Hi and welcome back to the Unequally Yoked Club! In this series, we examine Christian myths and disastrous teachings about marriage and relationships. Today, we’re zooming back in on a Christian we’ve encountered before. As you’ll be overjoyed to learn, this Christian has totally figured out how people can tell if their significant other is good for the long haul. It’s not the advice itself that’s so cringe-inducing (though it very much is). It’s the attitude that went into the advice. Today, let me show you how one Christian refuses to allow reality anywhere near her best ideas.
(PS: WARNING, FOLKS! Today is a TVTropes Walkabout Day. You’ve been warned.)
Everyone, Say Hi (Again) to Bonnie Kristian.
Last week I found myself staring at a Christian advice and opinion post that was even more WTF and surreal than usual. Because its subject matter involved marriage, obviously it was going to be largely WTF and surreal. But this one was just so out-there, so divorced from reality, and so patronizing and paternalistic that it caught my attention in a major way. By the first few paragraphs (and you’ll see exactly why shortly), I knew this was going into the Unequally Yoked Club.
My mind whirling, I wondered aloud, “Who on earth wrote this dreck?”
And when my gaze drifted up to the writer’s byline, I groaned.
Of COURSE Bonnie Kristian wrote this post.
Not too long ago, we covered one of her other masterpieces. There, she chirped and warbled about how nobody could ever possibly find real friends and lasting, emotionally-satisfying communities outside of Christianity.
Strap in, friends, because this post repeats her favorite themes. If the universe possessed a ChristianTropes, it would devote an entire page to Bonnie Kristian.
The Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
This time, Bonnie Kristian’s blog post for The Week concerns marriage. She speaks in very authoritative ways regarding the topic.
She has a Masters in Christian Thought from Bethel Seminary. John Piper’s associated with the school and I’ve heard some downright weird things about its culture. Kristian says on her official website that she’s “exploring options” for a doctorate in ethics. So that’s it for qualifications.
In fact, she lacks credentials in any field related to relationships, counseling, or therapy.
Further, she tells us in the post itself about her own marriage. But like most Christian finger-waggers who blather about it, her marriage began a shockingly short amount of time ago: six years.
(I saw that and cooed immediately, Aww, she’s a newlywed still! And then I read her insistence that six years is totally not newlywed status.)
Somehow, someone appointed Ensign Newbie to lead the charge. We’ve seen this pattern before, though:
- That nitwit who told us ALL ABOUT the cringe-inducingly bad marriage advice he got from his dad.
- A guy who says he and his bride got married as virgins, so therefore he should get to insult people who don’t do the same.
- The mommy blogger who has been married for like two hot minutes and now has a baby, so she’s sure she knows exactly how all women should do marriage and babies.
- The misogynistic young-gun minister with the conventionally-pretty wife who’s been married like 4-ish years, but knows enough about marriage now to sternly advise women stop caring so much about external appearances.
Worst of all, though, Bonnie Kristian doesn’t sound at all in this post like she’s got a happy marriage or that she has any idea how to conduct one. She’s trying to make constant, low-grade disrespect and conflict sound perfectly normal, but the only way she could believe that is through ignorance and inexperience.
In the trope Entertainingly Wrong, people create an argument based upon facts they think are correct to reach a conclusion that seems sound to them. The logic’s generally fine, but their starting assumptions aren’t always true–or they would be true, except for some essential piece of information unknown to them that changes everything. Thus, their conclusions turn out to be wrong–sometimes amusingly so.
One of TVTropes’ examples is Hot Fuzz. In that iconic 2007 movie, a character constructs a huge conspiracy theory involving multiple murders that is nowhere near as WTF as the real answer to the mystery.
In the Christian variation of the trope, not only can the Christian be flat-out wrong about their starting assumptions, and not only can they simply not know important, game-changing information, but they can also be willfully ignoring information that would help them construct a far better argument and reach far more accurate conclusions.
Truth in Television.
Bonnie Kristian’s post concerns marriage. She wants people to know that the idea of soulmates is a myth–and one that can seriously damage people who buy into it.
