Conservative Christian leaders have sold their female followers a bill of goods about marriage. Today, I’ll show you what that bill of goods contains, and how it’s hurt the women who believe it. It’s a horror story that beats werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and goblins–because it’s real, and it’s happening right now to millions of women.
A while ago, I found myself reading a bunch of Christian women’s blogs. And they all dealt with the same problems, and their authors all fit into the same general mold.
These women were all in their mid-30s, sometimes even in their late 30s. They were smart-alecks, or they were passionate, or they were perceptive. They seemed quirky and off-beat and full of laughter. Of course, they all expressed deep devotion to Christianity and firm belief in the religion’s many claims. These were the type of Christian women who use phrases like a beautiful mess without a hint of dark humor. Overall, they fell well outside of what they viewed with disdain as worldly standards of beauty.
Now, these women weren’t courtship-type Christians. They rejected those awful Patriarchy and Quiverfull Christian-cult nutjob ideas. We’re talking about more like the kind of Christian women who go to conventions and “do life” and adore authors like Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans. They wear big hats and funky jewelry and take selfies with duckface to highlight how wacky they are.
Maybe they even accept marriage equality.
Most of all, they inhabit an environment that fully endorses the idea of dating and marrying for love, just saddled with a number of weird ideas about supernatural agents behind the scenes.
What I describe here represents the lead-in to the horror story: the flawed and cracked beginning, the small misunderstanding that becomes earth-shattering in the last act, the tiny detail that reveals itself at the end as the linchpin of the Rube Goldberg-style trap that destroys the heroine just as she thinks she’s escaped her doom.
The Grand Similarity.
At the time, I didn’t quite connect that I was seeing the lead-in to a horror story, though. Their similarities simply startled me. And out of all their similarities, the most common trait they shared was what they wanted most in their lives.
They all ached to have that vision of the Happy Christian Family.
They wanted the whole enchilada: mom, dad, a pack of noisy and curious kids, and oh, yes, generational links forged and passed down and perpetuated. Ultimately, they wanted a close-knit family life, one they all built together and shared in joy, one that could endure sorrows without number.
Their leaders have pushed this vision for generations. Their media praises it. Everything in their culture teaches exactly the same thing: woman, therefore craves this ideal. A woman who doesn’t want that vision soon finds herself regarded with suspicion if not outright condemnation. I know. I’ve lived through the retaliation they inflict when they even suspect that a woman doesn’t want that life.
These women stood in no danger of facing any of that “Christian love,” however.
The Ticking Clock.
Of course, our heroines knew that their fantasies came with a time limit. But the situation was far more dire than they’d imagined. The curtain had begun to drape down across their window of opportunity.
And yet they had no street-legal way to conceive children without a husband. That’s really where the bottleneck was, for them. Most of them had never even had a serious boyfriend. And they’d either gone through a string of men who hadn’t turned into boyfriends or husbands, or had tried to acquire a life partner but gotten a well-rehearsed deflection speech instead. It ran a bit like this:
You’re a great woman and one day I know the Lord will make some man blissfully happy to have you as a wife. But I’ve prayed about this, and unfortunately I’m just not the one the Lord intends for you.
And it kept happening.
Over their lifetimes, these women had forged what felt like to them was a terrific, affirming form of Christianity.
They just hadn’t made any romantic connections with the men who interested them, that’s all.
As I read their blogs, I heard a faint thrumming noise in my mind that I couldn’t identify–at first. Softly it thudded just beyond the limits of my hearing. Shadowing every word I read were the sweeping and unstoppable hands of a clock whose ticking counted down moments as they passed.
The Slow Realization.
At first, these Christian women bloggers hadn’t been too worried by what was happening.
After all, they all believed–full stop and without any reservations–that Jesus Christ himself would find them husbands. Oh yes! He would drop those astonished men into the waiting laps of their future wives–at the right time.
But something was wrong.
Their friends who’d won the brass ring and golden ticket uniformly acted like that’s how everything had gone down. They insisted that it was just pure luck–divine intervention–the will of their god. Worst of all, they reinforced the failed teachings of the tribe, promising women that if they would only rededicate themselves to following the rules, they’d find what they sought. At least, they might. If nothing else, they’d at least escape harm at the hands of worldly men.
