Feminism

I Kissed Dating Goodbye review: 165-186

“Ready for the Sack but Not for the Sacrifice” &
“What Matters at Fifty?”

We’re in the last section of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, titled “Looking Ahead,” and if you were tired of an unmarried, not-even-dating high school graduate lecturing you about your love life, then you’re just going to love this section because it’s about marriage. So, jumping right in with Joshua’s assertion that young people have an unrealistic view of what that is:

These people thing of married life as one grand, thrilling moment after another– the everyday, mundane parts of marriage are safely edited from the picture. (166)

Le sigh.

I’ve only been married three years, but, so far, the “everyday, mundane” parts are the “thrilling” parts. Cooking while he loads the dishwasher. Watching TV or readings books out loud to each other. Going on walks. Making household decisions, like choosing which garbage pickup service we want. Maybe I won’t feel like this in ten years, but for now, the times when I’m the happiest, the most content, are those simple moments.

Also, do none of these “many young adults” have parents? I spent 20+ years watching my parents be married, and while I didn’t have an inside-out understanding of what being married is like, I certainly wasn’t expecting rainbows and unicorns. I love being married, 15/10 would recommend, but I knew going in that I, as a human being, was going to be living with another human being.

He then moves on to define “what marriage is,” relying on Love that Lasts by the Ricuccis (considering Carolyn Mahaney wrote the foreward, I think this is a book written by people at his church). He (and the Ricuccis) argue that “Marriage depicts the supernatural union between Jesus and the church” (168) which… yes. Marriage is one metaphor for that relationship in Scripture.

But so are grape vines, and architecture, and armies. The metaphor is a beautiful one, even powerful– something I understood better once I was married to a wonderful person– but it is just a metaphor. American Christian culture has idolized marriage, and one of the ways they’ve done it is through over-literalizing one metaphor among many. It was convenient for them to perpetuate a whole set of cultural conceptions and roles, so they took advantage of it.

The last few pages of this chapter turn into a dumpster fire, though:

As quickly as possible, we must dispel any selfish notions that marriage is about what we can get instead of what we can give. (171)

No, Joshua, it is about both. I “get” a patient, compassionate husband who carries me when I can’t walk, who helps me clean our home when I want to entertain even though he’d almost rather be a hermit, who says “let’s get takeout” when I don’t have the energy to cook. I give my love of research (on grills, washing machines, lawn mowers, cars…), my enthusiasm and hope, my willingness to handle all those grown-up calls we have to make to water companies and medical insurers.

People who aren’t “getting” anything while “giving” everything are in unstable, unbalanced, and unhealthy relationships. If you’re not “getting” anything from your life partner, it is a problem that needs to be addressed and corrected.

And then here’s the dumpster fire. Joshua is quoting from by Ann Landers, written in 1967:

…Marriage is giving– and more important, it’s forgiving.
And it is almost always the wife who must do these things.
Then, as if that were not enough, she must be willing to forget what she forgave… (171)

and this one by who he says was written by Lena Lathrop (it wasn’t; it’s by Mary Lathrap), penned before 1895:

…You require a cook for your mutton and beef,
I require a far greater thing;
A seamstress you’re wanting for socks and shirts–
I look for a man and a king … (173)

I have ugggghhhh scrawled over the margins here. Gender roles from the 60s and the Victorian era were all the rage in the culture I shared with Joshua, and it’s both hilarious and sad that he read the Lathrap poem and thought it was some kind of encouragement to young women to “keep their standards high” (174). These are just a few lines from the whole poems he quotes, but both place the tasks of drudgery and long-suffering on the women. Men get to be kings, get to have all their faults and foibles not only forgiven but forgotten, while women are perfectly content to be cooks and seamstresses if only their husbands are “kings.”

Just … ugh.

***

So far in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, it’s been obvious that Joshua has been trying to write something resembling gender parity. If he says something negative about women as a gender, he then attempts to say something disparaging about men as a gender. In my opinion the attempts fail because he can’t acknowledge the patriarchal system that is his bread and butter, but in chapter fourteen he just clear gives up:

When I meet a beautiful girl and I’m tempted to be overly impressed by her external features, I try to imagine what this girl will look like when she’s fifty years old … This girl may be young and pretty now, but what happens when the beauty fades? … When pregnancies and stretch marks and the years add extra pounds … (175-76)

This is nothing but misogyny, and it’s a point of view that’s reinforced by the Bible, which Joshua quotes from: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting” (176).