Some people believe that a supernatural force hand-picks a soulmate just for them as a romantic partner. I can see how Christians latch onto it, but we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, suffice to say that people who believe in soulmates also tend to believe that a real live soulmate is someone with whom they can have the best possible relationship. A soulmates-style relationship will be easy, largely free of conflict, and lifelong-lasting.
The idea of soulmates sounds very romantic. But it rests on some very precarious ground with its supernaturally-based ideas.1 In a previous installment of the Unequally Yoked Club, we spent quite a while examining how this belief hurts people. As an operating principle, it can bring much heartache upon those who believe it, and it poses additional risks to relationships.
So Kristian gets that fact correct.
But like TVTropes’ Truth in Television, her brief embrace of reality won’t last.
The Cloud Cuckoo Lander.
See, she tells us, since nobody is really perfect for anybody, there’s no point to trying too hard to ensure that anybody is perfect enough to marry. Everything you really need to know about a human being, you can easily figure out. Therefore, nobody should ever live together before marriage (and therefore have unapproved sex).
Let’s stop here briefly to remind ourselves that she wrote a flippy-dippy book advising Christians how to Jesus properly. In it, she advises Christians not to fall into ONE TRUE CHRISTIANITY™. Despite knowing that there’s no ONE TRUE CHRISTIANITY™, she nonetheless thinks that there is only one way to properly conduct relationships.
A Well-Intentioned Extremist.
Bonnie Kristian thinks that people cohabit to figure out if they want to get married, and gang, that’s just not okay to her. She declares that “this isn’t rational and smart. It’s foolishly romantic.” And being foolishly romantic is just the WORST.
In fact she says, of the desire to cohabit:
That’s juvenile nonsense bordering on delusional, and a sure route to dissatisfaction.
One wonders where she got this idea about cohabitation. I mean, yes, some people cohabit for that reason. But often they only say that they’re doing it for that reason. Or it’s one reason they have among many others.
Often, they just love each other. Or maybe one partner says they eventually want to marry, but maybe they’re really unsure about that point, or wishful, or deceptive.
The point is, people have many reasons for cohabitation.
She derides a Brides.com listicle for saying cohabitation is “a practice run for a lifetime of living together.” But she missed something important. This listicle’s last entry is where it gets down to discussing marriage. And it does so in a way that destroys Bonnie Kristian’s entire thesis:
As wonderful as marriage can be, it isn’t all romance. . . Living together before you tie the knot will prepare you for the less-than-exciting moments, so they won’t take you by surprise.
Since that’s largely identical to her dreary, utilitarian vision of marriage, it’s hard to imagine why she took exception to this listicle. Aside from the fact that it advocates people do something she considers off-limits, it generally agrees with her. I mean, maybe she could try to say that marriage and cohabitation, in the listicle’s view, are exactly identical, so why not get married? But even then it makes no sense.
(I wonder if her head would a-splode if she realized that Brides magazine, like The Week, prints articles and posts they think will appeal to their core readership demographics. The Week clearly thinks hers will appeal to moralistic fundagelicals. Brides aims for a more urbane, cosmopolitan, and less overzealous readership, clearly.)
A Touch of Moral Myopia.
But our TRUE CHRISTIAN™ reveals a lamentable moral myopia here. I consider quote mining to be deeply dishonest. However, I’m hard-pressed to call what happens here anything else.
Kristian looks at some studies and some quotes from cohabiting people. One of these quotes says, “I’ll get married when my life is more in order.” That’s pretty representative of the lot. People want to figure themselves out before getting legally entangled.
But our brave culture warrior rushes in to strawman the woman giving that quote! First, she scare-quotes the cohabiter as “one half of a ‘typical’ cohabiting couple.” (Just WHY?) Then, she decides what the cohabiter really meant:
These two assumptions — that before we marry we must know everything about our partner and have everything about ourselves sorted out too — are nonsense.
But that’s not what the cohabiter said. She didn’t say she needed to know everything about her partner. Nor did she say she had to have everything about her life sorted out.
Um, that’s dishonest. WWJD?
Continuing in that vein of wide-eyed idealism, she now tut-tuts at her readers. See, she knows exactly how to fix all these issues. It’s amazing nobody’s ever asked her to solve their problems!