It must be galling to be a single Christian woman and encounter so many married women daring to lecture them about how to totally find TRUE CHRISTIAN™ husbands.
The only thing worse might be seeing married Christian men going that route. Behold a case in point:
If you decide to listen to this weirdo’s 28-minute-long exercise in Christianese, notice around the 6-minute mark that somehow this TRUE CHRISTIAN™ had not yet learned by adulthood how to treat women with “respect and dignity.” But you’ll also perhaps notice from the thumbnail something that will become extremely relevant in a minute.
The Cosmic Horror.
Maybe those happy brides (and grooms) even believed what they warbled.
There’s no reason to suspect they’d lied intentionally, after all. The reality is already terrifying to those who haven’t won the cosmic lottery of love. To those who have, it surely feels even more terrifying. When we consider how tenuous and serendipitous our happiness is, how easy it would be for it not to exist at all, all the steps that had to happen in exactly the correct order for us to have it–is there any other way to come out of that wall of teeth but nervous? To wonder if, in some other universe, we had any of it, and then get yanked into the mental riptide of what that life would be like, where we’d be?
Maybe that part’s just me. Christians can at least retreat into a multitude of comforting lies: Jesus wanted my life to look exactly like it does–so how could it be any other way?
At any rate, our brave heroines tried to feel happy for the succession of brides passing through their churches and social media. It will be me up there one day, they told themselves.
For a while, they believed it, until they couldn’t anymore.
The False Reassurance.
These women had heard these same lies since childhood, so they believed everything they heard. They endured endless advice about what to do to find a husband. They got told to pray more, to volunteer, to cultivate confidence and a demure sweetness.
Maybe their deceivers even believed what they cooed and suggested. Again, we have no reason to think they intentionally lied. They’d received the same indoctrination, after all.
In this fashion, the years tumbled past. Their peers–the happy brides they’d cheered long ago–now had children entering school. Those women seemed swamped with the million tasks and all-encompassing busy-work that Christian mommies know well. They acted happy and content with their chosen lot in life. And they had that dream in hand: mom, dad, a pack of kids, generational links forged and passed down and perpetuated.
Then our bloggers woke up, one by one, maybe in their late 20s and maybe even on the eve of their 30th birthdays, and realized that something has gone dreadfully wrong.
The Wakeup Call.You see, our bloggers had always noticed something. It skittered at the very edges of their perception, like a beast that stays just out of eyeshot.
At first they used Christianese to distract their attention away from the beast. It’ll happen in “God’s” time, they told themselves. They were happy to wait to make sure of nailing down just the right divinely-picked match.
For a long time, these soothing noises worked to dispel their doubts and calm their fretting.
But eventually, the cosmic “How???” rang all through them like they were giant bells struck with carved wooden hammers. Eventually, that noise reverberated all through their bodies.
They’d always been too afraid to name the beast. Naming it would make it come alive, like a shadow on the wall that shudders into full form before leaping onto its prey and devouring it alive and screaming. So our bloggers labored through their days under its all-seeing eyes and tried to avoid its direct gaze. Maybe they hoped that nobody else had seen the edges of it along the rims of the rooms and landscapes–that it was their imagination.
Except it wasn’t. This beast was real–and inescapable.
They’d failed at the one task they’d wanted most to complete. Their dream had gone to someone else, someone who lived somewhere far away.
Oh, they’d heard the distant echoes of the dream. They’d brushed up against it. But the vision of it faded away whenever they got close, like the eerie sound of soft murmuring in a dark attic that should be empty but somehow isn’t.
The Misunderstanding That Became a Beast.
The breakdown in these women’s lives happened because of a fundamental–and deceptively minor-seeming–misunderstanding they had learned and still believed about their tribe.
These women and men inhabit a culture that settles a lot of care and esteem upon women’s appearances.
But it lies to women about that fact.
Oh, sure, this or that church might even as an individual group reject the worst parts of this obviously-wackadoodle notion that their god super-wants all of his most obedient servants to be fantastically wealthy and powerful. Even so, they still accept a number of other outgrowths of that belief.
