselves (and maybe God if
      you believe) and 3) various levels of intermediate intimacy with people
      who we open up to to different levels according to how long and how
      well we’ve known them.

      We are taught how to make personal decisions about who to open to,
      and how much, based on our relationship with someone and how much we
      trust them. Relationships naturally and gradually grow in intimacy, and
      when you make a decision about marriage, it’s an informed one
      (hopefully).

      Shit, I wish someone had taught me these things when I was growing up.

      You are right that in the conservative Christian world, or at least in the one I grew up in, there is no distinction made between public and private personas. Or if there is a distinction, that person isn’t “trustworthy”. As for learning who to trust, a profession of compatible theology is supposed to be indicative. Six months ago, I was with my family in a mission-trip setting (for my niece’s quinceanera party), and every time anyone spoke about keeping track of your valuables on the bus it was, “well, some people here aren’t Christian, so…” implying that it’s only the non-Christians who are untrustworthy, and they are inherently so. Trust is a binary: you can either trust them with everything, or nothing, and what they say about God is how you determine which it is. It’s enough to drive a person crazy.

      • CarysBirch

        … and half the “non-Christians” in question are probably practicing Catholics, if it’s anything like my mission-trip experiences.

        LET’S ALL GO TO GUATEMALA AND TEACH THE CATHOLICS ABOUT JESUS! /headdesk

      • Rosie

        Probably; as a mostly-closeted atheist (for that trip, anyway) I didn’t ask.

        I do know that my grandfather is quite proud of his work translating the NT into a tribal language in Panama. The last time he went back to visit, a couple he had married (the first “Christian” wedding in that tribe, or town, or something) looked him up. He was telling all about how touching that was, to see them again, and how their families had been upset at their conversion and their choice of wedding ceremony. Then I learned in the course of his telling the story that they’d come from Catholic families. /headdesk/ indeed. Sometimes I think the non-believers see more unity among Christian denominations than they themselves do. (Oh, and then there’s the story about how the only time my grandmother ever got really mad was when the Church of Christ missionaries showed up down there, wanting to collaborate, because they “added to” the requirements for salvation, or something. Only classical Arminians were allowed, I guess.)

  • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    The tone of many of the comments on this piece have really made my blood boil. So many of them have been along the lines of “this is harmful because she can never be a complete person having only had a sexual relationship with one person” (or along similar lines).

    This almost invariably happens whenever purity culture is mentioned – a bunch of people suddenly feel that they have the right to reduce people to their sexual experience (or lack thereof). It drives me mad because it accepts the same underlying premise as purity culture – that a person’s worth (or fulfilment) is determined by their sexual experience (or lack).

    • CarysBirch

      It’s not her lack of experience that bothers me (although it’s something I think she might find benefit from if she decided to explore a bit), it’s the lack of agency.

    • gimpi1

      I certainly don’t feel that way, MyPopularSentiment. In my opinion, sexual experience is not relevant to self-worth, either in the sense of having had many partners or none.

      I think what people are referring to is her lack of life experience. It’s hard to be a fully-functioning adult if you’ve never made any choices about your own life, never decided to take a job, go on a trip, or date a guy. We learn how to make good choices by making choices and seeing how they work out.

      Contrary to the Quiverfull beliefs, I think there are no magic formulas that will always yield good results. I don’t see how this young lady can ever learn how to choose wisely if every choice is controlled by her parents until she marries, and then (presumably) by her husband. And being unable to make good choices, to control aspects of your life, is by definition, not being an adult. I feel her family’s ideology robs her of the ability to fully mature. And I think that’s tragic.

      • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

        No, people have been explicitly talking about her lack of sexual experience as a bad thing. This comes up very frequently in “progressive” groups (particularly atheist and feminist ones, which I tend to participate in). Most people take a “whatever makes you happy” stance, but there’s always a large minority that will equate a low number of sexual partners/experiences with impoverishment.

        Keep an eye out on places like the Friendly Atheist blog. This will come up any time purity culture is mentioned.

    • fiona64

      It’s not her lack of sexual experience — it’s her lack of *life* experience. She doesn’t know who she is; she’s been a Stepford daughter and now she’s going to be expected to be a Stepford wife … without any concept that there are actual options out there.

  • http://www.carpescriptura.com/ MrPopularSentiment

    I think that this comes back to the “third culture” aspect of a lot of Christian patriarchy. Most of the parents who have kids of courtship age now are converts (to that brand of Christianity, anyway). So they are modelling their idea of “biblical marriage” on something that most of them haven’t experienced for themselves. They got to choose their partners, they got to be teenagers, they got to have their hearts broken a few times. They have no idea what an arranged marriage-type situation actually looks like in practice. They are just guessing based on what they’ve read in fiction.

    Far from going back to a “tried and true” courtship model, they are in fact experimenting with something utterly new. It wouldn’t be so bad if they were experimenting on themselves, but the guinea pigs here are the kids.

    • Shaenon

      That worries me too. I have a friend of Middle Eastern background who’s in an arranged marriage (which is what this “courtship” business amounts to), and another who considered it. But they came from cultures where it’s been practiced for centuries and responsible families knew what good and bad courtships look like. Also, they went to their families for matchmaking when they were adults and had some real-world experience; they weren’t pushed into it as teenagers. These Christian communities making up “courtship” rules as they go along are playing with their children’s lives and futures.

  • Katherine A.

    The idea of courtship how it’s suppose to keep girls ‘safe’ and it being controlled and planned, that is not how love really is. Love is not controlled or safe, it can be messy. Love has ups and downs. It’s dishonest to promise that something could take away the bad parts of love. Heartbreak can sometimes come with love because in love you make yourself vulnerable to someone and it’s easier for them to hurt you, even if it’s unintentional. But the pain that comes with love can make us wiser and help us be stronger. We need to take the bad with the good especially in love.

  • Rilian Sharp

    Any time I hear about someone announcing something, I wonder what that means. Did they call a press conference? Did they stand in the street and shout it? Are there reporters in their house constantly so they can just turn to one of them and say it? Was it a rumor that a reporter then confirmed by going and talking to them? And why does anyone care anyway?

    • Rosa

      they probably had their PR people send out a press release to news organizations.


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