where have all the good men gone? not here!
Reading Time: 9 minutes (Elaine Howlin.) This is how I imagine all women read Jane Austen novels.
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, I wrote about middle-aged evangelical women’s Great Husband Hunt — and their growing sense of denial regarding reasons why they might be failing to find husbands. As I researched that story over the past few months, I ran across a 2008 book by A.J. Kiesling called Where Have All the Good Men Gone? Her subtitle reveals its main focus: ‘Why So Many Christian Women Are Remaining Single.’ And we’ll all be happy to know that she did land on some explanations for the growing number of frustrated single women. Today, I’ll offer up a review of this book — and present its main flaws.

where have all the good men gone? not here!
(Elaine Howlin.) This is how I imagine all women read Jane Austen novels.

Inhabiting a Bubble.

Author A.J. Kiesling doesn’t specify that her work inhabits the thick, insulating bubble of evangelicalism, of course. Like most Christian authors working in the lifestyle/advice genre, she keeps her exact affiliations on the down-low. But it’s not hard to guess where she stands. The truth rings out loud and clear almost immediately upon cracking open Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

In this dating-advice book, Kiesling speaks not just to Christians, but in particular to Christians who regard their religiosity as the defining facet of their personalities, who would never even consider dating or marrying a Christian less-committed to their Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game than they are, much less a filthy heathen, and who take their religion’s various silly rules extremely seriously in their personal lives. That trio of facts alone would tip a reader off about the evangelical nature of this book, even if that person knew nothing else about its author.

Then, on one of her biography pages we find evangelical-leaning publishers aplenty and titles like Live Like a Jesus Freak. She ghost-wrote that one for the Christian music group D.C. Talks. On that biography page, we also learn that she’s been involved in Christian lit since 1985. So yeah. I’m not sure we could even find someone as deep in the evangelical bubble as she is.

The Dangers of Poor Methodology.

To gain the info she needed for her book, A.J. Kiesling created a survey for evangelical men and women to take. Then, she haunted Christian singles’ forums online for respondents. She never provides the full survey or the responses.

Unfortunately, she’s a much better writer than she is a survey creator or statistician. Even someone like me, who shares those weaknesses, can spot some glaring dealbreakers in her survey:

  • First and foremost, she has no way to figure out if her respondents told the truth. It’s very obvious that many respondents didn’t. Toward the end of the book (p. 160), she writes about a friend of hers discovering that respondents claimed to be virgins at an unusually high rate. The friend rightly decided that Kiesling’s respondents lied. Kiesling, however, replied that she was “forced to take the results at face value.” But was she? Survey creators have figured out ways to spot liars and account for them. But Kiesling didn’t worry about that.
  • Second, her survey suffers self-selection bias and a small sample size. As with the first problem, statisticians have created methods to help right the many errors that self-selection and small sample size can create. Also likewise, it’s clear Kiesling pursued none of them. She settled on 120 respondents, 86 of whom were women.
  • Third, Kiesling didn’t actually test any hypotheses in her survey or have control groups or any of that usual stuff we see in real science. Instead, she used (and sometimes contorted) her survey results to drill down harder on her own personal narratives and opinions about evangelical romance and marriage.

In short:

Nobody sensible trusts research conducted by evangelicals. 

The Grander Error: False Beliefs.

One much bigger error competes with those methodological errors for the grand prize, however. And that is the wealth of false beliefs that A.J. Kiesling holds as true. Her false beliefs go way past thinking that Jane Austen’s views of romance are totally the best ones ever created.

I touched on these false beliefs yesterday, and in this book you’ll see them all — along with utterly un-self-aware contradictions to them, often made in the same paragraphs.

