Hi and welcome back! We’ve been talking lately about right-wing Christians’ conceptualization of marriage. Uniformly, their marriage rules don’t work well, and their expectations of mates skyrockets well above what they can reasonably ask of anybody. But there’s one aspect to the evangelical dating game in particular that stands as a disaster amid everything else they do around marriage. Today, let me show you how evangelical leaders advise the men in their group to choose wives — and then we’ll check out who they actually pick.
Reality Meets the Soulmate Belief.
In her book Where Have All the Good Men Gone, A.J. Kiesling was surprised to learn that only about a third of her 120 respondents believed that Jesus had set aside one single soulmate for every human being (and thus, that Christian singles needed to find that one person or they were messing up their god’s perfect plan).
I’ve noticed that same downtick in soulmate belief myself in reading what evangelical singles say about their hunt for spouses. Instead, they kinda default to how I thought about the matter when I myself was evangelical.
Back then, I figured that all a marriage needed to succeed was (1) one man and one woman in it who (2) had the right mindsets, (3) were super-duper fervent, and (4) had Jesus’ approval to marry. Without those all-important ingredients, a marriage would struggle hard and probably fail.
I still believed in the idea of one special mate above all (and thought Biff was my soulmate, ick). At the same time, I also thought that a marriage could still last and be fairly happy without the couple being soulmates.
Nothing has changed in the decades since I believed. So yes, some evangelicals still do believe completely that there’s one special mate out there meant specifically for themselves and nobody else. Most don’t, however.
By the way, that mindset mentioned above is complementarianism. I didn’t know the word back then, I don’t think, but that’s what it was.
Most evangelicals have long considered compatibility itself unimportant to the point of uselessness. Indeed, a very popular blog post going around the Jesus-sphere a few years ago insisted that couples should “pursue complementarity, not compatibility.” Its author stated nothing I hadn’t heard decades ago.
In fact, a couple’s testimony could be boosted considerably by laughing about their utter incompatibility. Tee-hee, it’s just so cute and funny, right? Has to be Jesus! Such couples want to give the impression that they’d long ago have divorced if it weren’t for the Jesus glue in their relationship — along with their strict adherence to complementarianism, of course.
For those new to the idea, complementarianism is a male-supremacist vision of marriage that looks like an unironic cosplay of 1950s sitcoms crossed with Victorian morality, as conceived by a covert narcissist.
In this vision, complementarian husbands dominate their families completely. Evangelical wives obey their husbands’ every whim. They also do every bit of labor around the house, especially childcare. As for children, complementarians consider them to be the literal property of their parents.
To persuade evangelical women to accept this lopsided, absolutely unfair and one-sided arrangement, evangelical men dress it all up in lots of Jesus language to make it sound mandatory. They also threaten any women who reject it with Hell and the prospect of never finding a husband — or facing inevitable divorce if they do.
First and Foremost, Pick the Correct Woman to Marry.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Complementarian men get some very special instructions when it comes to the dating game. Women also receive instructions, of course. For this post, though, I focus on the advice that men receive. Remember, these men are tin-pot dictators looking for the subservient, lifelong Stepford wives and mommy-sexbots that they think Jesus promised them.
No few resources exist out there nowadays promising to teach men this all-important step. Books abound (like this one) making this promise.
One site even tells its male readers that they don’t even need to be TRUE CHRISTIANS™ to follow evangelicals’ wife-selection instructions. Yes, because their god’s rules are so perfect that literally any man can use them. In one subreddit I’ve lurked, evangelical members often told atheist members the same thing. And I’ve personally known at least one atheist man who thought that way.
Another site insisted on the importance of choosing the correct woman and promised to show readers how to do this. Unfortunately, his advice boiled down to the usual blahblah about religious fervor, complementarian adherence, and maternal inclinations that his tribemates already ignore.
The Blahblah Evangelical Men Get.
Here’s some of what evangelical leaders teach their men (quoted material comes from original sources cited):
- The Book of Proverbs tells men exactly what their wives should be like. Marry the woman closest to that ideal. (Source: “20 Signs She’s the Woman You Should Marry, According to the Bible.”)
- Men should ask themselves: “Is this the woman I want to sacrificially devote myself to all my life?” If not, pass her by! Make sure she’s very obedient to her parents too. Also, quit watching so much god-damned porn. (Source: “Waiting for a Wife.”)
- Absolutely, positively avoid a relationship with any woman who seems even marginally sympathetic to the ideals of feminism. (Source: “Women Are No Longer Marriage Material.”)
- Never get involved with any woman who maintains friendships with any men. Also, you’re never going to fully understand your future bride anyway. Just date someone till you can “discern if you’re willing to love her sacrificially, and if she’s willing to respond to that kind of love.” Obviously, nobody ever fakes that stuff. Ever. And “everyone marries a stranger.” (Source: A Guy’s Guide to Marrying Well.)