First, there is nothing you need to know before marriage that can only be learned by cohabitation. Do you have questions about your partner’s financial habits? Ask them. If they will not tell you all you need to know, you have a problem that living together can’t fix. Do you suspect you and your partner have different standards of cleanliness? Talk about it. Talk to their roommates. Visit their parents’ house and see how clean it is. These and any other questions about daily life are not that difficult to settle. Any basic premarital counseling (or even a good list-based discussion) will cover this stuff.
One must simply marvel at this degree of complete, self-serving wrongness.
In her little world, people never misrepresent themselves. They never incorrectly state their traits. Nor do they ever dishonestly hide their flaws.
(I just put informed consent on our schedule for later.)
Instantly Proving Her Wrong.
People don’t just move in together, sight unseen.
Typically, this life decision comes after a couple has dated for a while. By then, each partner has already seen each other’s living situation. They’ve almost certainly also already met their partner’s family and friends.
Bonnie Kristian thinks that people cohabit because they like “a lot of things about this person,” so they want to live together so they “find out if [they] like everything.” In that case, they’ll “stick around” by getting married.
However, if people don’t cohabit to figure out “everything,” as she puts it, then her theory gets blown to pieces.
What’s just bizarre is she even says in the post that she’s aware that people don’t really cohabit to “collect information.”
She says it right before she decides unilaterally what The Big Problem Here is with cohabiters, in fact! But after getting one thing halfway right, she makes a hard right turn into wackadoodlery.
Comically Missing the Point.
Undeterred, Kristian huffs that marriage “is made of stronger stuff” than cohabitation. She thinks that it involves stronger commitment, so people have to work out differences that would lead them to break up with mere cohabitation. Whereas cohabitation often gets presented as the more practical of the two life-states, she thinks marriage is more practical.
She’s leaving out some important information, of course. Many people end up in really awful marriages, or at least marriages that actively prevent them from living their best life. But if divorce is difficult to obtain (something we’ll discuss soon), then many of those people will find escaping those marriages difficult. And many of those people will be women.
Even when divorce laws make those escapes easier for any gender, difficulties abound. Divorce is messy. That messiness may well be one reason why people aren’t getting married these days. They follow the meeting –> dating –> cohabiting cycle, but never end up marrying.
And the younger the people in question are, the less likely they are to ever marry. One 2014 survey by Pew reveals a prediction that some 25% of today’s Millennials in America might never marry. It’s the highest share of never-marrieds in our country’s history.
People increasingly don’t see cohabitation as a test run for marriage. They see it as the end of the cycle.
The Accidental Public Confession.
Still undeterred, Bonnie Kristian launches into an accidental public confession. After informing us that she totally has a far more mature and realistic relationship than cohabiters ever could, she accidentally lets slip that her marriage sounds awful.
It’s totally normal to be married to someone who doesn’t share your views on housework. I am, and we bicker about it sometimes, and then we might bicker about how different our bickering styles are, and none of this is a big deal.
I JUST CAN’T.
As I read this, I realized that my jaw had fallen open.
She and her husband fight about housework. Then they fight about the fight they just had because of “how different [their] bickering styles are.”
This level of conflict damned well IS “a big deal,” despite her assurances to the contrary. And it nullifies her assertions about her marriage being soooo much better than cohabitation (or divorce).
The One-Hit Kill.
If two people have vastly different arguing styles and expectations around housework, either of those concerns functions as a dealbreaker. They’re serious signs of incompatibility.
A dealbreaker is something that instantly destroys a nearly-settled deal or agreement. In romantic relationships, when someone sees one of these relationship-destroyers they exit the relationship as quickly as possible.
A great many common elements show up on most people’s list of dealbreakers, like uses violence to solve their problems, abuses substances, or can’t hold down a job. But for most folks, past those common elements, their lists can vary considerably from those of other people. Some people don’t ever want to date divorced parents with custody of minor children. Others refuse to stay with people who don’t ever want to engage in particular sex acts. Others won’t ever consider dating, much less marriage or cohabitation, with potential partners who have unaddressed health problems.
For me, a potential partner who can’t do his share of housework is an instant dealbreaker. So is a partner who can’t discuss conflicts in a mature way. Either would be a very big deal to me. I’ve dumped partners over both, in my life.
