I Once Courted Too (Some Thoughts on Jessa Duggar)

Reader Marguerite had this to say in a comment on a recent post about Jessa Duggar’s courtship:

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.

As someone raised very much like Jessa, let me see if I can explain some of this.

Jessa Duggar has grown up in a world where guy-girl relationships are portrayed as incredibly scary. She has grown up in a world where divorce is a dirty world. She has grown up in a world where women’s only accepted role is wife, mother, and homemaker, making marriage the most important decision she will ever make. In fact, I remember my mom telling me that the most important decision anyone would make is whether or not to accept Jesus as their savior, but that women’s second most important decision was marriage. For men, she said, the second most decision was what career to go into. But women’s careers, I was taught, were their marriages, so I guess fair’s fair.

I once told my dad that I would trust him to arrange a marriage for me. I was so frightened that I would pick the wrong guy and my entire life, forever, would be ruined. It seemed like such a huge and monumental decision I just couldn’t see how I could be trusted to get it right, and my dad was the smartest, wisest, most amazing man I knew. With his life experience and knowledge of the world and of what makes men tick, I figured he would be more likely to pick right than I would. His response was not reassuring. He told me he wouldn’t want the responsibility of picking for me for fear he would get it wrong, and then never be able to live with himself.

I had a very fairy tale view of the world, even as a teen and young adult. Once I married, I thought, life would be bliss and I would be set. I would birth and raise sweet cherubic children, and then educate them at home, finding fulfillment in teaching them algebra and history. My husband would bring home a solid paycheck and would be there to roughhouse with the children. I would can and sew and tend large gardens. We would have plenty of money and time to visit museums and go on nature hunts. My numerous children grow up to live successful lives and my advice would often be sought by other women in the community. The ticket to that fairy tale was marriage—and marriage to the right man. Make the wrong choice, and all those hopes would be dashed, forever.

Having a career outside the home wasn’t even something I ever thought about. From girlhood, my sight was trained on marriage, and, I thought, the earlier the better. When I hit 18 and there was no one interested in my hand, I felt something must be wrong with me. I felt I was wasting time that could be well spent on birthing children. I headed off to college, but I chose a degree I felt would fit well with my future life as a stay at home homeschool mom, and I immediately viewed college as a place for finding a mate. If I had graduated without a ring on my finger and a wedding that summer, I would have considered myself a failure.

When I was 20, like Jessa, I was courting too. I met him at college. I pegged him as a potential husband almost immediately, but I had some concerns about some of his less than orthodox doctrinal views. Even as my college friends were (gasp!) starting to date without first talking it through with their parents (something that was inconceivable to me at the time), I went to my father and told him about the young man who had caught my eye. While visiting college to see me and meet my friends, I arranged for my father to vet the young man I’d become interested in. Much to my surprise, my father did not grill my young man. Instead, after a short conversation about ephemeral topics and a short lecture about the importance of not becoming to physically involved, he approved the relationship. My college friends called it dating; I called it courtship.

To be honest, I felt a bit let down by how hands-off my dad was. I wanted him to take a more active role to protect me from getting hurt. This was the biggest decision of my life, after all, and I felt he was approaching it too lightly. Didn’t he want to protect me? Looking back, I think my dad was dealing with some demons of his own at the time and was a bit distant and distracted as a result. But that was not to last. Several months after I started courting—which in practice looked like dating because my parents were so hands-off—everything changed. My parents decided that my young man, Sean, was not a good match for me. The change was so sudden it sent my head spinning. And there, laid bare, was the parental control. They ordered me to break up with him. They felt they had the right. I was 20.

At that point I disobeyed my parents, broke with courtship, and stepped out into the world of dating. At that point too, though, I had found myself far enough outside of the community of my upbringing that doing so wasn’t so scary or unthinkable as it once would have been. I was in college, my friends no longer shared my background, and I’d started to learn and discover things about the world around me that made me question my parents’ worldview. Jessa has none of those things. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine breaking with my parents’ advice and wisdom on romantic relationships, and I would think that’s probably where Jessa is today. I, too, remember having complete and total trust in my father and his judgement. And if Jessa were to strike out on her own her relationship with her parents would be irrevocably changed, forever. I know. I’ve been there. Jessa’s parents believe that they have the right to control her romantic relationships and, well, her life. The fact that Jessa currently (to all appearances) very much wants them to do so goes a long way toward covering up that ugly reality.

In the end, Jessa Duggar is acting rationally within the context of the world in which she has been brought up and lives. To young women like Jessa, courtship offers the promise of safety and a foolproof process that will unlock the door to happiness and to the rest of their lives. In a world where guy-girl relationships are viewed as fraught with danger, a failed relationship risks the stigma of no longer being completely pure even if a couple never had actual physical contact, the choice of a spouse is the (second) most important choice a girl will make, and fathers are held up as especially wise and discerning, courtship makes sense.

But courtship offers only an illusion of protection, something I have written about in What about Love? and Whose Choice? (You can find additional related posts on my purity page.) The thing is, Jessa hasn’t heard these sorts of critiques or warnings. Jessa has instead heard courtship being held up as the antidote to heartbreak, a protection against divorce, and a way of remaining safe in a dangerous world. And to the extent that she may have heard courtship criticized, she has likely heard it criticized by those who do not understand her view of the world enough to explain the problems in a way she can understand. I wish Jessa could read what Hannah has written about how courtship didn’t save her from divorce. I wish she could read what Samantha has written about how courtship didn’t save her from an abusive relationship.  I wish she could read Joy’s story, and Dulce’s story, and Melissa’s story. I wish she could read Darcy’s advice. And who knows, maybe someday she will.

I remember the first time I found out that a friend was courting. I was jealous. There was a buzz in the community, and everyone was talking about it. They were the center of attention. My friend’s parents carefully laid out the rules for their relationship, allowing the couple short walks but no hand holding. They could sit side by side on a couch, but only when siblings or parents were present. My friend was practically glowing, and I imagine that Jessa is the same. My friend’s courtship didn’t work out. It is too early to tell for Jessa’s.