Yeah, evangelicals sure have a lot of advice to give men on this topic.
And none of it will actually matter.
None of them are gonna listen to any of it anyway.
The Lies of the Great Husband Hunt.
All this blahblah aimed at evangelical men reminds me powerfully of an old joke. You know, the one about the guy trying to work out which of three good women he should marry? As it turns out, one’s very caring and showers him with gifts; one invests money wisely so they’ll have a good future; one tries to make herself as appealing as possible to him through a makeover. He thinks long and hard, and then he marries the woman with the biggest breasts.
The joke’s punchline revolves around the fact we never even learned about the women’s relative bust sizes in their descriptions. That’s never mentioned.
Indeed, evangelical men seem to carefully consider all the advice given to them. Then, they make decisions that inevitably boil down to three things that have little-to-nothing to do with any of that advice:
A woman’s overall sex appeal, her weight, and her age. Evangelical men will seek a woman embodying as many of those attributes as they can get.
“Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos.”
A couple of years ago, a hard-right fundagelical blogger wrote a now-iconic piece about evangelical men wanting to marry “debt-free virgins without tattoos.” Quite a few evangelical men still unironically parrot this line constantly in their relationship spaces online. They don’t even realize that their marriage criteria are a lot stricter than that.
She ain’t the only one in that situation, either. As we’ve been seeing lately, evangelical women are slowly becoming aware of just how appearance-, youth-, and sex-obsessed their male counterparts really are. However, the people advising both sexes all dance around that truth.
To maintain their tribal fictions and narratives, evangelical leaders give both sexes the worst advice possible about marriage because they’re all pretending that a fake situation is real and that they’re absolutely not what they actually are.
Evangelical men and women both hunt bears with umbrellas. If someone ever actually lands a bear, it sure won’t be their umbrella that killed it.
The Tells That Leak Out.
It was hard not to see connections between an ideology that embraces power and aggression and “toughness,” and reserves all power for men, with abuses of that power.
— Kristin Kobes Du Mez, author of Jesus and John Wayne
Despite their fervent adherence to these concepts I’ve discussed above and all the advice they’re supposedly totally following, evangelicals are miserable in their marriages way more often than they’re happy. They (scare-quotes) “joke” about that misery constantly. Here’s one example, from a pastor’s sermon:
[During a sermon, the pastor asks an old congregant named Ralph to testify about his long-lasting marriage.]
“For our 25th anniversary,” Ralph answered, “I took [my wife] to Beijing, China.”
The crowd nodded and murmured in appreciation. When things quieted down, the pastor
winked and said: “What a terrific example you are to husbands, Ralph. So, tell us where
you’re going now for your 50th anniversary?”
Ralph replied, “I’m going to go back and get her.”
[Cited source: Brett Kays, Flat Rock, Michigan; www.PreachingToday.com]
Notice that “winked” thing?
In this fictional story, nobody expects this long-married couple to be happy.
And indeed, they aren’t. At all. The pastor will have known that fact long before inviting Ralph to testify, too.
Evangelicals’ divorce rate speaks to that reality as well. Just living around a bunch of evangelicals raises everyone’s risk of divorce, even if a couple isn’t evangelical at all!
By the way, that sermon ends with another “joke.” A pastor advises an embattled, enraged husband on the verge of divorce, “The Bible says, Love your enemies. Begin there.”
HAW HAW! They’re ENEMIES! If he can’t love her as a wife, then at least he can love her like he should love his enemies! But that’s not how evangelicals actually act at all!
Like Cats in Pillowcases.
The results of this system of mate selection tells us everything.
I’ve seen it myself. Wives and husbands both cut at each other all the time. They make “jokes” at each other’s expense, insult each other in the cruelest ways, and employ condescending, disrespectful body language toward each other even in formal situations. And oh my gosh, they fight. They fight in public and private like a pair of feral cats in a pillowcase.
Since my deconversion almost 30 years ago, I’ve yet to witness any other group’s couples behaving this way toward each other.
That’s what all this advice gets evangelicals. Neither wives nor husbands get what they’re promised. They spend the rest of their lives furious at each other for the failure of those promises.
And so I am persuaded of this above all else:
Evangelical men are not getting their intel or their marching orders from any gods who embody love and justice. The marriages they enter certainly do not reflect love or justice in the least.
Evangelicals’ divorce rate reflects that reality better than anything else ever could. And if they weren’t convinced that a real live god hates divorce and forbids it in almost all cases, just imagine how much worse that rate would be!
NEXT UP: Lord Snow Presides! And then, we’ll check out the bad advice that married evangelical men receive about divorce-proofing their marriages.
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