What You Are in the Dark.
And not to put too fine a point on things, but cohabitation remains one of the best possible ways for me to find out what kind of person a partner is in the dark.
Like let’s take tidiness and housework equality. Most people these days hold an ideal of an egalitarian split of housework, and they want a place to be fairly tidy. I’m certainly one of those people!
So let’s say I’m considering moving in with someone, and I want to know how likely he is to be tidy and egalitarian in labor division. (I’m using male pronouns here because I’m a straight woman.)
Asking his friends for intel won’t help, unless that friend has lived with him in the past. And I’m old enough that it’s downright silly to insist that I can totally ask his parents for that information.
Certainly I could look to that partner’s current living situation–but if he’s not currently living with a woman in a romantic context, it won’t help me evaluate his tidiness. I’ve lived with men in the past who were quite tidy–right up until we moved in together. With whiplash-inducing speed, suddenly housework became women’s work to all but one of them, and their free time became far more important to them than mine.
Worst of all, though, asking the partner himself about his tidiness and fairness makes next to no sense. A lot of people like to think they’re fair-minded, rational, mature, and dedicated to egalitarian ideals. However, those lofty self-reports often don’t stand up to reality. And people lie all the time about themselves–even about stuff that’s important.
So Bonnie Kristian’s insistence that I can get all the information I need about someone through circuitous other methods falls flat on its face. No, you can’t. Not everything.
It’s Been Done.
She ends with another mischaracterization, but I’m already used to this kind of dishonesty:
You grow with your spouse, because the wedding is not an end point of personal development. You meld your lives together, each facilitating the other’s wins and cushioning their losses. The sooner you commit to the mundane trials and pleasures of marriage, the more compatible you and your partner will become.
Every bit of that can–and does–happen with cohabitation. People in long-term cohabitation relationships also grow with each other. They also meld their lives together, facilitate each other’s wins, and cushion their losses. And yes, they also commit to mundane trials and pleasures together.
She’ll Pretend She Didn’t Hear That.
Bonnie Kristian’s laser-guided amnesia may be her worst flaw, when it comes down to it. She seeks to isolate certain good qualities to marriage alone. To do that, she declares by fiat that those good qualities can’t possibly happen without legal entanglement.
The only way this level of willful ignorance works is if she has either never actually engaged with a long-term, happy cohabiting couple or she seriously thinks her audience hasn’t (or, at least, is willing to willfully ignore that they have).
That’s where her whole Underpants Gnomes plan falls down the hardest. Pretty much everybody knows people who cohabit and people who marry, and we know that cohabitation is neither an assurance of marriage nor an insulator against divorce. But then, marriage itself isn’t an insulator against divorce. And you’d think a Christian would know that following all of Christianity’s weird rules won’t protect anybody from divorce.
I can’t even call what she’s doing condescending compassion, because her tone in the entire post is one of lecturing-Victorian-schoolmarm or angry-parochial-nun. There’s nothing compassionate about it. She clearly feels great contempt for people who cohabit, especially since she (mistakenly) thinks that their reasons for doing it (which she misunderstands in the first place) are less than satisfactory for Exalted King Her.
Thankfully, it ain’t up to her to decide what other adults do with their lives. And that might be The (Real) Big Problem Here for her.
NEXT UP: We’re looking at hilariously-failed missionary and evangelism efforts. The Southern Baptist Convention continues its fine tradition of pure blithering panic with one of the most hilarious ones yet. But it might not be failed, from a certain point of view. See you soon!
1 I bought a New Age book some 20 years ago about the idea of soulmates that is hands down weird. I found its ideas unimpressive. The author calls it Caution: Soul Mate Ahead!. It’s not Christian at all, but it’s also definitely not the usual New Age weirdness one sees on this topic. In the author’s hands, soulmates can be lovers, friends, even bitter rivals or enemies (ad hoc ahoy!). I’m guessing that if I re-read it, I’d find some awesomely-bad thinking on display in it. Let me know below if this would be fun to read as a mega-review. (Back to the post!)
2 Remember last time, when we talked about the reader demographics of the website publishing her? This magazine aims for a readership of upper-middle-class older professionals. Their average reader age runs between 35-54. (Back to the post!)
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