When Men Wax Poetic about My Womb
Today I’m Proud of Joshua Harris
What the Ruff, the Spotted Hyena, and the Cuttlefish Taught Me about Gender and Sexuality
Anonymous Tip: Meet the Lawyer
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.

  • Boo

    Courtship is truly the strangest thing I have ever heard. I have experienced most of the consequences of the purity culture, but never courtship. In the community I grew up in a person was never considered a grown up until they were married. Even as at 20 I was expected to have permission from my parents before I went anywhere with a guy, and even my mother believed she had the right to interfere with my romantic relationships. But I never felt like my parents had the right to choose my romantic partners. I can’t imagine who they would pick for me. What a nightmare. This is another situation that mainstream Christians insist on ignoring how strange the Duggars are. If we gave the Duggars another religion everyone would immediately recognize the insanity of courtship, but because they present themselves as Christian everyone will choose to ignore that poor Jessa is a person who should have the right to her own life.

    • Guest

      Make the family Islamic and I’m sure a lot of people would be railing against arranged marriages, and that’s pretty much what parent-guided courtship is, what with the expectation of marriage.

      • Stev84

        It’s not necessarily this rigid though. In some cases it’s just “Here is this guy. Go meet him. Maybe you like it each other.” But the woman can still say no. It depends.

      • Boo

        Your right. I have known women from other cultures who have had arranged marriages. They were all educated professional women, who had lived independently for many years. When they were ready for marriage they called a relative who paired them with an approved match. If the couple hated each other it wasn’t the end of the world, and nobody was considered damaged goods. The way fundamentalists treat women is disgusting. These girls are nothing but objects to be passed around. I don’t understand how parents born and raised in the United States can justify treating their daughters like slaves.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        I have a friend who had one of those marriages. She was given the option of saying no, but had asked her family to introduce her to someone they felt was suitable. She spent a long time coming to truly love her husband, but they are a seriously happy couple now.

      • KristinMuH

        This was the norm in France until WWII.

      • Christine

        Well this would be why some of the extremists have decided that courtship is too worldly, too much like dating, and are switching to arranged marriages.

  • Lynnication

    I find this topic incredibly fascinating. As a modern European 23 year old woman, who grew up with common sense morales and values that did not stem from god, jesus or the bible (at least not directly), I have never come in personal contact with the concept of courtship (I assume that it simply doesn’t exist in Austria). However, different world views fascinate and sometimes disturb me. I’ve watched the Duggars for a while now and although I’m sure they love their kids and that they are currently mostly happy with how they are doing things, it must be so terribly hard to even consider breaking out of it. Especially because they are so much in the public eye.
    I was raised with the knowledge that I was allowed (even encouraged) to make my own mistakes and although I could always go talk to my mother (and father) about the guys I was seeing and my feelings (or lack thereof) for them, I was never outright asked to take the particular guy home so my parents could vet him. It simply wasn’t something I wanted or my parents required of me. I started dating in earnest quite late anyways and by that point my parents seemed to trust me completely.
    I remember that one time, not really that long ago, when I moved back from the UK (where I had studied) and asked my dad if he knew any cute guys I’d want to go out with. I’ll never forget the look of distress on his face. I though it was funny and pressed the issue (I wanted to date somebody and was frustrated by my lack of connections after having lived in a different country for so long). He, in all sincerity, then told me he would never presume to choose somebody for me, and even if he wanted to, he knew the fathers more than the sons. I’m sure that, if I did bring home a guy my parents didn’t like (hasn’t happened so far), they’d tell me outright they didn’t think he was right for me, but never could I imagine them ordering me to break up with him. For them it’s all about me being happy and if he happens to be a broke musician without any talent or a multimillionaire whose never there for me, who are they to tell me I can’t date him!? I’m not saying I see myself as a groupie or a golddigger in the near future, but I can always, always, always count on my parents to support me in my decisions.
    This is turning into a long post, but there is one more story I would like to share. One of my good friends in the UK got married this summer and her dad didn’t approve (not of the wedding, nor of the guy) for reasons nobody really understood. They are great together and love each other very much. So the father didn’t approve, turned his whole side of the family against her, and didn’t show up to the wedding (neither did her siblings or any of his side’s aunts and uncles). She was devastated for months before her big day and broke into tears the morning of her wedding. It was heartbreaking, and I honestly don’t understand how that man, who supposedly loves her, and who raised her, could be so cruel.

    Again, I have no experience with courtship or the kind of patriarchy you are talking about, but I definitely believe that parents, no matter the differences of opinion, should be there for their child. And if Jessa Duggar decides she wants to do something else with her life than marry and have another 19 Duggarkids, then she should have the support and love of her family. If that would happen is a different story.

    • Squire Bramble

      Remember, this is ersatz courtship – it’s a completely artificial take on a system of arranged marriage that was meant for a very different, pre-industrial society. What Austrian nobleman or burgher scanned his daughter’s text messages? As long as the dowry/ bride price was sufficient, everything was great. In the past (and in developing countries today) marriage was a business transaction arranged to the mutual benefit of two families, not two individuals.

      Now, in a Post-enlightenment culture value is placed on the individual’s humanity and contribution to society. In PC philosophy, successful contribution to humnity can only be achieved through adherence to prescribed Iron Age gender roles: hence the conflict. This is why they police Thought-Crime to the extent that makes secular people uncomfortable – they can’t have their followers question the inconsistencies of doctrine.

      I did think that they really believed this rubbish, but have read enough Michael Pearl to know that at least a good percentage are bullshit artists who are in it for the money.

      • Lynnication

        I agree. I just meant that now, in 21st century Austria, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist anymore.
        And yes, I am sure there are so many authors (mostly men, although there are some women) who want to (A) make a quick buck, and (B) like using their supposedly god-given authority to form a society they feel would serve them best.
        It is truly heartbreaking to me that something so beautiful as a loving relationship can be turned into a sort of transaction even today.

    • Stev84

      For many foreigners, all this courtship and purity nonsense must seem like studying some alien culture. And by that I mean space aliens.

      • Joykins

        It sounds that way to me sometimes. And I was raised mainstream evangelical in the 1970s/80s.

