In evangelical Christian culture, marriage is a commodity. Marriage books are sold like gardening manuals or cheat sheets for the SATs. The sales pitch for marriage in Christian culture is more intense than any you’ll ever experience on a used car lot. Christians are made to believe that they’re God’s designated curators of Marriage, That Holy and Venerable Institution, and that falling down on the job can undermine the entire fabric of society. Just look at these book titles!
Marriage is about way more than you and your partner:
Marriage is also sold as the cure-all for emotional emptiness – second only to Jesus, of course (or was it the other way around?):
Marriage is also the Hardest College Class Ever:
That’s probably because it means learning how to translate extraterrestrial languages:
Think you picked the wrong kind of alien to marry? Never fear! You can rebuild him:
But for pete’s sake don’t expect perfection:
Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together (Warning: Mark Driscoll)
The sheer volume of evangelical Christian literature on marriage makes it seem like being married is the hardest thing in the world to do. When I entered my first relationship, I was so certain that I was embarking on a project, I gave myself panic attacks on a daily basis. Was I calling too often? Asking too many questions? Ignoring him too much? Saying the wrong things? Was I listening enough? Was I giving him enough space?
I had absorbed the message that relationships were Hard Work, that they were Projects that required Constant Maintenance. The idea of just being in a relationship was alien to me. These worries dovetailed neatly with the popular myth of the high maintenance girlfriend. I was terrified of being “high maintenance” in the same way that I was terrified to just let our relationship be.
One of the aspects of Christian culture that feels most alien to me now is that carefully cultivated sense of urgency and guilt, that sense that I must always be doing something to preserve or protect or strengthen or maintain my relationship with my partner.
After five years, the most useful piece of advice I ever received was this:
“Chill out. I love you the way you are.” -my fiancé
One of the reasons I think of Christian culture’s obsession with marriage as a marketing gimmick is that it appears to create a problem in order to solve it. It tells you that communicating with your partner is very hard because you can’t possibly understand someone of the opposite sex. Then it tells you how to understand the opposite sex by using its own patented communication strategies. Gender differences are the problem, because they make your partner incomprehensible. The solution? Gender differences, handily explained by a shelf full of Respected Christian Married Couples.
I no longer think of my relationship with Stuart as a project. It’s not a thing, not some rock to be polished. It’s a relationship with an individual. But you can’t sell books on relationships with individuals, can you?
Christian culture isolates men and women, trains them to think and act differently, then presents this training as a marriage problem to be solved. Communication is hard, they say. Marriage is hard. After five years of a committed relationship, I can safely say this: it’s not hard. Not at all. It’s way easier! I have somebody to help me through daily life, to support me, to be honest with me, to help me grow as a person. And I don’t have to do all the dishes anymore!
What made it hard in the beginning was all my anxiety about how hard it was going to be. Truth is, after five years, I haven’t learned to “be a wife.” I’ve learned how to live with the man I love, not with “men” in general. Marriage isn’t a project. It’s a relationship. It’s not about “men” or “women.” It’s about you and your partner. That’s it.