Beauty is not fleeting; nor is it tied to youthfulness, thinness, or a lack of stretch marks. Not every person meets our white supremacist, misogynist society’s “standards” for beauty, but I know I’m not the only person who is capable of seeing beauty in every person, young or old, fat or thin. The way my mother-in-law’s eyes sparkle when she’s feeling mischievous. The delight that lights up my mother’s entire face until it feels like I’m looking at sunshine. The way my father’s face crinkles when he’s so proud of his children he could burst. The easy suppleness in the way my partner walks. The elegance in her hands when my sister-in-law is painting, the way my sister’s lips curl when she’s feeling especially fierce.

All of those are breathtakingly beautiful to me. Joshua’s view of “beauty” is so shallow and insipid it makes me sick.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to laying out the qualities we should all look for in a mate. Because someone who thinks a fifty-year-old woman can’t be beautiful is definitely someone we should listen to about this. He places everything under two major headings, “character,” and “attitude,” and then chops those up into easily digestible bits.

How a Person Relates to God

Two brief things: first, people who aren’t Christians can have wonderful marriages. Secondly:

“It’s obvious when he really loves the Lord,” my friend Sarah said. “When he’s telling you about his love for God, you can tell he’s not distracted by you.” (178)

Bullshit. My ex could absolutely not shut up about how much he loved God, and how much he desired to serve God and become a missionary. Virtually everyone he knew would talk about how he was “on fire” for God until the cows came home. Didn’t stop him from being an abuser and a rapist. How a person “relates to God” is not something you can even begin to understand until you’ve been through life with them.

How a Person Relates to Others

The most important thing to note about this section is what he thinks is the most important and least important: how your potential significant other interacts with “the authorities” comes first, and whether or not they’re a jerk to their friends comes dead last (178-79). In his paragraph on “authorities” he makes it clear that a woman who “can’t respect a teacher’s authority will have difficulty honoring her husband.” I’ve had difficult respecting some teacher’s authority for a variety of reasons. They were bullies, or just incompetent. Just because someone is an authority doesn’t mean they automatically deserve respect. But, according to Joshua, exercising my judgment means I’m not good wifely material.

To me, the first thing that stood out to me about Handsome was that he’s empathetic. Truly understanding others is essential to his character; compassion and kindness are his first instincts in his relationships. Because I’ve gotten to know him, compassion is now a character trait I value in all my friendships. However, he has no regard for authority because they’re authority. He treats everyone with respect, but if you hurt someone it doesn’t matter to him what power you hold. This is one of the best and most wonderful things I love about him.

Personal Discipline

He spends almost two pages basically saying that we can’t be slutty (“flirtatious”) or get fat, and if we do, it’s a sign of bad character. Awesome.

An Attitude of Humility

He asks the men reading his book to observe how she “responds to conflict” in her family, and the only metric men need to use is whether or not we’re “humble enough to share blame” (182). This a tactic abusers use– the whole “it takes two to tango” idea, that it’s impossible for conflict to arise without more than one person contributing.

Often, that could be true. Most of the tense moments in my marriage come because we’re both doing something. But sometimes one person is grumpy and taking it out on the other, and there’s no equal share of blame to go around. The grumpy person needs to quit it. Sure, the other person can help by being sympathetic and understanding, but they are not to blame.

***

He finishes off the chapter by returning to “beauty,” this time emphasizing how “the spirit that lights up her sparkling eyes will still be young, vibrant, and alive” (186). It’s a rehashing of the tired trope that “beauty is more than skin deep,” but he’s still associating it with youth!

These were a couple frustrating chapters. But, good news, we’re almost done. I can’t wait to kiss this bloody book goodbye.

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  • Chuck Geer

    First of all Samantha, please forgive me for not again contributing to your worthwhile blog until now. (I first contributed when you talked about Nancy Leigh DeMoss.) I had a bunch of distractions until now that kept me from contributing more.

    With that out of the way, I agree with you on so many points here. “People who aren’t “getting” anything while “giving” everything are in unstable, unbalanced, and unhealthy relationships. If you’re not “getting” anything from your life partner, it is a problem that needs to be addressed and corrected.” To this I say a hearty Amen! But yet, we have an Evangelical Christian subculture that basically teaches that no one has a right to anything, so we should not be surprised that there are people who are constantly giving and rarely get anything.