  • Mel

    My mind has been reeling since their courtship was announced. I agree with Libby Anne’s mom on one thing: The choice of who you marry is the most important decision of your life . This person is legally attached to you and will be working with you for the rest of your life. There is always a period of readjustment and disappointment in every relationship, but I worry that the courtship process makes for a huge disappointment when you really start to get to know your spouse.

    • lucifermourning

      i have to say, i think that kind of belief is very dangerous. for some people their choice of marriage partner will be the most important choice they make. for others it will be career, or a decision to have kids or not, or to move to a particular place, or all sorts of things.

      lives take different paths and the choice to marry doesn’t, in the end, need to final.

      declaring anything ‘the most important decision of your life’ for every person sends the message that everyone’s life must follow the same sort of path.

      (and i say this as someone whose life was hugely shaped by her choice of life partner – mostly because i moved to a different country to be with him).

    • Laura

      Divorce doesn’t “fix” this aspect of it, either. Especially if there are kids involved, your spouse/ex-spouse will be a part of your life forever. It’s a HUGE decision – and one that I deeply regret letting my parents control!

    • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

      I just want to say that I agree–except for the big about “working with you the rest of your life.” Sometimes, yes. But not always, especially if kids aren’t part of the picture. I know plenty of women who are divorced without kids and never, ever, ever hear from their exes, and like it that way. I’m one of them. If I didn’t need to know where one of my exes was due to a stalking issue, I wouldn’t even know if he were dead or alive.

      Marriage–whether or not we will at all, much less who to–is indeed a very important decision for most of us, but not all of us, and it doesn’t necessarily overshadow every other decision a person could possibly make. By giving marriage such power over us, we create drama, in my opinion.

    • Baby_Raptor

      Not everyone marries for “forever.” My wedding vows said “so long as our love shall last.”

      And frankly, while the idea of a lifelong marriage is great, and I don’t want to rag on anyone who truly wishes to chase such a goal, I think we need to stop emphasizing it as much as we do. People change. Feelings change. Situations you (general you) could never forsee that change everything about everything happen. And pushing “You said forever” on people who suddenly no longer wish to stay married because of one of these circumstances just creates badness all around.

      I don’t disagree with the point of your post, but I feel the need to speak up.

      • Mel

        That sounds reasonable to me as long as both parties are clear on that before the marriage begins which I’m sure you and your spouse are.

        I asked my parents how their marriage survived. (They have survived poverty, critically ill twins, the death of a child, depression, anxiety and having two very opinionated personalities in one house.) My mom said that while my she didn’t always feel like she loved Dad, she always respected him because was a good man who was trying his best. Dad said that while life sucks sometimes, life would suck more without Mom. That was enough. Honestly, I believe that would be enough for me – love may wax and wane but if my husband loses my respect we would be facing a major crisis in our marriage.

        I worry more in a situation like the Duggars where divorce is viewed as impossible/ against God’s plan/ immoral or whatever guilt-laden spin they drag into it. Plus, assuming Jessa and Ben are fertile, they will have a ton of children in short order which makes it even harder to break free of a marriage.

      • gimpi1

        My husband and I did that as well, Baby_Raptor. We wrote our own vows, and closed with, “…for so long as our love shall last, may it be forever.” I’ve never been comfortable making vows I can’t guarantee to keep. That was one of the (many) reasons I held off marrying for so long.

  • AAAtheist

    “… In the end, Jessa Duggar is acting rationally within the context of the world in which she has been brought up and lives. To young women like Jessa, courtship offers the promise of safety and a foolproof process that will unlock the door to happiness and to the rest of their lives. In a world where guy-girl relationships are viewed as fraught with danger, a failed relationship risks the stigma of no longer being completely pure even if a couple never had actual physical contact, the choice of a spouse is the (second) most important choice a girl will make, and fathers are held up as especially wise and discerning, courtship makes sense. …”

    And herein lies the problem. Jessa Duggar is acting rationally within the context of the world in which she’s been brought up and lives, but courtship itself is an irrational relationship strategy.

    Want to get to know your potential husband better? Trust the judgment of your father who only has the performances of the boys who wish to court you to go by. Want to know if you’re emotionally and sexually compatible with someone? Never date and wait until marriage. Want to discover your true sexual orientation and preferred relationship style? Only traditional heterosexual marriage is allowed.

    Courtship seems rational in the irrational world of the purity culture. Dating offers no false promises yet is rational everywhere.

    • smrnda

      That’s a great point at the end. Dating is open-ended, without a lot of expectations, and it’s okay that things don’t work out. Things can not work out between 2 people and they can still get along since sometimes you aren’t compatible and can accept that.

      A lot of what’s going on in purity culture is built around a belief that there IS a prefect strategy. I don’t see how any rational person can think that about anything (there’s no perfect strategy for anything, just better or worse ways which are not even always better or worse) but I suspect that’s why there’s so much isolation going on, along with pressure to seem happy all the time.

  • Holly Houston

    At 20 years old, courtship seemed perfectly reasonable and desireable to me. I already trusted my parents with every aspect of my life, why not with this most important decision of whom to marry? Also, I was taught that God would guide my parents if I stayed ” in His will” by submitting to their authority. And my parents believed this too. They absolutely wanted the best for me, wanted me safe and happy, they just thought that would be best accomplished by fulfilling God’s plan for my life, which obviously, as a woman, included marriage and children.
    Now all of that sounds ludicrous to me, but I remember when staying “under the umbrella” of my parent’s authority was my heart’s desire. For one thing, I loved and trusted them, for another, it was billed as how to please God.
    Bless that sweet girl’s heart. I hope everything turns out okay for her.

  • https://www.facebook.com/jean.hoehn/info?collection_token=1524166867%3A2327158227%3A35 Phatchick

    I thank God, I grew up in the 70s before this BS started making serious inroads into fundy life (dealing with life as a smart outspoken fundy female was already hard enough). When that’s what you grow up with and that’s ALL you’re allowed to know, it seems normal, just like a lot of what I heard from the pulpit every Sunday seemed normal to me. It isn’t until you’re allowed to step back and really look at things that you get a sense that maybe what you learned as a kid was pretty messed up. Jessa, IMHO, doesn’t seem to have that freedom, she is being kept ignorant, as are her sisters, because, again IMHO, it benefits her parents (especially her father) who’ve been using her and her siblings as a money train for quite a few years now. Let her (or any of the kids) figure out that they’re being essentially prostituted to the Discovery Channel and the whole train will be rather dramatically derailed.

