What About Love?

What About Love? June 25, 2011

At some point during my teenage years, my father gave me a list of requirements for a future suitor. This list was not more than a page long, and it included a variety of doctrinal and political views along with the stipulation that the suitor must be able to provide for me. The point was to ensure that the many I married was doctrinally and politically pure as well as a good protector and provider. My father told me that any man who met the requirements on this list would be given my parents’ blessing to marry me, and my parents would attend and help pay for my wedding, and he would personally give me away.  

Unfortunately, the young man I later met and fell in love with did not meet the religious or political qualifications my father laid out in his list. He did have other qualifications, though. He loved me, for one thing. He cherished me, valued me, respected me, thought I was the best thing ever. He told me I was both beautiful and smart, a perfect combination. He listened to me, to my fears and concerns. He put what I wanted before what he wanted, and respected my boundaries and strange requests. He agreed not to kiss me until I was okay with it (we’re talking months), and he stopped using language I found offensive (you know, the kind of words that no one but a fundamentalist has a problem with).

And most of all, he put up with everything my family put him through. You see, because he didn’t agree with my parents beliefs, he was persona non grata, and he knew that. Yet when he would visit my parents’ house with me, he would avoid conflict and ignore my parents’ attempts to bait him into political or theological conversations. He tried to focus on what he and my family had in common instead. He listened to the condemnations of global warming and discussions of the evils of socialism and the coming governmental collapse and never batted an eye. He knew my family was crazy – and he still loved me.

And you know what? He loved my family too. For all their eccentricities, he saw the good in my parents and focused on that, and never derided or slandered them. More than that, he loved my dozen siblings like they were his own. And they loved him too. No, they adored him. He wrestled with the little kids, played computer games with the bigger boys, and let my sisters prattle on about their dolls and games. He cooked with my siblings, letting them help pour the pancake batter on the griddle. He participated in all their plans and shenanigans. He already had a way with kids even at a time of life when few other young men even have kids on their agenda. And when the whole situation was too much for me and I was overwhelmed by my parents’ emotional manipulation and the fear that what I was doing might be wrong, he held me while I cried and accepted me as I was. He supported me and was there for me. He was a rock I could depend on. He let me cry on his shoulder and listened while I poured out my fears to him. He believed in me and let me be anything I wanted to be. He was amazing. And yet, he attended the wrong church and voted for the wrong candidates, and he therefore did not meet my father’s list of requirements.

Reader, I married my young man. I knew what I saw in him was something I didn’t want to let go of. My parents refused to give me their blessing and were dead set against it, but then that’s only what I expected. They told me I was making a huge mistake that I would later regret, and they refused to participate, but I did it anyway. It’s been several years since my wedding now, and I’ve never regretted it. I literally could not imagine a better husband or father than the young man who beamed at me like I was the sun itself as I walked down the aisle dressed in white to meet him all those years ago.

I recently shared my father’s list of requirements with a valued friend of mine. She was completely taken aback. “You mean, there’s nothing about loving you or treating you well on that list?” she asked. Uh, no. I had never thought of it that way, but there wasn’t. It was all political and doctrinal purity and the ability to provide. She then told me that when she started getting serious with the man to whom she is now happily married, her father asked her only two things: “Does he love you?” and “Does he treat you well?” When she answered yes to both, he gave his hearty approval. To her father, it was love and good treatment that mattered, and everything else was optional.

This conversation made me see just how problematic my father’s list, and his valuing of political and doctrinal purity above all else, really was. After all, an awful, controlling, hateful, abusing man who only wanted to marry me to make me his servant would get my father’s blessing if he met my father’s political and doctrinal purity test and could provide for me. At the same time, my loving, adoring, hard-working husband was unable to gain my father’s blessing no matter how wonderful he was simply because he was a member of the wrong denomination and voted for the wrong political candidate. There is something seriously wrong with valuing doctrinal purity above love and kindness.

According to Christian Patriarchy, love is dangerous, unpredictable, uncontrollable. Correct doctrinal and political views and the ability to lead and provide is what is important; love and kindness are nice, and should be there too, but they’re secondary. What matters is that the suitor has a Biblical understanding of the family and of the roles of the husband and the wife and can protect and provide, because this is what treating the wife well involves, not bringing flowers or saying sweet things or providing a shoulder to cry on. This is probably why a few followers of Christian Patriarchy have gone so far as to embrace betrothal and matchmaking: proper doctrine comes first, love comes second.

I look at my husband today and I think how backwards that all is. Proper doctrine does not guarantee someone will be a loving and devoted husband, and improper doctrine does not mean that he won’t be. I feel my husband’s devotion and love for me every day as he puts my wants before his, listens to my concerns and hopes for the future, supports me in ever endeavor, and romps with our daughter. He never has harsh words for me, never puts me down, never holds me back, never tires of my eccentricities. I love him with all of my heart and look forward to growing old with him. And so I say, what about love?

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