    Secondly, I agree with you concerning people’s beauty. “Beauty is not fleeting; nor is it tied to youthfulness, thinness, or a lack of stretch marks. Not every person meets our white supremacist, misogynist society’s “standards” for beauty, but I know I’m not the only person who is capable of seeing beauty in every person, young or old, fat or thin.” Again, spot on. You were correct to point out that Harris’ focus on sensual beauty was indeed misogynistic.

    One other thing. When you talked about your ex and “how much he loved God”, this reminds me of services that some churches hold just before a couple gets married in which they vow that they are married first to Jesus so that they don’t worship each other. “Oh, I don’t want to put my spouse in the position that only God can fill.” I understand the reasoning behind this to a great extent, but I have seen far too many circumstances in which one spouse (usually the man) takes undue advantage of (or in some cases outright abuses) the other. This usually happens under the auspices of, “I don’t want to give them something only God (or Jesus) deserves.” As you said, they want to prove to the world how much they love God, but are in the end they are nothing but jerks.

    I shall cease rambling…

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    Who are these people who think that marriage is one endless thrill? Sansa Stark in Season 1 of GoT?Fourteen year olds who were raised in a bubble? But I am guessing that Josh himself thought that, or why would he assume that all young people have these ideas?
    I would say his youth is also showing with the idea that marriage is all about giving with no thought of taking, but unfortunately that message is so common in evangelical culture that I can’t blame his age. Even the older people in the churches haven’t stood and talked sense about that one yet.

    • I actually don’t know that anyone THINKS that, so much as a lot of fundie/evangelical cultures sort of start teaching kids “even though you think this and this, THIS is true!” so young that the kids sort of just… assume they MUST have felt this way at some point, or somebody must somewhere, or the leaders/authority figures wouldn’t feel the need to spend so much time TALKING about how it’s not true. So everyone just assumes everyone else must feel that way.

    • Stephanie Rice

      In addition to the rewriting of emotional history Katie was talking about, fundie/evangelical culture also likes to create problems that weren’t there. For example, when talking about marriage and why marriages NEED a leader, they create this hypothetical situation in which there’s a decision to be made and you just. can’t. agree. and so “someone” (read: penis) has to make a decision. But, in my experience, this kind of hypothetical just doesn’t exist. If you don’t agree, keep talking! There are other examples of fake problems that can apparently be solved by a fundagelical prescription; this is just one. Anyways, I think the culture has a whole likes to fabricate situations in which their religious beliefs are the only solution, but those situations just don’t seem to exist, IME.

    • Stephanie Gertsch

      I think people raised evangelical think this. Marriage is so magical and makes you so holy and its God’s plan (not to mention you can finally have sacrificial, sacramental, holy, definitely not dirty, sex).

      • I know I did! Weirdly, it was exactly this culture that gave me unrealistic ideas of marriage. While telling me not to have unrealistic expectations of marriage.

        • Stephanie Gertsch

          So true! The only way to get the magic holy marriage (sex) was follow God’s rules. But if that doesn’t work, why did you expect to be happy anyway, you miserable maggot? Isn’t God enough for you?

          • Haha yup! I think part of it came from the idolizing and separating out of married couples. Like something magical happened when you said your vows that entitled you to all of these benefits. So it must be something mystical and magical and holy and sanctifying, right? Not just everyday life together?

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    I already wrote something, but Josh’s instructions about what to do when a guy sees a pretty girl is annoying the heck out of me. Picture her fat and faded and with stretch marks? It kind of makes me wish that whenever a young woman met Josh and thought he was pretty cute that she immediately took his advice and pictured him balding with a beer gut, snoring while sprawled in a LaZBoy. See how crummy it is Josh, when you are the object of it? Somebody once said you should treat others the way you would want to be treated. It’s a good test for alot of things, and not bad to apply during the book editing process either.

    • J.B.

      Yes exactly! Because men don’t age, or deserve to constantly seek out the newest model? Misogyny indeed! When it comes to physical attractiveness, there’s also a lot to be said for confidence. I think I look and feel better with a few more years and pounds then when I was twenty! Those who disagree can go away : )

  • Kevin

    Your point on non-Christians being able to have great marriages made me chuckle, as growing up, we were told that unless we’re Dead in Christ(TM, Gal. 2:20) our marriages would be shades of hell. What is your opinion of couples picking each other due to common goals and interests, and sexual compatibility? Of people coming together because they can cover for each other’s weaknesses? (As someone who has never dated[thank that culture] I don’t know if I’m talking out of my derriere!)