    • NeaDods

      At this point, I fear that they’ve been under the cameras for so long that they both have an inflated sense of their importance and no idea how to live without being near a lens.

  • ako

    I remember the first time I found out that a friend was courting. I was
    jealous. There was a buzz in the community, and everyone was talking
    about it. They were the center of attention. My friend’s parents
    carefully laid out the rules for their relationship, allowing the couple
    short walks but no hand holding. They could sit side by side on a
    couch, but only when siblings or parents were present. My friend was
    practically glowing, and I imagine that Jessa is the same.

    This is interesting, because it shows a lot of the emotional appeal of courtship I wouldn’t have thought of. Not just feeling protected from mistakes, but feeling special, having lots of attention paid, both parents giving the girl intense attention while talking about how precious she is, it’s all set up to make a girl feel special and important. That, combined with the fairy-tale stuff makes it a rare big moment of excitement for a girl who might spend most of her time managing younger siblings and doing all the chores Mom is too busy or worn-out for. For an attention-starved kid with constrained dreams and the pressure to be a quiet little cog that keeps the family running, it’s got to sound so much better than ordinary dating.

    Unfortunately, it’s a long-term commitment made through a process that’s terrible at selecting for long-term compatibility, but I can see how the trappings appeal.

    • Susanna

      I felt that same envy when friends or acquaintances courted, and experienced the fun of the attention when I courted.

      This also helps explain why it’s difficult to break off a courtship. In dating, it’s understood that there will be break-ups. With courting, you **start** with the assumption that you’re going to marry, so it’s more like “going steady” or “pre-engagement” without ever dating casually first. (Some couples do know each other before the courtship starts, others barely know each other, or know each other on only the most superficial and social way – since single guys & girls aren’t supposed to be friends!)

      So a young man notices a girl, or maybe someone “match-maked” them, or maybe they were already friends through church, homeschool group, whatever. However the details work out, they’re “courting” now… with all the attention & excitement that’s involved. However, say the girl starts having second thoughts. As she gets to know him (if she’s even *allowed* to actually get to know him with Daddy reading every text & listening in on every phone call or conversation!) she’s less & less sure that she wants to live with him for the rest of her life. But she’s stuck – everyone she knows expects her to marry this guy, & if she breaks off the courtship, then she’s “failed.”

      Remember that in patriarchy, if a girl doesn’t marry, she’s living at home with her parents for the rest of her life. (Not sure what’s going to happen to all these patriarchal single daughters when their parents die off, & they’re on their own **for the first time** at age 40, 50, or even 60!) So if she breaks off this courtship, she not only has the embarrassment of a “failed” courtship, but she also faces the very real possibility that she’s throwing away her one chance at adulthood.

      Okay, now I’m thoroughly depressed! I need to quit thinking about this stuff & remind myself that I no longer believe all this junk, & I’m no longer trapped in these teachings.

      • Monala

        (Not sure what’s going to happen to all these patriarchal single
        daughters when their parents die off, & they’re on their own **for
        the first time** at age 40, 50, or even 60!)

        Good question. Has anyone in the patriarchal community discussed this? This made me think of 27-year-old Charlotte Lucas in Pride and Prejudice, who jumped to marry the smarmy Mr. Collins because she would then have a home of her own, and no longer have to live off her parents, or be a resented burden to her brothers, who’d have to care for her when her parents died.

      • Susanna

        I have a close friend who is 40 and just now starting life on her own. She’s felt guilty for moving out earlier this year, instead of staying with her parents. How messed-up is that?! She actually thanked me for *not* judging her for moving out! At least she didn’t jump into a bad marriage in order to escape, but it’s pretty tough to start your career and adult life at age 40.

        Thanks for the P&P reference. I love that book/movie!

      • brbr2424

        See the Amazon reviews for I kissed dating goodbye. There are some women and men who are pretty unhappy about having taken the book’s advice.

      • Baby_Raptor

        That book was HORRID. It was given to me when I was in high school with the full expectation that I’d adhere to it…Hell no. I ran as far away from it as possible. Even 15 year old fundie me knew that marrying someone you’d never been alone with was a bad idea!

      • Rosa

        I run into copies at the thrift store all the time, often stuffed full of interesting found material (like notes kids wrote back and forth during youth group – it’s really heartening how many kids forced to study this material spend that time flirting & setting up dates). Someone’s still pushing it HARD.

        The thing about the subculture that I don’t get why adults don’t see, is it’s the kids who take it most seriously who get most hurt and disillusioned. The ones who just ignore most of what the adults are saying seem way more likely to grow up to stay in the church – the ones who really take it to heart and try the hardest seem to be the most likely to be victimized by abusive pastors or partners or do real damage to someone they love and have to rethink the whole thing.

      • Boo

        Yes! This is the TRUTH! I tried so hard and was never considered good enough. Now I am entirely anti-church, and the thought of the religious right getting control of this country is my biggest fear, literally, I have nightmares of not having government protection from the church. But the ones having sex with their boyfriends behind the church are now raising their families in the church, and they think I need constant prayer for my soul.

      • Joykins

        As someone who took these sorts of things half seriously half of the time…I think you are absolutely right.

      • Rosa

        Wow. That lost me an hour of sleep last night. It’s good to see people speaking out.

        I can’t believe the “don’t criticize it’s just a theory! If you follow this advice it’s your own fault!” commenters. This comes up with the Pearls, too. If you follow the advice and it turns out badly, you SHOULD criticize it, to protect others. I Kissed Dating Goodbye is 1) still in print and 2) still being taught in youth groups! If people don’t criticize it, it will hurt more vulnerable young people!

  • Stacy

    I’m 32, divorced (after marrying a man that my dad approved through courtship, further proof that courtship does NOT prevent divorce), and my parents STILL think that they should control my romantic relationships! They involved themselves in my dating relationship/engagement WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, and have teamed up with my cheating, abusive ex-husband to sue me.