One of those outgrowths concerns a Christian man’s aspirations regarding his future wife.
The Happy Christian Family, According to (Most) Christian Men.
When one of these well-indoctrinated Christian men embark on a wife-hunt, they seek a woman who will make other men look at them with envy and respect. Such a woman demonstrates to the whole wide world that Jesus extra-likes them and extra-approves of whatever they’re doing.
And that means they need a stereotypically-beautiful woman with a stereotypically-hyper-feminine personality.
That woman in their Young Singles group who makes them laugh, invites them over for home-cooked feasts on a shoestring budget, teaches Sunday School and is adored by every child in their church, volunteers for charities, and knits them fuzzy scarves for Christmas? The one who is loud and raucous and a beautiful mess, the one who hotly declares that her god doesn’t care what size her jeans are as long as her heart is big enough?
For that woman, men offer a carefully-rehearsed deflection speech:
One day the Lord will make some man blissfully happy to have her as a wife, but he’s prayed a lot about this, and unfortunately, he’s just not the man the Lord intends for her.
The Reverse Side of the Cracked Mirror.
Of course, one might also inquire idly about the men that these women fixate on.
These women value a very particular kind of man, you see. If a god has hand-picked their mates for them from the beginning of the universe, then obviously he has someone exemplary in mind for them.
I never once read one of these Christian women’s blogs to discover that they had become obsessed with any man who was less than their tribe’s stereotypical masculine ideal. Just as they themselves got passed over by the men they desired for women who were closer to the tribal ideal, their brothers-in-solidarity across the church aisle often find themselves ignored. Many–even some of the most-highly-prized of the lot of them–feel so chilled by what they regard as opportunism and shallowness in the women around them that they decide to seek wives from outside the tribe.
Christian leaders can blame these men all they wish for not “manning up” and marrying all these single women. And oh, they do. They can and do also chide women all they wish for having high expectations of their future husbands. Christians never find themselves short of ways to blame individual people for their group’s systemic flaws.
Clearly, they think it feels good (or at least comforting) to blame people.
It just doesn’t change anything.
A Flawed Game.
Finally, we arrive together at the moment the audience finally puts together exactly what happened behind the scenes to bring the protagonist to the final battle. It’s a riveting endgame scene in the horror tableau!
In this case, Christians live in a culture full of people pretending that there’s some vast spiritual component to their spouse hunts. But in reality, the truth looks a lot earthier–and more physical–and more worldly–than any of them would like to think about.
I found myself wondering what happen if someone sat these women down to explain the truth about dating and marriage as a Christian:
I know a lot of people will tell you all kinds of things about what to expect as you date. If you choose to date Christian men with an eye toward marriage, then the most important thing I could ever tell you is that–contrary to what everybody else says–these men are at least as “shallow” as we accuse non-Christian men of being. If you want one of them, keep your weight in check. Cultivate a demeanor of demureness, meekness, obedience, and subtle sexiness. Dress and groom yourself for the future part you will play as the stamp of divine approval on your husband. Our culture demands this price. Ignore the demand at your own risk.
Even if you do all of this, of course, the competition may simply be too fierce in your area. But if you don’t do it, you have very little hope of achieving your desires.
The Great Christian Husband Hunt functions at women’s expense as a misogynistic fantasy. I wonder how many Christian women would remain in the game if they knew that. Indeed, MRAs aplenty (like this reprehensible piece of work) would agree fully with it. They’d say further that the only reason women labor under any other beliefs or object to this reality is that the religion has become emasculated and feminized. (Rest assured: We’ll talk about it later.)
Knowing all that, the prize suddenly starts looking like less and less of a value. But just as you think the horror story has ended in misery and destruction, the after-credits scene erupts out at you.
The Happy Christian Marriage Illusion.
If the Husband Hunt itself works out so poorly, what of the women who win the ultimate prize?
The sequel to this first horror movie doesn’t look much better. It’s tough to say who fares worse in the Great Christian Marriage Game: those who fail to secure a marriage at all, or those who do.
NEXT UP: We examine a Christian who got the memo verrrrry late about the Satanic Panic ending–and ignored it. See you soon!
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