In her book The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose, Lisa Anderson explains why she didn’t start considering marriage until she was 30. As she recognizes (to a degree), her story is a feminist cliché. As a girl she was “intoxicated” with the idea of being a woman on her own, living a life of “freedom and joie de vivre”. Moreover, her feminist mindset was repeatedly encouraged by the adults around her:
Sadly, as I immersed myself in girl power at school, I received little at church and beyond to counter it. Most of the well-meaning couples in my parent’s circle saw no reason to question my trajectory toward worlldly success; many of them outright supported it. I was told… to focus on my education and career. Here are a few of the mantras I commonly received–see if any of them sound familiar:
“Make sure you can support yourself; it’s a tough world out there!”
“You’re so smart; you don’t want to waste your intelligence [implied: by getting married too soon].”
“We’re expecting big things from you.”
You have your whole life ahead of you–have fun while you can!”
“Relax; marriage will happen when it happens.”
“I wish I’d had all the opportunities you have.”
As she was taught, she expected marriage to “just happen” for her, and her only focus was making sure it didn’t happen too soon. She contrasts this with her mother’s mindset:
…my mom finished college, but marriage was a next step. It was always a priority. It was talked about, planned for, and expected. She didn’t mess around when she spotted my dad; she got busy.
She is right, the difference is stark. She was empowered to focus on everything but marriage. This empowerment depended on the pretense that she wasn’t responsible for finding a husband. This would “just happen”, and her greatest fear was allowing it to happen too soon. Her mother on the other hand felt responsible to make it happen.
This is where the modern Christian obsession with an idealized form of dating comes in. It reinforces the same feminist message Anderson received as a girl and young woman, but it sounds traditional. As I quoted before from an interview with Anderson on the topic (emphasis mine):
HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUNG ADULTS TO ACTIVELY PURSUE MARRIAGE, INSTEAD OF PASSIVELY ASSUMING THAT IT WILL JUST HAPPEN “SOMEDAY” OR “EVENTUALLY”?
I believe marriage is an intentional pursuit. It begins by praying boldly for marriage and your future spouse. It involves preparation and growing into mature adulthood so you’re in a position to marry. And finally, it’s an active search. For men, this means literally finding women of character (Prov. 18:22) and asking them out. For women, it means being open to marriage, talking about our desire for it, and accepting offers of dates from eligible, godly men.
This is what Focus On The Family’s expert on the subject is telling Christian women!
Notice that for modern Christian women, women who are awash in the same feminist temptations and mantras that Anderson was, being proactive about marriage means talking about wanting to marry, and waiting to be asked out and won over by her future husband. Unlike Anderson’s mother, the modern Christian woman is told that her job isn’t to try to find a husband. It is the man’s job to find her and win her over. This of course is what we see in practice from young Christian women as they follow the same feminist script Anderson followed. They talk about wanting marriage while waiting for the man of their dreams to make it happen (but only once they have achieved all of their feminist credentials). Of course this naturally devolves into complaining about men:
Where have all of the good men gone?
What is wrong with men?
Why won’t they step up, state their intention to court me for marriage, and ask me on a paid date?
But some women are sharper than others, and sooner or later they figure out that if they want a particular man they need to do something other than sit around and bitch about not being married. They do like Anderson’s mother did and use their feminine wiles to snag their man before another woman beats them to it.
Internalizing a sense of responsibility for finding a husband helps women in other ways, beyond just out competing the clueless complaining squad. Much of the problem is that the women don’t have an accurate sense of their own marriage market value, or league. They have been told repeatedly by Christian leaders that they are incredibly beautiful, and their moxie and girlpower makes them a catch. The problem (they are repeatedly told) is that the men they deserve are failing to man up and ask them out. As a result they typically have a greatly inflated sense of their own prospects with no way to get real world feedback. The lack of fantasy dates isn’t taken as unrealistic standards, but yet more proof that something is mysteriously wrong with men.
If on the other hand a woman goes against modern Christian teaching and thinks like Anderson’s mother did, she has a way to get real world feedback on her own attractiveness. She can subtly indicate interest to the kind of men she thinks would be a match for her, men she is attracted to. If her standards are too high and the man isn’t interested, or is only interested if fornication is on the table, her ego is bruised but she has retained deniability in her expression of interest. As her over inflated ego is reduced to reality, eventually she will be able to feel attraction for the kind of man who wants to marry her. Internalizing responsibility creates a mechanism for her to both get real world feedback on her self perception, and for her to be able to become attracted to the kind of man she can attract for marriage.
See Also: Feminine wiles