    When I was 20 – Jessa’s age & the age that you were in your story, Libby Anne – my parents forced me to break up with a guy as well as quit the job where I met him. I chose to obey them, because as you described Jessa Duggar above, I believed all of the patriarchal/courtship teachings, even though it broke my heart, and wasn’t too pleasant for the guy, either. :’(

    • TLC

      How horrible for you! And how horrible that you are being sued.

      May I ask: What, exactly, are your parents and ex suing you for? What laws have been broken? What legal grounds do they think they have?

      Oh, and so much for 1 Corinthians 6: 1-7. Verse 1: “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers!” Yet another New Testament Bible passage being ignored by fundamentalists.

      • Stacy

        1 Cor 6… EXACTLY! I wish I could read that passage to them and ask them how they justify their actions. They claim to love me. I’d like to have them read 1 Cor 13 and tell me how their actions fit that. Then I’d like to have them read the whole book of 1 John and tell me how they can hate me & my fiance so much, yet still claim to love God… and even claim to love me!

        I can’t say much because the lawsuit isn’t settled yet. I’ll just say that their lawsuit is based on false accusations against my fiance made by his ex-wife during their divorce, as is the M.O. for divorcing spouses trying to get their way in court. No laws have been broken, except by the ex-wife. My parents have recycled her evidenceless accusations into their own lawsuit.

      • TLC

        Oh, good grief. I am so sorry for all of this. I wish I could lend you my attorney — he would kick ass, take names, AND get you settlement out of it all!

    • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

      That’s a ghastly experience to go through–I can’t even imagine how hard emotionally it is to see your parents siding with your abusive ex like that. Please know you have my sympathy and thoughts, and my encouragement.

      • Stacy

        Thanks, Captain Cassidy. It was really tough emotionally at first. Now I feel mostly anger at them for thinking they have the right to control my life as an adult, without my permission. This has opened my eyes to the control that they’ve exercised over my entire life. It has changed the way I parent my own children, because I’ve seen the heartbreak that my own parents have caused me… ironically while claiming to try to protect me from heartbreak!

  • MyOwnPerson

    Courtship was my only option. I really, really wanted to date my now husband, but I didn’t have a choice. My parents believed courtship was the only “biblical” way of doing things. Were weren’t allowed any physical contact (no hand holding, no side hugs), our online conversations had to be read by a parent, or at least were under threat of being read any time. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere without a parent, we weren’t allowed to talk on the phone until after we were engaged. We didn’t follow all the rules, we just had to do anything physical behind my parents’ backs. My mom told me that she would be miserable on my wedding day because the kiss at the altar wouldn’t be my first. Remembering what should’ve been a happy time in my and my husband’s life brings pain instead. I had that special time of life stolen from me and it’s a wound that hasn’t yet healed.

    • Snipe

      It is very hard to go against your loved ones’ wishes, but there is a certain point when it becomes necessary if you want to live your own life. It can take some serious and painful work to move past your family’s expectations, but it’s worth it. I hope your pain eases so that you’re able to look back at that time with happiness.

  • Gillianren

    Am I the only person who doesn’t think there’s something inherently wrong with divorce? I mean, I do believe that you should (in most cases) try to fix your relationship first, but if it’s broken, why prolong it? Don’t “stay together for the kids,” because all you’re doing is inflicting your broken relationship on your kids and teaching them that they have to put up with it. Even if it’s just that you don’t love each other anymore–you know what? You’re allowed. If you don’t love each other anymore, let it end. Maybe that will require being connected for the rest of your lives, if you have kids, but can’t you be nicer to each other if you don’t try to force it? Isn’t that, again, better for your kids than growing to hate each other?

    • Niemand

      Am I the only person who doesn’t think there’s something inherently wrong with divorce?

      No. Divorce reduces the rate of spousal abuse and homicide. There is no convincing evidence that it’s the divorce that hurts children (as opposed to the marital stress). Sometimes relationships just pass their expiration dates and need to end. Yeah, it hurts, but why make it worse by adding social stigma?

      • eamonknight

        There is no convincing evidence that it’s the divorce that hurts children (as opposed to the marital stress).

        My wife would agree with this. Her parents married for all the wrong reasons, and split up when my wife was ~12yo (Mum’s decision, and the kids stayed with her). My wife says this was a Good Thing as it got rid of a whole lot of domestic unpleasantness. That was over 40 years ago, and she’s still managed to have a good (though not close) relationship with her father.

      • Niemand

        Similar story here. My parents didn’t yell, throw things, hit each other (or us), or even say nasty things about each other to their kids. But their marriage still convinced me that I didn’t ever want to be married, just because seeing them together and obviously unhappy made me feel like marriage was a thing that made you unhappy. If they’d cut their losses earlier I think everyone would have been better off.

    • Jayn

      Nope. Of all people a stand-up comedian sums it up for me–”No good relationship ends in divorce.” I also would rather people try to work things out first, but sometimes you can’t, and sometimes things are bad enough that you shouldn’t even try.

    • katiehippie

      Nothing wrong with it at all. I’m much happier. My kids are much happier without fighting going on constantly.

    • AAAtheist

      No, Gillianren, you’re not the only one.

      There’s this tendency in fundamentalist circles to think people outside of the culture divorce on a whim, out of boredom, because they’re sinful, because they don’t really love the way good Christians love, blah, blah, blah. I don’t think anyone divorces on a whim, but say I’m wrong. Say people do divorce on a whim. So what? If you take marriage seriously, whatever that means, do you really want to be married to someone who wants to divorce on a whim? If you don’t take marriage seriously (again, whatever that means), divorce is necessary for you to find the relationship style that best fits you.

      Also, divorce has nothing to do with parenting (unless one or both parents are using it as a tug of war for their children’s affection).

      • smrnda

        I think it has to do with the fact that they don’t look at marriage as something 2 people do because they love and like each other, but as a means of attaining status within the subculture – it’s like a box you check off to show that you’re now a *True Christian* who is very mature and responsible with a BiblicalMarriage(TM). It’s an accomplishment, not a relationship, so the idea of intimacy and satisfaction just aren’t that important as… scoring points for getting married early, having an adequate number of kids and not divorcing.

