As I’ve covered in recent posts*, Focus on the Family (FotF) teaches that in order for men and women to marry men must first approach women and boldly state their romantic intentions. The woman’s job is to wait around for men to formally approach her and declare their intentions, and then decide which men she wants to allow to take her on a date. As FotF’s Director of Family Formation studies complains, this isn’t happening (emphasis mine):
At lunch with some colleagues the other day, some of the women—ladies in their 20s—were discussing how rare it is for men their age to step up, approach any feminine peers, and ask for a date, much less show any interest that could be seen as a move toward romance…
It’s passivity, not toxicity, that is the real male problem today. Ask any young woman how she vets all the nice young men who approach to decide who will advance to the bonus round of an actual date. She will ask if you rewind your VHS tapes before returning them to Blockbuster, or just pay the fee.
The problem with this obsession is not only is it totally out of step with current culture, it isn’t in line with how social interactions work in the first place. Every day we interact with the people around us in subtle but meaningful ways. Think about your best friends. How did you come to meet them and become friends? Did they boldly approach you and declare their intention to become your best friend?
Hi I’m Glenn Stanton, and I want to be your best friend! Don’t worry if you don’t want to be my friend right away, I just know I’ll win you over! Will you have dinner with me tonight?
This is the epitome of terrible social skills. If someone approaches you this way chances are you will feel initially repulsed, although that may change to compassion as you recognize the nature of their affliction. Other times it won’t come off as awkward, but as suspicious. What is this weirdo after? Is he trying to rob or con me?
There are of course exceptional situations where the approach wouldn’t feel awkward or creepy. If the man introducing himself as your new best friend is effortlessly cool, owns a great boat and has access to the best hunting and fishing land around, chances are you will think to yourself what a genuinely friendly fellow! But this is a corner case, an exception to the rule.
In real life we are constantly meeting and evaluating people in a multitude of ways. There is no formal path to friendship because it isn’t how real social interactions work. We meet people and strike up conversations, and if there are common interests we learn that organically. Most of these interactions aren’t particularly consequential, and very few turn into true friendships. But the ones that matter end up mattering a great deal. We just don’t tend to know that up front when we are making a first impression. The women complaining to Stanton are being evaluated by potential husbands on a regular basis, but either aren’t making much of an impression on these men or are being quietly rejected by the men as not a good candidate for marriage. Stanton pretends the women are all fabulous potential wives, and that there is nothing they could do or change to make themselves more attractive to the men they are failing to attract. He says the problem with the women who are failing to attract husbands is they are just so awesome that men are too intimidated by their perfection:
The social opportunities open to women today are making them better catches and thus increasingly intimidating to too many young adult males, who approximate a mole.
This is a cruel lie.
This doesn’t mean that a society can’t have accepted rules about courtship, but that isn’t what is going on. Modern Christians are pretending that a specific set of social conventions are in place, with the implicit claim that these conventions are from God. Neither is true, and as a result they are throwing stumbling blocks between men and women at a time when it is already difficult for them to meet and marry.
This isn’t about the Bible or an agreed upon social convention. It is about a group of people trying to rework the culture to the conventions of a stunted love-struck teenager. For what else is the courtly love model that they are basing this “tradition” upon? Consider the first 7 stages of courtly love:
Stages of courtly love
(Adapted from Barbara W. Tuchman)
- Attraction to the lady, usually via eyes/glance
- Worship of the lady from afar
- Declaration of passionate devotion
- Virtuous rejection by the lady
- Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty
- Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness)
- Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart
I don’t mean to be cruel to stunted teenagers. They are suffering as it is, and hopefully they will go on to live happy well adjusted lives. But we can’t mine their fantasies for wisdom on how Christian men and women should meet and marry. To do this is cruel to everyone, especially the stunted teenagers who are most taken in by the fantasy.