  • Anna

    I feel like I don’t know how to respond to this one. I must have really forgotten this chapter because it just seems really, really stupid right now. How did I not notice the blatant misogyny when I was a teenager reading this? (Okay, probably because I was a teenager).

    I’ve been with the same person for ten years and we’ve been married for eight of those years. I think I find him more attractive now than I did when we were ten years younger. That time that we’ve had to grow and change together, to experience life together, that, for me, makes it easier to see the beauty in him because I know him better now than I did ten years ago.

    My grandparents were married for over 65 years before my grandmother died and one of the things I’ve always appreciated about them is how much they were in love with each other. They were always beautiful to each other, young or old or in-between.

    Beauty is such a complex, wondrous thing – it should never be limited to youth or appearances. It’s not always easy to see past the cultural constructs for beauty, given how they’re everywhere and they get pretty ingrained in the psyche, but every time I do, it’s amazing.

    • Lindsaydoodles

      I find people’s physical attributes beautiful, sure, but I find them a lot more beautiful when I know they’re a beautiful person inside too. You’re right, there’s so much more to beauty than a face shape or a hair color.

  • Jackalope

    “But so are grape vines, and architecture, and armies. The metaphor is a beautiful one, even powerful– something I understood better once I was married to a wonderful person– but it is just a metaphor. American Christian culture has idolized marriage, and one of the ways they’ve done it is through over-literalizing one metaphor among many. It was convenient for them to perpetuate a whole set of cultural conceptions and roles, so they took advantage of it.”

    Thank you, Samantha! One of the things I hate more and more about Christian metaphor as I get older in my singleness is that there’s so much emphasis placed on this particular image. I’ve had people tell me that as a single person I can’t fully understand my relationship with God or have true intimacy with God because I can’t possibly understand what intimacy means if I haven’t been married. Umm, shut up and go away.

    • spacegal2003

      I have such a hard time with this, because somewhere along the line, I think I’ve equated intimacy and sex. I mean, I understand that they are different, but I have trouble thinking about the first without the second, and it makes thinking about intimacy with God really weird. All of the metaphors about God being your husband don’t help with this at all. Maybe this is a confession??? Maybe this is normal???

      • Stephanie Gertsch

        It’s not you. A good chunk of literature is about drawing similarities between religious and sexual fulfillment.

  • kittehonmylap

    Whenever I hear anything about “sharing blame” my brain translates it to “taking blame.” Women are supposed to be prepared to *take* all the blame.

    When the abuse in my marriage started in earnest (though if we’re being honest, he had been emotionally abusive (less, but still there) for the entirety of our marriage), it was when we had been through a hellish year which my ex blamed me for, and then basically made it clear that because I had fucked it up (as he believed), that I had to be the one to make it right. And that every time I did something wrong he would pull back further, so I just had to be where he wanted and give him the attention he wanted when he wanted it (NEVER when he didn’t, that wasn’t respecting his personal boundaries). What I wanted or needed could basically be submitted in triplicate between 4 & 4:30 on alternate Thursdays if he was neither too busy working nor “enjoying time” with me or someone else.

    Men already tend to get told things aren’t their fault. Doubling down on “women need to make sure they share the blame” is just a way to cover men not taking any of the blame.

    Because it’s always the woman’s fault, y’know.

  • Heather ‘Cler’ Morgaine

    As a bisexual trans girl (who thought i was a straight boy at the time) this book (and the other elements of purity culture i was exposed to) did such a bizarre number on me. What i internalized from it was pretty much the same thing purity culture teaches cis girls: shame and guilt regarding my sexuality.

    Except that because i was applying the claims about male sexuality to myself, that guilt was, how shall i put it… phrased differently? For a long time just noticing a woman’s physical attractiveness made me feel like some kind of gross predator who had no right to even be in the presence of women. The stupid thing about this was that my attraction to many of those women was not sexual. I just admired them and (in hindsight) subconsciously wished i could BE them.

    Nobody ever told me that having a female role model was a thing that could happen. If they had, i might have figured out sooner that i AM female.

  • Annerdr

    “Joshua’s view of “beauty” is so shallow and insipid it makes me sick.”
    Yes, yes, yes. My husband and I had a conversation recently in which I said I took a longer route home from work because it had three roundabouts and I love roundabouts. He laughed at me, but it really is these silly little things in life that bring me happiness and, when I’m down, I have to remember that I’m not going to find capital H Happiness without finding plenty of little h happiness.