    • mary

      No, you’re not! EVen among christians like me. Like the commenter said below- “no good marriage ends in divorce.” Pretty much! This “stay at all costs….because……badly interpreted bible and gender roles and weird hierarchies” is one of the many reasons I left the uber-conservative side of my faith. Even people who saw the logical need for divorce would bury their heads in the sand and yell “God hates divorce!” Aaargh.

    • John Kruger

      I would say that in theory you are very right, don’t try to force something that is not going to work.

      Divorce, though, is very expensive. There are a lot of predatory lawyers out there who just love to foster distrust in order to increase their billable hours by having the divorcees argue over terms. There is also quite a bit of advantage to pooling resources with someone, it is much more economical to share one house than to have 2 people own their own place to live, for example. Also, all the shared assets need to be divided on a deadline, and some things can only be divided at a considerable loss.

      Sadly, I think that culturally the deck remains largely stacked against those who want to terminate their marriages. I suppose things are a lot better than they used to be, even 50 years ago, but we still have a long way to go.

      • Rosa

        if a couple has property or children, and can’t work out an amicable separation, a breakup is expensive and complicated regardless of legal status.

        however, the best way to have a smooth, amicable, cheap divorce is to do it earlier in the process instead of treating it as a horrible last resort that you can’t get to until you have exhausted all other options and used up all your tolerance for each other.

    • Rosa

      Forget the kids – think how much safer life is for spouses now that there’s an out for the miserably trapped that isn’t one party’s death or disappearance.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        This is exactly why many right-wing Christians rail against no-fault divorce, and why no-fault divorce was considered such a win for women’s rights. They no longer had to depend upon the agreement or permission of their husbands to leave a marriage. If the husband didn’t agree, then the marriage could not legally end–unless the wife had proof of adultery or some other specific wrongdoing (which would require her to go to court and lay her marriage bare to examination). The idea that a woman ever needed such permission is just mind-blowing to most Americans today, but their grandmothers would remember a time when things were different.

      • Mogg

        And just to make sure nobody takes that right complacently, the newly elected conservative Catholic PM of Australia, Tony Abbott, has seriously proposed bringing back at-fault divorce.

      • fiona64

        Not liked because of what’s happening, but liked for truth.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        Tony Abbott is one of the reasons DH and I have now written off Australia as the next step for his career development. So now we are desperately hoping to not end up with David Cunliffe as our prime minister so we dont feel we have to leave.

      • Mogg

        It’s not as bad as some would make out – I’m horrified that there are so may people in Australia who would vote for the man, but his victory was not a landslide by any means, and only came about because Labor were falling over themselves like a troupe of pratfalling circus clowns to see who could be more internally divisive, bad at communicating or self-indulgent. Even then, the Libs really only won by around 30 000 votes, and may well be removed at the next election now that Labor has a chance to clean up its act internally. Abbott’s side also didn’t win a clear majority in the Senate, so some of their stupidest ideas won’t pass into law. Something like reversing no-fault divorce would never get through, and possibly never even be put forward as it’s just too ridiculously regressive to pass the party debate stage, I would hope.

        Nevertheless, the situation is that he has proposed it, and people still voted for him. That is crazy and a bit scary.

    • brbr2424

      My parents have been together for almost 60 years and I thought I would have that too. It is best not to have to get divorced. The key questions comes down not to why are you getting divorced but why did you get married in the first place. I married the guy because he asked me. In hindsight I should have taken a more proactive role in finding a mate. I am non-confrontational and have trouble rejecting.

      I can see the appeal of having someone else do the heavy lifting of vettting a future spouse. Take all the Christian religious stuff out of the deal and asking your friends and family to find you a match could be well worth it.

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com/ Basketcase

        It is best not to have to get divorced.
        I think this sums it up.
        Divorce is something best avoided for various reasons – including the cost (emotionally and financially). But one of the key ways to avoid it is to not marry the wrong person. When you are married to the wrong person? I have no problem with divorce.

      • Baby_Raptor

        You have a nice theory, but it completely fails any reality check.

        Marrying a person that’s “perfect” for you at 20 doesn’t mean that person is still going to be perfect for you at 40 or 50. People change. Or they hide things. Feelings die. Life happens.

        I didn’t marry forever, but I intended to stay with my exhusband more than 2.5 years. What I had no way of forseeing was that he would get a brain injury while deployed, refuse to get treatment and turn into an abusive, raging alcoholic. Getting divorced was indeed the best solution to that–I couldn’t force him to get treatment, and my only other option was staying with him and potentially dying.

      • Mel

        I’m glad you left. In situations of abuse, leaving is the only moral choice I can see. I don’t think divorce is wrong or immoral or bad. In many cases, it’s the only real option left.

    • Stev84

      No. Sometimes divorce is the right thing to do.

    • shuttergirl46q

      I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Jesus isn’t against divorce either. I’ve been reading the gospels a little more closely than normal lately, and I noticed something: When Jesus speaks, he talks a lot about rules and regulations, but when he acts, it’s always with love and compassion, even if he’s breaking a rule. Shoot, he broke a commandment (picking wheat on a Sunday; two commandments if you consider he didn’t own the field). His response to the those who called him out was one of love and provision. Just food for thought.

      • Lyric

        When you look at the time period in question, divorce would often cast a woman adrift without any resources. So I think that, yes, Jesus would have been against divorce—not because the thing itself is a bad idea, but because he would have seen women forced into poverty and prostitution because of it.

      • The Other Weirdo

        When Jesus speaks, he talks a lot about rules and regulations, but when he acts, it’s always with love and compassion, even if he’s breaking a rule.

        Which is precisely the opposite of how Christians behave: they a lot about love and compassion, but when they act, it’s always about rules and regulations.

      • Joykins

        When Jesus says that “Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of your hearts” he is saying something really important that a lot of people overlook.

    • Baby_Raptor

      No, you’re not. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with divorce.

    • Rosa

      Someone posted this in comments at bluemilk recently, and it is perfect for this discussion.