  • A real live omnipotent god totally cares about and pre-plans every Christian’s love life. BUT ALSO: Christians somehow manage to constantly stymie this god’s plans.
  • The way people dated courted in the Edwardian Age is really the best way to find a mate. Everyone ought to get back to that. Kiesling is in love with the notion of calling cards and arranged marriages, with mystery and shyness and men doing the pursuing and wooing. BUT ALSO: Gosh, y’all, sometimes a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ woman just has to take the initiative. Repeatedly, Kiesling calls this “pulling a Ruth” (p. 74). (LOL)
  • Online dating is ickie.
  • Jesus made men like this, and women like thatBUT ALSO: Somehow, millions of evangelical men have refused to comply with the life scripts the tribe’s developed.
  • Some vast difference exists between TRUE CHRISTIANS™ and everyone else. BUT ALSO: She laments constantly that evangelicals don’t always follow the Jesus rules for sex and marriage.
  • Non-Christian men are physically and emotionally dangerous to TRUE CHRISTIAN™ women. BUT ALSO: Somehow, millions of evangelical women have begun looking for love outside of the tribe — and finding much better partners there.
  • Lastly, Kiesling’s grasp of the history of marriage is nonexistent. She frequently makes historical mistakes that indicate that everything she knows about relationships, she learned from the evangelical culture wars and Jane Austen novels. (No BUT ALSO. That’s just what she thinks.)

These false beliefs lead her to some truly WTF places.

(Jane Austen wrote about the Regency period, as an astute reader’s mentioned — but our single evangelical women are a bit more modern in sensibilities. Just a bit.)

It’s Not Women’s Fault At All, Except When It Is.

Like a lot of evangelicals I’ve encountered, A.J. Kiesling feels that marriage is a valid marker of adulthood. That belief makes unmarried men into grown-up teenagers who refuse to “step up to the plate” (a phrase she uses repeatedly) to marry all those single evangelical women languishing all over America.

This book came out in 2008, well before our topic yesterday about denial in evangelical dating. But Kiesling certainly takes that tack in her book. She points her blamin’ finger at women a couple of times, mostly in accusing them of dressing sloppily or carrying a wee bit too much weight, being too passive or bossy in getting dates, or not following those subjective, ever-shifting, spirit-crushing rules of modesty that she thinks make women their prettiest and most charming and alluring.

I can’t help but feel that if someone brought Edwardian fashion back to vogue, she’d be the first in line at Nordstrom’s to buy a whole new wardrobe full of it. (Don’t even try to tell me she did not lose her mind over Out of Africa in 1985 and rush right out of the theater to Banana Republic to buy replica outfits.)

Indeed, she’s all for strict rules of behavior and appearance. She just wants to be the one making the call about which strict rules evangelical women will be forced to follow if they want to land quality husbands.

Really, though, these rules exist mostly as a way to rap women’s knuckles. If women can’t find mates, then obviously — in Kiesling-Land — they’re doing something wrong. If somehow, against all odds, even Kiesling can’t find fault with them, then obviously their singleness can be blamed on men.

Also, It’s Really Probably All Men’s Fault.

By far, A.J. Kiesling’s loudest condemnations strike at evangelical men.

To hear her tell it, they’re all gun-shy little boys in men’s bodies. She spends a lot of time talking about men being “intimidated” by the successful middle-aged women seeking their attention. She laments how unwilling men are to “step up to the plate” to establish dating and then marriage relationships with the women around them.

(I’ve never yet heard a single man say he’s really intimidated by any women. But I’ve heard a lot of them say they *say* that to avoid unpleasant confrontations.)

She complains about evangelical men’s impossibly-high standards — using the worst straw arguments imaginable. To that point, she frequently quotes one survey respondent who wrote (p. 101):

“I think, generally, Christian men are looking for a Martha Stewart, Mother Theresa, [and] Venus Williams in Jessica Simpson packaging. There is no meeting those standards, and in the meantime I just get older and older.”