      “You just let go, and everything’s fine now. Divorce is forever!…Marriage is for how long you can hack it, but divorce just gets stronger like a piece of oak!”

      But what he says about parenting part time sure seems to be true for the successful separated co-parents I know – everyone gets a break, so everyone is really present when they are parenting (even if one parent hasn’t stepped up and the other person involved is a grandparent). Parenting single is only harder if the other parent just stops parenting when you break up.

    • gimpi1

      My husband and aunt are testimony that you are correct, Gilliaren.

      My husband’s parents split up when he was 5 or so, a bad marriage, with some violence on his dad’s part, mostly directed at his mother. My mother-in-law remarried when he was about 11, and he was close to his step-dad. He turned out great. He’s happy, well adjusted, and married well (obviously :-)

      My aunt’s parents (my grandparents on my dad’s side) stayed together for religious reasons, my grandmother was Catholic. My grandfather was violent towards both my grandmother and the kids. My aunt, and most of her siblings are pretty messed up, generally unloving, suspicious people, and my aunt confided in me that she never really trusted her husband, and had a hard time loving or relating to her kids and grandkids. Lots of drug-abuse, failed marriages and tragedy on that side of the family.

      Staying together for the children, if your marriage is really bad, just teaches your kids how to have a bad marriage. That’s not a lesson you want to teach.

  • Shawn

    I grew up as a fairly conservative Christian, but in the social circles I was exposed to it was considered entirely natural that teenagers/young adults would choose their own partners, date in a normal fashion, and probably break up a few times in their lives. So I ask this question in absolute ignorance of these social norms – how many “tries” at courtship do you get? I assume with a high-profile courtship like any Duggar child’s, there’s a whole lot of pressure to take one for the movement and not “fail” at courting. But if you have a courtship that just doesn’t work out for whatever reason, are you damaged goods that basically has to go outside the movement if you ever want to get married? Is it the same for men and for women? Or do you get maybe one freebie and then people start talking after the second one?

    • Katty

      From the stories I’ve seen it would seem that it’s exactly as you guessed – you get one shot and if that fails you are damaged goods. At least if you’re the woman in the failed courtship.

      After all, those who advocate courtship usually also believe in emotional purity, in “guarding your heart” for your future spouse. And once you’ve courted and not ended up marrying the man in question, haven’t you given away a piece of your heart to someone who’s not your husband?

      • Ruana

        Despicable. They might as well skip courtship altogether and send youngsters straight to the altar! I suppose it’s a logical enough conclusion, if one thinks that an infallible cosmic scriptwriter is controlling every detail of one’s life – a failed courtship means one has somehow deviated from God’s Wonderful Plan For You.

      • Boo

        Can you explain to me what in the world it means to ‘give away a piece of your heart’? What does that even look like? Are they saying that if you like a boy you will not ever be able to like anyone else? Because that is idiotic, and these parents should know better. In fact the opposite seems more like the truth. The more people you get to know the more you understand what you like in a person.

      • j.lup

        Purity cultists regard physical and romantic affection as a finite commodity, and in the case of women especially, sexuality is valued most in its inexperienced state.

        They do in fact believe, and teach, that people are used and second-rate goods if they’ve shared themselves with someone prior to marriage.

      • smrnda

        You’re 100% right, it is idiotic. Most sensible adults realize that the relationships teenagers get into are a phase of experimentation, and that they should respect the attachments but not make too much of them. This is like adults who should know better thinking that it’s always 100% ideal to marry your first crush in the 3rd grade or else it’s over.

      • Katty

        From the way you phrased your question I’m not sure if you are just asking for further resources / information or if you are asking me to defend these views because you believe I hold them. For the record: I don’t. I only know about them because I regularly read Libby Anne’s blog and she has talked about concepts like courtship and emotional purity and the damage they cause before.

        I think this post of hers would be a good place to start if you want to know more about this way of thinking.

      • Boo

        No didn’t think you held these beliefs. It seemed like you may have been raised in this culture, so I thought maybe you could tell me what makes these people tick. I’m a firm believer that people don’t do things unless they are getting something out of it. I’m trying, for some reason, to figure out what these people are getting out of this. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these parents were raised in a semi normal way. They had crushes, boyfriends and girlfriends, and even sex. How can they view themselves as worthless by their own standards and then fill their kids heads with these lies. I have figured out that some of these people are just horrible, controlling and abusive, so this lifestyle is appealing to them. When it comes to the 35 year old stay at home daughters I think they realize there is a problem on some level, and usually people in cults cling tighter to their beliefs when faced with reality. But I don’t really understand how they tell their children some of these ridiculous things with a straight face.

      • Rosa

        if you follow the QF mom bloggers, an awful lot of them were young single parents who then got married and became QF. The Evangelical church culture in general is full of dramatic conversion stories where the pre-belief life was full of drugs, danger, loss and abusive relationships – people who are having regular, successful, lives full of love and opportunity don’t generally convert.

      • Joykins

        There are plenty of regular, successful lives in evangelicalism (my parents, actually, spring to mind, as well as most of my maternal relatives), but I think most of those people were more or less raised in the church or married in.

      • Rosa

        Yeah, it’s the conversion I was talking about. The thing is, the Quiverfull movement is so young, almost all the parents are either converts or people who have shifted their religious practice significantly for some other reason. A lot of the bigger cultural shifts (like the move to courtship) seem to have been pure faddishness and peer pressure.

      • Katty

        Yeah, I’m also looking in from the outside and trying to understand the underlying logic of these beliefs (much as I think that logic is warped and full of fallacies) holds a strange fascination for me.

        I *think* Libby Anne has said that her parents were virgins when they got married (though I may be wrong, in which case I apologize, Libby!). So expecting the same kind of physical purity from their kids would at least be consistent. That said, I don’t think the concept of emotional purity existed when the generation of Libby’s parents was young.

        What do people who believe this stuff get out of it? I think a lot of it has to do with a feeling of security. Believing that you have found the right formula where doing X will always equal positive outcome Y can be immensely reassuring. Vyckie Garrison at No Longer Quivering has talked a lot about her reasons for embracing the lifestyle and a lot of it had to do with having had a very unstable family situation growing up and wanting better for her own kids.

  • fiona64

    Here’s what I don’t understand: how is rearing kids like this *not* child abuse? Seriously.

    • Niemand

      It is child abuse. Just not a form that society has chosen to acknowledge as such yet.

  • Darcy

    Much like the quoted comment the concept of courting is totally alien to me. But this hit home because I’m the same age as Jessa.

    I grew up with technology and, from the first time I got my first phone (a second hand Nokia brick) my mother would never have dreamed of reading my texts or checking my email. She’s never involved herself with my friendships or told me who I can associate with. That was when I was under 18, when she would have been within her right to do so since the phone and the laptop were technically hers. She didn’t because she trusted that I wouldn’t do anything stupid.

    Since I turned 18 she still wouldn’t dream of doing that. But that’s because now my laptop is mine, my phone is mine and I go to university miles away from home. She knows that I’m no longer a child, that treating me like a child won’t do anything except provoke sarcasm. She’s still my mom, she’s still going to be there if I need her but we’re moving from parent/child to a more adult friendship.

    Then again, this is the same woman who taught me that my self respect has nothing to do with what I look like, my relationship with any invisible beings or who I sleep with. If I want to hug somebody I hug them, no matter whether they’re a guy or a girl. ‘Side hugging’ – wtf even is that.

    I’d love to give Jessa a taste of my 20 year old life. Yes it involves working, managing my money and generally being an adult but I’m free to do what I want, when I want with whomever I want.

  • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

    Purity culture is, at heart, an attempt to control others’ behavior. It is magical thinking at its finest, utilizing rituals and incantations to bring about a desired result. It’s deep distrust of female sexuality and intelligence, of course, and a lifelong indoctrination of control, but more than that I think it’s magical thinking.

    Dress and act just like this, and you will be safe from predation. Look for a partner who acts and talks like this, and you will be safe from divorce and abuse. “Good girls” don’t get raped. Obedient and Christlike submitted wives who marry the right men never get abused or treated poorly and will never break up or have trouble.

    But nobody can control other people. Rapists and predators don’t care what a woman dresses or acts like, and may actually prefer sheltered, naive young women because they won’t see the abuse coming their way. Narcissistic and predatory men know exactly how to charm and sweet-talk gullible parents. And orientation (for LGBT girls) and a predisposition toward polyamory can’t be changed with Magic Penis and a wedding ring.

    It’s a cruel, cruel, cruel myth these Christianists are teaching their daughters: “Do what the spell says to do, and it will work.” “Follow these steps, and you will be happy and have a good life.”

    I’m so very happy I got out of fundamentalism long before “courtship” became a fad. I can’t even imagine the horror and heartbreak these young women experience when the myth and spells get proven to be just smoke and mirrors cloaked in misogyny and a lust for control. It’s shocking how many women’s lives have been destroyed–how many women discover that “courtship” magic just doesn’t work–and yet the culture continues in these circles. I guess it’s worth the wreckage of thousands upon thousands of young women if just a few are caught in slavery and safely controlled.

    • fiona64

      I’m so very happy I got out of fundamentalism long before “courtship” became a fad.

      So, very, very this ^^^. My parents converted to LDS when I was in my late 20s (and I’m still trying to get them out from under a system that is committing elder abuse against them, but I digress). “Courtship” is very much a “thing” in LDS. I personally find the whole thing infantalizing in the extreme and am very, very glad that I was not subjected to that nonsense.

      Mind you, my parents were insanely strict … and I was kept very naive when it came to social things. All that meant was that I lacked the tools to make good decisions when it came to dating … I had to learn some hard lessons as a result.

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        I’ve got no excuse. My parents were lapsed/excommunicated Catholics. I converted into that BS.

      • Kate Monster

        Do you mind if I ask what it was that attracted you to it?

      • http://rolltodisbelieve.wordpress.com/ Captain Cassidy

        Certainly you may ask :) Attracted me to fundamentalism? I think I liked the yes/no, black/white authority structure of it. I had a very chaotic childhood and felt very drawn to something that I could point to and say “THIS, always THIS WAY, ALL THE TIME.” And I really believed in God and Jesus at the time, too. I was 100% convinced he was real, and I was really trying very hard to search for him, for evidence of him, for his touch, for his attention. I worked my way steadily through denominations till I hit the Pentecostal denominations, and then realized that going further was pure madness–I met more than a few folks who tried that, and their experiences were just heartbreaking. Getting too Biblical just led to predation and brutality. At that point, like Kate in “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”, I decided that I had done as much as any human being could be expected to do, and I left the airport.

        There isn’t a lot of thinking that needs to be done in fundamentalism, especially for women, and it is very comforting to imagine that something totally for sure all the time exists. I felt like I had some kind of control over things by believing this way, but it’s a very cruel illusion.

  • Trollface McGee

    I can see why this might appeal to naive young people – no need to make a decision, or take responsibility for your actions. On the other hand, that an adult with years of life experience would choose that for their child, knowing the potential life consequences, is baffling and disturbing.

    • NeaDods

      They regret their life choices? They’re foolish or lazy or browbeaten and thus need to follow the rules because they have no faith in their own decisions? They’re complete control freaks who get off on cowing adults?

  • Theo Darling

    I never felt this way about relationships–in fact, I wanted my parents to stay AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE (case in point: back in kindergarten when I assumed I’d get married someday, I planned to postpone the wedding until my parents were dead)–but I do remember avoiding responsibility/choice in other arenas. I learned so much helplessness that it was difficult for me to form or identify my own opinions, so as a high school student, I expected to check with my dad every election to see who I should vote for. (Not too ridiculous in my family, I guess, since he’s told us before who “we” were all voting for.) WELL, THAT CHANGED REAL FAST.

  • j.lup

    Keep in mind, too, that Jessa is doing her courtship dance for the cameras, so there’s extra pressure on her to make it look good, make it work, and possibly get a spin-off series of her own (I reckon she’s rather more charming than her older brother). The Duggars aren’t just a family – they’re a well-paid cottage industry and what they trade on is their carefully constructed image of perfection.

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