But I lurk the online spaces of single evangelical men. I’ve been doing that for a long time, off and on. And y’all, I’ve never heard them demanding those extremes; instead, they seem pretty down to earth. Younger evangelical men might demand more physical perfection, but older ones just refuse to marry overweight women who can’t keep house or cook. Those aren’t impossible standards at all. They’re just ones that most evangelical women either can’t or don’t want to meet.

Out of all the things someone could criticize about evangelical men generally, and hooboy that’s a long list, Kiesling went for the strawman accusations. It’s not a good look. It’s like she listened to her male respondents’ concerns and complaints, and then recast all of those statements in the worst possible light to make evangelical women feel better about being single.

Non-Solutions, So Beloved.

When I talk about evangelical non-solutions, I could use this book as Exhibit A for that topic. Its author has a little advice for evangelical women, but her perceptions are far too clouded to understand the contradictory nature of her own desires. Mostly, she’s angry that evangelical men are not conforming to her fantasies.

Her big solution, then, is to demand that evangelical men “step up to the plate” to date and marry middle-aged evangelical women (like herself). She especially demands that evangelical men start behaving more like young upper-class men living in the Edwardian Age.

“Addams Family Values.”

Of course, it’s very unlikely that any actual evangelical men will read this book. Of those who do, they are unlikely to take her marching orders seriously, much less comply with them.

So really, she’s got a win-win on her hands here, I reckon. Once evangelical men go on being just as awful as they always have been and ignoring middle-aged women as marriage prospects as usual, she can retreat into simmering resentment at being ignored.

The Actual Problem and Solution.

What’s sad is that A.J. Kiesling asks an interesting question here: why do so many middle-aged evangelical women remain unmarried when they’d really like to be married? How can evangelicals change the situation so fewer of them languish alone?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that based on everything I’ve read and heard out of evangelicals, there’s a solution to this problem Kiesling’s identified.

First, middle-aged evangelical women need to make sure they’re decently slim and dress in a feminine way.

Second, they need to lose any hangups they might have about Mr. Goddamned Darcy. Chances are extremely good that the men paying attention to them will be significantly older than they are and probably not a perfect 10 in looks (or hugely wealthy dudes), and the relationship sprouting out of this union won’t look like a fairy tale.

Third, they need to ensure they’re up on the domestic arts, can manage a household, keep a budget, and cook good meals consistently.

Last, they need to be fully aware that most evangelical men are about 50 years behind, culturally speaking. They are not feminists, and indeed they regard feminism with great distaste. They look down on women with sexual pasts, pre-existing children and ex-husbands, debt problems, or boorish behavior. (<– this last paragraph is the big one)

Leaving Nothing to Chance.

Of course, evangelical women tend not to want to do all that. I can’t blame them. Also, it’s gross even to imagine a man who’d be okay with an unfair, misogynistic relationship. I mean, I was married to an evangelical man for five years. It was five years I wish I could get back. Evangelical men make piss-poor husbands, and they always have. That trend’s only gotten worse over recent years, as the tribe’s polarized and become even more authoritarian — and smaller in number overall.



If evangelical men are what these women really want, then they in turn need to be the kind of woman evangelical men tend to want to marry. And that’s where they’re stuck.

Evangelicals’ relationship rules are utterly dysfunctional, but the singles within evangelicalism are acting fairly rationally within that crazymaking environment, with self-interest riding above all.

Evangelical women want evangelical husbands, but they don’t want to be the kind of women evangelical men want to marry. They want evangelical men to behave irrationally and against their own self-interest. It’s really that simple.

Seriously, neither sex is leaving anything to chance on this one. All Kiesling’s done is perpetuate evangelical women’s misery here, and those women won’t even realize the damage done to their futures until it’s way too late to change anything.

NEXT UP: The evangelical courtship narrative, caught in the riptide of cultural change.

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Last note: I would never in my life have figured there’d be so many Jane Austen fans in evangelicalism until researching for this series. The sheer number of young-ish evangelical women slobbering over Mr. Darcy blows my mind. Just… what in the actual ****, here?

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...